Socrates and the Nobility of the Soul

“O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: 21 Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen” (1 Tim. 6:20).

In the sixth century before Christ a few men began to inquire once more into the ancient fundamental questions about the universe and the nature of man. They would in time be called “philosophers”. The word “philosopher”, which means “lover of wisdom”, is attributed to Pythagoras of Crotona in southern Italy, a man of extraordinary intellect, and no little modesty for he considered himself a semi-divine character.

Taking his place alongside of Pythagoras (c. 582-500 BC) was Empedocles (c. 490-430 BC), who believed that all men had originally been gods, banished to earth through some impurity or violence. He in turn was followed by Pericles (c. 495-429 BC) who at least tried to be more modest by postulating that if things in the universe were so conveniently arranged as Pythagoras and Empedocles insisted, it must be the work of a transcendent mind (Greek, nous). Said Pericles, “Mind is infinite and self-ruled, and is mixed with nothing, but is alone, itself by itself.”

Feigning even more humility than Pericles, in this golden age of philosophy, where the arrogance of the Greek spirit soared into extreme individualism, and intellectual incompetence to the point that skepticism, and inquiry came to characterize the age, was Socrates. By all accounts, in his more mature years Socrates was not physically attractive. He was a man with a bald plate, bulbous nose, an extended stomach, and the look of a satyr due to his mustache and beard. Socrates did not deny his uncomely appearance, and told people he hoped to reduce the paunch by dancing.

Growing to manhood during Greece’s wealthiest period, Socrates displayed no interest in riches, perhaps in part because he had enjoyed them. His father was a sculptor, and his mother a midwife. He himself had learned the trade of being a sculptor. As a teacher, with a wide and devout following riches became his with ease. He turned away from much wealth, but not all.

As a young man Socrates had made a reputation as a soldier during the Peloponnesian Wars. His heroic deeds against the Spartans became legendary. During various military campaigns we are told that he excelled all in endurance and courage, bearing without complaint hunger, fatigue, and cold. At home he worked as a stonecutter and statuary. He had no interest in travel, and rarely journeyed outside the city. He married Xanthippe, who would become angry with him for neglecting his family, a charge he did not deny. When the mortality of males in the war led to a temporary legislation of polygamy, he took a second wife.

He “took fire” at the sight of Charmides, but controlled his homosexual urges by asking if the lovely lad had also a “noble soul.” Plato speaks of Socrates and Alcibiades as lovers, though he reported that Socrates remained platonic “in chase of the fair youth.” However, this did not stop Socrates from giving advice to homosexuals, and intellectual courtesans, on how to attract lovers.

With a life filled with the toys of time, much wine, adventures in warfare, and sensual pleasures so that all the physical senses, and natural appetites were satiated, or dulled, it is not difficult to discern why Socrates would eventually become a student of philosophy. His mind was inquisitive having dissipated the body. In this way his life parallels that of another philosopher who pursued the path of pleasure only to turn to intellectual pursuits of things “under the sun”. His name was Solomon, king of Israel (970-930 BC), and his story, which predates Socrates (469–399 BC), is told in the Bible in the book of Ecclesiastes. It was Solomon who first said, “there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

There being “no new thing under the sun” would include the moral, and immoral, behavior, and questionable philosophical concepts of Socrates, who contended that morality is to be found in the individual conscience rather in social good, or the unchanging decrees of heaven. In other words, man is a law unto himself, a god capable of “knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

The reason Socrates believed this is because he began with a presuppositional belief that all vice is the result of ignorance, and that no person is willingly bad; correspondingly, virtue is knowledge, and those who know the right will act rightly. It is this noble view of the innate goodness of man that suppresses what the modern philosopher Francis Schaffer (1912-1984) called “true truth.”

Socrates postulated an epistemology on the nobility of man that does not correspond to objective reality, or to honest self-inquiry. Still, he embraced this worldview because he believed that morality could survive without supernatural belief. Philosophy, by molding an effective secular moral code, could save civilization which its freedom of thought threatened to destroy.

The ultimate belief in the innate nobility of the soul is rather ironic in Socrates, since his fame rests in large part on skepticism, and a feigned humility, which allowed him to avoid declaring what his own ultimate position on a given matter might be, while challenging the thoughts of others. “Were I to make any claim to be wiser than others, it would be because I do not think that I have any sufficient knowledge of the other world, when in fact I have none.”

If Socrates pretended to be but a “midwife”, in the realm of ideas, helping others to deliver themselves of their conceptions, his students discerned the implications of his thinking or there would be no need to study his influence so many centuries later. Therefore, it is not improper to raise several specific questions of concern with an appropriate response.

First Question. “Was Socrates correct to teach that every person has full knowledge of ultimate truth contained within the soul, and needs only to be spurred to conscious reflection in order to become aware of it?”

First Response. To this religious inquiry, under the theology branch of Anthropology, I would respond with a qualified answer in the affirmative. I would agree that full knowledge of ultimate truth does reside within the soul, but I would argue that this ultimate truth is God, of whom knowledge is being consciously suppressed. Why? “Because that, when they [humanity] knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:23).

Every law demands a Law Giver. The Ultimate Law Giver is God, not an abstract ethical principle. As everything cannot come from nothing, neither can the concept of virtue arise independent of God. No creature has ever given himself physical or spiritual life. To postulate an ethical philosophy apart from a sovereign God is non-sensible.

Second Question. “Was Socrates correct to teach that morality is found in the individual conscience, rather in social good or the unchanging decrees of heaven?”

Second Response. To this inquiry I would answer, “No”, because the presuppositional thought is that nothing has ever happened to damage the will, intellect, or emotions of humanity. I believe that something terrible has damaged the soul so that individuals do not always think correctly, choose correctly, or respond in the emotions correctly. The trial and murder of Socrates confirms this observation for injustice, and murder it was. Socrates was not put on trial and then brought to a chamber of death because men did not know in their hearts they were unrighteousness in their thinking, or decision, or emotions. It was nothing more than the will to power. Men killed Socrates because they could. They cared nothing about the ethical aspects of the matter. Knowledge is not enough.

Third Question. “Was Socrates correct when he taught that all vice was the result of ignorance, and that no person is willingly bad; correspondingly, is virtue knowledge, and will those who know the right act rightly?”

Third Response. To this inquiry I would say, “No”, not all vice is the result of ignorance. The Islamic terrorist who cut off the head of Nicholas Berg on May 13, 2004, knew they were willingly engaged in raw evil, or they would not have hidden behind a mask. Men who rape women do so, not out of ignorance, but out of the will to power, and a pleasure principle. There is an experimental knowledge of evil, which is not virtuous.

According to the Judeo-Christian religious belief, the first recorded lie to a man and woman was that if they ate of a forbidden fruit they would have knowledge of good and evil. The implication was that this knowledge would be virtuous. Socrates perpetuates the original lie by not understanding some experimental knowledge is not virtuous. Confirmation for this truth can be found by asking any drug addict, sex addict, or alcoholic if they are more virtuous with their experiential knowledge of raw evil.

Stripped of his personable demeanor, which charmed so many in his day, Socrates was nothing more than a self-centered secular humanist who, like others before him, postulated a nobility of man that does not exist, apart from regeneration by the Holy Spirit, while failing to take into consideration that something terrible happened to the nous, or mind, of man so that he does not, by nature, want to know ultimate truth, nor does he want to be virtuous if that virtue condemns his attitude and actions, or blocks his will to power, and pleasure principle. Vice is not always the result of ignorance but the will to power based on a pleasure principle.

Finally, much knowledge is not of necessity virtuous. The apostle Paul said, “knowledge puffeth up” (1 Cor. 8:1). Socrates is a philosopher to be pitied, not praised.

Tell Others About Sin

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through
Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Romans 6:23

Tell others of what sin has done to the soul. Sin has come to rob the soul of fellowship with God. Sin has made it necessary to create a new vocabulary with words like rape, murder, depression, sodomy, hate, war, and child molester. Warn people of the peril of sin. Remind them how self-destructive sin is.

The story is told of how an Eskimo kills a wolf. The account is grisly, yet it offers fresh insight into the consuming, self-destructive nature of sin. First, the Eskimo coats his knife blade with animal blood and allows it to freeze. Then he adds another layer of blood, and another, until the blade is completely concealed by frozen blood.

Next, the hunter fixes his knife in the ground with the blade up. When a wolf follows his sensitive nose to the source of the scent and discovers the bait, he licks it, tasting the fresh frozen blood. He begins to lick faster, more and more vigorously, lapping the blade until the keen edge is bare.

Feverishly now, harder and harder the wolf licks the blade in the arctic night. So great becomes his craving for blood that the wolf does not notice the razor- sharp sting of the naked blade on his own tongue, nor does he recognize the instant at which his insatiable thirst is being satisfied by his own warm blood. His carnivorous appetite just craves more–until the dawn finds him dead in the snow.   It is a fearful thing that people can be consumed by their own lusts. Only God’s grace keeps us from the wolf’s fate.

Tell people of the power of sin. First, sin will always take us farther than we want to go. Nobody ever intends to go too far into sin, but they get carried away by their actions. Before they know it, they are deep in sin, and any thought of setting a godly example is gone.

Second, sin will always keep us longer than we intended to stay. The evil one wants to trap us in sin so he can destroy us. We fool ourselves into thinking sin doesn’t have consequences, that we can sin for a while, then give it up, and be godly. But sin saps us of strength and our character.

Third, sin will always cost us more than we are willing to pay, as Judas discovered after betraying Jesus.

If we do not understand our own sinfulness, or see our sin as God sees it, we cannot understand, or make use of sin’s remedy. There is a remedy for sin. The divine remedy is found in the love of God. When you tell people of sin, tell them of the love of God.

“The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell.

The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win.
His erring child he reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were ev’ry stalk on earth a quill,
And ev’ry man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Tho’ stretched from sky to sky.

“O, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong.
It shall forevermore endure,
The saints and angels song.”

 

People Should Fear God

Fear is a natural feeling of terror when danger is present. Fear can be good or bad. A healthy fear tempers the soul, which is why children are to be taught to fear and respect their parents (Lev 19:3), wives are to fear and respect their husbands (Eph. 5:33), and slaves or servants are to respect their masters (Eph. 6:5). The foundational cause for a healthy expression of fear is rooted in reverence, awe, and respect for God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7) as well as “the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 16:16). An unhealthy and harmful fear is that sense of terror, or dread, that immobilizes the soul, and clouds rational judgment. God does not want His children to be burdened with this unhealthy, and harmful expression of fear. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).

For this reason the commandment comes to the Christian not to fear any person, for no man can do ultimate harm to the believer. “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). “And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God” (Phil. 1:28).

While the Christian is not to fear anyone, but to trust in God, it is interesting and instructive to learn that, from a divine understanding of the nature of the human heart, it is the wicked that fear the righteous. The wicked may boast, and swagger, and pretend to be in charge, but deep in their hearts they fear the righteous. “The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Prov. 28:1). “And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet” (Matt. 14:5).

Because the wicked fear the righteous they act in a deceitful manner, and make every attempt to hide their sins (2 Sam. 11; Matt. 28:4-15). The wicked have every cause to be terror stricken at the thought of a righteous God taking vengeance upon evil, for this He has promised to do. “And to you [Christians] who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, 8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: 9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (2 Thess. 1:7-9).

While the unbeliever fears the righteous, and shall know the terror of the Lord, such fear does not often lead to gospel repentance. Rather, a greater attempt is made to hide from God (Gen 3:8; Rev 6:15-17) or worse, to deny His existence, and His claim on a person’s life (Ps 14:1; Rom 1:18-28).