The Gadfly and the Unexamined Life
by Paul Gould
In an earlier post, I claimed that we are all philosophers—there is not choice in the matter—the only choice is whether we are good or bad philosophers. In this post, I want to consider the cost of being good philosophers (that is, lovers of wisdom and passionate, relentless pursuers of the good, the true, and the beautiful) in this broken world. What might that cost be? If Socrates is our guide, it is being misunderstood, unjustly accused, and perhaps (gulp), a bit of hemlock.
This week in the History of Ideas class I teach at the College of Southeastern, we are reading Plato’s Apology. In the dialogue we read of Socrates defense in the face of unjust and false accusations—he was “officially” accused of corrupting the youth and of atheism. The real charge, the “unofficial” slander was that he had offended the “wise” and “learned” of Athens for years by showing them that they were really foolish in claiming to be wise. This kind of action doesn’t go over well—then or now. Socrates described himself as a “gadfly” whose irritation of the state, “a great and noble steed,” was an attempt to guide it in the right direction (30e).
No one likes to be exposed—and Socrates, in his pursuit of the truth, exposed the Sophists and charlatans of his day. And he ended up paying for it with his life…
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