In the spirit of preparing my syllabi for upcoming philosophy courses, I’ve decided to tip my hat to the Greek master of backhanded compliments: Socrates.
1. Socrates to the young lawyer Euthyphro:
“Dear friend, that is the reason why I desire to be your disciple. For I observe that no one, not even Meletus, appears to notice you; but his sharp eyes have found me out at once, and he has indicted me for piety. And therefore, I adjure you to tell me the nature of piety and impiety….I cannot do better than to assent to your superior wisdom.”
Translation: The more you nod your head yes to being called “wise,” the more foolish you look. I see it. Everyone sees it. Will you see it? I’m actually the teacher in this scenario.
2. After the prosecution has rested their case:
“How you have felt, O men of Athens, at hearing the speeches of my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that their persuasive words almost made me forget who I was—such was the effect of them…”
Translation: My, what an active imagination you have, dear lawyers! Your ability to weave a fiction is uncanny! You clearly don’t have a case.
3. Regarding poets:
“I further observed that upon the strength of their poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things in which they were not wise.”
Translation: Please stick to what you know.
4. Socratic Method is good for you:
“While I have strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting any one whom I meet after my manner, and convincing him, saying: O my friend, why do you, who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all?”
Translation: You’re quite shallow for having come from such a magnificent city and tradition.
5. Final Request Before Dying:
“When my sons are grown up, I would ask you, O my friends, to punish them; and I would have you trouble them, as I have troubled you, if they seem to care about riches, or anything more than about virtue; or if they pretend to be something when they are really nothing—then reprove them, as I have reproved you, for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and thinking that they are something when really they are nothing. And if you do this, I and my sons will have received justice at your hands.”
Translation: Act justly by preventing my sons from becoming morons, like you. Cheers.
Quotes from Euthyphro and The Apology.