The Apology

by: Plato

20c - 24e

In this passage, Socrates gives us the bigger picture, helping us to contextualize all the other dialogues. His reason for questioning so many people on so many subjects is ultimately done out of his duty to Apollo, the god of the oracle. Since the oracle has proclaimed him to be the wisest of men, he feels it his duty to show others that human wisdom does not come from any specialized knowledge, as the politicians or poets or craftsmen would like to claim, but rather from a recognition of the limitations of such knowledge. "Philosopher" in Greek literally means "lover of wisdom" and here, Socrates gives us the model for a true philosopher: he accepts resentment and risks death because his love for wisdom far outweighs any concerns for his own safety or well-being. The wisdom of the philosopher consists ultimately in clear and precise thinking (which we can contrast with the creative genius of the artist or the body of knowledge that can be accumulated by the scientist). This distinction made by Socrates, that the role of the philosopher is to question and to clarify knowledge rather than to affirm it, is original and has strongly informed Western philosophy up to the present.