THE DAIMONION OF SOCRATES: A SEARCH FOR DEFINITION
AND AN EPISTEMOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT
ALTON R. POPE
B.M.E. , Cornell University, 1951
S.T.B. , Boston University, 1957
A MASTER'S THESIS
submitted in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree
MASTER OF ARTS
Department of Philosophy
KANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. INTRODUCTION 1
PART I. NECESSARY BACKGROUNDS
II. THE RELIGIOUS INHERITANCE OF FIFTH CENTURY
Gods and Daimons, and Their Relation to
Popular Religious Practices
III. SOCRATES: THE MAN AND HIS MISSION 27
Personal Characteristics and Behavior
His Trial and Death
PART II. THE DAIMONION OF SOCRATES
IV. THE DAIMONION IN PLATO 82
The Eight Dialogs
The Effect of Plato's Own Views
V. THE DAIMONION IN XENOPHON AND OTHER PRIMARY
The Daimonion in Xenophon
Other Contemporary Sources: Aristophanes
Noncontemporary Sources: Cicero and
VI. DEVELOPMENT BY EARLY PHILOSOPHERS AND
VII. COMMENTARY BY MODERN PHILOSOPHERS 159
VIII. INTERPRETATION BY MODERN SOCRATIC SCHOLARS . . 184
The Voice of Reason
The Voice of the Sub-conscious
The Voice of God
The Daimonion in Psychology
IX. THE DEFINITION OF SOCRATES' DAIMONION .... 233
Limitations of Socrates' Own Definition
Review and Evaluation of Others'
A Definition of the Daimonion
PART III. AN EPISTEMOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT
X. SOCRATES' EXPERIENCE OF THE DAIMONION .... 266
Experience of the Daimonion: Parapsy-
chological and Religious
Similar Experiences of Others
XI. THE DAIMONION AS A "VOICE OF TRUTH" 313
The Criterion of Truth: Comprehensive
The Truth-Claims of Religious Experience
The Truth-Claims of the Daimonion
PART IV. CONCLUSION
XII. CONCLUSION 360
"This Socratic daimonion has always been a crux
philologorum , a difficulty that has nevertheless operated
more enticingly than forbiddingly, and by its mysterious
spell even deceptively. Since time immemorial one finds
a strong propensity to say something about this thing, but
there the matter usually ends. The curiosity which is
tickled by whatever is mysterious is satisfied as soon as
the thing is given a name, and profundity accepts satisfaction
when one says with a thoughtful air: 'Ah, what is one to
say? ' "
The Concept of Irony ,
For more than 2400 years, the Greek philosopher Socrates
has been held in high honor as among the world's foremost
heroes of thought and action. Countless are the men who have
given him their full measure of respect and admiration, and
who have rallied around his conviction that "an unexamined life
is not worth living," joining him in the effort to understand
the meaning and purpose of human existence.
There are two impressive observations concerning
Socrates that motivate the present discussion. The first of
these is the indisputable claim that Socrates was a man com-
mitted to the fullest possible use of his reason. This is
apparent from even the most superficial examination of his life
and teaching, and is often made explicit in his own words. In
one of the dialogs of Plato regarded as among those most faith-
ful to the historical Socrates, he tells his friend Crito that
he is incapable of obeying anything other than the rule of
reason: "I am still what I have always been--a man who will
accept no argument but that which on reflection I find to be
truest.' Later in the same dialog he expressly calls reason
1 Plato Apology 38 a. 2 Plato Crito 46 b.
his "guide. m1
That Socrates was without question a man of reason
receives further support from a trio of eminent Socratic
scholars. One refers to his "obstinate rationality."
Another cites his obeying "one law only, the oracle of the
higher reason in his breast." A third, calling him "a man
who was common-sense personified," reflects further that
"Socrates paused at every step to interrupt the flow of thought
in order to test its depth and purity. Each fresh conception
had to deliver its passport in the course of cross-examination;
every slumbering doubt was awakened, every hidden contradiction
If the commitment to a full use of human reason is one
sure fact about Socrates, however, there is another fact--if
the evidence from primary sources can be trusted- -which is
just as certain. Socrates received unquestionably and un-
questioningly the guidance of the daimonion. His reliance on
the daimonion was well known; he spoke of it often, and in no
less than eight dialogs attributed to Plato and three writings
X 48 c.
A. E. Taylor, Socrates (Garden City, N. Y. : Doubleday
Co. , Inc. , 1953), p. 46.
Paul Shorey, What Plato Said (Abridged ed. , Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1965), p. 14.
Theodor Gomperz, The Greek Thinkers , trans. Laurie
Magnus (2 vols. , London: John Murray, iyb4) , II, 89.
5 Ibid. , I, 385.
of Xenophon are there specific references to it.
When these two observations are brought together, the
resulting picture is of a man dedicated to using his reason
and at the same time obeying without question the counsel of
his daimonion. "This man, who more than any other proposed
to clarify by the power of his intellect what was unclear and
ambiguous, recognized mysterious forces which he obeyed without
examining their claim. "
What was the daimonion of Socrates? How did it func-
tion? What is its significance? And why did the one who was
always pressing for understanding and definition, who was
forever asking --whether of piety or beauty or friendship or
justice- -"What does it mean?", follow unhesitatingly the
guidance of the daimonion? Surely it appears inconsistent
for the man of reason to be so uncritical of something as
nonrational as the sudden warning of the daimonion.
If the daimonion constitutes a problem for the student
of Socrates, there arises a further problem for the student
of philosophy, respecting the epistemological status of Soc-
rates' experience of the daimonion and the value and correct-
ness of its counsel. Specifically, did the daimonion in its
monitions and silences present serious claims to truth; and
were those claims in fact true?
In the two areas of Socratic studies and epistemology,
Paul Friedlander, Plato , trans. Hans Meyerhoff (2
vols., Vol. I, New York: Harper & Row, 1964; Vol. II,
London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964), I, 32.
the daimonion poses important and enticing questions: (1)
What was the daimonion of Socrates, and how did he reconcile
his reliance on it with his firm commitment to reason? and
(2) What is the verdict of epistemology upon this kind of
experience and its claims?
The thesis that is here presented answers these
questions, in the light of certain important assumptions in
the two general areas of Socratic studies and epistemology.
On these assumptions the discussion builds, and the conclu-
sions reached depend heavily upon them.
Within the area of Socratic studies, the first and
crucial assumption which is here granted is that Socrates
actually experienced a form of inner communication or
assurance which was not totally a subjective phenomenon;
i.e., there was an objective source for the guidance he
received. It may of course be doubted that Socrates really
had his daimonion. Plato and Xenophon, the major primary
sources, do not establish the fact that Socrates had a
daimonion, but only the fact that he spoke as if he did. The
only possible evidence for it is the unsupported testimony
of Socrates himself, and he may have completely misunderstood--
in the light of his religious inheritance- -what was simply a
subjective process within his sub-conscious mind, or even a
psychotic manifestation. Clearly, some position must be
taken concerning what only Socrates himself experienced, and
what even he might not have been able accurately to conceive.
The assumption here is that Socrates did experience a real,
not an imagined or purely subjective, form of communication.
A second assumption in the area of Socratic studies
relates both to the veracity of Socrates' statements about
the daimonion, and to his honesty in reporting it. It is
here granted that Socrates was not wholly mistaken about
the daimonion; and further that when he spoke of it, he did
so without any intent to dissemble. This last point, which
has occasionally been challenged in the Socratic literature,
appears reasonable in the light of the "whole" Socrates.
It is clear that he was a man of intellectual and moral
integrity. For him to pretend to be guided by a daimonion
when he was not would be a brand of dishonesty wholly in-
consistent with all that is known of him. On occasion, to
be sure, he adopted the counterfeit methods of the sophists,
but it was for the purpose of showing up the pretensions of
men who were trying to pass off cleverness for true wisdom.
In general, his life presents the testimony of a man whose
word can be trusted, and should be trusted. Neither Ryle
nor Winspear, the two contemporary scholars who most severely
challenge the accepted Platonic portrait of Socrates, sug-
gests that for Socrates to speak of his daimonion was a
deliberate falsification or pretense.
There is a very serious problem concerning the
historical Socrates, and therefore the first major task of
this thesis will be to assess the historical data available
especially in the dialogs of Plato, with special reference
to the daimonion. Subsequent chapters will consider the
degree to which the portraits of Socrates by Plato and
Xenophon may misrepresent the historical Socrates, but will
establish too a consensus on the fact of the daimonion in
his experience, and on the broad nature of its effects.
With reference to the total life and personality of
Socrates, the majority view of modern scholarship concerning
the dialogs of Plato and Plato himself will be adopted.
Scant notice will be taken, e.g. , of the conclusions reached
by Ryle, who on what he himself calls a "seemingly unhis-
torical hypothesis" doubts the standard accounts of Plato's
philosophical life and believes Plato to have written the
Apology around 372-371 B.C. as a protest against his having
been found guilty of defamation of character and forbidden
any longer to practice or teach the Socratic method. "The
martyr's name was not 'Socrates' but 'Plato." That there
may have been this "crisis" in Plato's career is a provoca-
tive hypothesis, but its effect on the historicity of what
Gilbert Ryle, Plato's Progress (Cambridge: The Uni-
versity Press, 1966), p~ 154.
2 Ibid. , pp. 7, 222, 153.
3 Ibid. , p. 152.
Plato reports about Socrates' daimonion is not crucial.
Similarly only brief consideration will be given to
the minority view of Winspear that Socrates is to be under-
stood not only as a reflective thinker but also as a political
reactionary, a man kept by Athenian conservatives as an
apologist and virtual puppet for the aristocracy, "the pro-
tagonist of landed reaction in a small city-state.' Here
again the different viewpoint is suggestive and even helpful,
especially as regards the mistaken tendency to see Socrates
as a pre-Christian teacher of a quasi -Christian morality. It
does not, however, affect what Socrates says about his dai-
monion. To follow the majority view of modern scholars,
concerning both the Platonic and the historical Socrates,
is in any case a fair alternative, and especially so when--
as for the daimonion- -the minority views do not substantially
alter the interpretations which might be given to the
The second area in which important assumptions are
made is that of epistemology. Specifically, there are three
assumptions granted within this discussion. The first is
that not all human experience is reducible to rational experi-
ence. A second assumption is that all the forms of human
Alban D. Winspear and Tom Silverberg, Who Was
Socrates ? (n.p. : The Cordon Company, 1939), p. 54.
Alban D. Winspear, The Genesis of Plato's Thought
(New York: Dryden Press, 1940) , p. 107.
experience, not just the rational, can contribute to the
search for the truth. The third is that comprehensive
coherence, especially as exemplified in the philosophical
school of Personalism, is a usable criterion of truth.
As the thesis proceeds, the assumptions here noted
in the areas of Socratic studies and epistemology will
receive further attention and elaboration, but will not be
established in any conclusive sense. Where it seems to
strengthen the presentation, and particularly so in the
epistemological chapters, there will be the attempt to stress
the reasonableness of the assumption that is granted. How-
ever, in keeping with the necessarily limited scope of the
thesis, the assumption in each case remains just what it is--
a position or fact granted to be true, on which to build
With the noting of these major assumptions, attention
may now turn to the way in which the thesis develops. Two
opening chapters will set the stage for subsequent discussion.
The first of these will consider the religious inheritance
of fifth century Greece, with special reference to the com-
monly received beliefs in gods and daimons and their relations
to men, and to the popular religious practices of the day.
The second of the two background chapters will present a
general sketch of Socrates, the man and his mission.
Following presentation of these background chapters,
the discussion will move to a consideration of the daimonion
and its effects as seen in the primary sources, principally
the dialogs of Plato and the writings of Xenophon. Each of
more than twenty references to the daimonion will be cited
and considered, with a view towards understanding its nature
and function. An estimate will be made of the degree to
which the writers may have colored their reporting the dai-
monion to harmonize it with their own beliefs and biases.
In an attempt to see further into the phenomenon of
the daimonion, a number of secondary sources will be con-
sulted in order to bring to bear upon the discussion the in-
sights of those who over the centuries have thought deeply
about Socrates and his daimonion. Among the early philoso-
phers and Platonists, four especially will be cited: Cicero,
Plutarch, Apuleius, and Proclus. From a number of modern
philosophers who have written on the daimonion, special
attention will be given to Descartes, Hegel, Nietzsche, and
Turning finally to the varied interpretations of a
large group of modern Socratic scholars, the discussion will
center upon the three views of the daimonion which, in light
of the assumptions that have been granted, are most credible:
the voice of reason, the voice of the sub-conscious, the
voice of God. Each of these views will be set forth with
liberal citation from those scholars who most convincingly
expound it. Based upon these and all of the preceding
discussion, the attempt will then be made to summarize the
nature and effects of the daimonion of Socrates, and to
give it its true definition.
With the daimonion defined, the thesis will proceed
to its second and epistemological focus. An assessment will
be made, revealing that Socrates' experience may be seen as
a type that can be classified as both parapsychological and
religious experience. Similar experiences of others will be
cited, and a pragmatic and then a theoretical evaluation will
show the reasonable grounds for concluding that the daimonion
may have validity as a source of good counsel.
The cognitive value of the claims contained in the
daimonion 1 s monitions and silences will then be assessed,
beginning with an elaboration of comprehensive coherence as
a criterion of truth. Following this will be a presentation
of three twentieth century views of the cognitive value of
claims to truth which arise out of the kind of experience of
which the daimonion gives one instance. Philosophers from
the Personalist, Quaker, and Empiricist traditions will be
In light of this, the specific claims extrapolated
from the monitions and silences of the daimonion will be
examined, leading to the conclusion that, on the assumptions
granted, there are reasonable grounds for holding that the
daimonion may have been for Socrates a "voice of truth. "
Finally, the hypothesis will be advanced that contrary to the
general assumption Socrates himself, at an earlier stage of
his life than reflected by Plato or Xenophon, had wrestled
with his experience of the daimonion and the cognitive value
of its claims, and had rationally justified his reliance on
A Conclusion will summarize the entire discussion.
Before moving to a consideration of the necessary
backgrounds with which the development of the thesis begins,
it will be well to note a few incidental procedures that will
be followed. In referring to the writings of Plato and
Xenophon, a number of different translations will be cited.
There has not been one standard text selected. The advantages
which accrue from this decision are, firstly, that a compari-
son of translations is encouraged, with a resulting deepening
insight into the passage; and secondly, that in each case
a translation widely regarded as among the best and most
accurate may be used.
Except where otherwise noted, the following are the
translators cited for the dialogs of Plato: Church for the
Apology , Crito , Euthyphro ; Jowett for the Phaedrus , Republic ;
Lamb for the Alcibiades I , Theages ; Rouse for the Ion ,
Symposium ; and Warrington for the Euthydemus , Theaetetus .
For the writings of Xenophon, Marchant is the translator for
the Memorabilia , and Todd for the Apology and Symposium .
In respect of formal matters within the discussion,
current usage among Socratic scholars is being followed. The
Greek words daimon and daimonion are transliterated into
English without either change of spelling or capitalization,
and are rendered without italics .
For convenience in marking the various steps in the
development of the thesis, the discussion is divided into
twelve chapters, comprising four Parts: Necessary Backgrounds,
The Daimonion of Socrates, An Epistemological Assessment,
THE RELIGIOUS INHERITANCE OF FIFTH CENTURY GREECE
In preparing to make an inquiry into the daimonion of
Socrates, and an epistemological assessment of the claims to
knowledge which it presents, it becomes necessary first of all
to understand as far as possible the beliefs about the super-
natural that the Greeks of the fifth century B.C. inherited
from their forebears. As with all the races of men, various
beliefs in spiritual influences and beings characterized the
religious history of the men of Greece. Socrates' own under-
standing of his daimonion, as well as the interpretations given
it by Plato, Xenophon, and the early Platonists, must be seen
and can only be appreciated against this background.
To trace the development of belief among the Greeks
in what they termed gods and daimons will be the major task
of this opening chapter. Various of the early Greek poets
and philosophers will be cited to indicate the successive con-
ceptions and attitudes towards the gods and daimons, and the
changing ways in which they were seen to relate themselves to
men. From this will emerge the somewhat ambiguous religious
inheritance of Socrates and his contemporaries. A minor focus
within the chapter will be upon religious practices current in
the time of Socrates, including the consulting of oracles, the
reading of omens, etc. A few grammatical considerations, rela-
tive to the Greek words daimon and daimonion , will complete
Gods and Daimons, and Their Relation
to Human Beings
When attention is turned to the religious beliefs of
the Greeks, the immediate reference is apt to be to the
pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus. Origi-
nally, however, the Greeks had no such fully developed con-
ception of separate supernatural beings. As Cornford remarks,
"Behind the clear-cut and highly differentiated personalities
of the Olympians [are] older figures far less distinct and
hardly personal. The proper term for them in Greek is not
theos but daimon. 1 Whereas in the Greek theos always con-
notes individuality, the original daimones had no distinguish-
ing "figure," nor were they separated by function one from
the other. Moreover, they were not cosmic powers, but rather
local spirits, and in general good spirits. Most scholars
concur in regarding a daimon as a mere manifestation of power,
indeterminate and impersonal at this early time in Greek
religious thought. A few, notably Dodds, disagree, holding
that the conception of daimon, before it became re-personalized,
F. M. Cornford, From Religion to Philosophy (New York:
Harper & Row, 1957), p. 3T.
2 Ibid . , p. 38.
had developed from a personal "apportioner" to an impersonal
At this early stage, daimon carried two closely related
meanings, only bordering on the personal, and all derived from
the common consciousness of a group rather than the conscious-
ness of a single individual. The daimon was understood as the
force, working through blood-kinship, which bound the social
group together; and it was seen as similar to a fertility god,
being the life-giving power of the portion of land inhabited
by the group. It was upon these vague conceptions about in-
distinct daimons that the Greek poet Homer, or that succession
of eighth to sixth century Greek poets we call "Homer," super-
imposed his Olympian figures.
The arbitrariness of Homer's establishing distinct
gods with distinct characters is reflected in his writings.
For while the poet himself always is aware of which god it
is who intervened, and even gives his name, those who recount
their experiences speak vaguely of a god or a daimon or the
gods in general as responsible for what has happened.
Certain it is that there was never any consistent
distinction made between a god and a daimon before or after
the time of Homer. Homer himself occasionally uses the word
daimon to refer to an anthropomorphic being, but far oftener
it means an indefinite, undifferentiated divine power. Thus
Martin Nilsson, Greek Piety , trans. Herbert J. Rose
(Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1948), p. 59.
in the Odyssey it is to anonymous daimons that men attribute
the events of their lives. VJhile only vaguely conceived, the
daimons are credited for the sudden insights or monitions
that come to a man. As Dodds summarizes it:
Whenever someone has a particularly brilliant or
a particularly foolish idea; when he suddenly recognizes
another person's identity or sees in a flash the meaning
of an omen; when he remembers what he might well have
forgotten or forgets what he should have remembered,
he or someone else will see in it, if we are to take
the words literally, a psychic intervention by one of
these anonymous supernatural beings. 1
In these situations, Homer himself tends to name the
source of the monition a god if the result is favorable to
the individual, or a daimon if it is detrimental to his wel-
fare. This became, from Homer forward, a common distinction,
such that if a man felt some obscure power leading him
against his will toward an unwanted result, he would ascribe
that influence not to one of the gods but to a dark, indefinite,
unknown supernatural power; i.e., a daimon.
It is in the Greek poet Hesiod that there is first
encountered the concept of a daimon who is attached to a par-
ticular individual, usually from birth, and who very largely
determines that person's life and destiny. An individual's
moira (portion or fate) that is often mentioned in Homer is
thus given in Hesiod a personal form. The daimons of Hesiod
are intermediate beings, neither heavenly nor earthly, who
dwell in the air, invisible, and who are in fact the
E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1951), p. 11
Nilsson, p. 60.
disembodied spirits of men of a Golden Age long ago, now serv-
ing as the guardians of men. These men of the Golden Age
became after their death, according to Hesiod, "good daimons
through the will of the great Zeus, dwelling over the earth,
guardians of mortal men, who watch over righteous and evil
deeds, going up and down over the land clad in darkness."
Theognis, a Greek poet and moralist reknowned for his
sound common sense, emphasizes the misleading of men by their
daimons. Many a man conscientiously pursuing virtue is
deliberately led astray by his daimon, so that he mistakes
evil for good. When this happens, there is little that a man
has power to do. As Theognis writes, "if your daimon is of
poor quality, mere good judgment is of no avail--your enter-
prises come to nothing."
The poet Pindar likewise conceives of a man's daimon
as his personal genius or guardian spirit, but goes further
in reconciling the daimon 1 s influence with the will of the
great god Zeus : "The great purpose of Zeus directs the daimon
of the man he loves." As to the actual manner in which a
daimon affects a man, Pindar writes, "it sleeps when the limbs
are active, but to men asleep it reveals in many a dream the
Works and Days 121-25, quoted in W. K. C. Guthrie, A
History of Creek Philosophy (2 vols., Cambridge: The Univer-
sity Press, 1962), II, 264.
Theognis 161-66, quoted in Dodds , p. 42.
Pythagoras 5. 122-23, quoted in Dodds, p. 42.
pleasant or painful issues of things to come."
Turning from the Greek poets to the early Greek phil-
osophers, there is revealed a similar interest and attention
to gods and daimons and their relations to men and to the
world. Aristotle cites Thales, with whom philosophy is said
to begin, as believing that "all things are full of gods."
Aetius writes that "Thales said the mind of the world is god,
and the sum of things is besouled, full of daimons; right
through the elemental moisture there penetrates a divine power
that moves it." Fifty years later Pythagoras reflects a
similar belief in gods and daimons, though he explicitly refers
to the daimons as half -divine, beings intermediate between
gods and men. He in fact believed himself to be a daimon, and
was probably the author of the doctrine associated with his
school that there are gods, there are men, and there are beings
like Pythagoras. 4
Heraclitus makes a bold attempt to rationalize the
concept of daimon, denying it all transcendence. His scarcely
translatable Fragment 119, "A man's character (or individuality)
is his daimon (or destiny) ," means essentially thc.t what
happens to a man depends solely upon himself. Daimon becomes
Fragment 131, quoted in Guthrie, I, 319.
De Anima A. 5. 411. a. 7. , quoted in G. S. Kirk and
J. E. Raven, The Presocr a tic Philosophers (Cambridge: The
University Press, 1957) , p. 95.
Aetius i. 7. 11., quoted in Kirk and Raven, p. 95.
Cornford, p. 203. ^Quoted in Kirk and Raven, p. 214.
then simply a metaphor for the common psychological processes
which operate within a man, and "inspiration" is conceived in
its least spiritual sense. Zeller understands Heraclitus to
believe that the happiness of a man depends upon his internal
condition, and that he himself is the force that shapes his
life from within, and makes or mars his fortunes.
In fact, however, Heraclitus failed in his attempt to
demythologize the supernatural daimons; and the "superstition,"
as he would call it, persisted. Fifty years later, Empedocles
reflects belief in daimons as divine selves persisting through
successive incarnations, exiles from the blessed company of
the gods, to whom they long to return. By the time of
Empedocles, Hesiod's belief that the souls of the men of the
Golden Age became good daimons had been developed and altered
by Orphic and Pythagorean doctrine to the result that daimons
were the surviving parts of the souls of all men. They were
immortal, and could enjoy everlasting fellowship with the
gods. They could also, however, be seduced into sin, and so
committed to an endless round of reincarnations , until by
adherence to "the rules" they could escape the human round.
Along with this belief that a daimon is attached to
an individual man as a form of punishment, Empedocles also
Eduard Zeller, A History of Greek Philosophy from the
Earliest Period to the Time of Socrates , trans. S. F. Alleyne
(2 vols. , London: Longman, Green & Co., 1881), II, 98, n.4.
Fragment 115, quoted in Guthrie, I, 318.
allowed great power to a man's daimon. If a man had a good
daimon, one that presumably was about to escape the round of
reincarnation, that man could exercise great powers over other
men and over nature. Such a daimon Empedocles believed him-
self to possess, or even to be. In a remaining fragment, he
declares himself to be almost a god upon the earth, able to
exercise and to give to others powers "to excite or abate the
winds, to bring about rain or dry weather, to raise men from
the dead." 1
With these beliefs of Empedocles, the account of the
beliefs of the Greeks in gods and daimons has progressed well
into the fifth century. Before examining the kinds of popular
religious practices that accompanied them, however, it will
be instructive to add a further note concerning the attempt
of the fifty century Greek dramatist Aeschylus to redirect
the thinking of his contemporaries. As Dodds express it, he
purposed (e.g., in the Agamemnon and the Eumenides ) "not to
lead his fellow-countrymen back into that world [of the
daimonic], but on the contrary to lead them through it and
out of it . . .by showing it to be capable of a higher inter-
pretation . . . into the new world of rational justice." In
this, however, like Heraclitus before him and- -as shall emerge-
Socrates after him, he was unsuccessful.
Fragment v. 390-425, quoted in George Grote, Plato
and the Other Companions of Socrates (3 vols., London: John
Murray, 1875), I, 49.
2 p. 40.
For the Greeks of the fifth century, then, the concept
daimon was a venerable one, reaching far back into their his-
toric and legendary past. It was far from being a clear con-
cept, however, but carried a number of meanings, complementary
if not consistent with each other. In general, daimons were
thought to be lesser gods, intermediate supernatural beings
who exercised power for good or ill over individual men and
communities of men. A man's personal daimon could be an evil
genius leading him to his ruin, or a guardian angel watching
over and directing him for his good. A community could have
daimons affecting the life of whole groups of men, powerful
forces in whose grip mankind is helpless. Dodds cites belief
in three community daimons who live in a cleft in a hill,
whose names are Cholera, Smallpox, and Plague. Besides any
independent influence they may wield, however, the daimons
are regarded to be equally important as messengers who carry
to the gods the prayers and sacrifices of men, and to men the
commands, blessings, and punishments of the gods. So, to the
mind of the Greek, the interval between god and man is filled,
and the universe bound together.
Popular Religious Practices
From the beliefs of fifth century Greeks concerning
the supernatural, there developed a number of specific
1 p. 41.
F. M. Cornford, Principium Sapientiae (Cambridge:
The University Press, 1952) , p. 83.
religious practices and customs designed to curry favor with
the gods and daimons and to divine their will. Among these
were the consulting of oracles and soothsayers, the sacrificing
of animals and a reading of omens in the entrails , observing
the flight of birds, and interpreting apparent coincidences.
It was taken for granted that the gods and daimons (or the
gods through daimons) gave privileged communications to men.
Special persons \tfithin the community were acknowledged to be
the prime recipients of such revelations. There were numerous
oracular temples, which anyone might visit to inquire concern-
ing the divine will. In addition, in almost every crossroads
town there was the equivalent of Al Capp's "01 ' Man Mose,"
who could predict the future, interpret omens, read animal
entrails, and so reveal the will of the gods.
So important were these divine revelations, however
received, deemed to be, that important decisions whether for
the individual or for the group were never made apart from
them. To understand Socrates and the extent of the revolution
in human thought that he posed, it is essential to understand
this reliance on objective revelation. Let Hegel express it:
The Greeks, with all their freedom, did not decide
from the subjective will. The general or the people did
not take upon themselves to decide as to what was best
in the State, nor did the individual do so in the family.
For in making these decisions, the Greeks took refuge
in oracles, sacrificial animals, soothsayers, or, like
the Romans, asked counsel of birds in flight. . . . This
element, the fact that the people had not the power of
decision but were determined from without, was a real
factor in Greek consciousness; and oracles were everywhere
essential . . .
Before drawing this chapter to a close, it will be
well to introduce into the discussion a few grammatical con-
siderations and general definitions of the Greek words
daimon and daimonion . The word dairaon, as has been indicated,
meant to a Greek of the fifth century "a supernatural being
of a nature intermediate between that of gods and men; an
inferior deity, spirit, genius." The word daimonion , on the
other hand, was used only as a neuter noun in classical Greek,
meaning some "thing" of divine or daimonic origin. For that
reason it has not figured in these pages concerning the Greeks'
belief in supernatural beings. A daimonion would be the sign
or manifestation of a daimon' s activity, but would not itself
be an object of worship. Later on, beginning with the
Septuagint, daimonion was also used as a diminutive form of
daimon , which tended to confirm the Platonists in their inter-
pretation of Socrates' daimonion as equivalent to a personal
The above considerations, however, though they are
accurate, present and imply a rather too "neat" distinction
between the two words as they were used in fifth century
Greece. Then as now men tended to a certain "sloppiness" in
George Frederick Hegel, Lectures on the History of
Philosophy , trans. E. S. Haldane (2 vols. , London: Kegan Paul,
Trench, Trubner, & Co., 1892), I, 423.
Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1933), III, 184.
the use of words, and even Plato and Xenophon are guilty of
confusing the two. Neither one is internally consistent in
his usage of daimon and daimonion , and too often the two terms
seem almost indistinguishable. Whether this inconsistency is
of their doing, or whether they are reporting accurately what
Socrates himself said, in his own confusion of the two con-
cepts, is one of those frustrating questions which can never
be finally answered, but which make the search for an answer
so enticing. The eminent nineteenth century Socratic scholar
Grote is one who concludes that in fifth century Greece the
very concept of daimonion was "undefined and undefinable,"
and that therefore no one need wonder too much if Plato
ascribes to it different characteristics and manifestations
at different times.
It has been to provide a review of the beliefs of
fifth century Greeks in gods and daimons , to indicate what
were their popular religious practices, and to present certain
grammatical considerations surrounding the usage of the Greek
words daimon and daimonion that this chapter has been written.
As such, it forms one of two necessar} 7 backgrounds to a con-
sideration of the daimonion of Socrates. The second is a
look at the "general" person of Socrates , a man conscious of
a mission, who for himself and others depreciated all sham
and pretense, and who championed the disciplined use of human
reason within the context of a reliance on the gods. It is
Grote, I, 441.
to this man, as he lived out this mission, that the discussion
SOCRATES: THE MAN AND HIS MISSION
"Socrates was the first who brought down philosophy
from the heavens, placed it in cities, introduced it into
families, and obliged it to examine into life and morals, and
good and evil." So does Cicero summarize Socrates' contri-
bution to the history of human thought. As a statement of
fact it may be in error, for already in both Heraclitus and
Pythagoras philosophy had come "down to earth" and been
rigorously applied to the life of men, even to prescribing
their diets. However, as a statement of the direction in
which Socrates irrevocably turned philosophy, it is certainly
true. It is as a seminal philosopher that history honors him,
one who was concerned to examine the life of men and bring
to birth within them self -awareness. In the eyes of the world,
whatever else may be true of him, Socrates is primarily a
Yet if this be so, he is a philosopher without a
philosophy. The student of Socrates finds no developed system
of thought to commend itself to the minds of men, but discovers
instead a man who not only wrote nothing but who constantly
Cicero Tusculan Disputations 5. 4.
represented himself as knowing nothing. Moreover, because of
personal eccentricities which invited exaggeration, he became
something of a legend even within his own lifetime; so that
to find the real Socrates and discover his true thoughts ,
under layers of legend and deliberate distortion, is no easy
task. According to Diogenes Laertius (whose Lives no one
credits but everyone quotes!), Socrates is supposed to have
exclaimed upon hearing Plato read his Lysis , "By the gods!
what things this young man attributes to me!" So it may have
The problem of the historical Socrates is in fact a
very serious one. To construct one Socrates from the varied
representations given by those who wrote about him, and to
be confident that he is the true Socrates, is virtually
impossible. Yet for that very reason, the weightiest scholars
agree that the attempt must be made. Only occasionally will
a scholar declare the task utterly fruitless. Such a one
within recent years is 0. Gigon, whose thesis is that nothing
can be known of Socrates, neither that he was a philosopher
nor what kind of philosophy he had.
If however there are a number of possible Socrates' s,
one positive value lies in that the number is large enough to
allow a comparison of accounts, and so hopefully a sifting
out of the exaggerations and distortions. Plato, Xenophon,
Diogenes Laeurtius Lives of Eminent Philosophers i. 3. 6.
His boo k Sokrates was published in Germany in 1947.
and Aristophares reflect quite different understandings of
Socrates, yet when all three are considered together a
reasonably synthetic picture of the man begins to emerge.
It is then with limited confidence that this sketch
of Socrates and his mission is presented. It builds, of
course, primarily upon the two pictures given by Plato and
Xenophon, younger contemporaries of Socrates. Each is a
picture of an older Socrates. Plato was forty-three years
younger than he, and Xenophon younger still, so that neither
could have had any trustworthy personal recollections of him
before he was fifty- five. However it is this older Socrates
of whom they write who is of most interest and importance.
In Plato, Socrates appears a philosopher with profound meta-
physical convictions, well acquainted with the most advanced
science of his time, possessing in addition an originality of
intellect and a moral earnestness. For Plato, he is the
ideal of what « philosopher should be, and to some extent
surely a mouthpiece for his own ideas. In Xenophon, by con-
trast, Socrates appears a prosy preacher of common-sense
morality, pre-eminent for piety and self-control, the sworn
enemy of all vain speculation which does not contribute to
personal integrity and sound citizenship--a man who, if he
was as Xenophon suggests, would never have been brought to
Between these two portraits lies somewhere the histori-
cal Socrates. Nineteenth century scholars favored the picture
given by Xenophon, while in this century the pendulum has
swung toward the Platonic Socrates. At either end or anywhere
inbetween, however, Socrates appears as a man for whom the
central fact of his life is a sense of mission. Without any
question it is a consciousness of being "on mission" that
characterizes Socrates 1 approach to life and his conduct
For that reason this sketch of Socrates in the current
chapter concentrates on his mission first of all. He will
not be understood apart from it, for he is in truth as much
missionary as philosopher. Accordingly, it is to a descrip-
tion of his mission that the discussion now turns; and then
following that to related considerations of his personal
characteristics and behavior, his beliefs, and his trial and
Commenting on Socrates' sense of his mission and the
way in which it controlled his life, Warbeke suggests that
"he might almost be regarded as an ancient prototype of the
street and marketplace evangelist, who regarded himself as
divinely ordained to confound the wisdom of men and to teach
them the ways of righteousness." But it was not always so.
For only perhaps the final thirty- odd years of his life did
Socrates live under such a commission from the gods. Though
John M. Warbeke, The Searching Mind of Greece (New
York: F. S. Crofts Co., 1934), p. 131.
but little is known of his early life, as for instance whether
he ever did follow in the footsteps of his father Sophronicus
in a trade, and if so what that trade might have been,
nevertheless enough is known to be certain that he received
a basic elementary education in gymnastic and music; and that
whether by severely limiting his physical needs or by living
off the income of property that he inherited, he continued
to be able to study and absorb all the knowledge of his day.
He was profoundly influenced by Parmenides, Heraclitus, and
Pythagoras; and probably the Phaedo is correct in describing
an early physicist stage in his philosophical development.
He very likely sought eagerly the new teaching of Anaxagoras
through his disciple Archelaus, who came to Athens; though,
as mirrored again in the Phaedo , he was disappointed in it.
Clearly Socrates from a very early stage was interested
not only in the Ionian natural science, but also in human
life and in the human soul. Not heat and cold, nor stones
falling from the sky, but the life and destiny of man were
his primary concerns. With Pythagoras as his mentor, Socrates
was undoubtedly something of an Orphic theologian, though on
his own terms , for Orphism in his day was corrupted.
Another influence upon Socrates during his early and
middle manhood was the intense intellectual life of the
That Socrates ever was a sculptor or stonecutter, as
represented by later writers, is extremely doubtful. See
Taylor, Socrates , p. 41.
2 Plato Phaedo 96 a. 3 Ibid. 98 b.
Periclean democracy, including the political struggles of an
expanding state and also the artistic triumphs of Greek art
and especially drama. The plays of Sophocles and Aeschylus,
the orations of Pericles, the sense of pride in Athen's
political ascendancy and aesthetic glory, all combined to
impress on Socrates a near-reverence for the city and the
importance of implicit obedience to lawful authority.
In sum, the Socrates of early and middle years was a
unique blend of the eager rationalist, the religious mystic,
and the conscientious citizen. Of the first two of these
ingredients his fellow-countrymen were well aware, of the
third hardly at all, for his expressions of patriotism and
civic loyalty assumed forms inconceivable to them. But when
in the Clouds Aristophanes caricatures Socrates as a votary
of science and at the same time a religious ascetic with
strange notions of the human soul, he is exploiting two quite
real strains in Socrates' nature. In fact, it seems probable
that Socrates served for a time as director of an enterprise
which combined the features of a scientific school and a
religious monastery, much as did the earlier Pythagorean com-
munities. In whatever capacity, however, Socrates achieved
an international reputation far beyond Athens in the years
before the outbreak of the Pelopponesian War (431 B.C.).
The "spiritual crisis" which was to make the rest of
This is the central theme of Plato's dialog Crito .
a lifetime's difference to Socrates came sometime in the few
years just prior to 430 B.C. While it is sheer guesswork to
hunt for specific dates, Plato's dialog Charmides represents
Socrates as returning from the Poteidaia campaign (431-430 B.C.)
to inquire about "how philosophy was doing at present" in
Athens, and about any signs of interest in it among the
"young men", implying that his new "way of life" had already
Apparently it had been his friend Chaerophon' s report
of the oracle at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, pronouncing
Socrates the wisest of men, that precipitated Socrates'
"conversion" from the mere love of learning to the vocation
of teaching. Perhaps Socrates himself went to Delphi to con-
firm the oracle. He might well have thought such confirmation
necessary, for Chaerophon in his leading question to the
oracle invited the answer he got; and Socrates would surely
have known this. Diogenes Laertius quotes Aristotle to say
that he did undertake such a journey.
With or without a personal consulting of the oracle,
it is certain that if its pronouncement was one major influ-
ence towards Socrates' embracing his new vocation, it was by
no means the only one; nor is it sufficient to explain the
sense of divine calling, not from Apollo but from God, which
153 c. Burnet suggests that the Poteidaia trance
(Plato Symposium 220 c.) may have been the actual crisis.
See Taylor, Socrates , p. 82.
Plato Apology 21 a. 3 i. 2. 5.
he felt. As Sauvage says, "it could hardly have been the
sort of shock which brings about a genuine "conversion" if
it had not also included some divine approval of the way in
which Socrates at once understood the Delphic injunction:
'Know thyself. ' " 3
Many eminent Socratic scholars discount the impor-
tance of the oracle altogether. Despite its prominence in
Socrates' own explanation of his mission in his defense at
the trial, Taylor believes that "Socrates did not take Apollo
and his oracle very seriously." Zeller sees the oracle as
simply confirming but in no sense establishing the calling,
and Friedlander says that Socrates' mission was "the spon-
taneous, necessary result of his moral and intellectual con-
stitution, and needed not to be connected with the eternal
order of Providence by a tie so frail as a perishable
That Socrates did have a genuine "conversion" and an
abiding sense of being "called" by God to his vocation is
beyond doubt. His own words at the trial give abundant
Micheline Sauvage, Socrates and the Human Conscience ,
trans. Patrick Hepburne-Scott (New York: Harper & Bros.,
1960), p. 36.
Plato Apology 21 b.
A. E. Taylor, "Socrates," Encyclopaedia Britannica ,
Eduard Zeller, Socrates and the Socratic Schools ,
trans. Oswald J. Reichel (New York: Russell & Russell Inc. ,
1962), p. 60.
5 I, 587.
witness to it: "the god has commanded me--as I am persuaded
that he has done—to spend my life in searching for wisdom,
and in examining myself and others ... I cannot hold my
peace because that would be to disobey the god . . . Athenians,
I hold you in the highest regard and affection, but I will be
persuaded by the god rather than you."
Further, Socrates believed his mission a valid and
essential one in reference to his beloved Athens and his
countrymen: "I think that no greater good has befallen you
in the state than my service to the god." The difference
which this sense of being divinely called and commissioned
made to Socrates is well expressed by Crossman, who says
that "he perceived that what he had previously done through
natural curiosity and dislike of humbug was something es sen-
tial to the salvation of the Athens which he loved."
To define his mission adequately is no small task.
Negatively, it was to expose the ignorance of men, especially
that ignorance which allowed them to think they knew when they
did not know. Here his aim was "to shatter the massive
certitudes of unawakened men." Positively, his mission was
to strive for the moral and intellectual development of him-
self and others. He wanted to tear down the old tottering
■'"Plato Apology 29 a, 37 e, 29 c. 2 Ibid . 30 a.
R. H. S. Crossman, lato Today (London: George Allen
& Unwin Ltd., 1959), p. 38.
Sauvage, p. 97.
beliefs not in order to leave the ground strewn with their
rubble, but in order to help men build up through the power
of self-awareness a more adequate foundation for their
lives. He wanted to help men become aware of who they were
(i.e., "Know thyself"), so that they could be morally autono-
mous, taking the powers of decision and action into their own
To this end, Socrates aimed far less at championing
definite doctrines than he did at imparting to men a certain
tone of life and thought, an art of intellectual inquiry--in
short, a philosophic character. He believed that philosophy
was for Everyman, not just for the few. He asked the funda-
mental questions about life which no one else was asking,
questions which affected the life of each Athenian. He pressed
for fundamental definitions, not alone to discover what they
are, but even more to lead men to consider the first of all
questions, "How should man live in the service of the city,
which requires virtuous men, and in the service of God, who
requires the good man in a well-ordered city?"
Socrates knew that question had its answer, because
he himself was that kind of man. Rather than indoctrinate
his fellows with a theoretical, rational answer that would
be impossible to articulate anyhow, he lived the answer to
the question in his own life, offering as any missionary not
simply a proclamation in words but in self.
1 Ibid. , p. 108. 2 Friedlander, I, 18.
It is the "teaching method" of Socrates that best
explains his mission. The figure of speech by which he des-
cribes himself is that of a "midwife," one who can assist at
birth but who cannot give birth for another. After describing,
in the Theaetetus , the midwifery of women, he continues:
I attend men and not women, and I look after their
souls when they are in labor, and not after their bodies;
and the triumph of my art is in thoroughly examining
whether the thought which the mind of a young man
brings forth is false and lifeless, or fertile and true.
And again I resemble the midwife in being barren of
wisdom, and the reproach which is often made against
me, that I ask questions of others and have not the
wits to pronounce upon any subject myself, is very
just--the reason is, that the god compels me to be a
midwife, but has not allowed me to bring forth. ^
Socrates felt that this was the relationship in which he
stood to others, as he tried to help them discover and to
bring to birth within themselves the power of self -awareness
by which they could become free and responsible with respect
both to their city and their God.
Education for Socrates was not then a matter of learn-
ing from a "teacher"- -hence the proper hesitation in calling
Socrates a "teacher"; he would not have consented to it. The
task of education, as Socrates conceived it, could not be the
direct transfer of ready-made knowledge from teacher to
learner. Rather it begins, in Cornford's words, by "opening
the eyes of the soul, and clearing its vision from the dis-
torting mists of prejudice, and from the conceit of knowledge
Plato Theaetetus 150 c, Jowett translation.
which is really no more than second-hand opinion."
The process continues, for Socrates, in his leading
another by a kind of conversation called dialectic along his
own paths to his own understandings. Gomperz remarks that
"the great business of his life was conversation," and it
is for this reason that he takes every opportunity for what
Zeller through his translator calls "instructive and moral
Uith Socrates this dialectical movement enters into
Western thought. It is obviously a highly individualized
approach, in which written books are of little value, but in
which every conversation proceeds in accordance with the
needs of the partner. Nietzsche is expressing the Socratic
principle of education when he says that "an educator never
says what he himself thinks, but only that which he thinks
it is good for those whom he is educating to hear upon any
The implication of this is that the arrival at final
answers is not nearly so important as the growth of the
partners in dialog. Montaigne caught this insight when he
saw that Socrates "argues rather for the good of the arguers
F. M. Cornford, Before and After Socrates (Cambridge
The University Press, 1950), p. 47.
II, 48. Socrates . . . , p. 68.
Quoted in Friedlander, I, 166.
than for the good of the argument." His aim was never to
alter opinion so much as to let the conversation lead on to
truth. He thought in terms of a "search" for truth, and him-
self one of the searchers. To reach the goal was not as
important as to keep on traveling even when the goal seemed
far off. Thus at the end of the Theaetetus he encourages his
partner in what has proved a fruitless search for a definition
of knowledge, by asking him to consider the advantages already
won: "if, Theaetetus, you should ever conceive afresh, you
will be all the better for the present investigation; and if
not, you will be soberer and humbler and gentler to other men,
and will be too modest to fancy that you know what you do not
Socrates' conclusion about the possibility and process
of education can be stated, in the Socratic vocabulary, by
saying that virtue both can and cannot be taught. It cannot
be taught, in that it is not a collection of propositions for
sale to anyone who can pay the teacher. It can, however, be
taught in that through a mutual search by means of conversa-
tion there may come to another a moment of insight, an inner
"spark" which brings light to the understanding. The teacher
is but a midwife to the event, bringing to light what is
already there in the mind of the other.
It will easily be recognized that this concept of
Michel de Montaigne, The Essays , trans. Charles
Cotton (3 vols., London: George Bell & Sons, 1892), III, c. 8,
Plato Theaetetus 210 c, Jowett translation.
education rests upon the epistemological doctrine of remi-
niscence, according to which knowledge arises from a bringing
into consciousness of information already possessed. Socrates
believed this to be so, as may be seen in Plato's dialog
Meno and also in the Phaedo, where Cebes cites Socrates'
claim that "a person will say the right things if one can
only put the right questions to him."
Socrates believes too that he has just as much that
must be "brought to mind" as does his partner in the conver-
sation. It is a mutual search upon x^hich they embark, and
Socrates claims to learn as much as he teaches--a claim
which, if untrue, is nevertheless to some extent part of the
"equipment" of every able teacher. For this reason Socrates
consistently refuses to call those who are with him his
students or disciples. They are his companions, and he
searches for truth along with them.
With a rare understanding of Socrates' mission, and
a deep appreciation for the way he exercised it, Kierkegaard
He entered into the role of midwife and sustained it
throughout; not because his thought "had no positive
content," but because he perceived that this relation
is the highest that one human being can sustain to
another. And in this surely Socrates was everlastingly
right . . . for between man and man the maieutic rela-
tionship is the highest, and begetting belongs to God.
. . . For no human being was ever truly an authority to
another, or ever helped anyone by posing as such, or
was ever able to take his client with him into truth.
... So understood, and this was indeed the Socratic
73 a, as translated in Friedlander, I, 156.
understanding, the teacher stands in a reciprocal relation,
in that life and its circumstances constitute an occasion
for him to be a teacher, while he in turn gives occasion
for others to learn something. . . . The disciple gives
occasion for the teacher to understand himself, and the
teacher gives occasion for the disciple to understand
himself. . . . Whoever understands Socrates best under-
stands precisely that he owes him nothing, which is as
Socrates would have it, and which it is beautiful to
have been able to will.l
Personal Characteristics and Behavior
In conducting his mission, Socrates exhibited a per-
sonal manner and a way of life which, while appealing to some
among the young men of the city, seemed to most of his fellow-
Athenians to be not only irritating and objectionable, but
at some points positively dangerous. That Socrates and his
ideas did actually pose a threat to Athens is quite clear.
Aristophanes was not wholly "kidding" when he ridiculed
Socrates as leader of a movement fraught with grave peril to
established religion and traditional morality. In the Clouds
Strepsiades laments, "Oh what madness! I had lost my reason
when I threw over the gods through Socrates' seductive
The main focus of Aristophanes' attack on Socrates
is on Ionian natural science, seen to be an atheism which
leaves no room for the acknowledgment or worship of the gods;
Soren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments , trans.
D. F. Swenson (London: Oxford University Press, 1936"),
pp. 6, 129-30.
Aristophanes Clouds 1476. All translations of
Aristophanes are from Aristophanes, Five Comedies , translator's
name not given (Cleveland: World Publishing Co. , 1948).
and while Socrates never embraced a total atheism, he cer-
tainly was regarded as a "fellow traveler" with the early
Greek philosophers who sought naturalistic explanations for
the universe. There was enough "smoke," that is to say, to
make the cry of "fire" credible.
Similarly for a secondary focus of the attack in the
Clouds , the point of sophism. Socrates both was and was not
a sophist. Aristophanes made him the representative of the
worst form of sophism, as the Clouds gives abundant evidence.
The first words of Socrates to be quoted are these: "How
many times the length of its legs does a flea jump?" The
first sight of him is as he is floating suspended in a bas-
ket. The first word he himself utters is, "Mortal, what do
you want of me?
Even without the caricature of Aristophanes, however,
to most people Socrates would still have been indistinguishable
from the sophists. For the sophists did not form a school,
but were rather individual teachers of quite varying type.
Some could have been described as professionals of debate,
others as sellers of universal knowledge, or virtuosos of
propaganda, or searchers of the heavens. The range was wide,
encompassing on the one hand men like Protagoras and Prodicus,
who were men of integrity engaged in essential reflection;
and on the other hand opportunists and charlatans like Gorgias.
1 Ibid . 145. 2 Ibid . 218.
3 Ibid . 223. 4 Sauvage, p. 17.
Socrates speaks of some of the sophists with great respect;
for others he has only scorn.
Socrates' unlikeness to the "average" sophist would
come at the point of the very purpose of his speaking.
Whereas the sophist would regard the other as an opponent to
be silenced, Socrates looked upon him as a partner in a
mutual search. Again, where the sophist would aim at winning
an argument, Socrates would aim at discovering new truth.
However, though it was for the higher purpose of
leading men to truth rather than reducing them to submission,
Socrates nevertheless adopted on occasion the methods of
these "intellectual counterfeiters." He could, as read the
indictment against him, "make the weaker argument appear the
stronger." He could moreover be guilty of "eristic," which
Cornford well defines as "verbal contention without regard
for truth." Plato's dialog Hippias Major gives the chief
instance of this, illustrating the easy and playful manner in
which Socrates confuted those- -here the sophist Hippias --who
pretended to know everything. While ostensibly it is a
dialog seeking a definition of the "beautiful," its real pur-
pose is to show up Hippias and his kind; and it succeeds
The significant point to notice is that Socrates
resorts to eristic and similar tricks "only when he is
Plato Apology 19 b.
Cornford, Before and After Socrates, p. 45.
exposing the pretensions of professional rhetoricians or
debaters or of others who claimed some superior wisdom. The
wise man can only fight them with their own weapons and so
convice their young admirers that verbal cleverness is not
wisdom." In this light at least most of the use Socrates
makes of the techniques of the sophists seems justified.
Besides being vilified as a sophist of the worst sort,
Socrates was also intensely disliked for what is customarily
termed his irony. His claiming that he knows nothing, and
therefore cannot himself answer the questions he puts to
others, was seen by many to be the disagreeable characteristic
of a man who disparages his abilities in order to evade his
responsibilities. Taylor recalls Aristotle's picture of the
ironical man as "the man whose conversation is made offensive
by the affectation of mock humility, insincere depreciation
of himself and everything connected with himself."
The irony of Socrates, however, is of a different
sort and for a different purpose. It is best understood as
"the net of the great educator." This is so in two respects.
Firstly, it allows Socrates, without an air of pompousness or
superiority, and while seeming to leave the initiative with
his partner, to lead the conversation as will best benefit
the other, whether towards a realization of ignorance to a
prideful mind or the dawning of truth to a humble mind. In
the hands of a skillful educator, irony is one of the sharpest
Ibid . Socrates , p. 47. Friedlander, I, 141.
of tools, whether for peeling away pretense or for carving
out new truth. Secondly, irony is a "net" for Socrates in
that it lets him disarm ridicule by anticipating it, and makes
him the kind of man who would be welcomed into a company of
men where a more solemn teacher would not be invited.
Actually Socrates' irony comes very near being a
sense of humor. Taylor so regards it, terming it "an appre-
ciation of the comic in human nature and conduct that pro-
tected him at once against sentimentality and against
cynicism." Conscious of his mission for God, Socrates also
sensed that he need not and must not go about his task with
a scowling face and a sour disposition. His irony is this
conviction expressed in practice, as well as his "net" to
educate men. His use of it was both deliberate and wise.
To many Athenians, however, the irritation which
Socrates caused was not so much a matter either of his seem-
ing sophistry or his irony, but rather arose from the fact
that he was always "hanging around" the agora and the gymnasia,
pestering people with his bothersome questions, providing
unwholesome sport to the young and embarrassment to their
elders. Socrates in their eyes set a bad example, spending
his days loafing rather than working. Moreover, he had a way
of speaking which alienated others. "He had the uncommon
gift of proving everybody a fool, ... an unfailing aptitude
Encyclopaedia Britannica , XX, 917.
of putting everybody's back up." Often it seems he did make
people mad. Diogenes Laertius reports one Demetrius of
Byzantium saying that frequently, "owing to his vehemence in
argument, men set upon him with their fists or tore his hair
out; and that for the most part he was despised and laughed
Certainly his physical appearance made him a further
object of ridicule and dislike. In a culture where physical
beauty was highly valued, Socrates was possessed of bulging
bull-like eyes, gaping nostrils, thick lips, and a paunch.
"Nature did him wrong," writes Montaigne. And so, in this
respect, it did.
When Socrates says in the Theaetetus that "they say
of me that I am the strangest of mortals and drive men to
their wits' end," it is not only his physical appearance and
his "hanging around" the marketplace to bother people with
his questions that makes such a statement credible. For his
conduct was singular in other respects as well. He was often
seen by others in what appeared to be a state of trance. Two
instances of this are quoted in Plato's dialog Symposium ,
Costa Varnali, The True Apology of Socrates , trans.
Stephen Yaloussis (London: Zeno Publishers, 1955), pp. 7-8.
2 i. 2. 21. 3 III, 311.
Plato Theaetetus 149 a, Jowett translation.
175 a, 220 c. A further reference may be in Aristo-
phanes Clouds 171: "One night when he was . . . gazing open-
mouthed at the heavens, a lizard crapped upon him from the
top of the roof."
where Erixymachos observes: "That is only his way; he often
goes off and stands anywhere." Whether these strange fits
of abstraction indicate catalepsy or simply profound medita-
tion, "absorption in consecutive thought" (so Shorey believes
Plato to represent them); nevertheless, the effect of them
was to make people look upon Socrates as a "queer duck. " Far
more than the daimonion of which he frequently spoke, the
trances gave him the reputation of being odd.
Two other powers which Socrates seemed to possess
added to his notoriety. He had a way of speaking which pro-
duced sometimes an almost hypnotic effect on his listeners,
those especially who were his close companions. If Strepsiades
in the Clouds could have claimed to have been seduced by
Socrates' phrases, so also were those closest to him pro-
foundly affected by his speech. To refer again to the
Symposium, Alcibiades confesses, "When I listen to Pericles
or any other orator of the day, I say to myself, 'He is a
good speaker,' and that is all. But when I listen to Socrates,
my soul is stirred, my eyes fill with tears, and I blush for
the trivialities on which I waste my days. There is none like
The second of these personal powers over others which
in some degree Socrates possessed was through his touch. Just
how real this was is hard to determine. A reference in the
x 175 a. p. 11. Aristophanes Clouds 1476.
216 a, as translated in Shorey, p. 11.
Symposium may be only playful; but in the Theages it seems
genuine, where Aristeides avers that "my progress was far the
greatest and most marked whenever I sat beside you and held
and touched you. 1 The probably spuriousness of the dialog
raises a question as to the trustworthiness of this second
reference, but it is surely no exaggeration to say that
physical contact with Socrates, as in even a handshake with
many great men, could have exercised a singular effect on
others, and that in his case it doubtless did.
Another marked feature in Socrates' life and behavior
was his almost glad acceptance of the state of poverty in
which he lived. Xenophon in his Symposium represents Socrates
as saying, "A charming thing, poverty, upon my word! It
seldom causes envy or is a bone of contention; and it is
kept safe without the necessity of a guard, and grows sturdier
by neglect." While doubtless an overstatement of the appeal
poverty had for Socrates, it attests his contentment at being
poor. Certainly it afforded him the leisure to carry out his
mission. Moreover, in his eyes at least, his poverty did not
signify a deliberate attachment to penury (as for Diogenes
the Cynic) but instead a half -humorous detachment from
material possessions, in fact from all forms of possession.
If this is how it looked to him, however, it is not
how others regarded it. The sophist Antiphon scored Socrates
1 175 d. 2 Plato Theages 130 e.
Xenophon Symposium 3. 9.
for what he saw to be his abject poverty: "You are living a
life that would drive even a slave to desert his master.
Your meat and drink are of the poorest, . . . you never wear
shoes or tunic. ... If you intend to make your companions
do that too, you must consider yourself a professor of un-
happiness." And if it seldom became a "bone of contention"
in Socrates' life, certainly one place where it did so was
in his marital life. Poor Xanthippe, whom history on the
basis of one questionable reference has judged to be an
untamed shrew, surely could feel nothing of her husband's
satisfaction with their poverty. Though it gave to Socrates
the luxury of teaching for nothing and a certain independence,
it afforded his wife neither luxury nor independence. While
the questions of Socrates' marital history are not finally
to be decided, it is probable to conclude, with Taylor, that
he was a widower of about fifty when he married Xanthippe,
who may have been around twenty. She had unquestionably a
hard and difficult life with Socrates, and the wonder may be
that she did not react more strongly than she did. Socrates
speaks of her with appreciation in a conversation with his
son Laraprocles, and she is represented as a devoted and
Xenophon Memorabilia i. 6. 2.
Xenophon Symposium 2 . 9-10.
A. E. Taylor, "Plato's Biography of Socrates," The
Proceedings of the British Academy , VIII (1917), 93ff.
Xenophon Memorabilia ii. 2. 10-11.
inconsolable wife during the final hours of his life.
If Socrates embraced a voluntary poverty, it is equally
clear that he was no self- tormenting ascetic. Few citizens
of Athens found more enjoyment in the common pleasures of
life, or found a heartier welcome among all sorts of men,
shams and pretenders excluded. He genuinely loved life, and
was constantly criticized not for disavowing the pleasures
of the senses but for over -indulging in them. He was of an
erotic nature, as is liberally evidenced in the writings of
both Plato and Xenophon. The latter' s admissions are especially
significant in light of his avowed purpose of presenting
Socrates with the highest moral standards. But clearly to
Xenophon there was no overt homosexuality in the eroticism of
Socrates. When Xenophon says, M He often said he loved some-
one," it is not to a physical but a spiritual love that he
Others, and especially later biographers, are more
inclined to believe that like many Greek males in that day
Socrates too engaged in homosexual relationships. Their
thinking may have been formed or at least confirmed in light
of Socrates' physical appearance. As indicated, he had the
very sensual features of one who might be expected to indulge
his passions. Apparently a visiting physiognomist, 7opyrus,
saw in Socrates' countenance the imprint of strong sensuality.
Cicero reports in full this meeting of the two, and cites
•'"Plato Phaedo 60 b. 2 Memorabilia vi. 1. 2.
Socrates' agreement with "opyrus regarding his sensual nature
and his frank declaration that "such vices were natural to
him, but that he had got the better of them by his reason."
This seems to have been the case. Socrates did feel the pull
of the "flesh," but as Alcibiades so boldly describes it in
Plato's Symposium, he never gave in to it no matter what the
The whole tenor of his life in fact supports the view
that while he had the strongest appetites, he also had full
and final control over them. He could drink all night and
not get drunk. He could savor to the full the delicacies of
the banquet table, and yet live for days on the meagerest of
diet. So too could he love another male, both for physical
and spiritual beauty, without overt homosexuality. To take
his love for Alcibiades as an example, that love was finally
for the soul of Alcibiades, though appreciation for his physi-
cal beauty was a preparation for it. For Socrates, the
thoroughly erotic man, the sensual was a stepping-stone to a
higher level of relationship. Whereas the ascetic, shunning
and perhaps fearing the sensual, detours round it to get to
the spiritual, Socrates moves naturally and with self-control
right through it.
His sharing the common pleasures of men extended also
to his sharing their common life. It is true th^t he did not
seek deep involvement in the political life of Athens. He
^ Tusculan Disputations 4. 37. 219 c.
felt that his mission demanded his non-participation, on the
grounds that- -in his own words --"He who will fight for the
right, if he would live even for a brief space, must have a
private station and not a public one." His daimonion had
forbidden him to take much part in politics, and his subse-
quent life confirmed for him the wisdom of this. However,
he did take his normal turn with others of his fellow-citizens
in the routine political responsibilities of Athens, and at
one time even consented to serve on the Senate as a member of
the Committee of Prytanes . Moreover, he served his city in
the military, often and well. At least four times he left
Athens to engage in military campaigns, and his courage and
valor are well attested. In Xenophon's words, "To public
authority he rendered such scrupulous obedience in all that
the laws required, both in civil life and in military service,
that he was a pattern of good discipline to all."
In similar fashion, Socrates also shared the common
life of Athens with respect to religious observances and prac-
tices. While he would not have affirmed belief in the in-
dividual gods of Mount Olympus, neither would have most of
his countrymen. The objects of religious worship were "the
gods," a general designation not too accurately defined, and
certainly not confined to anthropomorphic deities after the
fashion conceived by Homer. The old shrines were still
Plato Apology 32 a, Jowett translation.
Memorabilia iv. 4. 1.
traditionally related to the separate gods of the pantheon,
but worship was of a more general pattern.
Within this context, Socrates was a man of deep
piety. He found it possible, using the customary religious
media, to worship the deity as he conceived it. The two
religious acts just prior to his death, his prayer and his
reminder to Crito to sacrifice a cock to Asclepius , were
genuine expressions of his inner faith. Grote, citing the
sacrifice as quite literally meant, says that "Socrates was
a very religious man, much influenced by prophecies, oracles,
dreams, and special revelations."
Xenophon's testimony bears this judgment out: "He
offered sacrifices constantly, and made no secret of it, now
in his home, now at the altars of the state temples, and he
made use of divination with as little secrecy. . . . When he
prayed, he asked simply for good gifts, 'for the gods know
best what things are good. ' " Those who knew Socrates well
acknowledged his reliance on the gods, and spoke of how the
gods favored him with special revelations. These were very
often in the form of dreams, and there was of course the
guidance he received from the daimonion. In both these forms
of divine intervention, Socrates had great confidence. Of the
daimonion much will be said later. With regard to dreams,
the most trusted of the dialogs of Plato give ample
1 Plato Phaedo 117 b, 118 a. 2 II, 195.
3 Memorabilia i. 1. 2-3, i. 3. 2. 4 Ibid. iv. 3. 12.
As for himself, so Socrates too accepted the impor-
tance of special revelations of the gods for others. He
often counseled men to inquire of an oracle, where the out-
come of a course of action could not be foreseen. Xenophon
quotes him to say that "those who intended to control a house
or a city needed the help of divination." When Xenophon
himself asked Socrates if he should join the expedition of
Cyrus, Socrates spoke his own mind and then reportedly said,
"I have given you the advice of a mere mortal; in matters
which involve uncertainty and doubt it is my reasoned judgment
that the oracle of Apollo should be consulted." When
Xenophon had done so, even though putting the question in
such a way as to insure the answer he wanted, Socrates en-
couraged him to do all that the god had said.
In brief, Socrates accepted for himself and encouraged
among others a trusting reliance upon the gods. "Try the
gods," he said, "by serving them, and see whether they will
vouchsafe to counsel you in matters hidden from man." His
own experience was that they would and did.
The sum of this review of Socrates' personal char-
acteristics and behavior is that he suffered an ill-deserved
Apology 33 c, Crito 44 a, Phaedo 60 d.
Memorabilia i. I. 6. Xenophon Anabasis iii. 1. 3-7.
Ibid. Xenophon Memorabilia i. 4. 18.
reputation as a sophist, a loafer, and a libertine. In fact,
he shared fully and gladly the life of his fellow- Athenians,
in the marketplace, at the banquet table, in the civic assembly,
on the battlefield, and in worship; and he did so not only
with a deep personal integrity but also with a profound sense
of social responsibility. Perhaps, as Friedlander suggests,
"He was the only Athenian practicing the true art of politics";
for his concern was not so much to patch up old institutions
as to help create new men, beginning with himself.
Nevertheless, as much as his life was the common life
of men, it extended beyond that into a higher plane of human
wisdom--the wisdom of the one who knows that he knows not--
and then even further into the "ineffable." Socrates, living
to the full the common life, at the same time transcended it.
Appreciating the "finer things" of life, he could nevertheless
embrace a voluntary poverty. A thoroughly erotic man, he
could still rise above the temptations of the "flesh. " Even
on the battlefield he could experience the transcendent,
through periods of sustained meditation.
It was this resource from beyond the common life that
enabled him to move among men with such integrity. He did
more than preach his convictions. As a true missionary he
lived his convictions, giving them the demonstration of his
own life. Neither the unrighteous demands of a little ring
of oligarchs, nor of an angry populace, could sway his
decision to live as the righteous man, serving his city and
serving his god.
In Socrates the missionary, a man with the personal
characteristics and behavior that have been described, there
pre evident certain controlling beliefs concerning man, the
state, and the gods. It is to a consideration of these that
the discussion now turns.
With reference to man, Socrates believed first and
foremost, for himself and for others, in the full use of the
faculty of reason, especially for making responsible moral
decisions. For Socrates, there is no substitute for reasoned
examination of all that is within the province of man's mind
to consider and act upon. Reason holds sway, wherever it is
competent to rule, over both tradition and inspiration. The
customs and institutions of the past, social or political or
religious, are subject to reason's continuing appraisal and
criticism. Similarly inspiration, even when granted to be
divine inspiration, is strictly secondary to human intelligence
Plato Apology 32 c, re: The Thirty ordering him to
bring in Leon the Salaminian for execution.
Ibid . 32 b, re: the people clamoring for the trial
of the ten Arginusae admirals as a group.
See Socrates' discussion with Hippias in Plato
Hippias Major 298 c, where Socrates commitment to reason will
not permit him "to say these things carelessly without investi-
gation." Fowler translation.
on those matters where the mind of man is able to function.
For only reason can lead to wisdom find understanding.
Socrates in fact speaks of divine inspiration as
sharply opposed to reason. The two stand in marked contrast,
with inspiration given only to those of weak intellect. In
Plato's dialog Ion he says, "The poet is an airy thing, a
winged and a holy thing; and he cannot make poetry until he
becomes inspired and goes out of his senses and no mind is
left in him. . . . God takes the mind out of the poets , and
uses them as his servants." Similarly in the Apology he
says, "it is not by wisdom that the poets create their works,
but by a certain instinctive inspiration, like soothsayers
and prophets who say many fine things, but understand nothing
of what they say." As Cornford summarizes it, "inspired
genius would not yield knowledge of the kind Socrates wanted-
explicit knowledge able to state its rational grounds."
This search after "explicit knowledge," which only
the reason can give, was of utmost importance to Socrates,
and in his view not to look for certainty in anything was the
worst intellectual habit of all. As he says in the Fhaedo,
"The greatest misfortune that can befall a man is to become
not a misanthropist but a misologist, a hater of reason,
argument, and rational discussion.
X Plato Ion 533 c. 2 Plato Apology 22 b.
Principium Sapientiae , p. 67.
Plato fhaedo 89 c, paraphrased in Shorey, p. 127.
A number of Socratic scholars see in Socrates a one-
sided reliance on reason, an imbalance of the critical and
intellectual faculties. Gomperz calls it an "exaggerated
reverence" for what is founded on reason, a view of life
"eminently suited to the childhood of the mental and moral
Yet in fairness it must be said that Socrates, at
least, was no prisoner chained to his reason. Reason did come
first in his attempts to understand himself, his fellows, and
his world; but he was not so obsessed with it that he failed
to see its limitations. A whole-hearted rationalist, refusing
to be bound by prejudice and tradition, he nevertheless steered
clear of an uncritical rational ism which he saw could lead
simply to a substitution of one kind of prejudice for another.
He believed, in addition, that there is much that only the
gods know, beyond the reach of human reason to discover and
yet important to man; so that no thoughtful man would want to
be purely rational, excluding every other kind of experience
that might bring guidance for his life.
It was Socrates' tempered respect for human reason
that led to his profound equation of wisdom with ignorance.
The wise man is wise precisely because he knows he does not
know. This he saw to be the message of the oracle of Apollo
to Chaerophon, which Socrates interpreted as the first prin-
ciple of wisdom, and which he confirmed as he discusses in
] v eller, Socrates . . . , p. 80. 2 I, 390.
the Apology by examining those thought to be wise--statesraen,
poets, artisans --and finding that "the men whose reputation
for wisdom stood highest were nearly the most lacking in it."
He represents this discovery, repeated time after time, as
something of a shock to him; and, while this is undoubtedly
an instance of his "accustomed irony," nevertheless the impact
of these experiences had a sure and lasting effect. Socrates
consistently refused to be "sure" about anything, whether the
definition of a word or even the very possibility of knowledge
at all. He is a model for the undogmatic man.
Where he most closely approaches "dogma" is in refer-
ence to his ethical convictions. An additional measure of his
wisdom, besides his knowing that he does not know, is his
realization that the fundamental questions of man's life simply
were not being asked by the sophists, statesmen, and citizens
of Athens. These are the ethical questions, concerned with
who is a good man and what is the good life. For the mature
Socrates, the necessary considerations were not of "heat and
cold, and stones falling from the sky," but of man and his
Four of his ethical convictions stand out most clearly,
and if there can be said to be any Socratic body of "doctrine,"
these four present it. The first is that virtue is knowledge,
a paradoxical statement which infers that true knowledge is
not articulated through the lips of an intellectual man but
■'"Plato Apology 22a.
rather demonstrated in the life of a moral man. The second
is that all wrongdoing and error are due to ignorance, which
follows from Socrates' belief that it is impossible to make
111 use of the knowledge of the good. This is the one kind
of knowledge, for Socrates, the mere possession of which
guarantees that it will be used rightly. The third of his
ethical "doctrines," based on the second, is that no man does
wrong willingly. Everyone acts in accordance with what he sees
to be good for him and hence, because men in society are inter-
dependent, good for all. The fourth of his ethical convic-
tions, one that he warns his friend Crito "only a few men hold,
or ever will hold . . . ," is that it is better to suffer in-
justice than to inflict it.
One implication that is rather too easily drawn from
the foregoing, especially from the second and third convictions
cited, is that salvation for man, i.e., his attaining to the
full purpose and meaning of his life, is only a matter of
education. Socrates, while saying that there is virtue and
that men can be virtuous , does not want to say that education
can automatically make men good. As previously pointed out in
the discussion of his "midwifery," Socrates believed both that
virtue can and cannot be taught. There may, but there also
may not, be that "spark" touched off in the soul of another
which will bring him the knowledge that is virtue, and the
virtue that is knowledge.
Plato Crito 49 c. Supra , p. 39.
Among others of the beliefs of Socrates concerning
man, besides his tempered respect for man's reason and his
affirmation of ethical convictions, one of the most controlling
is his belief that a man's world centers in himself. While
Socrates lived responsibly in relation to his fellowmen, there
is in his thinking no primary sense of neighbor, just as there
is no primary sense of sin. The only intrinsic good for man
is to perfect his own nature. As Varnali imagines Socrates
to say, "The true philosopher is the one who can recognize his
In his reflection upon individual man as an autonomous
moral being, Socrates virtually created the Western conception
of man's "soul" as the seat of his intelligence and moral
character; and this must stand as one of his enduring contri-
butions to the history of man's thought about himself. At
the time of Socrates, two quite different conceptions of man's
soul existed side by side in religious thought. From Homer's
time onward, the soul (Greek psyche) had meant merely man's
breath, whether his lifelong breathing or his last dying sigh.
In Orphic theology, on the other hand, the soul was more
individualized, becoming in effect a subliminal self similar
to the id of the Freudians, and opposed to man's ego. Orphics
most often equated the soul to the mysterious daimon which was
Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments , p. 7. p. 18.
M. Whitcomb Hess, "Kierkegaard and Socrates," The
Christian Century , LXXXII (June 9, 1965), 736.
undergoing successive incarnations in association with par-
ticular individuals, but which in pure essence was divine.
Against these conceptions, Socrates posited the soul
of a man as that faculty of insight which can distinguish
good from evil and infallibly choose the good. The supreme
business of man's life > he thought, is --in relation to him-
self--to tend his own soul, and--in relation to another--to
encourage him to tend his. This again is the oracle's "Know
thyself," the motive and the goal of Socrates' mission.
It was his further belief that man's sou] partakes
of the divine that led Socrates to maintain that the soul is
immortal. He did so, of course, not as an article of knowl-
edge but of faith. Yet it was surely a strong faith, for it
gave to him a confidence and a fearlessness in his actions.
As Shorey expresses it, "He called death and exile and poverty
hobgoblins to frighten children," and his own conduct in the
face of all three gives witness to that strength. It is likely
that Socrates' "victory" over death justified for Plato belief
in the soul's immortality. With Friendlander , "There was
something untouched by the fact of the man 'Socrates,' as he
was called, lying dead and about to be buried."
Socratic scholars in the nineteenth century doubted,
for the most part, whether Socrates himself had any such
belief in the soul's immortality. They credited this rather
to Plato, even though the Phaedo in which it appears is
1 Plato Phaedo 63 c ff. 2 p. 14. 3 I, 30.
generally regarded as historically accurate. Similarly they
rejected the Theory of Ideas which Socrates elaborates there,
feeling this too is of Plato's conception.
Early twentieth century scholars, especially Burnet
and Taylor, tried to recover the claim that these "doctrines"
originated in the mind of Socrates, though they were of course
developed and systematized by Plato. As Taylor rather con-
vincingly argues, "Unless the Phaedo is a deliberate mystifi-
cation, it follows at once that its central doctrine, the so-
called 'Theory of Ideas,' which is represented as adopted by
Socrates in his youth and familiar to all his auditors, really
was a Socratic tenet, and is no discovery of Plato's." Recent
scholarship, however, while still divided, tends to lean to
Platonic organization. It is probable that, however much or
little Socrates may have articulated a Theory of Ideas or the
immortality of the soul, Plato first perceived the Theory,
and the Ideas themselves (e.g., justice, courage, the good,
etc.) in and through Socrates; and that a more or less formal
doctrine of the soul's immortality would have been firmly
based in the thought of the less dogmatic Socrates.
A clue to Socrates' willingness to "believe" beyond
the bounds of reason comes in his frequent use of myth. In
order to escape a metaphysical dogmatism, and at the same
Plato Phaedo 100 c, 102 b. 2 Socrates , p. 31.
Cornford is a notable exception, calling such
notions the "Taylorian heresy."
time attempt to render intelligible the mysterious aspects of
human life, Socrates employed the device of myth. He used it
for more than purposes of vague sentiment, but rather in
order to lead man in his imagination along a clearly defined
path to a non-rational claim, and then back again along the
path to a recognition of the moral obligation which the con-
tent of the myth establishes. Socrates' myths, as his irony,
both conceal and reveal what he would have men consider about
those matters outside the province of their reasoning powers.
So there are found within Plato's dialogs the Myth of the
Cave in the Republic to present the Eternal Forms, the Myth
of Diotima in the Symposium to discourse about Love, and the
Myth of the Soul in the Phaedo. The latter ends with Socrates
saying, "This or something like this at any rate is what
happens in regard to our souls and their habitations --that
this is so seems to me proper and worthy of the risk of be-
lieving; for the risk is noble."
These then are the principal beliefs Socrates has con-
cerning men. Supremely, there is a belief in the full use of
human reason to guide conduct, and a respect for reason
tempered only by the awareness that in some ranges of human
experience it is limited. Only the gods know some things, and
in everything man must be careful not to assume that he knows
what he does not know; for true wisdom begins in a knowledge
X 514 c ff. 2 201 d ff.
3 107 b ff. 4 Ibid. 115 a.
of ignorance. With respect to ethical living, however, there
are firm convictions to guide a man, notably that virtue is
the true knowledge and is to be exhibited, not argued. Man
stands, self-possessed and autonomous, at the center of his
world, responsible to realize within himself the good life.
He has a soul that is the seat of his intellect and moral
character, and that lives on into immortality. This is his
faith, as is also his belief, beyond the bounds of his reason,
in a Theory of Ideas which--along with his belief in immor-
tality and other non-rational beliefs --he both reveals and
conceals by the use of myth. So is reason protected from
being over-extended, and man's proper concerns protected from
an overzealous and exclusive reliance on reason.
While Socrates' beliefs with reference to man are the
most interesting and the most important of his convictions, it
is a part of the necessary background to the discussion of his
daimonion to inquire also, though much more briefly, into his
beliefs in two other areas: the state and the gods.
Concerning the state, Socrates' convictions grew out
of his belief that man is morally an autonomous being, endowed
with a reason which can guide his living toward personal and
social responsibility. Man does not need a tradition of
authority, whether political, social, or religious, to make
his decisions for him. As pointed out earlier, the Greeks of
Socrates' time did not decide the issues of life by taking
counsel with themselves in the "inner man," but instead relied
1 Supra , 23.
upon the authority of tradition or divine revelation from an
external oracle or other form of divination. The genuine
revolution in human thought and conduct which Socrates began
occurred precisely in this transfer of the power of decision
from beyond to within man's self or soul.
Accordingly, Socrates opposed the state in its claim
to exercise on behalf of a man powers which Socrates believed
were within man. Againrt the authority of the state Socrates
posited the ability of the true self or intelligence to know
and to will the good. Further, he believed in the guidance
of his daimon, received from outside himself, so he was con-
vinced, but nevertheless received individually. In both
respects, he set up his own reason and illumination against
the authority of the community as a whole.
The threat which this extremely individualistic,
relativistic political ethic poses is obvious even in the
stating of it. It threatens forms of government from oligarchy
to democracy, and explains why Socrates was often in trouble
with both. There is not much question that, between the two
forms, Socrates was far more in sympathy with the oligarchy.
Democracy, as then practiced In Greece, was thorough-going,
with every citizen sharing fully in the making of political,
military, and legal decisions. There was little in the way
of representative government, and little attempt at a system
of checks and balances. Men with little if any qualification
were entrusted with political power far beyond their ability
to use wisely. Socrates criticized the "Periclean democracy,
the radical vice of which was that it denied the need for
expert knowledge in politics." It was, in Nietzsche's phrase,
"one flock and no shepherd.""
With reference finally to the gods, Socrates is cor-
rectly understood as a man of deep piety; although certainly
his fellow-Athenians did not so regard him. It was essential
to the faith Socrates had that he be both a devout man and at
the same time opposed to the conventional, conformist piety of
a man like Euthyphro. When he says, in his defense at the
trial, "I do believe in the gods as no one of my accusers be-
] ieves in them . . . , his statement is true, both as regards
his conception of the gods and the intensity and depth of his
In attempting to define the object of Socrates' wor-
ship, the translators have adopted different forms of expres-
sion. Church, whose translation of the Apology is the one
used in this discussion, uses interchangeably the terms "the
god" and "the gods." Rouse uses the term "God." Whatever the
term, clearly the meaning Socrates gives to it is of a Supreme
Being far different from the Homeric conception of a god.
Within these pages, the terms "the god" and "God" will be used
to indicate the Supreme Being of Socrates.
John Burnet, Greek Philosophy; Thales to Plato
(London: Macmillan Co. , 1953) , p. 188.
Quoted in Taylor, Encyclopaedia Britannica , XX, 917.
Plato Euthyphro . Plato Apology 35 e.
Socrates' belief in the god had three quite distinct
roots within his own experience. He saw in the order of
nrture one compelling evidence of the god. In his observation
of the universality of belief he found another. And in the
occurrence of divine revelations in dreams and signs and
oracles was a third. As to the way the god acted in relation
to the world, Socrates saw him either as an informing mind
throughout the universe or as a mighty power ordering the
world in keeping with his purposes. More technically, "Socra-
tes' conception of the Deity was either a pantheistic-poetical
one, or a deistic-teleological one."
In Socrates' conception, too, is a large element of
the "unknown God" to which the Apostle Paul was to refer some
450 years later. He is a god whose name and form are not
known, and who yet is worshiped. Certainly the god of Socrates
is no Apollo, to be named in a pantheon.
Function, rather than name or form, defines the god.
Inspiration, as of the poets, is one such function. Divine
revelations concerning those matters of life where the conse-
quences cannot be foreseen comprise another function. Omni-
presence and omniscience, the god knowing even the secret pur-
poses of a man, are other functional characteristics of the
god. Furthermore, he is one who keeps to himself the knowl-
edge about celestial bodies and other heavenly matters that
■'"Gomperz, II, 89. 2 Acts 17. 23.
Xenophon Hemorabill i. 1. 19.
are irrelevant to man, and who in fact grows jealous and dis-
pleased when men try to search these out for themselves. So
does Socrates surely turn his back on idle metaphysical
In securing the relation of the god to man, however,
Socrates does appear to have adopted a demonology, although
it must remain an open question as to where his convictions
in this respect might leave off and Plato's begin. It is in
the dialog Cratylus that Socrates cites his belief in wide
and holy daimons who are the spirits of good men who have
died and who live on to guard and guide mortal men. In both
the Phaedo and the Republic , Socrates uses myth to present his
belief that daimons lead men to and from the last tribunal
after death, whether on to Hades or back to life. The details
differ from one myth to another, but some sort of demonology
figures in Socrates' understanding, or rather his attempt to
understand, issues beyond the power of his reason to penetrate.
Again, it must be remembered that the very use of myth is
Socrates' way of warning against a dogmatism in these matters.
Of such views as he thus sets forth he is quick to say, "This
or something like this at any rate . . . seems to me proper
and worthy of the risk of believing.
The existence and mediation of daimons seems to Socrates
a credible myth, which allows for communication between the
1 Ibid . iv. 7. 6. 2 Plato Cratylus 398 b.
3 Plato Phaedo 114 d.
god and man. So in the myth of Diotiraa in Plato's Symposium ,
Love is defined as a great daimon (note the inconsistency with
the definition of daimon in the Cratylus ) ; a daimon with power
"to interpret and to ferry across to the gods things given
by men, and to men things from the gods, from men petitions
and sacrifices, from the gods commands and requitals in re-
turn; and being in the middle it completes them and binds all
together into a whole."
His Trial and Death
Writing of Socrates, Diogenes Laertius claims that
"he was the first who discoursed on the conduct of life, and
the first philosopher who was tried and put to death." In
the circumstances of Socrates' trial and death, and in his
conduct during the period of these events, the man and his
mission are brought to sharp focus. It will complete this
necessary "general" look at Socrates to inquire briefly into
these last days.
Without question it was a political reaction that
occasioned the charge against Socrates, and his subsequent
trial and death. The final years of the fifth century were
militarily and thus politically disastrous for Athens. The
"Golden Age" had passed, the empire crumbled, and there was
within the city itself a chaotic succession of governments,
each one seemingly less responsible than the one before.
Following the brief but brutal reign of The Thirty, an
1 202 e. 2 i. 2. 20.
oligarchy, democracy was re-established in 403 B.C. With the
restoration of the democracy came "a hardening of the public
conscience." Even as communities in trouble always seek for
a scapegoat on whom to lay the blame, so did Athens; and
Socrates became a marked man. Not only was he regarded to
have been over- friendly with The Thirty, largely through his
earlier close relationship with Critias, but in addition he
had consistently opposed an unquestioning acceptance of the
authority of tradition.
Ever since the time of Solon, Athenian democracy had
been based upon the guarantees of the past. Salvation did not
lie forward in the future, but only in strict adherence to
the customs and beliefs of the past. All innovation was there-
fore wrong and dangerous , whether in religion or law. To
interpret religion, as Socrates did, was to destroy religion.
To want to have reasons for obeying the law, as Socrates did,
was to destroy respect for the law. Conservative Athenians,
looking for someone to blame for their political misfortunes,
saw in the innovator Socrates an incarnation of everything
that had led to their downfall. He was the perfect scapegoat.
The formal charge brought against him was two- fold:
that he rejected the gods of the state and introduced new gods
of his own, and that he corrupted the youth. But there were
other, hidden charges too, as Socrates himself said at the
Sauvage, p. 13.
Xenophon Memorabilia i. 1. 1; Plato Apology 24 b.
trial, dating back to Aristophanes' caricature of him twenty-
four years previously as a speculator about the heavens and
a sophist; and in addition there was the suspicion, not
entirely unfounded, that his political sympathy was for an
oligarchical form of government.
At the core of all the charges, new and old, lay a
base of solid facts. He had been disloyal to the "spirit"
of Athenian life, tied to the past; he had been critical of
the democracy and its leaders; and he had out of his earlier,
intimate association with foreign Pythagoreans imported
religious "novelties" into Athens. The last was the real
impiety of Socrates: conceiving and serving the gods, or in
his term "the god," in a manner alien to the religion of
Athens. Coupled with his radical political convictions, it
added up to a strong case against him, though not one that
could legitimately have been made the basis of an accusation
One element in the belief and behavior of Socrates,
however, that formed no part of the charge against him was
his daimonion; and in light of the focus of this entire dis-
cussion, that emphasis needs to be made. At no time do his
friends warn him against speaking of his daimonion, as if it
were a religious "novelty" alien to Athenian orthodoxy. Nor
would he have referred to it himself in his defense if it were.
A. E. Taylor, Varia Socratica (Oxford: James Parker
Co. , 1911), pp. 22ff.
As Taylor points out, "if the 'sign' had played any part in
the speech of Meletus , the language of Socrates as reproduced
by Plato would be ridiculous. He could not possibly fall back
on one of the very points of the accusation as an innocent
explanation of a suspicious course of conduct." He was in
no trouble with the Athenians over his daimonion. The
"irreligion" would be on the part of anyone who would have
questioned this experience.
With respect to the trial itself, it is probable that
Socrates did in fact improvise his own defense. His daimonion
had warned him against preparing a formal defense, and there
is no reason to believe that he did not take its advice. Some
have objected to Plato's Apology being an impromptu address,
since it is too well constructed for this. A far better solu-
tion to this objection than that Socrates disobeyed his
daimonion, however, is that Plato reconstructed the actual
words of Socrates into the present literary form, retaining
the substance but recasting the statement of his defense.
Three characteristic notes in the defense mark it as
faithful to the true Socrates. Again and again during his
speaking, he waxes ironical at the expense of his accusers
and his judges. Secondly, he refuses to be restricted to the
accepted form of monolog, and engages Meletus in conversation,
in the process giving abundant evidence of his skill in eristic.
Thirdly, he reflects a reluctance to be dogmatic, even regarding
1 Ibid. , p. 13.
his own death and the meaning of it. His final words in
Plato's Apology are these: "But now the time has come, and
we must go away--I to die, and you to live. Which is better
is known to the god alone."
A further characteristic of Socrates, his humor, is
focused at the trial if an incident, reported in Xenophon's
Apology, is historical. Upon leaving the tri?l Socrates
observes that his friends are all weeping, and he tries to
cheer them up. When Apollodorus confesses that what he finds
hardest to bear is that Socrates is being put to death un-
justly, the reply he receives is, "My beloved Apollodorus,
would you rather see me put to death justly?"
The judgment must be that, by all the standards of
fifty century Athens, Socrates was in fact guilty as charged.
As Zeller comments, "To one starting from the old Greek view
of right and the state, the condemnation of Socrates cannot
appear to be unjust." He was guilty of not believing whole-
heartedly in the gods of the state and introducing novel con-
ceptions of the gods and what it means to obey them. He was
guilty, by Athenian standards, of corrupting the young. Well
might Socrates have been surprised, as he said he was, that
the vote was so close. Had thirty people voted otherwise on
the first ballot, he would have been acquitted. As it was,
221 of the 502 jurors voted him innocent. Even after his
42 a. Xenophon Apology 28.
Socrates . . . , p. 231.
highly irregular and ironic suggestion that his "penalty" be
to be maintained at public expense in the Prytaneum, as if
he were a military or athletic hero, 141 jurors still judged
him not guilty."
As for the majority of the jurors who that day sen-
tenced Socrates to death, it is foolish to believe, with
Montaigne, that within a few years they were ostracized by a
repentant Athens, and that each one of them finally went and
hanged himself. The fact is that the collective conscience
of Athens was untouched by Socrates' sentencing. There was
no "Socrates Scandal," either then or later. In Sauvage's
very apt summary:
We may be sure that the 361 judges who gave their
vote for death, one February day, slept that night and
ever after with a quiet conscience, with never another
thought for the case of that garrulous loafer who for
too many years had plagued the citizens , forcing them
to tackle problems and look at themselves in a moral
looking glass. ^
The interim period between the sentencing and the day
of execution was prolonged for Socrates to almost a month,
owing to a religious custom of the Athenians. Every year a
sacred boat sailed to the shrine of Apollo in Delos, commemo-
rating a fabled deliverance of Athens by the god Theseus from
the requirement of seven boys and seven girls to be paid in
tribute to Minos of Knossos. While the boat was away, the
Taylor, Socrates , pp. 118-20.
III, 307. See also Diogenes Laertius Li ves . . ♦ i.
3 p. 9.
rules of ceremonial purity forbad any executions. Instead of
the customary twenty-four hours, therefore, Socrates waited
in prison until the boat returned, a period of approximately
Plato's dialog Crito reports the attitudes and actions
of Socrates during that time, and reinforces both the rational
tenacity and personal integrity that are characteristic of
him, as well as showing him still a man who gives much impor-
tance to the non-rational, especially as regards divine
revelation. The Crito reveals a Socrates who puts great store
in his dreams; e.g. , "I am counting on a dream I had a little
while ago." Here too is a Socrates who can conceive the
Laws of Athens personified and speaking to him, such that
"the sound of these arguments rings so loudly in my ears, that
I cannot hear any other arguments. ' A further reference to
a dream in the Phaedo underlines Socrates ' respect for divine
revelation coming to him in such a manner. He mentions a
dream that frequently came to him over the years, encouraging
him to compose music; and he says that he had always inter-
preted it to mean the "music" of philosophy and the good life.
He confesses, however, that now he is not sure if really he
had obeyed the revelation, and so he is busily composing
verses as he awaits execution: "I ought not to ... go away
before getting it off my conscience by composing poetry, and
so obeying the dream."
X 44 a. 2 Ibid. , 54 d. 3 Plato Phaedo 61 b.
So are seen to be confirmed in the final events of his
life many of the characteristic attitudes and actions of
Socrates, the man with a mission who championed the full use
of human reason within its proper bounds, and who looked
beyond reason to divine revelation for what lay outside the
power of the mind to discover.
In the immediate sense of fifth century Athens, it
must in fairness be marked that the man failed in his mission.
Loving truth, he could only make sceptics of men. Loving the
god, he converted others to atheism. Himself a true patriot,
he convinced his hearers that patriotism is a delusion. As
Crossman observes about Socrates , "Preaching the rule of
reason, he taught a technique of argument which was used to
justify the rule of might. Concerned above all to challenge
the selfish individualism of the Athenian intelligentsia, he
produced by his teaching the worst specimens of that type." -
And so he did.
Yet in every sense beyond the immediate, the mission
succeeded and the man merits every honor history has paid him.
For Socrates was one who was open to life on all its levels:
intellectual, moral, emotional, religious. Gomperz writes
that while every century has had its quota of men with cool
heads , and that while there has never been a lack of men with
warm hearts, "the two are rarely combined; and the rarest
phenomenon of all is a heart of mighty power working with all
its might to keep the head above it cool." Yet this was pre-
cisely the singularity of Socrates, whose passion was for
intellectual clarity and ethical righteousness.
Socrates appears on the stage of history as a man con-
sciously in control of his own life, who attained in himself
the self -awareness he sought to bring to birth in others.
He "tended his own soul" and while he was well aware of the
limitations of his knowledge, he accepted the responsibility
of being a morally autonomous man, living with ethical integ-
rity and in the faith, as he says, that "no evil can happen
to a good man, either in life or after death."
In retrospect it seems certain that it was Socrates
himself, not his jurors, who decided his case. By the manner
and content of his defense, he determined the final outcome
of his trial. No doubt his accusers wanted nothing more
than that Socrates leave Athens and go into exile. But to
Socrates himself, that was not an option; and in effect he
sentenced himself to death. Xenophon proposes that he delib-
erately provoked the court to the death penalty so that he
could die without having to suffer the infirmities of old
age. Taylor dismisses this as a "ludicrous suggestion,"
which surely it is. It was Socrates' choice to die rather
than live, but it was not fear of old age that prompted it.
In a recent article, Greenberg discusses the ethical motive to
] II, 45. 2 Plato Apology 41 b.
Memorabilia iv. 8. 1. Socrates, p. 116.
which Socrates responded:
Somehow or other we all seem to be struck by the
Tightness of Socrates' decision to remain and die--and
this too for those who are not impressed by the cogency
of the arguments in the Crito . The rightness lies not
in the inviolability of the contract of citizenship,
but in what might be called the ethical structure of
the game. We cannot escape the conclusion that Socrates
entered the game voluntarily, that he raised the
stakes in a most flambouyant and heroic manner, and that
he played the game with style. ... On this hypothesis
it is no longer puzzling why Socrates chose to die.
By his own actions, he made death a peculiar test of
his own sincerity, and being the man he was, he had no
other choice. ■*-
It is often said of Socrates that he had not a philos-
ophy, but that he himself was philosophy. Such is surely the
case, for all alike- -conservatives and revolutionaries,
rationalists and mystics --have appropriated him. From the
beginning, when Aristippus drew his hedonism from Socrates and
Antisthenes his cynicism, all manner of philosophy has flowed
from him. His real and abiding contribution to philosophy,
which has been his alone uniquely to make, is "a personality,
a method, an inspiration, a moral and religious ideal."
Socrates said it himself: "You will not easily find
another like me. ..."
The ground is now prepared for a thorough examination
of the daimonion of Socrates, and for a responsible estimate
of its nature and effects. The two necessary backgrounds to
N. A. Greenberg, "Socrates' Choice in the Crito ,"
Harvard Studies in Classical Philology , LXX (1965) , 81.
Shorey, p. 14.
Plato Apology 31 a, John Stuart Mill translation.
such an attempt have been sketched. The religious inheritance
of fifth century Greece has been considered, covering current
religious beliefs about the gods and daimons and popular
religious practices. A broad picture of Socrates himself has
been presented, focusing in turn upon his mission, his per-
sonal characteristics and behavior, his beliefs, and finally
his trial and death. With these backgrounds as the two
foundation pillars, the discussion may now proceed to the
more specialized concern with the daimonion.
It is to the primary sources that first attention
must be given. The next two chapters accordingly concentrate
upon the daimonion of Socrates as it is reflected in the
writings of Plato and Xenophon.
THE DAIMONION OF SOCRATES
THE DAIMONION IN PLATO
The dialogs of Plato provide the first and most
abundant source of specific references to the daimonion of
Socrates. In no less than eight of the dialogs is there a
reporting of this characteristic phenomenon that Socrates fre-
quently experienced and always obeyed. Of thirteen literal
uses of the Greek daimonion in the eight dialogs, eleven are
by Socrates himself. It is with the examination of these
references that this chapter is primarily concerned.
As the dialogs are considered, one by one, the pro-
cedure will be to excerpt the relevant passages and to set
them down within the current discussion, in order that the
references may be seen and evaluated in context. Key words,
referring to the daimonion, will be underlined and alternate
translations noted. In this way deeper insight can be achieved
into the nature and effects of the daimonion.
The Apology will be the first of Plato's dialogs to be
examined, for the reasons that there are several references
within it to the daimonion, and that it is generally conceded
to be among the most trustworthy of the dialogs historically.
The remaining seven will be considered in the order adopted by
Shorey in his definitive work on the Platonic corpus, What
Plato Said . It is not with certainty a chronological order
(such a determination is impossible to make) , but it is the
order commonly adopted and in Shorey' s own phrase "the most
convenient sequence." The last two dialogs are placed pur-
posely out of chronological order, as their Platonic authorship
is in serious question. In the case of the Theages especially,
the question of its genuineness becomes important, since the
picture given of the daimonion is considerably different from
that offered by Plato anywhere else. Accordingly, this dialog
will receive a somewhat extended treatment in relation to the
Following the evidence from the eight dialogs, a fur-
thur consideration of the chapter will be to assess the effect
of Plato's own personal and philosophical views upon his re-
porting of the daimonion. The question of how far he may have
colored the references, whether intentionally or not, is an
important one. In attempting to decide it, attention will be
directed in turn to his personal relationship to Socrates, his
method of presentation in the dialogs, his own philosophy, and
his own demonology. From this will come a fair estimate of
how far Plato may be trusted in what he reports about Socrates'
Paul Shorey, What Plato Said (Unabridged ed. , Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1965) , p. 73. Further references
to Shorey will be, as previously, to the abridged ed. , unless
The discussion now turns to the eight dialogs where
there is specific reference to the dairaonion: Apology ,
Euthyphro , Euthydemus , Phaedrus , Republic , Theaetetus ,
Alcibiades I , and Theages .
The Eight Dialogs
Among the dialogs of Plato, the Apology occupies a
rather privileged position, both in the minds of scholars and
laymen. It is the dialog in which Socrates makes his defense
before 502 jurors, and for the very reason that it is so public
a statement it is conceded by most to be historically fairly
accurate. Plato could not have seriously misrepresented Socra-
tes in what he said, when there were literally hundreds of
witnesses who could and would have challenged any obvious fic-
tion or over-elaboration of what actually transpired. Further,
it is this dialog in which the personal integrity and philo-
sophic spirit of Socrates are manifestly evident. Generations
of schoolboys have been awakened, intellectually and spiritu-
ally, by the claims and conduct of the Socrates of the Apology ;
and most find their admiration and fascination for Socrates
to continue unabated. Finally, as regards the dialog, the
insight and competence of Plato himself are credited, finding
expression in such a judgment as Cornford gives: "The Apology
is a document of unique authority. It is the only direct
statement of the meaning of Socrates' life written by a man
capable of penetrating to that meaning."
There are three passages in the Apology where Socrates
refers to his daimonion. The two Greek words he uses in citing
it are daimonion and seme ion (sign). The translation used is
that of F. J. Church, with alternate translations of key words
31 c Perhaps it may seem strange to you that, though I
go about giving this advice privately and meddling in
others ' affairs , yet I do not venture to come forward
in the assembly and advise the state. You have often
heard me speak of my reason for this, and in many
d places: it is that I have a certain divine guide.2 . . ,
I have had it from childhood. It is a kind of voice
which, whenever I hear it, always turns me back from
something which I was going to do, but never urges
me to act. It is this which forbids me to take part
in politics. And I think it does well to forbid me.
40 a An amazing thing has happened to me, judges- -for I
am right in calling you judges. The prophetic guide -^
has been constantly with me all through my life till
now, opposing me even in trivial matters if I were
not going to act rightly. And now you yourselves see
what has happened to me- -a thing which might be
thought, and which is sometimes acutally reckoned, the
b supreme evil. But the divine guide^ did not oppose
me when I was leaving my house in the morning, nor
when I was coming up here to the court, nor at any
point in my speech when I was going to say anything;
though at other times it has often stopped me in the
very act of speaking. But now, in this matter, it
has never once opposed me, either in my words or my
actions. This thing that has come upon me must be a
good; and those of us who think that death is an
c evil must needs be mistaken. I have a clear proof that
Before and After Socrates , p. 59.
Greek daimonion: "something divine and spiritual"
(Rouse) ; "divine monitor' 1 (Mill) ; "oracle or sign" (Jowett) .
Greek daimonion : "familiar prophetic voice of the
spirit" (Rouse) ; "accustomed daimonic warning" (Mill) ; "divine
faculty of which the internal oracle is the source" (Jowett) .
Greek semeion : "signal of God" (Rouse) ; "divine
monitor" (Mill); "oracle" (Jowett).
that is so; for my accustomed guide would certainly
have opposed me if I had not been going to meet with
41 d I am persuaded that it was better for me to die
now, and to be released from trouble; and that was
the reason why the guide/ never turned me back.
And so I am not at all angry with my accusers or with
those who have condemned me to die.^
The daimonion appears here as a "kind of voice" (31 d) ,
heard by Socrates since his childhood, and always inhibitory
in its operation. It opposes him in trivial matters as well
as crucial issues such as his defense itself. By its silence,
Socrates seems to feel an assurance that what will happen
"must be a good" (40 b) . Otherwise, his "guide" (40 b, 40 c,
41 d) would have warned him.
The principal focus of the conversation between Socra-
tes and Euthyphro is on finding a suitable definition of piety.
The dialog, however, has more purposes than one. It serves
to contrast Socrates with Euthyphro, and to satirize popular
religion. The reference to the daimonion comes early in the
dialog, when Euthyphro indicates that he knows the reason why
Meletus is charging Socrates with the introduction of strange
Greek seme ion ; "usual signal" (Rouse) ; "accustomed
warning" (Mill) ; "customary sign" (Jowett) .
Greek semeion: "signal" (Rouse) ; "sign" (Mill) ;
F . J . Church ( trans . ) , Euthyphro, Apology, Crito
(revised ed. , Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1956).
divinities. Church supplies the translation:
3b I understand, Socrates. It is because you say
that you always have a divine guide . 1 . . . Why,
they laugh even at me, as if I were out of my mind,
when I talk about divine things in the assembly and
tell them what is going to happen. . . . They are
resentful of people like us. We must not worry
about them; we must meet them boldly. 2
The daimonion here is likened by Euthyphro to a quite
orthodox prophetic gift that the gods give to certain men, of
whom he and Socrates are two. Euthyphro feels no objection to
Socrates' gift. In his mind, it has no connection with
strange deities, but is rather a normal (though rare) means
of revelation by the gods of Athenian religion.
Very often in the dialogs of Plato, play and serious-
ness are intimately mixed. Such is the case in the Euthydemus ,
a masterpiece of satire which on the one hand ridicules a pair
of professors trying to capture the mind of a handsome youth,
and on the other hand deftly contrasts truth and falsehood,
being and appearing, genuine education and eristic. It is a
comedy, but with a deeper purpose of showing the superiority
of Socrates' method of teaching over that of the sophists,
who would rather win an argument than discover a truth. Men-
tion of the daimonion comes very early in the dialog, as
Greek daimonion : "familiar sign" (Jowett) ; "divine
presence" (Woodhead) .
Church (trans.), Euthyphro, Apology, Crito .
Socrates explains why he remained in the gymnasium, and so
happened to be present when the two sophists, Euthydemus and
Dionysodorus , came in. The translation is that of John
272 e Providence had decreed that I should be sitting
alone in the place where you saw me, in the undressing
room. I was just intending to get up and go; but the
moment I did so I was visited, as so often, by that
spiritual sign J- So I resumed my seat, and presently
tnese two persons entered. . . .2
The daimonion is again cited as an inhibitory sign
which came often to Socrates. Here is an instance of the
prohibition coming in relation to a trivial matter.
There are two somewhat distinct subjects in the dis-
cussion between Socrates and Phaedrus that takes place outside
the city walls along the banks of the Ilisus. The one subject
is love, and the other literary criticism. Socrates hears
Phaedrus 1 recital of a speech of Lysias praising love and the
lover in a manner both commonplace and unworthy, and presents
a speech of his own which in mocking fashion enumerates the
advantages of the non-lover over the lover. Following his
eloquent but impious discourse against love, Socrates starts
Greek daimonion coupled with semeion : "familiar
divine sign" (Jowett) ; "my wonted spiritual sign" (Lamb) ;
"accustomed signal of my Genius" (Burges) .
John Warrington (trans.), Symposium and Other Dialogs
(London: Everyman's Library, 1964).
to go home, when the daimonion stops him, forbidding him to
leave until he has made amends with another, more truthful
speech. Benjamin Jowett supplies the translation:
242 c I mean to say that as I was about to cross the
stream the usual sign ^ was given to me- -that sign
which a Iway s f or bi ds , but never bids , me to do
anything which I am going to do; and I thought that
I heard a voice saying in my ear that I had been
guilty of impiety, and that I must not go away until
I had made an atonement. Now I am diviner, though
not a very good one, but I have enough religion for
my own use. . . . Some time ago, while I was still
speaking, I had a sort of misgiving. . . . Now I
recognize my error. 2
Several of the usual characteristics of the daimonion
are confirmed in this account, with the additional suggestion
that it may operate in a way that is only formally inhibitory.
By forbidding him to depart until he has made another speech,
the daimonion is in effect commanding him to make one.
In this major dialog of Plato, combining a search for
the definition of justice with a description of the ideal
state, the daimonion is mentioned just once. This occurs mid-
way in the Sixth Book, where Socrates is discussing how rare
will be the number of true philosophers. He indicates to
Greek daimonion coupled with semeion: "spirit and
sign that usually come to me (Fowler) ; ''my divine monitor's
wonted sign" (Wright); "familiar divine sign" (Hackworth) .
Benjamin Jowett (trans.), The Dialogs of Plato (5
vols., 3rd ed. , Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1892), I.
Adeimantus that there is only a remnant among men to pursue
philosophy, and mentions examples of circumstances that may
help to hold a man within the remnant. It is in this con-
text that he refers to his daimonion. The translation is
Joweizt' s :
496 c My own case of the internal sign is hardly worth
mentioning, for rarely, if ever, lias such a monitor
been given to any other man. 2
In this citing of his daimonion, Socrates stresses
its rarity, even to the extent of implying that it may be
unique with him.
In this mutual search for a definition of knowledge,
Socrates and Theaetetus apparently fail. Along the way, how-
ever, Socrates voices some of the most profound and provoca-
tive thoughts ever to fall from his lips. Fairly early in the
dialog, Socrates explains that he may be able to help his
companion clarify his thoughts about knowledge, for he has
skill as a midwife in this respect. He reviews for Theaetetus
how he has performed this function for others, and how his
daimonion has affected his continuing relationships with his
friends, including those who for a time have drifted away from
him and then returned to converse with him again. Warrington
Greek daimonion coupled with seme ion ; "spiritual sign"
(Rouse) ; "divine sign" (Cornford, Shorey) .
Jowett (trans.), The Dialogs of Plato , III.
gives the translation:
151 a When they come back, with melodramatic appeals for
the renewal of our association, sometimes the divine
spirit^ forbids it; but with others it is allowed,
and these begin once more to make progress. *
The daimonion is seen again in this reference to oper-
ate in a manner that is inhibitory only in the formal sense.
In effect it permits Socrates to continue in association with
some among those whom Jowett calls the "truants" who return
to him. Clearly, however, it is not Socrates himself who
makes this decision. It comes, without his prior knowledge
of what will be said, through the daimonion.
The Alcibiades I
According to one early Platonist, Iamblichos, the
Alcibiades I contains all the wisdom of Plato "like a seed."
Wide-ranging and rich in suggestion as it is, though, it is
today regarded as most probably a spurious dialog. While it
is included in the Stephanus edition of 1556, it is rejected
by the large majority of modern scholars. Since its reference
to the daimonion introduces a new insight into its nature, it
becomes important to assess, at least briefly, its supposed
Greek daimonion : "familiar" (Jowett) ; "divine warning"
(Cornford) ; "spiritual monitor" (Fowler) .
John Warrington (trans.), Parmenides , Theaetetus ,
Sophist, Statesman (London : J . M. Dent & Sons Ltd. , 1961) .
Plato Theaetetus 151 a, Jowett translation.
4 Quoted in Friedlander, II, 231.
The case for Plato as author is based on the quite
obvious fact that Plato had to write some "first" dialogs,
which naturally would appear inferior to his later works.
Lamb is one scholar who sees the Alcibiades I as such an early
sketch, relatively immature and inartistic, but none the less
genuine. Summing up the evidence, he concludes that "on the
whole there seems no sufficient reason for doubting, with
some eminent scholars, the authenticity of the dialog."
The case against Platonic authorship is ably expressed
by Shorey, though with the suggestion that portions of it may
be the real Plato, as for instance 121 ff . , which he cites as
"almost too good to be by anyone except Plato." Nevertheless,
he maintains that to attribute the dialog to Plato is to
"assume the improbability that he thought it worthwhile to
elaborate a tedious, if scholastically convenient, summary of
a long series of ideas that are better and more interestingly
expressed in other dialogs, and that he repeats or quotes him-
self more often than in any other genuine work."
It is at the very beginning of the dialog that refer-
ence to the daimonion occurs. Socrates for the first time
strikes up a conversation with the youthful Alcibiades, and
suggests the surprise that the lad must feel that, after all
1 W. R. M. Lamb (trans.), Vol. VIII, Works of Plato
(London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1927), p. W.
Shorey, What Plato Said (Unabridged ed.), p. 654.
3 Ibid. , p. 415.
these years, he is now at last speaking to him. He cites the
resistance of his daimonion as the reason for his silence
until now. Besides the passage containing the actual refer-
ence to the daimonion, two additional passages are here pre-
sented, to indicate the way in which the daimonion is con-
ceived. The translation is that of W. R. M. Lamb:
103 a Son of Cleinias, I think it must surprise you that
I, the first of all your lovers, am the only one of
them who has not given up his suit and thrown you
over, and whereas they have all pestered you with
their conversations I have not spoken one word to you
for so many years. The cause of this has been nothing
human, but a certain spiritual opposition , * of whose
power you shall be informed at some later time. How-
b ever, it opposes me now no longer, so I have accord-
ingly come to you; and I am in good hopes that it
will not oppose me again in the future.
105 d I believe that the god.2 has so long prevented me
from talking with you, and I was waiting to see when
he would allow me. . . . Now he has set me on; for
106 a now you will listen to me.
124 c Soc : My guardian^ is better and wiser than your one,
Ale : Who is he, Socrates?
Soc : God,^" Alcibiades, who until this day would not
let me converse with you.->
Here the daimonion is very explicitly related to the
god of Socrates , such that the action of the daimonion is
equated to the command of the god. Adjectives such as "divine"
Greek daimonion : 'power more than human" (Jowett) ;
"daimon" (Burges) .
Greek theos : "god" (Jowett, Burges).
Greek beltion : "guardian" (Jowett, Burges).
Greek theos : "God" (Jowett); "a deity" (Burges).
5 Lamb (trans.), Vol. VIII, Works of Plato.
and "spiritual" have appeared before in translations of the
Greek daimonion , but never has there been so plain an identi-
fication of the daimonion as a mani testation of, or even as
the equivalent to, the god.
At the end of the Theages , a dialog ascribed to Plato,
there occurs a remarkable account of the daimonion. In degree
if not in kind, it is like nothing else encountered in the
Platonic corpus concerning Socrates' daimonion. For this
reason a somewhat extended discussion becomes necessary.
The dialog as a whole is the conversation between
Socrates and a father and his son, concerning whether or not
the son should become a "pupil" of Socrates. Yet its focus,
coming at the end, is on the limits imposed on education by
the daimonion. In contrast to the education offered by the
sophists, which is available to anyone who will pay for it,
the education which Socrates may impart is limited only to
those whos'? association with him the daimonion approves. In
establishing just how important his daimonion is, Socrates
relates a number of instances of its operation and effects.
The picture of the daimonion which emerges from the
examples Socrates gives, both as to its nature and effects,
is different enough from that in the other dialogs so that, on
this basis alone, the dialog has been declared spurious.
Though it is included in the Stephanus edition of 1556, there
is hardly a modern scholar who will support its Platonic
authorship. Most see it as a bit of hackwork put together by
a later writer who sought to emphasize Socrates' mysticism.
The case for Plato as author rests in the judgment of
scholars like Grote and, to lesser extent, Friedlander who
say that even though in content and style the Theages is an
inferior dialog, and though there are some features that are
too dissimilar from other dialogs and other features too
similar (hence bad imitations) , these marks alone do not
warrant a verdict of spurious. No writer is everywhere con-
sistent with himself, either regarding what he says or the
way he says it, and the best of writers have been known to
repeat themselves. The Theages might well be an early work
of Plato, portions of which he elaborated more expertly later
on, itself written during a time when the impact of Socrates'
life and beliefs was still dawning upon him. Furthermore, as
shall become clear in the next chapter, there is nothing said
of the daimonion here that is not said by Xenophon.
The case against Platonic authorship of the Theages
builds upon the apparent exaggeration of the daimonion, its
importance, and the manner of its functioning. These striking
differences will appear in the quoted passages. Further, the
array of examples cited simply do not contribute to the point
of the discussion, which is the importance of the daimonion
in making possible education. Even Lamb, who stands in a
minority supporting Platonic authorship for the Alcibiades I ,
1 Grote, I, 433; Friedlander, II, 150.
rejects this dialog, saying that it is hard to believe that
Plato could have presented Socrates as relating "stories
about his friends which tend to prove not his main point--
that it depends on the spiritual sign whether they are to
benefit or not from his society- -but rather the great impor-
tance to them of associating with him and heeding his prophetic
warnings." An additional suspicion may and perhaps should
be aroused by the notice that the name Theages means "god-
guided," and may well have been an invention of a much later
Platonist wanting to stress the mystical side of Socrates'
Though, in sum, it cannot be maintained that the
Theages is a genuine dialog of Plato, it is still important to
consider the evidence it presents concerning the daimonion.
Often what men believe to be true about a man like Socrates is
essential to the best possible understanding of him. The
relevant passages are these, in the translation of Lamb:
128 d There is something spiritual which, by a divine
dispensation, has accompanied me from my childhood up.
It is a voice that, when it occurs, always indicates
to me a prohibition of something I may be about to do,
but never urges me on to anything;-* and if one of my
friends consults me and the voice occurs, the same
thing happens: it prohibits, and does not allow him
to act. And I will produce witnesses to convince
e you of these facts. You know our Charmides here, who
has grown so handsome, the son of Glaucon: he once
Lamb (trans.), Vol. VIII, Works of Plato , p. 345.
Greek daimonion : "a certain daimon" (Burges).
Note the very similar wording in Plato Apology 31 d.
happened to be consulting me on his intention of
training for the Nemean races , and he had no sooner
begun to say that he intended to train than the
voice occurred, and I tried to prevent him, saying- -
"just as you were speaking my spirit-voice ^- has
occurred: no, you must not train." "Perhaps,"
said he, "it indicates to you that I shall not win;
but even if I am not to win, at any rate the exercise
I shall get in the meantime will do me good." So
129 a saying, he went and trained; and so you may as well
inquire of him as to the results he got from his
training. Or, if you like, ask Cleitomachus , brother
of Timarchus , what Timarchus said to him when he was
going straight to the prison to meet his death. . . .
I am going to my death now, because I would not take
Socrates' advice." . . . When Timarchus and Philemon,
b son of Philemonides , got up from the wine-party to
kill Nicias . . . then occurred that voice of mine,
and I said to him: "No, no, do not get up; for my
c accustomed spiritual sign^ has occurred to me." . . .
Again the voice occurred, and so again I constrained
him to stop. . . . The third time ... he went right
off and committed the deed which was the cause of his
d going then to his death. . . . And moreover, in regard
to the Sicilian business, many will tell you what I
said about the destruction of the army. . . . There
is an opportunity now of testing the worth of what
the sign- 3 says. For as the handsome Sannio was setting
out on campaign, the sign occurred to me. . . . I
accordingly expect him to be either killed or brought
very near it, and I have great fears for our force as
Now I have told you all this, because this spiritual
power^ that attends me also exerts itself to the full
in my intercourse with those who spend their time with
me. To many, indeed, it is adverse, and it is not
possible for these to get any good by conversing with
me, and I am therefore unable to spend my time in
conversing with them.
130 e Such, Theages, is the intercourse you would have
with me: if God so wills, you will make very great
Greek daimonion : "voice of the daimon" (Burges).
Greek daimonion coupled with seme ion : "usual
daimon signal" (Burges) .
Greek semeion : "daimon signal" (Burges) .
Greek daimonion : "power of this daimon" (Burges) .
and rapid progress, but otherwise, you will not.
Consider therefore if it is not safer for you to be
educated by one of those persons who have command
themselves of the benefit which they bestow on man-
kind, rather than follow the course on which you
may chance with me.
131 a The : Well then I decide, Socrates, that our plan
shall be to make trial of that spiritual sign* by
associating with each other. Thus, if it leaves us
free, that will be best of all; if it does not, it
will be time then for us to consider, at the moment,
what we shall do—whether we shall associate with
someone else, or try to conciliate the divine sig n^
itself that occurs to you with prayers and sacrifices
and anything else that the seers may indicate. 3
In this dialog in which the daimonion plays a major
role, the startlingly new element to be introduced is the
intervention of the daimonion, outside Socrates' own conduct,
to the proposed actions of his friends. As represented here,
Plato obviously conceives Socrates' daimonion as a private
little oracle that served as a guide not only for himself but
for others. It still occurs spontaneously, without his bid-
ding, and it is still inhibitory; but in nature and effect it
goes beyond what is presented in the other Platonic dialogs.
Besides the extension of the daimonion' s warnings to
Socrates' friends, there is the further novelty that Theages
quite clearly regards the daimonion as a god, who may be
appeased with sacrifices, and other rites. In 131 a, daimonion
and theos are virtual equivalents. While it is true that it
Greek daimonion : "daimon" (Burges).
Greek theos : "divine power" (Burges).
3 Lamb (trans.), Vol. VIII, Works of Plato.
is not Socrates who suggests "conciliating" the daimonion,
neither does he object to the language. This "argument from
silence" convinces many that if Plato did write the Theages ,
he believed that Socrates regarded his daimonion as a personal
god attending him.
Here is a dialog, then, in which for the first time
chief emphasis is laid upon the daimonion. Heretofore it
has been referred to only incidentally. In addition, the
array of examples cited tends not to lead naturally tc the
dialog's conclusion that the education Socrates can impart is
dependent on the cooperation of the daimonion, but rather to
the advantages of consulting Socrates before doing anything,
in the event that the daimonion might have a warning to give.
From this consideration of references in eight dialogs
attributed to Plato, there emerges a picture of Socrates'
daimonion as an "inner voice" which from his childhood spon-
taneously came to him to warn him against a course of action
he was proposing to take. Sometimes the issue was a serious
one, though often it was only a trivial matter. Its prompting
was frequently inhibitory in the formal sense alone, and in
effect decided his action. Socrates often regarded the silence
of his daimonion as virtual approval of his conduct. In this
respect the daimonion affected his relationship with others ,
either prohibiting or cooperating in the association. Socra-
tes made no secret of his daimonion, and conceived it to be a
divine revelation from the god, certainly of a rare kind and
perhaps unique to himself.
In the two dialogs where Platonic authorship is a
question, there are the further suggestions that the daimonion
may itself be a god, and that its intervention very definitely
extends beyond Socrates' own conduct to that of his friends.
The Effect of Plato's Own Views
It remains now in this chapter to consider how the
personal philosophy and biases of Plato may have colored his
presentation of the daimonion. To make this assessment, it
will be helpful to discuss, in turn, Plato's personal rela-
tionship to Socrates, the method of presentation in the dialogs,
his philosophy, and his demonology.
Plato's personal relationship to Socrates
The writings of Plato span a period of fifty years,
and run to thousands of pages. Yet in all the Platonic corpus,
except for a few letters addressed to a small circle of friends
for a special purpose, he never speaks in the first person.
His name, even, appears only rarely; and when it does, mar-
ginally. The silence is surprising, for it was not the cus-
tom for a writer, whether poet, philosopher, or historian, so to
efface himself in his work. Hesiod, Heraclitus, Herodotus, all
the great figures of the classical period down to and including
Concerning his absence at Socrates' death, he writes
in the Phaedo 59 b, "But Plato was ill, I think." (Rouse
Xenophon, make liberal use of the personal "i" and often
place themselves at the very center of their works.
Plato's silence about himself seems to be a powerful
testimony to the incomparable status of Socrates in his life.
Everything else seems to have been of secondary importance to
his encounter with Socrates. This man was more than just a
hero to Plato. Growing up in the difficult years when the
influence of Athens was waning and the quality of life of the
city was deteriorating, Plato saw in Socrates the one firm
foundation amidst the disintegration of the old order. With
the collapse of the political and social structure that had
made Athens great in the Age of Pericles, Socrates alone stood
for the intelligence, integrity, and virtue that make men and
societies worthy to be praised. In the two crucial tests,
when first the democracy and then the oligarchy tried to force
him to compromise his convictions, he held fast. So, in
Plato's eyes, did he live all his life, remaining faithful to
the truth he saw.
So powerful was Socrates' influence upon him that he
renounced a budding political career to become the constant
companion of his elder hero, believing that only in this way
would his life find fulfillment. The words of Alcibiades in
Plato's dialog, the Symposium , could well have been uttered
by Plato himself: "There is nothing more urgent to me than
to become as virtuous as possible. And for this, I believe,
no one can be of more decisive help to me than yourself."
218 d, as translated in Friedlander, I, 12.
Plato, placing Socrates at the center of his life, placed him
also at the center of his works, so that only in the Lavs , a
late work admittedly compromising what Plato saw to be the
principles of Socrates, is Socrates not present; and in most
of the dialogs he predominates.
All of the foregoing may be true, however, whether
Plato is faithfully reporting Socrates, or simply using him
as a mouthpiece for his own ideas. A man may have a hero,
and yet misrepresent him to others. Usually this is done
uncounsciously, without any thought of malice; and if Plato
misrepresented Socrates, it was surely in this way. There
was no reason why Plato could not or should not have written
in his own name, and indeed his philosophy might have received
a better reception if he had. The name of Socrates simply did
not carry the kind of prestige and authority that would tempt
a man to "use" him as a vehicle for his own thoughts.
From a consideration of Plato's personal relationship
to Socrates, the judgment must be that any coloring of Socra-
tes' views was without malice, and would have been seen by
Plato as a legitimate extension of the thought of Socrates.
Thus Plato would have honestly "seen" in Socrates the germs
of such philosophical doctrines as he later developed into
fuller form: e.g., the Theory of Ideas, and the immortality
of the soul.
His method of presentation
Plato's adopting the form of dialog is highly significant,
and further strengthens the case against his having deliber-
ately distorted the views of Socrates. Necessarily, litera-
ture is vastly different from conversation, and at best the
written Platonic dialogs can stand in relation to the verbal
Socratic dialogs only as art stands in relation to nature. It
is a measure of Plato's artistic triumph that, as Friedlander
says, "we take what he invented as historical reality." Thus,
while the gathering together in one house of the eminent
sophists in his dialog Protagoras may never have actually
occurred and may only be a literary device, the reader believes
that surely it did happen, and just that way. Moreover, in
the important issues which the dialog treats, he is not there-
The fact that Plato writes in dialog, and sets Socra-
tes rather than himself at the center of the scene, may well
be his acknowledgment that there exists a necessary relation-
ship between what is said and who says it, between discourse
and speaker. The dialogical form is not then a literary whim
or artistic device, but a recognition that philosophy is a
social undertaking, and cannot be separated either from the
process of a common conversation or from the personalities of
There is admirable integrity, as well as considerable
excitement, in Plato's use of a Socrates -centered dialog; and
it supports the contention that he did not consciously or
1 I, 158.
seriously distort Socrates' views. His faithfulness to the
method of Socrates weighs heavier in this respect than any
consideration of poetic license he may have exercised in con-
structing the dialogs. Schanz writes, for instance, that
"Socrates did not write poetry in prison any more than
Chaerophon consulted the Delphic oracle. Plato merely wishes
to imply in the Phaedo that poetry is divinely inspired, as
in the Apology that Socrates was sent by God. " Even if one
could agree with these judgments, which is impossible, the
coloring they give to Socrates' life and convictions is rela-
If both the personal relationship of Plato and Socrates
and Plato's method of presentation encourage the view that he
did not seriously distort the style of life or convictions of
Socrates, there remain still questions concerning differences
in the philosophical positions of the two men. That there are
such differences is apparent. As Plato grew older, his dialogs
reflect an increasing dogmatism that is lacking in Socrates.
For Plato, the Socratic question finally becomes answerable in
words. The issue must be whether or not Plato's answers
represent a legitimate extension of Socrates' thought in the
direction in which, had he lived to do it, Socrates himself
"Sokrates als vermeintlicher Dichter," Hermes , XXIX
(1894), quoted in Barker Newhall, "Reports," American Journal
of Philology , XVI (1895), 520.
would have traveled. Did Plato truly perceive, for example,
a Theory of Ideas in Socrates and simply "bring it to birth"
within himself, with Socrates acting in effect as a "mid-
wife" even after his death?
The case for this being so centers in the claim that
Socrates did not seek to articulate answers to the questions
he posed, in the belief that no man can answer a question for
another. He knew the answers, but detemined not to verbalize
them. Rather did he live the answers to his questions, and
in this way awaken men to the same answers already in them.
His understanding of his mission and of the way in which truth
"came" to men precluded his articulating a philosophy.
Plato, unlike Socrates, saw the need for conceptual-
izing the answers, and so took the answers he saw clearly
demonstrated in Socrates' life and gradually set them down
in increasingly precise doctrines, while never moving beyond
the actual convictions of Socrates without explicitly saying
so. Thus Burnet, for example, holds that Socrates learned
the Theory of Ideas from the Pythagoreans when he was young,
that he believed it, and that Plato in the Republic is pre-
senting Socrates' genuine convictions about the Ideas. He
makes the further suggestion that Plato himself came to reject
the Theory, and that in fact a late dialog, the Parmenides ,
where Socrates is not the speaker, may "only be understood
John Burnet, Platonism (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1928), p. 34.
as the renunciation of that theory, at least in its original
form, by Plato." It is significant that, as the chronology
of the dialogs is commonly reconstructed, Plato never again
alludes to the Theory of Ideas, apart from a brief reference
from a Pythagorean in the Timaeus .
Such considerations as these establish a strong case
for Plato's faithfulness not only to the method but also the
convictions of Socrates, except where he clearly indicates
otherwise. The important differences reduce then essentially
to one, namely that Plato thought it important to conceptual-
ize the answers whereas Socrates did not.
It is possible, on the other hand, to build a quite
convincing case against the faithfulness of Plato to Socrates'
thought. The very doctrinal bent of Plato, at times becoming
a strict dogmatism, hardly seems true to the manner and beliefs
of Socrates. Cicero writes that after Socrates' death Plato
traveled widely, consulting the Pythagoreans "so as to enrich
the treasures of the lessons of Socrates with those parts of
Pythagoras ' doctrine which Socrates had despised. " For many
scholars, Plato well-nigh rejected the agnosticism that
Socrates called wisdom, and moved finally to as dogmatic, un-
questing, and unSocratic a philosophy as could be, as syste-
matic as any pre-Socratic philosophy.
The Apology and the Republic , on this view, are quite
contradictory documents. Even if, for example, the Republic
1 Ibid. 2 51 c ff. 3 Cicero De Finibus v. 29.
correctly presents a Socratic Theory of Ideas, it is difficult
to picture as coming from Socrates the conviction that the
ideal state is an enlightened totalitarianism in which phil-
osophy is simply not to be the concern of the large majority
of citizens. Whereas the Socrates of the Apology sees a
mission to bring as many men as he can to self -awareness and
moral autonomy, the Socrates of the Republic discourages the
mass of men from too much self-reflection. Cornford observes
in reference to this that there are two ways to approach an
ideal society: "One is to start with the moral reformation of
the individual, and then to imagine a society consisting of
perfect individuals. . . . The other is to take human nature
as we find it, and to construct a social order that will make
the best of it as it is and as it seems likely to remain."
Socrates represents the first approach, and Plato the second;
and for Plato to put the articulation of the second into the
mouth of Socrates can be nothing more than irresponsible, if
not deliberate, distortion.
From these brief considerations, it appears evident
that a strong case can be made for and also against Plato's
representation of Socrates' thought. That Plato wanted fairly
to "speak the mind" of Socrates seems a tenable hypothesis.
Yet it is certain too that as acute a thinker as he was could
not have lived fifty years of his life without having an
original thought of his own, so that even the earlier dialogs
The Unwritten Philosophy and Other Essays (Cambridge:
The University Press, 1950), p. 59.
cannot be assumed to be free from views of his own. Whether
he thought them to be legitimate extensions of Socrates'
thought is really beside the point. Uas he in fact true to
the historical Socrates? The question admits of no final
Two observations, however, are significant. The first
is that there is an inevitable division in philosophy between
what George Bastide calls a "philosophy of vocation" and a
"philosophy of tradition." Socrates represents the one, and
Plato the other. Perfect correspondence there could not be,
and the fact that Plato in his relationship to Socrates and
in his manner of presentation seems to want to be faithful to
Socrates, encourages the conclusion that the "benefit of the
doubt" ought to go on the side of trusting his account of
Socrates, except where the contradition is so obvious as to
render that impossible.
The second observation is with specific reference to
the daimonion. Between the agnostic Socrates of the Apology
and the more doctrinal Socrates of the Republic there seems
not to be a significant difference in the way the daimonion
is conceived and regarded. It is spoken of naturally and with
respect throughout the dialogs. Plato seems neither to exag-
gerate its importance as the dialogs progress, nor to depreci-
ate it. It is fair to say that if Plato has distorted
Socrates' view of, say, the state, that he has not done so to
Cited by Sauvage, p. 162.
anywhere near such an extent with the daimonion. The follow-
ing discussion of Plato's demonology will be seen to confirm
Until rather recently, modern interpreters of Plato
have tended to discount any belief he may have had in daimons
and the daimonic, and the strength of these beliefs. This is
now seen to be unwarranted, and increasing attention is being
paid to the demonology that is evident in Plato's dialogs.
As Friedlander asks, "How are we justified in regarding as
mere play what is said about daimons if we consider the
physical and psychological 'doctrines' of the Timaeus , or the
'philosophy of language' of the Cratylus , as integral parts
of Plato's system? By the mere fact that we have a contempo-
rary science of nature and language, but none of daimons?"
If what Plato says about daimons is in some sense only "play,"
it is nevertheless--like all "play" in Plato's dialogs--of a
deeply serious nature.
As any man in fifth century Greece, Plato, grew up
within a culture where there was a traditional belief in
daimons. While there was no one consistent understanding of
who the daimons were, or how they were linked with men, there
was no question but that they did exist and did affect men.
Plato inherited a demonology; and, while he modified it as
time went on, he never discarded it. The dialogs, from the
1 I, 32.
Apol ogy to the Laws , show abundant reference to daimons. It
is clear that the Hes iodic account of daimons as the spirits
of men of a golden age had an attraction for Plato. The
Cratylus reflects this, as does the Republic , where there
is the further suggestion that the good rulers upon earth
will at death themselves become daimons.
There is however in Plato a second conception of
daimons too, not as the spirits of men who have died, but as
beings intermediate between the gods and men for all time, who
function to bind the two realms together, the divine and the
human. The dialogs Phaedo , Symposium , and Timaeus reflect
this understanding of the daimons, more akin to the angels
of the Hebrews than to spirits of the departed. Though there
is not a strict consistency among these dialogs, the daimons
function to lead men to, through, and away from life. In the
Timaeus , where Plato comes the closest to rationalizing a
belief in daimons , every man receives a daimon whose seat is
in man's head. The daimon is a divine element to be culti-
vated, and in effect is reverently related to human reason.
While in this late dialog the daimon becomes philo-
sophically almost respectable, such is not the case through
most of the period of Plato's writing. Accordingly, when he
wants to talk about the daimons , he retains the Socratic
myths. The Myth of Diotima in the Symposium , the Myth of Er
1 397 e. 2 468 e.
3 540 b. 4 90 a.
in the Republic , the Myth of the Soul in the Phaedo , these
are Plato's acknowledgment, as well as Socrates', that there
are areas of divine and human experience that cannot be re-
duced to logical concepts , but which nonetheless are important
to understand as far as possible.
In keeping with his use of Socratic myth, Plato is
nowhere dogmatic in his beliefs about daimons. As much as he
mentions them, he does not anywhere give strict definition
either as to their nature or their dealings with men. Besides
the two different "doctrines" of daimons already cited, he
seems in the Statesman virtually to equate the daimons with
the gods. In sum, he shared the vague and unsystematic
notions of his contemporaries. Doubtless the Timaeus reflects
his restlessness with the popular and his own conceptions,
and presents his best--late and only--attempt to demythologize
Certainly it is fair to conclude that, in the writing
of the dialogs generally, Plato was concerned neither to
develop a consistent demonology nor to discount altogether the
daimonic. This being so, what he says about Socrates' dai-
monion may be assumed true to what Socrates himself said about
The effect of Plato's personal philosophy and biases
upon his presentation of Socrates' life and thought is an
open question, finally. That he colored at least somewhat
the facts about Socrates is inevitable. How much he did so,
and whether at any point he deliberately did so, are impor-
tant but unsolved issues. Shorey concludes that the Platonic
Socrates and the historical Socrates "constitute a double
star which not even the spectrum analysis of the latest
philology can resolve."
Beyond that admission, however, lie certain probabili-
ties that suggest a general attitude of trusting the evidence
of Plato. First of all, it is obvious that Socrates exerted
a powerful influence upon Plato, and in effect transformed
his life. He was the young man's hero and example, attracting
him by the force of his magnetic personality and demonstrating
the personal integrity and virtue that Plato saw to be the
only true fulfillment in human life. Shorey speaks of a
"four-fold Platonic gospel of Socrates," and truly Plato did
regard the life and thought of Socrates as "good news" to be
shared with others. He would have had no desire deliberately
to misrepresent him or distort his views. Rather, the reverse
would be true. And certain it is that Plato could no more
have invented the Socrates of the dialogs than Luke could
have invented the Jesus of his gospel.
Plato's manner of presentation, in the form of the
dialog, gives further confirmation to his desire to present
an accurate picture of Socrates and his thought. It was not
1 p. 11. 2 p. 15.
a literary choice but a philosophical necessity that led
Plato to use the Socrates -centered dialog. The man and his
method are indispensable to his thought, and what he said
cannot be said apart from the dialectical context. Plato's
realization that this is so strengthens the trustworthiness
of his account.
With respect to differences in the philosophical views
of the two men, it is certain that Plato developed a doctrinal
bent and specific doctrines that were absent in Socrates. It
may be questioned whether, in later life, Plato would have
regarded Socrates as any longer the ideal philosopher. More
likely the ideal philosopher by then would have been an
Anaxagoras who would give proper place to the nous ; e.g. ,
a systematic philosopher who made the human reason central in
his system. But while it is almost impossible to reconcile
Plato's political philosophy of enlightened totalitarianism
with Socrates' mission to bring every man to self-awareness
and self-control, the differences at other points are not
nearly so great. Further, the fact that Socrates tends to
become less predominant in the later dialogs is an indication
that Plato was being fairly careful not to attribute his own
views to him. This fact counters the recent provocative sug-
gestion of Ludwig Edelstein that many of the views attributed
to Socrates were Plato's alone, and that the subterfuge was
deliberate, "the 'voluntary lie 1 that the good man has the
Greek for "mind" or "reason."
courage to tell to himself as well as to others," reminding
him and them of the fact that "what men consider their most
personal and precious accomplishment is least theirs."
Rather than using the technique of the "voluntary lie," Plato
put his own unSocratic views forward through other men in
Finally, relative to views on daimons and the daimonic,
there appears to be little difference between Socrates and
Plato. Both accept an implicit demonology, while being care-
ful not to dogmatize on it. Men experience the divine in
life, and their experience cannot be rationalized into the
ordinary categories of the mind and the senses. Myth is used
to call attention to the importance and at the same time the
incomprehensibility of such experience. There is room within
the total experience of man, both for Socrates and Plato, for
such a phenomenon as the daimonion.
In sum, the coloring which Plato variously gives to
various aspects of the life and thought of Socrates is not
such as seriously to challenge the trustworthiness of what he
says about Socrates' daimonion.
"Platonic Anonymity," American Journal of Philology ,
LXXXIII (1962), 22.
THE DAIMONION IN XENOPHON AND OTHER
Aside from the numerous references to Socrates'
daimonion in the eight dialogs of Plato previously considered,
there are relatively few primary sources to give information
and insight concerning the daimonion and its effects. Chief
among them are three writings attributed to Xenophon, on which
major focus will fall within this chapter. In no work of
either Aristophanes or Aeschines, who with Plato and Xenophon
are regarded as the principal contemporary sources for Socra-
tes, is there even a mention of the daimonion. The only other
primary references to the daimonion come from Cicero and
Plutarch, who record oral traditions which are at the least
350 years old by the time of their being written. In short,
once past Plato and Xenophon, the gleanings from primary
sources are few, nonconteraporary, and of questionable value.
Precisely for this reason, however, a careful look
needs to be directed to each potential further source of in-
formation about the daimonion. The pattern of the chapter,
accordingly, will be to consider first the evidence from
Xenophon and attempt, as for Plato, an assessment of how far
Xenophon' s own views and purposes might have colored his
presentation. Then attention will shift to Aristophanes and
Aeschines, to ascertain the significance of their lack of
mention of the daimonion. Finally, the primary material from
Cicero and Plutarch will be reviewed and evaluated to see
what if any additional insight emerges.
The Daimonion in Xenophon
Three of the writings attributed to Xenophon make
specific mention of the daimonion of Socrates. Of eight
literal uses of the Greek daimonion , five are in the
Memorabilia , one in the Symposium , and two in the Apology .
The general procedure for presenting the references will be
as for the Platonic dialogs. Following a brief introductory
word on the work and a statement as to its authenticity, the
relevant passages will be excerpted and set down within the
current discussion. Key words will be underlined, and the
Greek term and alternate translations noted, so that maximum
insight can be gained.
Some six or seven years after the death of Socrates,
a well-known sophist named Polycrates , provoked at a growing
"cult" of Socrates, published an attack upon his memory, cast-
ing it into the form of the accusation speech supposedly
delivered by Anytus , one of the three prosecutors at the trial.
Xenophon, living away from Athens, read the attack and resolved
to counter it with a reply of his own. The first two chapters
of the first book of the Memorabilia constitute this reply,
and include the major passage citing the daimonion.
Another seven or eight years after that, at about
385 B.C., Xenophon determined to compose a series of memoirs
of Socrates that would illustrate the truth of his earlier
claims about Socrates' innocence and virtue. He had by then
read the dialogs that Plato, Antisthenes, and others had
written; and he likewise chose to adopt the dialogic form for
portions, but not all, of his work. The Memorabilia was
neither conceived nor executed all at once, but is better
understood as a series of somewhat separate writings, with
the common purpose of portraying Socrates as one who in Xen-
ophon 1 s own words "seemed to deserve honor rather than death
at the hands of the State." Its genuineness is undisputed.
The specific references to the daimonion occur in two
passages at the beginning and end of the Memorabilia . An
additional passage bearing on the divine guidance Socrates was
known to receive is also cited. The translation is that of
E. C. Mar chant:
i. 1. 2 He offered sacrifices constantly, and made no
secret of it, now in his home, now at the altars
of the state temples , and he made use of divination
with as little secrecy. Indeed it had become
notorious that Socrates claimed to be guided by
"the deity ": 2 it was out of this claim, I think,
Memorabilia i. 2. 62.
Greek daimonion : "divinity" (Cornford, Watson) ;
that the charge of bringing in strange deities
3 arose. He was no more bringing in anything
strange than are other believers in divination,
who rely on augury, oracles, coincidences and
sacrifices. . . . They are the instruments by
which the gods make this known; and that was
Socrates' belief too. Only, whereas most men
4 say that the birds or the folks they meet
dissuade or encourage them, Socrates said what
he meant : for he said that the deitv/- gave him
a sign. Many of his companions were counseled
by him to do this or not to do that in accordance
with the warnings of the deity :* and those who
5 followed his advice prospered, and those who
rejected it had cause for regret.
iv. 3. 12 "Truly, Socrates, it does appear that the gods ^
devote much care to man. . . . With you, Socrates,
they seem to deal even more friendly than with
other men, if it is true that, even unasked, they
warn you by signs what to do and what not to do. 4
iv. 8. 1 As for his claim that he was forewarned by
"the deity "5 what he ought to do and what not to
do, some may think that it must have been a
delusion because he was condemned to death. But
they should remember two facts. First, he had
already reached such an age, that had he not died
then, death must have come to him soon after.
Secondly, he escaped the most irksome stage of
life and the inevitable dimunition of mental
powers, and instead won glory by the moral
strength revealed in the wonderful honesty and
frankness and probity of his defense, and in the
equanimity and manliness with which he bore the
5 sentence of death. . . . "Don't you see, Socrates,
that the juries in our courts are apt to be misled
by argument, so that they often put the innocent
to death, and acquit the guilty? "Ah yes,
Greek daimonion : "divine voice" (Cornford) ; "divinity"
(Watson) ; "genius" (Ashley) .
As at n. 3.
Greek theoi : "gods" (Cornford, Watson, Ashley).
Xenophon is here quoting Euthydemus.
Greek daimonion : "divinity" (Cornford, Watson);
Hermogenes , but when I did try to think out my
defense to the jury, the deity l at once
The picture of the daimonion that emerges from the
Memorabilia is of a private little oracle belonging only to
Socrates, and giving to him and to his friends rather random
counsel, such as to do one thing and refrain from another.
The oracle does not only inhibit, but may also encourage a
particular course of action. Socrates' possession of the
daimonion is not an especially unusual phenomenon, but seems
rather to be but an example of similar oracles given to other
men. The difference lies in the way Socrates experiences his
oracle; e.g., directly as "the deity" instead of through birds,
The daimonion is clearly conceived more as a separate
god than as a neuter voice or sign. Referring to the only
instance here cited where a definite effect of the daimonion
is to be observed, it is "the deity" that prohibits his defense
before the jury. Certainly, with respect to the proper
Athenian religion, the daimonion is an orthodox medium and
means of divine revelation, a special gift granted to Socrates
by the same gods whom he regularly worships in all the
approved and customary ways as well.
Greek daimonion : "divinity" (Cornford) ; "daimon"
(Watson) ; "genius" (Ashley) .
E. G. Mar chant (trans.), Memorabilia and Oeconomicus
(London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1923).
Xenophon's translator regards the Symposium as "an
attempt to sketch the revered master, Socrates, in one of his
times of social relaxation and enjoyment." It is the
imaginative account of an actual evening forty years previously,
just after the conclusion of the Pan-Athenaic games, an annual
festival of athletic and musical competitions and a stately
parade. Callias invites Socrates and his friends to a gala
holiday banquet, and the mood is relaxed and informal through-
out. Xenophon ably reconstructs the spirit of the evening,
and probably reasonably well what actually transpired, in the
conviction that "to my mind it is worthwhile to relate not
only the serious acts of great and good men but also what they
do in their lighter moods." By most, the dialog is regarded
as genuine. Only an occasional scholar, such as Jowett, has
called it into question.
There is but one reference to the daimonion, coming in
a conversation between Socrates and Antisthenes, when
Antisthenes responds to Socrates' pretended rebuff of his
protestation of love. 0. J. Todd supplies the translation:
viii. 3 "Are you the only person, Antisthenes, in love
with no one?"
0. J. Todd (trans.), Anabasis VI -VII and Symposium and
Apology (London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1922), p. 3/6.
Symposium i. 1.
Cited by H. G. Dakyns (trans.), The Works of Xenophon
(4 vols., London: Macmillan Co., 1897), III, lxviii.
4 "No, by Heaven!" replied he; "I am madly in
love--with you." And Socrates, banteringly, pre-
tending to be coquettish, said: "Don't pester
me just now* I am engaged in other business, as
you spe." 'How transparent you are, sir, procurer
5 of your own charms," Antisthenes rejoined, "in
always doing something like this; at one time
you refuse me audience on the pretext of your
divine sign ,! at another time because you have
some other purpose in mind. "2
It appears here that Socrates did not hesitate to men-
tion his daimonion, that in fact he spoke of it quite openly
and naturally, even to explain to another why it is that he
cannot associate with him.
The purpose in the Apology is to reconstruct Socrates'
defense at his trial, with particular emphasis on the fact
that Socrates believed that it was time for him to die. Xeno-
phon is concerned to establish a common-sense reason for
Socrates' conduct of his defense, and he finds this reason in
Socrates' decision to die then rather than suffer the disabili-
ties of old age. Platonic scholars, as already noted, regard
this as a "ludicrous suggestion," but it was surely the con-
viction of Xenophon. There is no mention in the work of any
belief that Socrates had in immortality.
In content the Apology is a somewhat expanded version
Greek daimonion : "familiar oracle" (Dakyns); "daimon"
(Watson, Welwood) .
Todd ( trans . ) , Anabasis VI-VII and Symposium and
Taylor, Socrates, p. 116.
of what Xenophon includes in the eighth chapter of the fourth
book of the Memorabilia . The likelihood is that, if the
Apology is genuine, Xenophon wrote it quite early and then
later, when arranging material for the Memorabilia , modified
it for inclusion there. One of the chief translators of Xeno-
phon, Dakyns, regards this chapter eight as "a refined excerpt
from the Apology . " Fifty years ago many scholars saw the
Apology as spurious , but the judgment today is that while it
is an inferior work, it is genuine; and very possibly it may
be the earliest of Xenophon 1 s writings. " Certainly it does
not represent Xenophon at his best; and it is especially
difficult to believe either that Socrates would have prophe-
sied that the son of Anytus would become depraved, or that
Xenophon would have included such a note in his work.
In addition to the two references to the daimonion,
an intermediate passage is cited, establishing the close link
between the daimonion and the gods. Todd is again the
5 M I have tried twice already to meditate on my
6 defense, but my divine sign^ interposes. . . .
Perhaps God in his kindness is taking my part
and securing me the opportunity of ending my life
Dakyns (trans.), The Works of Xenophon, III, xlv.
Guy Thompson Griffith, "Xenophon," Encyclopaedia
Britannica , XXIII (1966), 839.
Greek daimonion : "divinity" (Dakyns) ; "divine
admonition" (Watson) .
now not only in season but also in the way that
is easiest. '
8 "It was with good reason that the gods^
opposed my studying up my speech at trie time
when we held that by fair means or foul we must
find some plea that would effect my acquittal."
12 "As for introducing 'new divinities , '2 how
could I be guilty of that merely in asserting
that a voice of God is made manifest to me
indicating my duty? Surely those who take their
omens from the cries of birds and the utterances
of men form their judgments on 'voices.' . . .
13 But more than that, in regard to God's foreknowl-
edge of the future and his forewarning thereof
to whomsoever he will, these are the same terms,
I assert, that all men use, and this is their
belief. The only difference between them and
me is that whereas they call the sources of their
forewarning 'birds,' 'utterances,' 'chance meet-
ings,' 'prophets,' I call mine a ' divine ' thing , 3
and I think that in using such a term I am speak-
ing with more truth and deeper religious feeling.
14 ... I have revealed to many of my friends the
counsels which God has given me, and in no in- L e
stance has the event shown that I was mistaken."^'
The picture of the daimonion here is of an oracle that
is infallible, and which is either given by God ("my divine
sign") or even the same as God (note the correspondence in
13-14, where Socrates calls the source of his forewarning "a
'divine' thing" and then also "God"). The advice given by the
Greek theoi : "gods" (Dakyns, Watson).
Greek daimonion : "divinity" (Dakyns) ; "divine mani-
festation" (Watson) .
Notice the close similarity to the Memorabilia i. 1.
2 -5 -- supra , p. 118.
Todd (trans . ) , Anabasis VI -VII and Symposium and
dairaonion, besides being infallible, is also--at least for
Socrates himself- -always in the long run reasonable. The
daimonion acts "with good reason." Socrates is not surprised
to discover a rational explanation for the prohibition of a
formal defense. Similarly, he is ready to assume that the
daimonion acts always in his best interests.
From the foregoing writings of Xenophon, a picture of
Socrates ' daimonion emerges in which the chief feature is the
naturalness and orthodoxy of this source and means of divine
revelation. That Socrates should receive special guidance
from "the deity" is an indication not of his variance from
sound and proper religion, but of his being favored by the
gods of Athens. He spoke of his daimonion openly and without
hesitation, for "the deity" and the effects differed from more
traditional sources and forms of divine revelation only in the
internal way he experienced them.
Further, while there is no perfect consistency in this,
the daimonion is here conceived more nearly as a separate god
or daimon than as a neuter voice or "sign" of a god. Whereas
the translators of Plato render the Greek daimonion most often
as a neuter noun (e.g., "divine warning"), the translators of
Xenophon feel the sense is better obtained by the phrase "the
Xenophon stresses the conviction of Socrates that while
in many matters "men are permitted by the gods to decide for
themselves by study," and that they should do so, there are
other issues which human reasoning cannot grasp. On these
matters, writes Xenophon, Socrates "despised all human wisdom
in comparison with the counsel given by the gods." Here
the daimonion was the source of knowledge, for Socrates and
also for others, both to encourage or to discourage a proposed
relationship or course of action. The counsel given was in-
fallible, and at least for Socrates always reasonable and in
his best interests.
The effect of Xenophon' s own views
To assess the degree to which Xenophon may have colored
his presentation of Socrates' daimonion, it will be helpful to
begin with a brief sketch of his life and major interests.
He was a contemporary of Plato, born in 430 B.C. , and so some
forty years younger than Socrates. He was the son of Gryllus,
a wealthy and well-born Athenian, and received the education
reserved for those who had the opportunity and resource, as
well as the inclination, for it. History regards him pri-
marily as a writer and chronicler of the events of his time.
To one commentator, "he gives the impression of a man of action
and a country gentleman who by some accident wrote books."
Clearly the two major influences on his life were
Socrates and war. His early association with Socrates left
him with a great admiration for the man, and it was to defend
Memorabilia i. 1. 9. 2 Ibid . i. 3. 4.
Guy Thompson Griffith, "Xenophon," Encyclopaedia
Britannica , XXIII (1966), 838.
his memory that he wrote the Memorabilia and others of his
works. His participation in the expedition of Cyrus resulted
in the experiences which prompted his historical writings,
and also in his living away from Athens for the period 401-
365 B.C. It was during this time, while he was in Scillus,
that he did his writing. He wrote four major works, including
the series of memoirs of Socrates now known as the Memorabilia ,
and three histories: the Anabasis , the Cyropaedia , and the
Hell enica . In himself Xenophon was a pious, orthodox, some-
what old-fashioned individual. He lauded the traditional
religion of Athens, and conceived sound citizenship to be
equivalent with loyalty to the conventions and customs of the
By scholars of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,
Xenophon is regarded as a more trustworthy source for the
historical Socrates than is Plato. Whereas Plato is suspected
of using Socrates as a mask for his own philosophy, Xenophon
is seen to be non-philosophical in interest or ability; and
this naivete is generally thought to qualify him more highly
as an accurate biographer. So Grote believes that "it is to
him that we owe, in great part, such knowledge as we possess
of the real Socrates." Jackson and 7eller, other eminent
nineteenth century Socratic scholars, concur in such a judgment
More recently, however, question has been raised
whether a non-philosophic temperament does in fact qualify a
1 Grote, III, 562.
man to understand, more adequately than another philosopher,
the life and thought of a Socrates. Further, it has been
established that Xenophon is far from a trustworthy historian.
Often he writes with an apologetic purpose which leads him to
color events in keeping with his own biases.
As with his history, so with his memoirs of Socrates.
Always it has been recognized that Xenophon wrote of Socrates
in an apologetic vein, seeking to justify his early teacher
and friend in the eyes of men. What is now admitted is that,
to a greater degree than earlier thought, Xenophon may have
purposely misrepresented the historical Socrates, so that he
is actually a less trustworthy source for Socrates than is
Plato. Reference has already been made to his citing as the
reason for Socrates' conduct at the trial his belief that it
was time for him to die and so avoid the disabilities of old
age, a conviction out of harmony with the general tenor of
his life and thought. And quite obviously Xenophon' s entire
defense of Socrates fails by being too successful. Were
Socrates the man Xenophon makes him out to be, he need never
have drunk the hemlock:
I have described him as he was: so religious that
he did nothing without counsel from the gods; so just
that he did no injury, however small, to any man, but
conferred the greatest benefits on all who dealt with
him; so self -controlled that he never chose the pleasanter
rather than the better course; so wise that he was
unerring in his judgment of the better and the worse. . . ,
To me then he seemed to be all that a truly good and
happy man must be.l
Memorabilia iv. 8. 11.
Specifically, this apologetic purpose means that Xeno-
phon had to suppress any originality or unique feature in
Socrates, and certainly the daimonion would be one such. It
would be essential for Xenophon to say about the daimonion
precisely what he does say: that this source and means of
divine revelation is orthodox and fitting, and that it differs
not at all from the usual forms of revelation except in Socra-
tes' experiencing it internally.
It is Xenophon 1 s "whitewash" of Socrates that leads
to the conclusion that he cannot be taken as too trustworthy
a source, and especially as regards the daimonion. If it
were true that the daimonion was a unique, unorthodox manifes-
tation of the god(s) to Socrates alone, different more than
in degree from the reading of entrails and the observing of
birds, Xenophon could not have said so.
Other Contemporary Sources :
Aristophanes and Aeschines
Beyond Plato and Xenophon, the only other two con-
temporaries of Socrates who can be regarded as important pri-
mary sources for a study of his life and thought are Aristo-
phanes and Aeschines. Significantly, in no work of either
man is there even a mention of the daimonion. Though both
were considerably younger than Socrates, both knew him well
and were often in his company. Yet they were silent with
respect to the daimonion. To draw out the implications of
Socrates had been dead for a few more than thirty
years when Aristotle first came to Athens.
this silence, the discussion turns briefly to these two men.
The significance of Aristophanes for Socratic studies
lies chiefly in the fact that his comedy, the Clouds , is the
only document dealing with Socrates which dates from a time
before his trial and death. Aristophanes ' comedy was pro-
duced in 423 B.C., when he was but twenty-two years of age.
Already brilliant as a youth, he shows an irresistible imagina-
tion, an amazing way with words, and a rapier wit that combines
humorous and fanciful exaggeration with the most virulent
abuse. A comic poet, his art was not to tell the truth but
to distort it; and his skill has seldom been matched.
In the Clouds , he caricatures Socrates as representa-
tive of the worst in the Ionian natural science and sophism
of the day. By so doing, he only confirmed the suspicion that
Athens already held regarding Socrates. It took more dis-
crimination than most men had to separate Socrates from the
general run of sophists. The Socrates of Aristophanes per-
sonifies the dangerous alliance of physical science with
spiritism which was perverting Athens and causing all its
political and economic misfortunes. Accordingly, the Clouds
ridicules and vilifies Socrates as the leader of a rational-
istic movement filled with the gravest peril to the estab-
lished morality and religion of Athens. Salvation, for all
Taylor, Socrates , p. 13.
"loyal" Athenians, lay on]y in adherence to the traditions of
the past. The true Socrates, as has already been noted, did
in fact pose a fundamental challenge to the stability and even
the existence of the city. Aristophanes, representing Athenian
conservatism, attacks him with all the force at his command.
So successful was Aristophanes' caricature of Socrates
that many scholars hold that he must bear no small share of
the guilt for the verdict of 399 B.C., though it came twenty-
four years later. The "older false accusations of my old
accusers," which Socrates claims in Plato's Apology really
constitute the charge against him, are precisely those which
Aristophanes planted in the minds of two generations of
Despite the force and vigor of Aristophanes' attack on
Socrates, it is probable that the two men were personal friends
and bore each other no ill will, though doubtless they dis-
agreed on major issues. Plato's assumption in the Symposium ,
which recounts a festive evening in the year 415 B.C., is that
the two are on good terms; and there seems no reason to doubt
this. Even where Socrates names (by indirection) Aristophanes
Supra , pp. 71-72.
Plato Apology 18 a. In 18 c Socrates says of his old
accusers: "The most preposterous thing of all is that I do not
even know their names: I cannot tell you who they are except
when one happens to be a comic poet."
Ibid . 18 b, where he names the old charges as being
that he is one "who speculates about the heavens, who investi-
gates things that are beneath the earth, and who can make the
worse argument appear the stronger."
as one of his old accusers, he appears to separate him from
the others who operated "from motives of resentment and preju-
dice." Evidently the burlesque of Socrates in the Clouds ,
though its effects were far-reaching, was meant primarily in
good fun. Socrates afforded an excellent subject for a
topical comedy, and Aristophanes took it up.
This combination of a close personal acquaintance with
Aristophanes' obvious purpose of caricaturing Socrates is
instructive regarding the daimonion. It is significant that
it is not included in the caricature. It may mean that Aris-
tophanes, when at twenty-two he wrote the Clouds , did not yet
know of Socrates' daimonion, which indicates that it was not
so prominent a personal characteristic or force in Socrates'
life as might be thought. It may mean, too, that there was
nothing unusual enough about it to prompt its inclusion in the
burlesque. Most likely he did know of the daimonion, but felt
that it was neither important enough to Socrates' way of life
nor notorious enough to warrant his attention.
Clearly, Aristophanes, and presumably Athens along
with him, did not regard the daimonion as a new divinity or
private god of Socrates alone. One of the charges he levels
against Socrates in the Clouds is that he is introducing new
divinities; and if it was even suspected that the daimonion
was a new god, he would have exploited it for all it was
•''Ibid. 18 d.
2 Clouds 250-270.
worth. Aristophanes' omission of the daimonion is thus
extremely significant in assessing its nature, its importance,
and its effects.
The fourth contemporary of Socrates who forms a pri-
mary source for the study of his life and thought is Aeschines
of Sphettus. He was one of the young companions of Socrates,
as Plato attests in the Apology , and the only one of the four
writers to be present at Socrates' death. Plato has no more
to say of him than this, and Xenophon mentions him not at all.
Diogenes Laertius records that he was poor, that he later
traveled to Syracuse to profit by the temporary interest of
Dionysius II in philosophy, that he founded no school of his
own, and that he did not have a distinctive personal philosophy
of his own.
From the last-mentioned fact, it might be surmised that
Aeschines would provide a trustworthy source for Socrates.
With no philosophic axe to grind, what he says might reasonably
be assumed to be fairly accurate. Portions of seven writings
of Aeschines survive in part, and three in substantial part:
the Alcibiades , the Aspasia , and the Telauges . It would be
these three that could provide a "control" on the primary
John Burnet, Greek Philosophy: Thales to Plato
(London: Macmillan Co. , 1953) , pp. 184-85.
2 33 e. 3 Plato, Phaedo 59 b.
4 Lives . . . i. 2. 60-64.
sources previously considered. They are each of the form
that Aeschines customarily adopted, not a dialog but rather a
narrated drama, with Socrates as the narrator.
The dramas in general confirm the Platonic portrait
of Socrates: a man fond of conversation, of a widespread
reputation, familiar with the circle of Pericles, of a passion-
ate nature, exercising a marked influence on the youthful
Alcibiades , and both appreciative and critical of Orphic and
Pythagorean doctrine and practice.
There is no mention by Aeschines of the daimonion,
providing a further argument from silence to the effect that
it was not considered an outstanding feature of Socrates' per-
sonality, or a prominent force upon his life and the lives
None on temporary Sources :
Cicero and Plutarch
Additional primary material for a study of Socrates'
daimonion is recorded in the writings of Cicero (106-43 B.C.)
and Plutarch (46-120 A.D.). Instances of the daimonion' s
operation and effects are cited which do not appear in any
earlier work. This final section of the chapter will simply
excerpt the relevant passages from Cicero and Plutarch, with
a minimum of attention to the writers themselves, since they
will be considered in the next chapter. This will then com-
plete the presentation of all the primary references to the
"A. E. Taylor, Philosophical Studies (London:
Macmillan Co., 1934), pp. 1-27.
daimonion of Socrates.
It is in Cicero's work On Divination , written at about
the year 44 B.C., that two primary references to Socrates'
daimonion occur. Both are given as illustrations in a section,
to be treated more fully in the following chapter, where
Cicero is discussing the nature and effects of the daimonion.
Besides the two citations, Cicero's further note about a col-
lection of the divine warnings Socrates received is also
i. 123 It is also related of Socrates that one day he
saw his friend Crito with a bandage on his eye.
"What's the matter, Crito?" he inquired. "As I
was walking in the country the branch of a tree,
which had been bent, was released and struck me
in the eye." "Of course, said Socrates, "for,
after I had had divine warning,! as usual, and
tried to call you back, you did not heed. It
is also related of him that after the unfortunate
battle was fought at Delium under the command of
Laches, he was fleeing in company with his com-
mander, when they came to a place where three
roads met. Upon his refusal to take the road
that the others had chosen he was asked the
reason and replied: "The god^ prevents me."
Those who fled by the other road fell in with the
enemy's cavalry. Antipater has gathered a mass of
remarkable premonitions received by Socrates , but
I shall pass them by, for you know them and it is
124 useless for me to recount them. 3
The picture of the daimonion that emerges here is simi-
lar to that given by Xenophon and the writer of the Theages ,
Latin praesagitione divina . Latin deo .
William Armistead Falconer (trans.), De Senectute, De
Amicitia, De Divinatione (London: William Heinemann Ltd. ,
in that it not only warns Socrates but also his friends away
from a course of action that would be harmful to them. As
reflected here, however, it is only inhibitory in operation.
Further, the daimonion here is not itself understood to be a
god, but rather it is conceived as the "divine warning" from
In the dialog commonly called On the Genius of Socrates ,
Plutarch describes an expedition that took place more than
450 years previously. His reconstruction is obviously only
in part historical, though it may fairly be claimed to be
close both in fact and spirit to the real event.
Within the dialog, there are several interludes in the
action where the discussion turns to the daimonion of Socrates.
Examples of its occurrence are cited, and a variety of opinions
expressed as to its true nature. Most of these references may
be dismissed as not being in fact primary sources. They are
better evaluated as Plutarch's own discussion and definition
of the daimonion, and as such they will be considered in the
Two mentions of the daimonion, however, may be his-
torically factual; for they refer to public occasions when a
number of people apparently observed its effects. If Plutarch
were inventing the references, it is doubtful that he would
have set them in so public a context, virtually inviting the
question as to why these incidents had never before been
mentioned. In the likelihood, therefore, that these examples
are valid recollections of actual historical events, they are
considered here as primary sources for the daimonion.
Further, an additional passage is excerpted, which
refers to an oracle given to Socrates' father when Socrates
was a boy. Again, it seems unlikely that Plutarch would have
wanted to invent such a story. More probably, the reference
is based on a persisting oral tradition about Socrates.
Translations of the three passages from Plutarch's
dialog, On the Genius of Socrates , follow. The speakers are,
respectively, Theocritus, Polymnis , and Capheisias:
580 d "I was myself present . . . when Socrates, as
you remember, Simmias, was going up to the Symbolum
and the house of Andocides , asking some questions
as he walked and playfully cross-examining
Euthyphro. Suddenly he stopped and closed his
lips tightly and was wrapped in thought for some
e time. Then he turned back and took the way through
the Trunkmakers' Street, and tried to recall those
of our friends who were already in advance, say-
ing that the Sign^ was upon him. Most of them
turned in a body, among whom was I, keeping close
to Euthyphro. But some young members of the
party, no doubt to put the Sign of Socrates to
the test, held on. . . . Now as they were going
through the street of the Statuaries near the Law
Courts, they were met by a whole herd of swine
loaded with mud and hustling one another by press
f of numbers. There was no getting out of the way;
on they charged, upsetting some, bespattering
others. At any rate, Charillus came home with his
clothes full of mud and his legs too, so that we
always laugh when we remember Socrates and his
Sign, and wonder that this divine presence of his
should never fail him or forget."
The word "Sign" as it appears five times in these
excerpted passages is in each case a translation of the Greek
581 d M I hear also that he foretold to some of his
friends the disaster which befell the power of
Athens in Sicily. At a still earlier time,
Pyrilampes , the son of Antiphon, when taken
prisoner in the pursuit near Delium, after having
received from us a javelin wound, as soon as he
had heard from those who had arrived from Athens
to arrange the truce that Socrates had returned
home in safety by The Gullies with Alcibiades and
e Laches, often called upon him by name, and often
on friends and comrades of his own who had fled
with him by way of Parnes, and been slain by our
cavalry; they had disobeyed the Sign of Socrates,
he said, in turning from the battle by a different
way instead of following his lead. This, I think,
Simmias too must have heard." "Often," said
Simmias, "and from many persons. For there was
no little noise at Athens about the Sign of
Socrates in consequence."
589 e "They do not see the cause, their own inner
tunelessness and discord, from which Socrates our
friend had been set free, as the oracle given to
his father when he was yet a boy declared. For
it bade him allow his son to do whatever came
into his mind; not to force nor direct his goings,
but to let his impulse have free play, only to
pray for him to Zeus Agoraios and to the Muses,
but for all else not to meddle with Socrates;
f meaning no doubt that he had within him a guide
for his life who was better than ten thousand
teachers and directors."!
From the first two of the above references, the con-
cept of Socrates' daimonion is, as in Cicero, very similar to
that given by Xenophon and the writer of the Theages . The
detour through the Trunkmakers 1 Street and the retreat through
The Gullies are occasioned by monitions Socrates receives
from his daimonion, a "Sign" that unfailingly and infallibly
A. 0. Prickard (trans.), Selected Essays of Plutarch
(2 vols., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1918), II.
Note that this is the same incident that Cicero
warns Socrates and his friends against unforseeable danger.
The examples show that his reliance on his daimonion was well
known, and that it caused "no little noise at Athens." The
third reference reinforces the mention by Socrates in the
Apology of Plato that the daimonion had been with him from
the time he was a child.
With these final citations, the two chapters present-
ing the primary references to Socrates' daimonion come to a
close. Adding to the abundant evidence of the daimonion in
the dialogs of Plato, the current chapter has noted further
primary sources for the daimonion in the writings of Xenophon,
Cicero, and Plutarch. In addition, the silence of Aristophanes
and Aeschines, the other major contemporary sources for Socra-
tes, has been assessed to see what significance there is in
their lack of any mention of the daimonion.
The discussion now turns to its next major phase, a
review of how scholars through the ages have regarded the
daimonion, how they have defined it, how they have understood
it to contradict or complement Socrates' rational nature. For
convenience, the presentation divides into three chapters,
considering in succession the development by early philosophers
and Platonists, the commentary by modern philosophers, and
the interpretation by modern Socratic scholars.
X 31 d.
DEVELOPMENT BY EARLY PHILOSOPHERS AND PLATONISTS
Already in the centuries immediately following the time
of Socrates, there began to emerge a profound appreciation for
his life and thought. Philosophers and writers came to see
in Socrates the beginnings of those new directions in man's
thinking about himself, and in man's conduct within society,
which subsequent ages have confirmed to have commenced in
earnest only with Socrates.
The interest in Socrates centered then, as it has since,
on the Platonic Socrates , who in more than thirty dialogs of
Plato presents not only certain philosophical convictions and
priorities, but in effect a whole philosophic method of mutual
search. Doubtless the existence and influence of Plato's
Academy across the years was in large part responsible for
this preoccupation with Plato's Socrates. Neither Xenophon
nor Aeschines had a "school" to spread and sustain interest in
their writings. Beyond that, however, Plato was not alone the
most prolific writer on the thought of Socrates, but the only
one of Socrates' contemporaries who had the inclination and
ability to stress the speculative side of his thought. It is
this fact, as previously noted, that makes a distinction be-
tween the original thought of Socrates and its subsequent
development or possible misrepresentation by Plato so diffi-
cult. There are few "controls" against which Plato can be
Alongside the interest in the philosophy presented by
the Platonic Socrates, there developed quite an interest in
his personal life and conduct as well. Biographers in that
day unfortunately had not the standards and integrity that
at least the best of them have now, so that the desire to pass
on a juicy morsel of gossip --whether it could be substantiated
or not- -often took precedence over a proper respect for the
truth and for the man. Socrates was not exempt from this
kind of distortion. On the contrary, his nonconformity in
personal habits invited it. Neither he nor his poor wife
Xanthippe escaped the deliberate caricature of later writers.
With all of the investigation into the thought and
personal life of Socrates, there inevitably arose a consider-
able interest in the daimonion. Beginning with the first suc-
cessors to Plato in his Academy, men have probed Socrates'
experience of the daimonion and pronounced on its nature and
effects. The most concern with the daimonion, naturally
enough, was among those writers and thinkers properly called
Platonists, men who sought to understand and refine the thought
of Plato. An occasional non-Platonist, notably Cicero, also
showed an interest in the daimonion.
It is the purpose of this chapter to present the think-
ing of men concerning Socrates' daimonion, covering the period
from after the time of Plato to the time of the last great
Neo-Platonist, Proclus (d. 485 A.D.). In this period of
roughly 900 years, there are four men in particular who show
a special interest in the daimonion. One is the Roman scholar
and statesman, Cicero. The other three are the Platonists
Plutarch, Apuleius , and Proclus. Others, including several
of the early Church Fathers, commented on the daimonion,
though usually just incidentally to another purpose.
Following the four presentations on the daimonion, a
summary will be given to indicate the general direction in
which men's thinking about the daimonion developed during this
early period. The four writers will be considered in a
chronological order: Cicero (106-43 B.C.), Plutarch (46-120
A.D.), Apuleius (fl. 150 A.D.), and Proclus (410-485 A.D.)
Cicero's high regard for Socrates and his place in the
history of human thought is attested by his naming Socrates
as "the first who brought down philosophy from the heavens
. . . and obliged it to examine into life and morals , and
good and evil." Accordingly, when in his dialog On Divina -
tion he is attempting through the mouth of his brother Quintus
to put forth the best possible case for divination (which he
himself will later in the dialog refute) , he cites the accept-
ance of divination by the greatest among the philosophers, in-
Tusculan Disputations 5. 4. Latin De Dr inatione .
Quintus argues in the dialog that an inability to
understand the processes of divination is no adequate grounds
for disbelieving in it; for, by the same reasoning, men should
disbelieve in the power of a magnet to attract iron or of
drugs to cure certain diseases. More positively, he goes on,
after the fashion of Posidonius the Stoic, to justify and
legitimatize divination by tracing its source to God, to
nature, and to fate.
In the course of the argument, there are several pass-
ages which refer to Socrates. One, while not specifically
mentioning the daimonion, is significant in that it attempts
to establish as trustworthy the dreams of men who, like Socra-
tes, have within them a purity of soul. Quintus quotes in
obvious agreement the words of Socrates in the Republic , where
Socrates says that "when a man, whose habits of living and of
eating are wholesome and temperate, surrenders himself to
sleep, having the thinking and reasoning portion of his soul
eager and erect, . . . then will the thinking and reasoning
portion of his soul shine forth and show itself keen and strong
for dreaming and then will his dreams be peaceful and worthy
of trust." 1
It is this conviction of the trustworthiness of the
dreams of a moderate and sensible man that forms Cicero's
estimate of the daimonion of Socrates. The significant pass-
age on the daimonion is this one, in which Quintus speaks:
Plato Republic 571, Falconer translation in Cicero
On Divination i. 29. 61.
"Just as a man has clear and trustworthy dreams, pro-
vided he goes to sleep, not only with his mind prepared
by noble thoughts, but also with every precaution taken
to induce repose; so too he, when awake, is better pre-
pared to interpret truly the messages of entrails, stars,
birds, and all other signs, provided the soul is pure
and undefiled. -i
"it is this purity of soul, no doubt, that explains
that famous utterance which history attributes to Socra-
tes and which his disciples in their books often repre- „
sent him as repeating: 'There is some divine influence'^
-- daimonion , he called it-- 'which I always obey, though
it never urges me on, but often holds me back. "3
Later in the same paragraph Quintus cites the two
examples of the daimonion' s warnings that were excerpted in
the previous chapter, the one the warning to Crito not to take
the walk that resulted in the injury to his eye, the other
the warning that caused Socrates to take a different route
from the others in the escape after the battle at Delium.
From the whole of the evidence which Cicero gives
through Quintus in the dialog, the picture of Socrates' dai-
monion is one which combines the neuter form and inhibitory
character of the daimonion, as Plato conceives it, with its
exercising an influence not only upon Socrates himself but
upon his friends as well, as reflected in Xenophon's writings.
It is most certainly as a "divine something" that the daimonion
appears in Cicero, not as a separate god. Just as certain,
Hubert M. Poteat translates this phrase as "spiritual
integrity" in Cicero, Brutus, On the Nature of the Gods, On
Divination, On Duties (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
Latin divinum quiddam , most generally translated
"divine something. 1 '
On Divination i. 54. 122, Falconer translation.
though, is that it operates beyond Socrates' personal life.
By far the most interesting emphasis that Cicero makes
in his discussion of the daimonion, however, comes in the pass-
age quoted above, where he acknowledges the trustworthiness of
the daimonion on the basis of Socrates' "purity of soul." It
is this quality within that, for Cicero, allows a Socrates to
be awake to, and aware of, signs that other men would miss.
This insight marks Cicero's real contribution to an understand-
ing of Socrates' daimonion.
In his dialog On the Genius of Socrates , Plutarch
gives a spirited account of a daring exploit, the recovery
from the Spartans of the citadel of Thebes by a party of
Theban patriots who had been in Athens. The expedition took
place during the winter of 379-378 B.C. , about twenty years
after Socrates' death. The dialog chronicles the final hours
and events of the successful plot to recapture the citadel.
The discussions about Socrates' daimonion form two interludes
in the action, and serve in effect to fill in the hours of
waiting and relieve the tension in the narrative. In addition,
the conversation on the daimonion gives evidence of the good
character and intellectual interests of the Thebans, who over
the years until Plutarch's time had habitually been disparaged
by Xenophon and others .
Latin De Genio Socratis.
Actually, as has been indicated, the dialog is mis-
named; for the focus is upon the recovery of the citadel, with
Socrates and the daimonion only incidental subjects of dis-
cussion. Further, the Latin and English titles commonly given
to the dialog misrepresent Plutarch's terminology, seeming
to imply that he understood Socrates to be guided by a separ-
ate, private god, a genius. In fact, the Greek word in
Plutarch's title is not daimon but daimonion , which by his
time could have been either a noun form for a little god or
(the older meaning) a neuter adjective for the manifestation
of one of the recognized gods. The dialog itself suggests
the latter as Plutarch's meaning; so that, as in recent trans-
lations, the proper title would read On the Daimonic in Socra -
tes , or On the Sign of Socrates . Finally, the dialog is mis-
named in that concern with the daimonion seems only instru-
mental to the presentation by one of the speakers, Simmias,
of a doctrine of the soul of man and its destiny. Simmias
tells of the trance of Timarchus, a friend of Socrates' son
Lamprocles , which revealed to him that every man has a daimon
which is a star floating over his head, to which willingly or
reluctantly his soul is attached. The daimon is identified
with the purest part of man's reason; and a man like Socrates,
who all his life obeys and cultivates his daimon, is granted
powers of divination.
In respect of Plutarch's developing a theory of the
soul, and his use of myth to do it, his dialog is generally
assumed to be constructed deliberately on the model of Plato's
Phaedo. Two of the characters in his dialog, Siinmias and
Cebes , are also present in Plato's dialog of the last hours
The first of the two discussions on the daimonion in
the dialog is a conversation primarily between Galaxidorus
and Theocritus, with an interjection by Polymnis. To the
objection of Galaxidorus that men should be frank and free of
religious superstition the way Socrates was, Theocritus re-
sponds by citing the daimonion: "As to the Divine Sign of
Socrates, good friend, are we to call it a falsity or what?
To me, nothing recorded about Pythagoras seems to go so far
towards the prophetic and divine."
Theocritus continues, giving a first definition of
Socrates' daimonion as "a sort of vision to go before and guide
his steps in life ... in matters of uncertainty, too hard
for the wit of man to solve; upon these the spirit used often
to converse with him, adding a divine touch to his own resolu-
tions. For more, and more important, instances you must ask
Simmias and the other companions of Socrates." It is then
that he relates the incident of Socrates' daimonion turning
him aside to go through the Trunkmakers ' Street, so that he
will avoid the onrush of the herd of swine.
Galaxidorus replies with the suggestion that the
580 c. All translations from On the Genius of
Socrates are by A. 0. Prickard (trans.), Selected Essays of
Plutarch , II.
2 580 c-d.
daimonion is simply a keen sensitivity which helped Socrates
decide in situations where there was no evident rational
ground for decision. Polymnis interjects with the thought
that possibly the daimonion was only a sneeze, and that depend-
ing on the kind of sneeze and the direction from which it
came Socrates took his course of action. Polymnis himself,
however, can hardly credit this, saying: "The wonder to me
is that if he made use of a sneeze he did not so call it to
his companions , but was in the habit of saying that what
checked or commanded him was a Divine Sign. For that would
be like vanity and idle boasting, not like truth and simplicity,
in which lay, as we suppose, his greatness and superiority to
men in general." He continues, praising Socrates' integrity
and courage, adding that "all this is not like a man whose
judgment might be changed by random voices and sneezing."
Following these remarks, he tells the story of the retreat
from the battle of Delium, in which the daimonion guided
Socrates by a safe route. Galaxidorus defends his "sneeze
theory" by claiming that the sneeze is in fact the instrument
of a god, and invites Simmias to elaborate on his knowledge of
Socrates' daimonion. Then the conversation is interrupted by
the arrival of a number of Theban confederates together with
a stranger, Theanor.
When the dialog later resumes its discussion of "the
problem of the real nature and potency of the Divine Sign of
^l b. 2 581 c.
Socrates, so called," Simmias is the central figure. In the
interim he has apparently refuted Galaxidorus , and now gives
his own opinion. It is this that presents Plutarch's mature
estimate of the "Divine Sign" of Socrates. The most signifi-
cant excerpts are these:
What Simmias said in reply to the argument of
Galaxidorus we did not hear; but he went on to say that
he had himself once asked Socrates on the subject, and
failed to get an answer, and so had never asked again;
but that he had often been with him when he gave his
opinion that those who claim intercourse with the
divine by way of visions are imposters, whereas he
attended to those who professed to hear a voice, and put
serious questions to them. Hence^ it began to occur to
us, as we were discussing the matter among ourselves, to
suspect that the Divine Sign of Socrates might possibly
be no vision but a special sense for sounds or words,
with which he had contact in some strange manner; just
as in sleep there is no voice heard, but fancies and
notions as to particular words reach the sleepers, who
then think that they hear people talking. Only sleepers
receive such conceptions in a real dream because of the
tranquillity and calm of the body in sleep, whereas in
waking moments the soul can hardly attend to greater
powers, being so choked by thronging emotions and dis-
tracting needs that they are unable to listen and to
give their attention to clear revelations. But the
mind of Socrates, pure and passionless, and intermingling
itself but little with the body for necessary purposes,
was fine and light of touch, and quickly changed under
any impression. The impression we may conjecture to
have been no voice, but the utterance of a spirit, which
without vocal sound reached the perceiving mind by the
revelation itself. For voice is like a blow upon the
soul, which perforce admits its utterance by way of the
ears, whenever we converse with one another. But the
mind of a stronger being leads the gifted soul, touching
it with the thing thought, and no blow is needed. ... We
Here Simmias begins to talk, though the translator
omits the quotation marks. Cf. 589 f, also the translation
by Phillip H. DeLacy and Benedict Einarson, Plutarch's Moralia
(15 vols., London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1959), VII, 588 c.
need not, I think, find it hard to believe that mind
might be led by a stronger mind and a more divine soul
external to itself, having contact with it after its
kind, as word with word or light with reflection. . . .
We need not wonder if, in regard to this special mode of
thought also, the air is sensitive to the touch of higher
beings , and is so modified as to convey to the mind of
godlike and extraordinary men the thought of him who
thought it. . . . The words of spirits pass through all
Nature, but only sound for those who possess the soul in
untroubled calm, holy and spiritual men as we emphatically
call them. The view of most people is that spiritual
visitations come to men in sleep; that they should be
similarly stirred when awake and in their full facilities
they think marvellous and beyond belief. As though a
musician were thought to use his lyre when the strings
are let down, and not to touch or use it when it is
strung up and tuned! They do not see the cause, their
own inner tunelessness and discord, from which Socrates
our friend had been set free, as the oracle given to his
father when he was yet a boy declared. . . .
This, Pheidolaus , is what has occurred to me to
think about the Divine Sign of Socrates , in his lifetime
and since his death, dismissing with contempt those who
have suggested voices or sneezings or anything of that
Speaking through Simmias, Plutarch reveals his con-
ception of the daimonion as an inner voice, to be understood
without reference either to a physical sound in the environ-
ment or a physical organ within the body. Socrates' experi-
ence of the daimonion is his perception of an unspoken language
coming from the higher powers, the gods and daimons. Their
communications are received via an immaterial medium, much as
in dreams; but in order to talk of them to other men, physical
analogies to ordinary sense experiences must be used. Thus
the daimonion is both a voice and yet not really a voice.
Further, Plutarch understands Socrates to have been
1 588 c-589 f.
able to experience this unique kind of communication because
of his purity of mind. Other "holy and spiritual men" could
likewise, in Plutarch's view, experience the "Divine Sign."
The daimonion is thus neither a physical voice nor an inter-
preted sneeze, but the medium for the spiritually communicated
counsel of the higher beings to those like Socrates whose
purity of mind enables them to "hear" it.
The Afro-Roman writer Apuleius, like most of the
Platonists, wrote primarily not of the impersonal daimonion
of Socrates, but rather of an individual, god-like daimon that
guided him in life. In speaking this way and making this
emphasis, Apuleius was accommodating the experience of Socra-
tes to a demonology that, from the time of Plato and his myths
forward, gradually became more and more systematic. He con-
ceived Socrates as possessing a daimon which belonged to the
highest order of daimons, and accordingly titled his work On
the God of Socrates . Augustine, who was critical of the work,
suggests that Apuleius would have called it On the Daimon of
Socrates , but dared not to. The distinction would not have
been crucial, however, for Apuleius. What did matter was that
the daimon was a separate being, and was to be identified with
Latin De Deo Socratis .
Prickard (trans.), Selected Essays of Plutarch , II, 4.
Much of the dissertation is a development of a demon -
ology according to which "there are certain divine powers of
a middle nature, situate in the interval of the air, between
the highest aether and the earth below, through whom our
aspirations and our doubts are conveyed to the gods." These
intermediate beings, the daimons , work in a variety of ways:
"by framing dreams, or causing ominous fissures in entrails,
or governing the flights of some birds, or instructing others
in song, or inspiring prophets, or by launching thunders, or
causing the lightning to flash in the clouds, or other things
to take place by means of which we obtain a knowledge of
The specific reference to the daimon of Socrates does
not occur until well into the last third of the work. The
important excerpts, giving Apuleius 1 conception of the daimon
and also the daimonion of Socrates, are these:
There is another species of daimons, more exalted and
august, not fewer in number, but far superior in dignity,
who, forever being liberated from the bonds and con-
junction of the body, preside over certain powers. . . .
From this more elevated order of daimons, Plato is of
opinion that a peculiar daimon is allotted to every man,
to be a witness and a guardian of his conduct in life,
who, without being visible to anyone, is always present,
and is an overseer not only of his actions, but even of
his thoughts. . . . The daimon scrupulously takes part
in all these matters, sees all things, understands all
things, and dwells in the most profound recesses of the
mind, in the place of conscience. He of whom I speak
is entirely our guardian, our individual keeper, our
Apuleius, The Works of Apuleius , trans, n.n. (London:
Bell & Daldy, 1872)', p. 356.
2 Ibid. , p. 357.
watcher at home, our own proper regulator, a searcher
into our inmost fibers, our constant observer, our in-
separable witness, a reprover of our evil actions, an
approver of our good ones ; if he is becomingly attended
to, sedulously worshiped, in the way in which he was
worshiped by Socrates in justice and in innocence; he
is our forewarner in uncertainty, our monitor in matters
of doubt, our defender in danger, and our assistant in
need. He is able also by dreams, and by tokens, and per-
haps even openly, when necessity demands it, to avert
you from evil, to increase your blessings, to aid you
when depressed, to support you when falling, to lighten
your darkness, to regulate your prosperity, and modify
What wonder, then, if Socrates, who was a man perfect
in the highest degree, and wise even by the testimony of
Apollo, should know and venerate this his God; and that
hence this Lar, his keeper, and nearly, as I may say, his
co-mate and his domestic associate, should repel him from
everything which ought to be repelled, foresee what ought
to be foreseen, and forewarn him of what he ought to be
forewarned of, if at any time, the functions of wisdom
falling short, he stood in need, not of counsel, but of
foreknowledge; in order that when he was vacillating
through doubt, he might take a firm stand through being
forewarned. . . .
The reason also has been in some measure already
stated why the daimon of Socrates was generally in the
habit of forbidding him to do certain things , but never
exhorted him to the performance of any act. For Socra-
tes, being of himself a man exceedingly perfect, and
prompt to the performance of all requisite duties, never
stood in need of anyone to exhort him; though sometimes
he required one to forbid him, if danger happened to lurk
in any of his undertakings; in order that, being admon-
ished, he might use due precaution, and desist for the
present from his attempt, either to resume it more safely
at a future period, or enter upon it in some other way.
On occasions of this kind he used to say, "That he heard
a certain voice, which proceeded from the divinity."
For so it is asserted by Plato; and let no one suppose
that he was in the habit of deriving omens from the
ordinary conversation of men. . . .
Socrates did not simply say that he heard a voice,
but a "certain voice," transmitted to him: by which
addition, you must certainly understand, that neither an
ordinary nor a human voice is signified: for had it been
so, it would have been no use to say a 'certain" voice,
but rather "a voice." ... He who says that he heard a
certain voice is either ignorant whence that voice
originated, or is in some doubt concerning it, or shows
that it had something unusual and mysterious about it,
as Socrates did of that voice, which he said was trans-
mitted to him opportunely and from a divine source. And,
indeed, I think that he used to perceive indications of
his daimon, not only with his ears, but even with his
eyes; for he very frequently declared that not a voice,
but a divine sign, had been presented to him. This sign
too might have been the form of his daimon, which Socrates
alone beheld, just as in Homer, Achilles beheld Minerva.
I suppose that most of you will with difficulty believe
what I have just said.i
The passages quoted illustrate something of the tedium
and repetition characteristic of Apuleius, but give a good
picture too of his conception of the daimonion. For him, it
is a "certain voice" that proceeds from Socrates' daimon. It
operates only in an inhibitory fashion, because Socrates--a
perfect man- -never needed to be prompted to action, but only
restrained at times from it.
Two of the suggestions of Apuleius concerning the
daimonion of Socrates are of special interest. He proposes
that the "divine sign" might not in every instance have been
a voice, but perhaps also on occasion was a vision presented
to Socrates, possibly even a vision of the actual "form of the
daimon." The second suggestion, likewise introduced for the
first time into discussions of the daimonion, is that the
daimon operates in function similar to a man's conscience, "a
reprover of our evil actions, an approver of our good ones."
In this latter conception he is joined by another Platonist,
Olympiodorus , who says with reference to Socrates that "the
allotted daimon is conscience." Maximus Tyrius, a Platonist
1 Ibid. , pp. 364-70.
Ibid . , pp. 365-66, in a footnote by Thomas Taylor.
contemporary with Apuleius, likewise equates the dairaon of
Socrates with his conscience. Heraclitus, it will be remem-
bered, was the first to attempt to rationalize a man's daimon
as equivalent to his mora] character or conscience.
The last of the great Neo-Platonists, Proclus lived
some 300 years after the time of Plutarch and Apuleius. He
was the head of the Academy in Athens in the fifth century A.D. ,
and was distinguished for his elaborate metaphysical specula-
tions. He was not so much an original thinker as he was a
systeraatizer and expositer. It is in his commentary on Plato's
Alcibiades I that he writes of the daimon and daimonion of
Socrates, seeing Socrates as the daimon to whose guardianship
Alcibiades is assigned.
For Proclus, the daimons form a middle rank to bind
together the gods and men, as in Plato. However, they are
neither the souls of the men of a former age, as Plato says
in the Cratylus , nor is a man's daimon the rational part of
his soul, as Plato portrays it in the Timaeus . This latter,
says Proclus, is just an analogy. He goes on to say that "in
any case, in the Timaeus the rational soul was called the
spirit of the living organism; but we are looking for the
J. A. Stewart, The Myths of Plato (London: Centaur
Press Ltd., 1960), p. 39T.
Supra , pp. 19-20. Symposium 202 d.
4 398 b. 5 90 a.
guardian spirit of man, and not of the living organism."
This "guardian spirit" is what Socrates refers to in the
Phaedo as leading the soul before the judges. The distinction
seems to Proclus to be confirmed in the Alcibiades I , where
Socrates says that the reason for his not approaching
Alcibiades earlier "has been nothing human, but a certain
It is as a "guardian spirit" that Proclus regards
Socrates' daimonion. He virtually equates the concepts of
daimon and daimonion, regarding the latter as but a diminutive
form in the same way as does the Septuagint. His reason for
so doing is to make room for the daimonion of Socrates in a
consistent demonology. His justification for so doing is
Alcibiades I , where what Socrates early calls "a certain
spiritual opposition" (Greek daimonion ) he later calls "God"
(Greek theos) . Socrates' daimonion, says Proclus, "has been
allotted a god-like pre-eminence within the spirit nature. . .
For as there is spirit on the level of gods, so there is god
on the level of spirits. . . . Naturally then Socrates calls
his own guardian spirit a god, because it was one of the fore-
most and highest spirits."
In addition to identifying the daimonion as not only a
spirit but also a god, Proclus also describes the way in which
William O'Neill, Proclus: Alcibiades I (The Hague:
Martinus Nijhoff , 1965) , p. 49.
2 107 d. 3 103 a.
4 103 a, 124 c. 5 0'Neill, p. 52.
the daimonion manifested itself to Socrates as a voice. There
was, Proclus says of Socrates,
... a spirit- like irradiation passing suddenly
through all the levels of his life and even arousing
>• sense-perception. For it is clear that although the
activity of the spirit is the same, reason enjoys its
gift in one way, imagination in another, sensation in
yet another. ... It was not from without, then, in
the manner of an impression, that the voice impinged
upon Socrates; but the inspiration from within, ranging
through the whole of the soul and penetrating as far
as the organs of sense-perception, finally became a
voice, recognized by inner awareness rather than
Proclus comments too on the inhibitory character of
Socrates' "guardian spirit," marking this as a tribute to
Socrates. His unreserved nature had no need of being encour-
aged, but occasionally had to be restrained, "as if some good
charioteer should check, only so far as was necessary, from
its onrush, a horse of good natural ability for racing, and
give it no further incitement, since it was of itself aroused
to movement and required not 'the charioteer's goad,' but his
So does Proclus draw the daimonion of Socrates into a
systematic demonology, identifying it as a god inspiring Socra-
tes to an inner awareness that manifests itself as a voice,
and inhibiting him from those expressions of his outgoing
nature that would not be expedient for him.
1 Ibid. , p. 53. 2 Ibid. , p. 54.
During the nine hundred years from Plato to Proclus,
there was a significant development in men's thinking about
Socrates' daimonion. While a relatively early scholar like
Cicero continued to regard the daimonion as an independent
divinum quiddam (divine something) , there was gradually an
accommodation of the daimonion to a systematic demonology
having its roots in Plato.
By degrees, the focus shifted from a neuter daimonion
to a personal daimon, thought to have become attached to
Socrates at his birth, to guide him in life and to communicate
to him what his reason alone could not fathom. The daimonion
could thus be, as in Plutarch and Apuleius, a "certain voice,"
emanating from a personal daimon; or it could be, as in Proclus,
itself a high-ranking daimon, virtually a god. Either way, it
was the daimon of Socrates that was the explanation for the
guidance he received. No longer did the daimonion stand alone
as a "divine something." Now it was "explained" by reference
to Socrates' special daimon, his "guardian spirit." More and
more did the daimonion come to be regarded as a particular
case in the whole order of daimons.
While there is considerable agreement among the four
major writers cited, as for example on the inhibitory char-
acter of the daimonion, each one presents at least one new
suggestion relative to the interpretation of the daimonion and
its effects. Cicero grants the trustworthiness of the dai-
monion' s counsel on the basis of Socrates' purity of mind;
i.e., his sensitivity to influences that other men are not
alert enough or free enough from their passions to "hear."
Plutarch emphasizes the non-physical character of the voice,
describing Socrates' experience as his perception of an un-
spoken language coming through an immaterial medium from the
gods and daimons. Apuleius suggests that the "divine sign"
might on occasion have been a vision as well as a voice, and
--together with other Platonists of his period- -names the
daimonion's function to be that of a man's conscience. Proclus
completes the systmatizing process by equating the daimonion
to a personal daimon, bringing it within a consistent demonology.
So did Socrates' daimonion fare at the hands of the
first large group of its interpreters, the early philosophers
and Platonists. Following after Plato and Xenophon, they
gradually developed an understanding of the daimonion which
made room for it within the larger systems which they con-
structed on the broad base of Plato's thought.
From the classical period of ancient Greece and the
thousand years following upon it, the discussion now shifts
another twelve centuries forward to examine what modern phil-
osophers, from Descartes to Kierkegaard, have said about
Socrates' daimonion. It is to their commentary that attention
COMMENTARY BY MODERN PHILOSOPHERS
For the one thousand years from Proclus to the Italian
Renaissance, interest in the life and thought of the early
Greeks waned, and there was no appreciable growth in the
understanding or interpretation of Socrates' daimonion. Dur-
ing most of this period, the authority of the Church discour-
aged free intellectual speculation, and "learning" in general
fell upon hard times. With the Renaissance of the fifteenth
century men again began to experience pleasure in the discovery
and examination of new facts , rather than in the tightening of
already rigid systems of thought. Too, there came a revival
of interest in Plato, as opposed to Aristotle, and a return to
the original sources. This opened up once again the vocation
of philosophy, although it was not until after the first flush
of undisciplined individualism had passed that there was any
significant philosophy or philosopher. Gradually, however,
modern philosophy developed; and there came to be, beginning
with Descartes, a new interest in the life and thought of
Socrates--and with it, a new look at the daimonion.
Four philosophers especially--Descartes , Hegel,
Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard- -have evidenced a considerable inter-
est in Socrates' daimonion; and to these four, in turn, major
attention will be given. In addition, however, other modern
philosophers have commented on the daimonion, including
Montaigne, Schleiermacher , Schopenhauer, John Stuart Mill,
and Bertrand Russell. Their judgments will be collected in
a final portion of the chapter, in the attempt further to
clarify the nature and effects of Socrates ' daimonion.
Rene Descartes (1596-1650) is properly regarded as the
father of modern philosophy. He was truly an innovator in
man's thinking about himself and his world, and it is with him
that the subjectivism and idealism of much modern philosophy
originates. No philosopher, perhaps, is truly original, but
occasionally a philosopher may accurately be termed a pioneer
in the new directions of thought. Such a one was Socrates,
and another was Descartes.
One scholar, in fact, argues convincingly that Descartes
is a "Christian Socrates, . . . the embodiment of that fusion
of the Socratic contribution with Christian teaching which
constitutes Western thought." Descartes, like Socrates,
stressed self-awareness, and went further to claim that self-
knowledge is the only sure knowledge. His Cogito seems at
first to be infinitely impoverishing, were it not that he ex-
tends Socrates' "Know thyself" to the conviction that to know
oneself is to know God in oneself. Thus the way is paved for
the escape from solipsism to a confidence in one's experience
Sauvage, p. 157.
of the external world, for the good God known in self-
experience would not deceive regarding the external world.
In other respects than the centrality of self-
awareness, Descartes and Socrates are similarly alike. Both
hold together, in a balanced combination that few men can
achieve, the importance of clear thinking along with the
importance of what modern philosophy calls intuition. There
is no separation, in the thought of either man, between
rational investigation and interior "vision." As will be dis-
cussed more fully in chapter nine, Descartes too had a trust
in the dreams and providential warnings that came to him.
Knowledge has two sources: reason and inspiration.
In view of this marked similarity in the outlook of
the two men, it is not surprising to learn from an early
biographer of Descartes that he devoted a book to Socrates'
daimonion. His personal correspondence likewise reflects
his ready acceptance of Socrates' experience, even if it can-
not be defended rationally against the charge of superstition.
The following quotation from a letter he wrote late in life
to Princess Elizabeth gives his estimate of what Socrates'
daimonion was, and how far its counsel should be respected:
What is commonly called Socrates' "genius" is of
course simply this, that he was accustomed to follow his
inward inclinations, and thought that the outcome of his
undertakings would be successful if he had a secret feel-
ing of joy, but would be unsuccessful if he felt sad.
But it is true that it would be superstitious to trust
Adrian Baillet, Vie de Monsieur Descartes (Paris:
n.p., 1691), II, 408, cited by Sauvage, p. 159.
in this as much as he is said to have done; for Plato
relates that he would even stay at home whenever his
genius did not advise him to go out. But as touching
the important actions of one's life, when they appear
so uncertain that prudence cannot teach us what we
should do, I think it is indeed right to follow the
advice of one's genius, and that it is a good thing to
be firmly persuaded that the tasks we undertake without
repugnance, with that freedom which usually goes with
joy, will not fail to come to a good issue. 1
The daimonion, or "genius," of Socrates is seen by
Descartes to be simply a predisposition to honor his "inward
inclinations," which manifested themselves as feelings of joy
or sadness about a proposed course of action. He dismisses
the more trivial instances of Socrates' experience of the
daimonion, but claims that where in important affairs it is
impossible to decide rationally it is "a good thing" to trust
in the daimonion 1 s leading. So, in fact, did he himself.
George Frederick Hegel (1770-1831) is numbered among
the most influential of modern philosophers. His conviction
in the reality solely of the Whole, a completely spiritual
Absolute, and the corresponding belief in the unreality of
separateness , form the basis of his philosophy, and reflect
his life-long interest in mysticism. From this same interest
springs his frequent reference to Socrates and the daimonion.
In several volumes of his collected lectures there is a marked
emphasis upon the daimonion and its significance in the devel-
opment of a subjective consciousness within Greek philosophy.
Letter to Princess Elizabeth," November 1646,
translated in Sauvage, p. 172.
Socrates was the innovator, and the daimonion the physio-
logical mechanism, for man's deciding in himself the issues
of his life.
For Hegel, Socrates marked a crucial shift in human
thought and in the locus of authority. Under the impetus of
the decay of the Athenian democracy, Socrates dissolved the
traditional understandings of truth and authority, and re-
treated from a crumbling society to seek within himself what
was right and good. To Hegel, "Socrates is the hero who
established in the place of the Delphic oracle the principle
that man must look within himself to know what is Truth. . . .
We find in it a complete revolution in the Greek mind, . . .
for in place of the oracle the personal self -consciousness of
every thinking man has come into play."
In another lecture, Hegel claims that Socrates should
be regarded not simply as a teacher of morality but in fact
as the inventor of morality. Articulating the principle of
subjectivity in the thought of Socrates, he relates it spe-
cifically to Socrates' belief in his daimonion:
It was in Socrates that . . . the principle of sub-
jectivity- -of the absolute inherent independence of
Thought --attained free expression. . . . Socrates--in
assigning to insight, to conviction, the determination
of men's actions--posited the Individual as capable of a
final moral decision, in contraposition to Country and
to Customary Morality, and thus made himself an Oracle,
in the Greek sense. He said that he had a daimon within
him, which counseled him what to do, and revealed to him
what was advantageous to his friends. The rise of the
inner world of Subjectivity was the rupture with the
Lectures on the History of Philosophy , I, 435.
In still a third major writing, Hegel again returns
to the significance of the daimonion, and summarizes as
follows: "in the daimon of Socrates we can discern the be-
ginning of a change; we can see that the will, formerly set
upon an object wholly outside of itself, has begun to transfer
itself into itself, and recognize itself within itself. This
Is the beginning of self-consciousness and therefore true
While Hegel speaks of the daimon or "Genius" of
Socrates, it is clear that he does not conceive a separate
god as ordering Socrates' affairs. He believes rather that
the daimonion may be physiologically explained, however Socra-
tes himself may have regarded it. His most explicit definition
of the daimonion comes in these paragraphs from his Lectures
on the History of Philosophy :
We are neither to imagine the existence of a pro-
tective spirit, angel, or such-like, nor even of con-
science. . . . The Genius of Socrates is not Socrates
himself, not his opinions and convictions, but an
oracle which, however, is not external, but is subjec-
tive, his oracle. ... It certainly receives the stamp
of imagination, but there is nothing more of what is
visionary or superstitious to be seen in it. . . . Because
with Socrates judgment from within first begins to break
free from the external oracle, it was requisite that this
return into itself should in its first commencement still
appear in physiological guise. The Genius of Socrates
stands midway between the externality of the oracle and
the pure inwardness of the mind; it is inward, but it is
Lectures on the Philosophy of History , p. 281.
George Frederick Hegel , Hegel's Philosophy of Right ,
. S. W. Dyde (London: George Bell & Sons, 1896), p. 290.
also presented as a personal genius, separate from human
will, and not yet as the wisdom and free will of Socrates
Hegel thus in effect "excuses" Socrates from not
representing his daimonion as simply his own free will to
make decisions, and justifies the language of a personal
genius on the grounds that not even Socrates --much less his
contemporaries --could have traversed the whole distance from
external oracle to personal freedom all in one step. For Hegel,
however, the daimonion is totally internal to Socrates. It
is neither an attendant guardian spirit, nor even a more im-
personal influence of an external God. Finally, in keeping
with his first philosophical principle that only the Whole is
real, the daimonion i£ Socrates. Though Socrates conceived it
as separate from himself, it was in fact one aspect of his
Friederich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was one of the most
controversial of modern philosophers. His is the complex but
surprisingly consistent philosophy of a complex and often in-
consistent man. Giving metaphysical and ethical primacy to
the individual's will, he presents a vigorous challenge to
commonly received doctrines of man and systems of morals.
Socrates looms large in Nietzsche s philosophy, appear-
ing again and again in his discussions of man and morality.
Nietzsche's attitude towards Socrates is itself complex and
4 i 422, 425.
ambiguous , a blend of admiration and criticism, the latter
amounting often to an outright hatred. It is this that is
immediately obvious to the student of Nietzsche, as it appears
and re-appears in his writings. Nietzsche scores Socrates
for his notion of an absolute morality based on the rationality
of man, which is directly opposed to his own aristocratic
ideal of instinct and the rule of the stronger, leading to an
ethical relativism. He reserves an even stronger condemnation
for what he calls an "aesthetic Socratism" which demands that
what is beautiful must also be rational . He blames Socrates
for the death of Greek tragedy, and for disclaiming poetry and
every form of artistic activity which springs from instinct
without rational support. In T he Birth of Tragedy he writes
that "Socrates must be designated the specific non-mystic, in
whom the logical has become ... as overdeveloped as has the
instinctive in the mystic." Elsewhere he speaks of Socrates
as "absurdly rational."
The problem that Socrates posed for Nietzsche was pre-
cisely the problem of reason itself. Socrates personified the
very trust in reason which Nietzsche could never grant and
which he bitterly criticized. Of all his hatreds, the most
constant was for the tradition of European rationalism. Socra-
tes, a great hero in that tradition, was thus for Nietzsche a
proper villain. In his view, the Greeks before Socrates had
W. Hollingdale, Nietzsche: The Man and His Philosophy
(London: Routledge & Kegan Paul , 1965) , p. 103.
Quoted in ibid. Quoted in ibid. , p. 95.
been happy men, living on instinct and habit. With Socrates,
men began to think, and not only about how to get what their
wills prompted them to strive for, but to think also about
what they were desiring. It was a deadly rationalism that
Socrates spawned, and Nietzsche could only despise him for it.
As one of his chief biographers expresses it, "By the voice
of Plato, whom he had seduced, Socrates imposed the illusion,
unknown to the ancients, of Nature as accessible to the reason
of man, altogether penetrated by it, and always harmonious."
Nietzsche attacked not only the convictions of Socra-
tes, but the man himself. He vilified Socrates personally, by
innuendo and outright accusation. One such argument ad hominem ,
bearing specifically on the place Socrates gives to human
reason, is in The Twilight of the Gods , where he writes that
"when a man finds it necessary, as Socrates did, to create a
tyrant out of reason, there is no small danger that something
else wishes to play the tyrant."
However much there may seem to be a hatred of Socrates
on Nietzsche's part, there is right alongside it an admiration
as well, amounting at times to a strong dependence if not an
actual hero-worship. Kaufmann, one of the ablest Nietzschean
Crane Brinton, Nietzsche (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1941), p. 83.
Daniel Halevy, The Life of Friederich Nietzsche, trans.
J. M. Hone (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1911), pp. 85-6.
Friederich Nietzsche, The Twilight of the Idols ,
Vol. XVI of Complete Works , ed. Oscar Levy, trans. Anthony M.
Ludovici (18 vols. , Edinburgh: T. N. Foulis, 1911), pp. 14-15.
scholars, suggests that he tries to maintain his independence
from Socrates by lashing out at him, much as he did at Richard
Wagner and Jesus Christ, two other of his sometime heroes.
Unquestionably, as Nietzsche himself said of Plato,
he too "received from the Apology of Socrates the decisive
thought of how a philosopher ought to behave toward man. 1
He was a fearless questioner who, rather than deducing systems
from traditional premises, pursued independent problems of his
own formulation, and helped others to formulate and pursue
theirs. He did so, as Kaufmann writes, "not by 'blessing and
oppressing' them with his own solutions but by showing them to
their astonishment what they had presumed in formulating their
problems." Socrates was surely Nietzsche's hero to the extent
that he was the "gadfly" of Athens and a veritable "vivisec-
tionist of contemporary conceit and hypocrisy." Further, and
perhaps most decisively, a pitifully frightened and timid
Nietzsche, a warrior in his daydreams only, hero-worshiped
Socrates as the embodiment of the perfection he could never
reach: the passionate man who can control his passions.
So it was that Socrates stood before the mind of
Nietzsche both as a decadent rationalist and as a true hero.
He loved and hated Socrates at the same time. He says as
much himself, in a fragment that Kaufmann quotes: "Socrates,
"waiter A. Kaufmann, Nietzsche (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1950), p. 3W.
2 Quoted in ibid . , p. 121. 3 Ibid . , pp. 61-2.
4 Ibid . , p. 363.
to confess it frankly, is so close to me that almost always
I fight a fight against him."
This same ambiguity is reflected in Nietzsche's spe-
cific statements about the daimonion. In The Twilight of the
Gods he refers to the verdict of the physiognomist r/ opyrus and
Socrates' own concurrence with it: "The acknowledged wildness
and anarchy of Socrates' instincts [are] indicative of deca-
dence. . . . Neither should we forget the aural delusions which
were religiously interpreted as 'the daimon of Socrates.'
Everything in him is exaggerated, buffo , caricature, . . .
full of concealment, of ulterior motives and of underground
currents . "
In the same negative vein, he writes of the daimonion
in The Birth of Tragedy : "This voice, whenever it comes,
always dissuades. In this utterly abnormal nature, instinctive
wisdom only appears in order to hinder here and there the
progress of conscious perception. Whereas in all productive
men it is instinct that is the creatively affirmative force,
. . . with Socrates it is instinct that becomes critic--a per-
fect monstrosity per defectum .
Yet earlier in the same work he can speak of the dai-
monion in a manner sympathetic both to the phenomenon and to
Socrates himself: "To understand the most 'questionable'
figure of antiquity, we must remember that a key to the
1 Ibid. , p. 348. 2 Supra , pp. 50-51.
3 XVI, 13. 4 Quoted in Brinton, p. 84.
character of Socrates is presented to us by the extraordinary
phenomenon called the 'daimon' of Socrates. In special cir-
cumstances, when his gigantic intellect began to reel, he
received a firm support in the utterance of a divine voice,
which then spoke to him. "
Clearly Nietzsche did not think of what he calls the
"daimon" as a separate god or guardian spirit for Socrates;
but whether he regarded it as an actual aural delusion, or a
deception which Socrates consciously fostered on his contempo-
raries, or a "divine voice" is impossible to determine. If
the latter, it was surely not as issuing from God or a god,
but as a special gift bestowed upon an already strong-willed--
and therefore favored- -individual.
What seems most certain in Nietzsche's estimate of the
daimonion is that it is this which represents in Socrates the
instinctive, as opposed to the rational, element. He would
of course have wished that, rather than being an occasional
intruder into Socrates' rational nature and conduct, the dai-
monion would have been in complete control over Socrates; for
to be a man, for Nietzsche, is to live by one's instincts. If
he could have seen that the daimonion exerted a more major
influence on Socrates than had previously been granted, doubt-
less he would have proclaimed that larger role for Socrates'
instinctive nature, and so discredited him as a man of reason
Quoted in M. A. Mugge, Friederich Nietzsche (London:
T. Fisher Unwin, 1914), p. 108. This is a paraphrase, as
given by Mugge, rather than a strict quotation.
and at the same time made him more fit to be his hero. That
he could not, though he would have wanted to, is surely the
most significant insight he affords into the nature and impor-
tance of Socrates' daimonion.
Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) occupies today a far
more significant place in contemporary philosophy and theology
than he did during his lifetime. He was a philosopher with
ideas that were then strange and unpopular, and he had neither
the convictions nor the inclination to take any satisfaction
in being counted a member of the philosophic fraternity of his
day. At a public lecture in 1963, the 150th anniversary of
his birth, Jean Paul Sartre called Kierkegaard "a philosopher
who hated philosophers."
There was one exception to this, however, and his
name is Socrates. Kierkegaard writes in Fear and Trembling
that Socrates was "the most interesting man that ever lived,
his life the most interesting that has been recorded." In
point of fact, no one since Plato has given Socrates his due
to a greater extent than has Kierkegaard; nor has there been
any philosopher since Socrates himself who has "fought with
such gadfly persistence the enemies of man's mind." Not with-
out reason is Kierkegaard often referred to as the Danish
Quoted in Hess, The Christian Century , LXXXII, 736.
2 Quoted in ibid. 3 Ibid.
It is not surprising then, and especially in view of
his own convictions about the way man comes to have religious
knowledge, that Kierkegaard gave considerable attention to
Socrates' daimonion. He discusses it most fully in The Con -
cept of Irony , where he notes the problem the daimonion poses
for philosophy, and how men too easily accept a mere label
as the explanation for it. He writes wistfully:
This Socratic daimon has always been a crux phil -
ologorum , a difficulty that has nevertheless operated
more enticingly than forbiddingly, and by its mysterious
spell even deceptively. . . . Since time immemorial one
finds a strong propensity to say something about this
thing, but there the matter usually ends. The curiosity
which is tickled by whatever is mysterious is satisfied
as soon as the thing is given a name, and profundity
accepts satisfaction when one says with a thoughtful
air: Ah, what is one to say?l
However, while Kierkegaard would welcome a satisfactory
explanation of the daimonion, he sees none offered, and comes
finally to say that there can be none. He shows only im-
patience with those who in his opinion too readily solve the
crux phi lol Quorum , who cut it down to size in order to subsume
it under their own pet theories. He cites a fellow Dane,
Magister Block, who has "been unable to resist the temptation
to explain this extraordinary phenomenon," and who defines
the daimonion as "'a presentiment or a kind of enthusiasm which
had its cause both in his lively imagination and in his nerv-
ous system. ' " Similarly, he has little regard for a Paris
Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony, with Con -
stant Reference to Socrates , trans. Lee M. Capel (London:
Collins, 1946), p. 185.
2 Ibid. , p. 186. 3 Ibid .
psychologist, Claude Lelut, who "has been so self-wise as to
claim: 'Socrates was afflicted with that madness which in
technical language is called hallucination. ' "
From an examination of the original sources, Kierkegaard
concludes that Socrates' use of the word daimonion is neither
simply adjectival nor only substantive, in the sense of des-
cribing a particular being. He notes its use in two quite
different modes: sometimes Socrates speaks of the daimonion
manifesting itself to him; at other times he speaks of it as
occurring. It is thus represented both as the source of a
"sign," and also as the "sign" itself. Kierkegaard himself
speaks of it interchangeably, under three terms: daimon,
daimonion, the daimonic.
His considered evaluation of the daimonion is that it
is "an expression for something utterly abstract, . . . some-
thing divine, which by its very abstractness is elevated above
every determination, unutterable and without predicates."
Respecting its manner of operation, he writes: "We
learn it is a voice which makes itself heard, yet not in such
a way that one would want to insist upon this, as if it mani-
fested itself through words, for it operates wholly instinc-
tively." He sides with Plato, against Xenophon, in believing
it to function in an inhibitory fashion only. He is especially
convinced of the historicity of Plato's Apology , and scorns
1 Ibid. , infra , p. 190. 2 Ibid . , pp. 185-193.
3 Ibid. , p. 186. 4 Ibid.
the "Xenophontic thoughtlessness" by which the action of the
dairaonion "lapses into the category of the trivial and the
Kierkegaard very ably places the daimonion in the con-
text of the whole of Socrates' life, and in a few words gives
a significant insight into how and where the daimonion func-
tioned for Socrates, and how radical a form of guidance it
In place of the god-consciousness permeating every-
thing, even the most insignificant expression of Greek
life, ... he substituted a silence in which a warning
voice was only occasionally audible, a voice which (and
this contains virtually the deepest polemic) never con-
cerned itself with the substantial interests of the life
of the state, never expressed itself concerning these,
but merely occupied itself with Socrates' and at the
most his friends' wholly private and particular affairs. 3
Thus, for Kierkegaard, the daimonion dealt neither with
the most trivial nor with the most wide-ranging concerns. The
most important decisions that Socrates made, the most impor-
tant questions he wrestled with, the most significant insights
he achieved, all were independent of his daimonion' s influence
in any literal sense. Only on private matters, beyond the
scope of reason to determine and affecting usually just one
person at a time, did the daimonion "manifest itself" or
"occur." Never did it give guidance respecting the major con-
cerns of the whole community.
The principal contribution, and a critically important
one, that Kierkegaard makes to an understanding of Socrates'
1 Ibid. , p. 187. 2 Ibid. 3 Ibid . , p. 188.
daimonion arises out of his conviction that, rather than
treat the problem of the daimonion in isolation, one must see
it from the inside, "from within," and try not so much to
"explain" it as to "conceive" it. His most significant com-
ment on the daimonion is this :
So long as the problem of the daimonic in Socrates
is treated in isolation, so long as it is regarded ex-
ternally, it will naturally remain inexplicable though
there be a multitude of conjectures both necessary and
indispensable. If, on the other hand, one regards the
problem from within, then what presented itself as an
insurmountable barrier appears as a necessary limit that
restrains the eyes', and with this thought's, hasty
flight, forces it back from the peripheral towards what
is central, and thereby makes it possible to conceive.
It is this conception of the daimonion as a "necessary
limit" that keeps it from becoming an "insurmountable barrier."
It was as a limit that Socrates conceived the daimonion to
operate within him, and so it must likewise be conceived by
anyone who would hope to understand it. Kierkegaard cites
Hegel as maintaining this same view, and quotes with approval
that passage previously given where Hegel claims that, in
positing the individual as capable of deciding for himself,
free from the authority of the state or traditional morality,
Socrates puts it in terms of a daimonion which he experienced
within, that counseled and guided him.
Like Hegel , Kierkegaard relates the phenomenon of the
daimonion closely to Socrates' crucial decision to bring the
issues of his life before the bar of his own reason, there to
be ratified. The daimonion comes close to being a symbol for
Ibid . , p. 189. 2 Ibid . 3 Supra , p. 164.
his inwardly, freely deciding for himself. It is intimately
connected, part and parcel with Socrates' self-knowing and so
with his authentic freedom.
For Kierkegaard, the most important result that can
come from considering the daimonion is to have "conceived"
the daimonion, to be able to see what it stood for in Socrates;
i.e., the decisiveness and certainty of subjectivity, as
opposed to an automatic and unthinking reliance on the state
and custom. It is_ a crux philo] ogorum , but it becomes less
so when it is conceived as a "necessary limit" to keep the
focus upon how radical was the new freedom that Socrates
exercised in making his decisions for himself, in determining
himself inwardly, subjectively.
Relating it to the Greeks' dependence upon external
oracles, Kierkegaard summarizes the significance of the daimon-
ion: "instead of the oracle, Socrates had his daimon. This
daimonic lies in the transition from the oracle's external
relation to the individual to the full inwardness of freedom;
and, as still being in this transition, it pertains to
Besides the four to whom attention has been directed
in this chapter, other philosophers too have variously com-
mented on Socrates' daimonion. What they have said is indica-
tive of the range of opinion that has existed among thoughtful,
] The Concept of Irony , pp. 190-191.
able scholars. Those cited in this final section are Montaigne,
Schleiermacher, Schopenhauer, John Stuart Mill and Bertrand
Among philosophers, few show such an unbridled admira-
tion for Socrates as does Montaigne. While he admits that
"Nature did him wrong," he discounts any suggestion that
Socrates had to struggle against sensual passions. In the
essay "Of Physiognomy" he claims that "never so excellent a
soul made itself," and in "Of Cruelty" he writes that "I know
his reason to be so powerful and sovereign over him that she
would never have suffered a vicious appetite so much as to
spring in him." He believes that Socrates' accusers were
shortly ostracized and finally hanged themselves, and he is
His understanding of the daimonion makes of it an
operation of Socrates' own will, rather than a separate guard-
ian spirit external to himself. He does not rule out that it
might be "divine inspiration" that Socrates received, but
its source is not to be understood as a personal genius.
Montaigne's fullest statement on the daimonion not only sug-
gests what it is, but validates the counsel it gives. It is
in his essay "Of Prognostication":
1 III, 311. 2 Ibid . 3 Ibid . , II, 103.
4 Ibid. , III, 307. 5 Ibid. , I, 46.
Socrates' daimon was perhaps a sort of impulsion of
the will, which made itself felt without waiting for the
counsel of his reason. In a well-purified soul, prepared
by the constant practice of wisdom and virtue, as his
was, it is very likely that his inclinations, though
rash and unconsidered, were always weighty and worthy
to be followed.^
Of special interest to Schleiermacher is the problem
of how to regard Socrates, whether from a Platonic or Xeno-
phontic perspective. He sees the two as mutually exclusive,
and writes that "the only rational course then that seems to
be left is to give up one or the other of these contradictory
assumptions." He cannot bring himself to do this thoroughly,
but leans decidedly in the direction of the Platonic Socrates ,
in opposition to the prevailing mood of his day. He regrets
the disrepute into which Socrates had fallen as a philosopher,
and asks "whether the judges he has met with among posterity
have not been as unjust, in denying his philosophical worth,
and his merits in the cause of philosophy, as his contempo-
raries were in denying his worth as a citizen."
Concerning the daimonion, he discredits Xenophon's
picture of it as a separate little oracle, and concludes from
a study of Plato's dialogs that Socrates looked upon his
daimonion not as any genius attending him but, more vaguely,
Ibid . , I, 45-6, as translated in Sauvage, p. 171.
Friederich Schleiermacher, "The Worth of Socrates as
a Philosopher," trans. C. T. , The Philological Museum, II
Ibid . , p. 543.
as some heavenly voice or divine revelation. Principally
for this reason he regards the Theages , which makes the
daimonion into a personal being, as a spurious dialog. He
even goes so far as to declare the Apology 40 a an interpola-
tion upon Plato, since it tends to the picture of the daimon-
ion as a separate spiritual being.
Specifically, Schleiermacher says of the daimonion
that it "denotes the province of such rapid moral judgments
as cannot be referred to distinct grounds, which accordingly
Socrates did not attribute to his proper self; for instance,
presentiment of the issue of an undertaking, attraction and
repulsion in reference to particular individuals." In the
word "province" he appears to be anticipating the sort of
symbolic interpretation that Hegel and Kierkegaard give to the
daimonion. In the word "moral" he links the daimonion with
the functions of conscience.
Of the modern philosophers, Arthur Schopenhauer reveals
the most profound understanding of the intuitive element that
is present in the Socratic-Platonic "idea." Doubtless the
Zeller, Socrates . . . , p. 85.
2 Friedlander , II, 153.
John Burnet, Plato's Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito
(Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1924), p. 165.
Quoted in Henry Jackson, "The Daimonion of Socrates,"
The Journal of Philology , V (1874), 232.
reason for this is that his own predisposition to regard the
intuitive as crucial made him extra sensitive to the degree
to which an "idea" is not so much rationally as intuitively
grasped. In his principal work, The World as Will and Idea ,
he writes that "only through pure contemplation . . . which
ends entirely in the object can Ideas be comprehended; and
the nature of genius consists in pre-eminent capacity for such
With this conviction, it would seem that Schopenhauer
too, like Schleiermacher, would interpret Socrates' daimonion
as related to his natural powers of contemplation or to an
inner purity or self-knowledge which produced the intimations
he received. Such is not the case, however. Rather than
relating the daimonion to an intuitive comprehension by Socra-
tes himself, he assigns it a place with dreams, ghosts, and
similar occult phenomena.
John Stuart Mill
Alongside his interest and participation in the philo-
sophical radicalism of the nineteenth century, Mill also main-
tained an interest in classical philosophy, and was an able
interpreter of Plato. He published a translation and commentary
for four of the dialogs of Plato, among them the Phaedrus . In
discussing the passage in which Socrates refers to his daimonion,
Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea , trans.
R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp (3 vols. , London: Trubner & Co. ,
1886), I, 240.
Friedlander, I, 33.
Mill suggests that he is speaking only figuratively: "He
affects to perceive what he calls the divine and customary
sign which, he says, is continually stopping him when he is
about to undertake anything." In his translation of the
passage, Mill has Socrates referring to his "soul" and saying
that "mine pricked me while I was speaking."
It is thus only as a figure of speech that Mill under-
stands the daimonion; further, he believes that this is how
Socrates too regarded it. Socrates' reason for the "affecta-
tion" Mill does not explore. Probably he would have thought
it to be a simple matter of expediencey, putting his experi-
ence in terms that his fellow Athenians would be able to
For a reliable account of Socrates' beliefs and be-
havior, Russell cites the Apology of Plato, which in his view
"gives a clear picture of a man of a certain type: a man very
sure of himself, high-minded, indifferent to worldly success,
believing that he is guided by a divine voice, and persuaded
that clear thinking is the most important requisite for right
living." He sees Socrates as "the perfect Orphic saint,"
John Stuart Mill, Four Dialogs of Plato , ed. Ruth
Borchardt (London: Watts & Co. , 1946), p. 77.
2 Plato Phaedrus 242 c. 3 Mill, p. 77.
Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy
(London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1961), p. 89.
though "not an orthodox Orphic," and remarks that at every
point except for the high priority given to reason he resembles
a Christian martyr or a Puritan.
Writing specifically of the daimonion, Russell says:
"There hardly seems any doubt that the historical Socrates
claimed to be guided by an oracle or daimonion . Whether this
was analagous to what a Christian would call the voice of
conscience, or whether it appeared to him as an actual voice,
it is impossible to know." Thus, while he recognizes that
Socrates did experience the daimonion, he does not venture to
define it, but--true to his general philosophical stance--
regards it as outside the possibility of actual knowledge.
So have been presented in this chapter the views of
modern philosophers concerning the daimonion of Socrates.
From the four who have given considerable attention to the
daimonion, and from others who have discussed it to lesser
extent, the direction of modern interpretation becomes clear.
It is not as a personal genius or guardian spirit that the
daimonion is to be conceived, but as an aspect of Socrates'
own personality: an inner predisposition, an inclination of
his will, a symbol of his subjectivity, a "necessary limit"
for the time of transition from external authority to internal
freedom- -what ever the phrase, in any case a phenomenon totally
interna] if not identical to Socrates. This far modern phil-
osophers can agree, save for the agnosticism of a Bertrand
1 Ibid . , p. 91. 2 Ibid. , p. 89. 3 Ibid . , p. 90.
Russell and others who will say nothing of it at all.
Alongside the interest that a few philosophers have
shown in the daimonion, there has been a continuing interest,
as intense as it is broad, among the many who can be classed
generally as Socratic scholars, for whom the daimonion is not
only an enticing crux philol ogorum but a necessary problem in
Socratic studies. Their number is large, their interpretations
varied; and it is to these that the discussion now turns, in
a final attempt to discern through the considered thoughts of
others what Socrates' daimonion was and did.
INTERPRETATION BY MODERN SOCRATIC SCHOLARS
In the more than 100 years since Kierkegaard conceived
Socrates' daimonion as a "necessary limit," the principal con-
tributions to an understanding of the daimonion have been made
not by any major philosopher but rather by a large number of
classical scholars whose interest in the ancient Greeks, and
in Socrates in particular, has led them to take a fresh look
at the daimonion.
As a group, these modern Socratic scholars, beginning
with the same evidence from Plato, Xenophon, and other early
sources, have interpreted the daimonion in a variety of ways,
producing a wide range of answers on just what the daimonion
was and how it operated in the life of Socrates. The spectrum
of opinion they present confirms the difficulty of accurately
defining the daimonion, and suggests further the wisdom of
exploring their views prior to attempting a final evaluation
of it. Rather, however, than to consider them in a chrono-
logical order, from the nineteenth century to the present day,
it seems more profitable--especially in view of their number--
to group the scholars under several broad classifications,
according to the way they "lean" in their conceptions of the
daimonion. This is the pattern adopted in the chapter.
There are, in the light of the assumptions granted
within this discussion, three views of Socrates' daimonion
which appear credible: the voice of reason, the voice of
the sub-conscious, the voice of God. Each of these interpre-
tations has its able exponents , and for each view two scholars
in particular will be cited, in order that the case may be
put forward with strength. Additional scholars will be con-
sulted to complement the view being presented, where this will
extend or clarify the argument. While those scholars who give
special emphasis to the daimonion will naturally be prominent
in the discussion, virtually every eminent Socratic scholar of
the last 100 years will be cited, so that his opinion of the
daimonion might at least be suggested.
Classifications, no matter how carefully made, inevit-
ably result in some "forcing" of the material; and doubtless
this occurs to a degree in the pages that follow. Wherever
this seems to be a possibility, however, care has been taken
to note that fact, and to suggest that this or that interpre-
tation is more a "leaning" of a scholar than it is his firm
conviction. Often this turns out to be the case. While some
say definitely what the daimonion is, others move only a little
ways beyond a cautious agnosticism, joining those whom
Kierkegaard pictures as saying with a thoughtful air, "Ah,
what is one to say?"
Before moving into a presentation of the three credible
views of the daimonion, it will be necessary first to discuss
briefly and to dismiss the two naive interpretations that have
found some support among Socratic scholars. One of these is
an understanding of the daimonion as the voice of conscience,
and the other as a mark of insanity. Then will follow a dis-
cussion of Socrates' daimonion as (1) the voice of reason,
citing especially the scholars Riddell and Jackson; (2) the
voice of the sub-conscious, citing among others Zeller and
Myers; and (3) the voice of God, citing particularly Forbes
To conclude the chapter there will be a brief section
devoted to a consideration of the interest--and more recently
the lack of interest--that psychiatry and psychology have so
far shown in Socrates' daimonion, and the probable reasons
The first reaction to the evidence that Socrates, pre-
eminently the man of reason, appeared to obey unquestioningly
the inner promptings of what he called his daimonion is likely
to be one of surprise. For one whose knowledge of Socrates is
slight, and who does not pursue to any depth a consideration
of the daimonion, there is the further likelihood that the
daimonion will be summarily dismissed either as simply Socrates'
conscience, which told him right from wrong, or as an indica-
tion of partial insanity, "it must be his conscience," or
"He must be nuts! "--these are the naive interpretations that
are apt to be given to the daimonion, where there is only a
limited attention to it.
While there are certainly no major Socratic scholars
who adopt either of these views, there is surprisingly some
support for them among lesser scholars who, though able enough
in other respects, have a "blind spot" when it comes to an
understanding of the daimonion. These are cited below, not
to discredit otherwise competent and in some cases creative
thinkers, but in order to make clear what it means to call
Socrates' daimonion the voice of conscience, or a mark of
insanity, and why it is that such a conception is untenable.
Voice of Conscience
To equate the promptings of the daimonion with the
operation of conscience is a natural enough assumption to
make, upon first encountering Socrates and his daimonion.
E. B. Osborn, who begins by aptly describing the daimonion as
a "spiritual agent," goes on to suggest and then further to
develop the conception of the daimonion as in fact the voice
of conscience. He compares its relation to Socrates with
Socrates' function as the "incarnate conscience" of fifth
century Greece. While he allows that the daimonion may have
a divine source and may be in effect God speaking within Soc-
rates , he writes :
It is sufficient, however, to regard the "sign" or
E. B. Osborn, Socrates and His Friends (London:
English Universities Press, 1939), p. 159.
2 Ibid. , p. 13.
"inner oracle" of Socrates as what we call the voice of
conscience. With most men, whose thoughts are governed
by considerations of self-interest, . . . this voice is
seldom overheard; it is a case of low audibility. Yet
even the most careless person, when contemplating some
base action, is apt to be suddenly arrested and dissuaded
by a warning from within, imperative if inarticulate.
The process of unconscious cerebration, the secret argu-
ment between Just Reason and Unjust Reason, has suddenly
reached the right conclusion; the powers that make for
righteousness have at last prevailed. . . . With men of
a tender conscience," in the habit of considering each
intention in its moral aspect, the voice of conscience
is heard rather than overheard, renders its decisive
verdicts without delay, and in the end becomes a per-
petual inspiration to right conduct. ... If the voice
of conscience was not Socrates' discovery, he was the
first of the Hellenes to discover the spiritual advantages
of revering it as divine and oracular (as indeed it is)
and of making it the guide and guard of daily conduct. 1
In the same vein, Freeman and Appel write of Socrates'
daimonion as "the voice of his religious conscience," and
add that "he worshiped this voice as the voice of God."
This understanding of the daimonion as an inner pri-
vate oracle, a virtual deification of conscience, is not how-
ever the only way in which the daimonion has been seen to
relate to conscience. George Boas, who likewise equates the
promptings of the daimonion with the promptings of conscience,
writes in a more rationalistic context: "it is quite possible
that the daimon of Socrates was simply the accumulated habits
1 Ibid. , pp. 164-65.
Eugene Freeman and David Appel, The Wisdom and Ideas
of Plato (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Publications, 1942), p. 23.
3 Ibid .
George Boas , Rationalism in Greek Philosophy
(Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1961), p. 118.
of moral judgment which he had absorbed from his total educa-
tion, at home, on the battlefield, in the agora. The compul-
sive force of the habitual is not something superficial but
becomes an integral part of our character."
The difficulty with any conception of Socrates' daimon-
ion which relates it to conscience is apparent when the scope
of the daimonion's warnings is considered. In actua] ffct the
daimonion seldom if ever prompted Socrates in matters of
ethical judgment. Its warnings concerned not moral issues but
rather matters of expediency, and specifically those apparently
beyond the power of reason to anticipate, e.g., his manner of
defense at his trial, his remaining in the gymnasium to meet
the two sophists. These were not ethical decisions, in the
respect of one course of action being "right" and another
"wrong." Rather they were options open to Socrates, the con-
sequences of which he could not have foreseen. Whatever the
daimonion was , it was certainly not a way around or a divine
assist concerning the personal moral responsibility Socrates
saw and accepted for his own life.
Mark of insanity
No Socratic scholar of the last 100 years, major or
minor, has maintained on the basis of the daimonion that Soc-
rates was insane. Prior to that, however, there was a
physician-psychologist of the first half of the nineteenth
century who seriously proposed that Socrates was insane, on
1 Ibid. , p. 94.
the grounds of the daimonion. He is Claude Lelut, whose book
Du Demon de Socrate was published in Paris in 1836.
In the widely read and controversial book, Lelut claims
to be giving "a specimen of the application of the science
of psychology to the science of history." He argues from
the evidence of Plato and Xenophon that Socrates believed he
actually and audibly heard a voice, and so was insane, sub-
ject to hallucinations and delusions. He boldly asserts, " que
Socrate etait un fou ," a madman who
. . . believed himself to be attended by a personal
genius perceived certainly by the sense of hearing, per-
haps also by that of sight, and that these false per-
ceptions or hallucinations grew with his years and with
his conviction of their divine origin, until he persuaded
himself that he was able by a sort of moral magnetism to
exercise a beneficial influence upon his associates, and
that at last the hallucination became so strong that it
determined him at the trial to throw away his chance of
acquittal by a willful defiance of his judges. 3
He goes on to cite other cases, similar to that of Socrates,
where hallucinations led to a like pattern of beliefs and
In the years just before 1900, a group of psychologists,
who were attempting to verify the hypothesis that insanity is
one element in genius, accepted Lelut 's conclusion about Soc-
rates, though basing it not alone in the daimonion but in the
F. V7. H. Myers , Human Personality and Its Survival of
Bodily Death (2 vols. , New York: Longman, Greens & Co. , 1954) ,
Quoted in "eller, Socrates . . . , p. 85.
Quoted in Jackson, The Journal of Philology , V, 239.
combination of observed eccentricities in Socrates' person
and behavior. Chief among them was the Italian Cesare Lombroso,
whose psychological researches were designed to show a con-
nection between genius and mental disease.
Lombroso draws support for his theories from classical
and modern writers who likewise infer such a connection. He
cites a passage where Aristotle remarks that "famous poets,
artists and statesmen frequently suffer from melancholia or
madness, as did Ajax. In recent times such a disposition
occurred in Socrates, Empedocles, Plato and many others."
To Aristotle's specific mention of Socrates he adds Diderot's
more general observation that men of genius often "themselves
fancy that some godlike being rises up within them, seeks
them out and uses them. How near is genius to madness! Yet
one is locked up and bound with chains while to the other we
In his major work The Man of Genius , published in 1891,
Lombroso attempts to document Socrates' insanity with a flood
of illustrations of his eccentricities, ranging from a
"cretin-like physiognomy" to a "photoparasthesia which enabled
him to gaze at the sun for a considerable time without experi-
encing any discomfort." The daimonion for Lombroso thus be-
comes one among a number of factors which taken together
Quoted from an unnamed work of Lombroso in Ernst
Kretschmer, The Psychology of Men of Genius , trans. R. B. Cattell
(New York: Harcourt Brace & Co. , 1931), p. 3.
Quoted from an unnamed work of Lombroso in Kretschmer,
Quoted in J. T. Forbes, Socrates (Edinburgh: T. & T.
Clark, 1913), p. 223.
establish that Socrates was both a genius and insane.
Subsequent scholarship has largely disregarded Lom-
broso's claim, not even bothering to dispute it. Seldom is
it mentioned by Socratic scholars, and then only to deny it,
as does J. T. Forbes: "The uncritical heaping together of
illustrations, of which Lombroso's book is full, does not
prepossess the mind in favor of the theory." More signifi-
cantly, later psychologists interested in the relationship
between genius and insanity disallow such circumstantial evi-
dence as adequate grounds for claiming that such a genius as
Socrates was also insane. Even Ernst Kretschmer, who in the
1920' s attempted to revive interest in Lombroso's researches,
and who shows himself sympathetic to the direction of Lom-
broso's thought, cannot concur in the judgment that because a
man is a genius he is thereby insane. "Only this much can
one say: that mental disease, and more especially those ill-
defined conditions on the boundary of mental disease, are
decidedly more frequent among men of genius, at least in cer-
tain groups, than they are among the general population.
Doubtless Schopenhauer is right in saying that "genius is
nearer to madness than to the average intellect." But that
is far from saying that Socrates was a madman.
A number of Socratic scholars, while denying their
subject's insanity, are quite prepared to note his
P. 224. Kretschmer, p. 6.
Quoted in ibid . , p. 4.
eccentricities. Perhaps the strongest statement of these
from a twentieth century scholar comes from J. A. Stewart,
who in 1904 noted that Socrates "held his hearers spellbound
by the magnetism of his face and speech," and concluded that
he possessed a "mesmeric influence" over others: "The com-
parison of his influence with that of the electric fish
(Meno 80 a) may be thought to imply as much; while his familiar
spirit must be taken as evidence of 'abnormality.' The able
classical scholar and editor, Henry Jackson, wrote a signifi-
cant article in 1874 in which he held that the explanation
for the daimonion is that Socrates was subject to hallucina-
tions of the sense of hearing. For Jackson, however, this is
by no means to say that Socrates was insane. Indeed, he is
shortly to be cited in this discussion as one of the two
scholars who most ably present the case for the daimonion as
the voice of Socrates' reason.
Against the view that Socrates was insane, the most
telling argument centers around his well-deserved reputation
as pre-eminently a man of reason. Obstinately rational he may
have been, but certainly rational. As Forbes suggests, fol-
lowing his citations from Lombroso: "if there is one thing
prominent in Socrates, it is reason. He might be accused of
being prosaic, of showing little sympathy with any but the
rational side of things, but he is eminently sane."
1 P. 26. 2 Ibid . 3 Ibid .
The Journal of Philology , V, 232 ff. 5 P. 224.
To the argument that Socrates heard voices, the reply
must be that this is of itself no proof of his insanity,
unless by definition hearing voices is to be a sufficient con-
dition of insanity. Further, the promptings which Socrates
claimed to receive from the daimonion were of themselves any-
thing but irrational, and could better be said to bear the
marks of reason rather than delusion. Only the manner of
occurrence of the daimonion, not its counsels, was strange.
Finally, it would seem far wiser, in light of the total person
of Socrates and his considerable mental and moral achievements,
to look upon the daimonion--in Myers 1 terms--not as something
abnormal but as something supernormal.
No more need be said concerning the claims that Soc-
rates was insane, except to note that, with one exception,
nowhere in the psychological literature of the twentieth cen-
tury is there an argument to support his insanity; and then
to agree with Zeller that "those who rightly understand Plato,
and can distinguish what is genuine from what is false, will
not need a refutation of these untruths."
Following this consideration of the naive interpreta-
tions of Socrates' daimonion as the voice of conscience or a
mark of insanity, the discussion may now turn to the first of
three credible views of the daimonion: the voice of reason.
1 II, 95. 2 Infra , pp. 231-32.
Socrates . . . , p. 85.
The Voice of Reason
For the view that Socrates' daimonion may best be
understood as the voice of his reason, the nineteenth century
scholars Riddell and Jackson present the evidence most ably.
Accordingly, the discussion here centers in their writings.
Further support comes, though more incidentally, from Ashley,
Jowett, Shorey, and Cooper.
In an appendix to his 1877 translation of Plato's
Apology , James Riddell takes a close look at Socrates' daimon-
ion and concludes, after a comprehensive examination of the
references to it in Plato and Xenophon, that it was really
Socrates' reason at work, though Socrates did not recognize
it as such. He grants that Socrates conceived the daimonion
to be a divine sign or agency (though not a divine being) ,
but denies that it must be so regarded now:
We are not bound to accept Socrates' account of the
cause of this sudden feeling; first, because he was no
psychologist, and while in his own belief he was merely
describing his own consciousness ... he was really
importing into his description an inference of his own;
secondly, because he rather diminishes the weight of his
own testimony for us, not merely by his attention to
dreams but more by his absolute faith in mantikel . . . ;
and thirdly, because while he believed himself to have
detected divine agency here, he was perfectly unconscious
of it in its more ordinary province, as the author of ~
"all holy desires, good counsels, and all just works.'
X Greek for "divination."
James Riddell, The Apology of Plato (Oxford: The
University Press, 1877), p. 113.
Riddel 1 places great importance on the quite different
meanings in fifth century Greece of daimon (a separate spirit-
ual being) and daimon ion (a divine sign or agency) . Whether
rightly or wrongly, he assumes a sharp difference in usage,
and claims that not until the time of Plutarch did daimon ion
begin to appear as a diminutive of daimon . On this assumption,
it follows that neither Plato nor Xenophon, nor of course
Socrates himself, regarded the daimonion as a private god.
Riddell sees Xenophon using daimonion always as a noun, refer-
ring to the sign of a divine being, and Plato's use of the
term as "sometimes adjectival and sometimes elliptically
Like other nineteenth century Socratic scholars ,
Riddell shows a marked preference for Xenophon over Plato, as
being the more trustworthy of the two. He takes great pains
to differentiate the ways in which the daimonion is seen to
function by the two men. For Xenophon, Socrates' daimonion
is neither his conscience nor an oracle to prophesy the future.
It functions rather in a very practical manner, to pronounce
upon a proposed course of action, and not upon the morality
but the expediency of the action; i.e., "in the Socratic sense
of what was really for the best." This is not to say that
the daimonion would be excluded from solving moral problems,
but that it would function only "where the [moral] obligation
either was obscure or mainly depended on the consequences."
] Ibid. , p. 110. 2 Ibid . , p. 112. 3 Ibid .
Riddel! ' s main concern, however, in examining the evidence
from Xenophon, is to establish that the daimonion "was not a
mere presentiment, a foreboding of chance misfortune or chance
success, the mere reflection of a man's own feelings of happi-
ness or gloom." In other words, it did not function in any
way that reason could not.
For Plato, Riddel] sees that Socrates' daimonion func-
tions over a broader spectrum than reason can cover. In some
of the instances Plato cites, the daimonion- -whether warning
Socrates against some course or reminding him of a duty he
has neglected- -operates so as to lead him to an action for
which there simply are no rational grounds. The evidence from
Plato indicates that, operating sometimes without any con-
nection to his reason, the daimonion supplied Socrates with
"a sudden sense, immediately before carrying a purpose into
effect, of the expediency of abandoning it."
The difference in the ways Xenophon and Plato conceive
the daimonion to function is of course crucial to Riddell's
argument that the daimonion is the voice of reason. The
argument finally stands or falls with the judgment that Xeno-
phon may be trusted and Plato may not. As Riddell says, "All
Xenophon' s notices of it encourage the view that it was a
quick exercise of a judgment informed by knowledge of the sub-
ject, trained by experience, and inferring from cause to effect
without consciousness of the process." Thus, while the
1 Ibid. 2 Ibid . , p. 113. 3 Ibid. , p. 114.
reasoning was going on in Socrates' sub-conscious mind, it
was nevertheless a reasoning process.
Riddel 1 readily grants that the broader evidence from
Plato proves "a little embarrassing to this view," especially
of course the note that Socrates experienced the guidance of
his daimonion from childhood. In addition, the instances
specifically cited in the Phaedrus and the Euthydemus do not
harmonize with Riddel! 's view, since it is not a matter of
reasoned judgment which recalls Socrates from crossing the
stream or forbids him from leaving his seat in the undressing
room. If these accounts be historical, Riddell admits that
the daimonion cannot be rationalized, and certainly not
equated to the operation of Socrates' reason, even unrecognized,
However, Riddell continues, there are good reasons for
doubting these two events as Plato records them. To Riddell,
they seem too obviously a "part of the machinery of the
dialogs in which they stand." Further, only Plato extends
the operation of the daimonion into the realm of chance; and,
as he is less faithful than Xenophon in other respects re:
Socrates, so here he hrs again likely exercised a poetic
So arguing, Riddell concludes that the daimonion is
best understood as the voice of Socrates' reason, functioning
unbeknowns in his sub-conscious mind and seeming to him to be
a divine sign. "The fact which the daimonion represented was
1 Ibid. 2 Ibid . , p. 115.
an unanalyzed act of judgment — not on a principle, but on a
particular course of action already projected; not on the
morality of this, but on its expedience in the Socratic sense
of the term." 1
In 1874, Henry Jackson published in the highly re-
spected Journal of Philology an important article which he
titled "The Daimonion of Socrates," in which he claims that
Socrates' experiences of his daimonion were in fact, as Lelut
had hinted, hallucinations of the sense of hearing. Far from
seeing in this evidence of insanity, however, Jackson concludes
that the daimonion signified a peculiar manifestation to Soc-
rates of the results of his own rapidly functioning mind;
i.e., that the daimonion was the voice of his reason.
With other nineteenth century scholars, Jackson accepts
Cicero's description of the daimonion as a "divine or super-
natural somewhat" ( divinum quiddam) as evidence that Socrates
did not himself attempt to define it, nor did he ever attribute
direct personality to it, nor did he ever name a particular
deity as its source. Taking the vagueness of Socrates' refer-
ences as sufficient warrant to question even the divine nature
that Socrates believed his daimonion to have, Jackson sum-
marizes the material from Plato and Xenophon and reviews the
various theories of his contemporaries. He discards, one by
one, the claims that Socrates was guilty of a pious fraud,
X Ibid . , p. 116.
that he was indulging his accustomed irony, that the daimonion
was the voice of his conscience, that it related to his belief
in his divine mission, and that it was simply a highly-
Having disposed of every credible alternative, he
argues that the only course left open is to "regard the sign
as a psychological hallucination, illusion, or delusion to
which Socrates was subject." Turning then to Lelut's con-
clusions he rejects any suggestion that the daimonion is proof
of illusion or delusion, and criticizes Lelut for his "reck-
less acceptance of all testimony," especially the spurious
material from the Theages and Apuleius' On the God of Socrates .
To Jackson, the acceptable evidence shows that the sign was
audible only, not visible, and that there was nothing
irrational in what the voice said. "The sole peculiarity of
the warning," he writes "was the manner of its occurrence.""
The end of his argument, in which it becomes clear
that he regards the daimonion as the voice of reason, is that
"Socrates was subject, not to delusions of the mind, but only
to hallucinations of the sense of hearing, so that the
rational suggestions of his own brain appeared to him to be
projected without him, and to be returned to him through the
outward ear." The content of the daimonion 1 s warnings he
believes to have come from Socrates' reason. By separating
1 The Journal of Philology , V, 239.
2 Ibid. , V, 240. 3 Ibid. , V, 241. 4 Ibid.
the content from the manner of occurrence, Jackson feels he
is "able to unite the theory of a specially developed tact
with the theory that Socrates was liable to hallucinations of
the sense of hearing. . . . The voice was heard by Socrates
to deliver a warning which in its matter resulted from the
healthy exercise of his reasoning powers."
For the view to hold, it must be that hallucination
does not necessarily imply mental disease. This Jackson
attempts to establish, quoting sources which point to the
presence of hallucination in very gifted men, often very in-
tellectual men. Subsequent psychological researches, in
reaction to Lombroso's claim that genius and insanity are
necessarily connected, would support Jackson's position, and
lend credence to his conclusion.
He summarizes as follows: "Socrates was subject to
hallucinations of the sense of hearing which, so far from
implying any aberration of his reasoning faculties, were the
momentary expressions o:': the results of rapid deliberation,
and derived an extraordinary value from the accuracy and
delicacy of his highly cultivated tact." The daimonion was
the voice of Socrates' reason.
This is the theory advocated by Jackson's respected
contemporary, Eduard Zeller.
2 Journal of Philology , V, 242.
3 Ibid. , V, 247.
A number of scholars across recent centuries have like-
wise concluded that the daimonion is best understood as the
voice of reason. Included among them is a team of translators
of Xenophon, headed by Ashley, who in 1847 published through
Henry G. Bohn an important edition of all Xenophon* s works.
In footnotes to the Memorabilia , the translator holds that
Socrates spoke lightly of his daimonion, as a man today might
speak of his "good fairy," but that a superstitious Greek
people took him literally and made something supernatural out
of it, and that he let them do it. However, in a comment on
a specific reference to the daimonion, the translator writes:
"Neither does this, or any of the like instances, oppose the
opinion of those who say Socrates' genius was nothing more
than sound judgment or reason, free from all the warpings and
mists of passion, improved by experience and a careful obser-
vation of nature and things." To the suggestion that the
daimonion might have been more than the operation of Socrates'
reason, he opposes the very statement of Socrates himself,
when in speaking to Xenophon he says "I have given you the
advice of a mere mortal; in matters which involve uncertainty
and doubt it is my reasoned judgment that the oracle of Apollo
should be consulted." In his most comprehensive statement on
Ashley, Spelman, Smith, Fielding, and Others (trans.),
The Whole Works of Xenophon (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1847),
Xenophon Anabasis iii. 1. 3-7.
the daimonion, the translator writes:
The Genius of Socrates, so differently spoken of,
was nothing more than an uncommon strength of judgment
and justness of thinking; which measuring events by the
rules of prudence . . . rendered Socrates capable of
looking as it were into futurity and foretelling what
would be the success of those affairs about which he had
been consulted by others or was deliberating on for
Benjamin Jowett, the renowned translator of Plato,
is another who understands the daimonion to be the voice of
Socrates' reason. Collaborating with Lewis Campbell, he pub-
lished in 1894 a series of notes on Plato's Republic . The
note on 496 c stresses that Socrates always (in Plato) refers
to the daimonion in the neuter gender, and includes this
comment: "There is nothing wonderful or mysterious beyond
the fact itself: no intimations are given by the daimonion
of future events or divine truths. Nor can we easily set
bounds to the latent forms of instinct which reason may assume,
or deny the possibility of mental phenomena which are without
parallel in ordinary experience."
Paul Shorey, whose definitive work What Plato Said
appeared in 1933, also leans very strongly toward a conception
of the daimonion as the voice of reason. In his brief intro-
duction to Socrates, Shorey describes him as a man who "had
taught himself to obey one law only, the oracle of the higher
Ashley, Spelman, Smith, Fielding, and Others (trans.),
The Whole Works of Xenophon , p. 511.
Benjamin Jowett and Lewis Campbell, Plato's Republic ,
Vol. Ill, Notes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1894^ , pp. 285-86.
reason in his breast." He cites Socrates' reply to Crito in
the Crito 46 b as evidence for this: " I am still what I
always have been- -a man who will accept no argument but that
which on reflection I find to be truest." In a specific
reference to the daimonion, Shorey writes in a footnote to
his translation of the Republic 496 c that "the enormous
fanciful literature on the daimonion does not concern the
interpretation of Plato, who consistently treats it as a kind
of spiritual tact checking Socrates from any act opposed to
his true moral and intellectual interests." While not com-
mitting himself fully, Shorey would be most at home with the
daimonion as the voice of reason.
A final scholar, John Gilbert Cooper, is included among
these who see Socrates' daimonion as the voice of his reason,
as much for the charm of his extravagant language as for any
new insight or support he might offer. Cooper was an eight-
eenth century scholar who in 1771 authored The Life of Socrates .
He writes dogmatically concerning the daimonion, scoring those
many who have "regarded it as a real Spirit, through the
gloomy Twilight of a dull Understanding." His own words say
best how he regarded the daimonion, and are here quoted at
some length. For Cooper, the daimonion is to be seen not
1 P. 14. 2 Cited in ibid. , p. 36.
Paul Shorey (trans.), Plato's Republic (2 vols.,
London: William Heinemann Ltd. , 3935) , II, 52.
John Gilbert Cooper, The Life of Socrates (London:
J. Dodsley, 1771), p. 89.
. . . in a superstitious Light, but as the Acquisition
of a superior Understanding by Observation of the Causes
of human Events. . . . [It is] nothing more than that
inward Feeling inseparable from the Hearts of all good
and wise Men, which (excited at first by probably Conjec-
tures of future Event, collected from a retrospective
View of the past and a Consideration of the invariable
Connection of human Contingencies) works itself by degrees
even into our Constitution, and gives the Breast an almost
prophetic Sensation of what ought to be done, before the
flower Faculties of the Mind can prove the moral Rectitude
of the Conduct. . . . This much-talked-of Prescience was
the Effect of a more refined Virtue and Prudence, which
inspired his Heart with a more ardent Fire than those of
others that were clogged with the foul Dregs of earthly
Concupiscence. . . .
So much I thought necessary to explain concerning the
Daimon of our Philosopher, in order to confute those many
absurdities entertained about it, which were first spawned
from the muddy Head of Heathen Sophists, and since fondly
fostered by the Ignorance -nursing Care of some of the
Fathers. Nov? to proceed.!
The Voice of the Sub -conscious
Not all Socratic scholars of the last century or so
concur in the judgment that the daimonion is best seen--in
Cooper's words--as related to a "superior understanding" that
functions prior to the "flower Faculties of the Mind." To
some the daimonion is better described, not as the voice of
reason, but as the voice of the sub- conscious. Deep within
the being of Socrates , operating on non-rational planes , were
forces that he in no way "understood," which guided him in
matters of expediency and which manifested themselves to him
under the form of an "inner voice." -eller and Myers are two
scholars who see the daimonion as the voice of Socrates 1 sub-
conscious. So also, though with lesser emphasis, do Gomperz
1 Ibid. , pp. 89, 92, 94, 96.
One of the most respected of the classical scholars
in the final decades of the nineteenth century was the German,
Eduard "eller. In his Socrates and the Socratic Schools , he
gives a close and comprehensive look at the daimonion, and
concludes that it is (in twentieth century language) the voice
of Socrates' sub-conscious.
He notes the familiarity and almost flippancy with
which Socrates and his friends speak about the daimonion, and
in addition a certain vagueness in the manner of their speak-
ing. Concerning the obvious difference in the way Plato and
Xenophon use the word, he remarks that "it is much the same
thing whether ti daimonion be taken for a substantive or an
adjective. . . . The very difference between Xenophon and Plato
proves how loosely Socrates spoke of the daimonion."
In one respect, however, Socrates was not vague in his
references to the daimonion. He never, says -eller, regards
it as a separate or distinct personality. "No passage in
Plato or Xenophon speaks of Socrates holding intercourse with
a genius . . . ; [even] the Theages , with all its romance re-
specting the prophecies of the daimonion, expresses itself
Further, Socrates quite consistently sees his daimonion
Socrates ♦ . . , pp. 86-87. Ibid . , pp. 85-86.
as an "internal oracle," the divine revelation to him from
the gods or a god whom he does not name. That he interpreted
the inner voice as a heavenly voice suggests to Teller the
strength of the hold that current beliefs had upon Socrates,
as upon every man. Yet he was careful not to put it in the
place of the traditional gods nor to equate it to a general
oracle, "it was a private oracle in addition to those publicly
Many of Zeller's contemporaries, with their own tradi-
tion of nineteenth century rationalism, were embarrassed by
Socrates' self-acknowledged oracle. Zeller, less entrenched
in the tradition, remarks that "somewhat humiliating it no
doubt was in the eyes of rationalizing admirers , that a man
otherwise so sensible as Socrates should have allowed himself
to be ensnared by such a superstitious delusion." He cites
some of these scholars as claiming that the so-called super-
natural revelations were really Socrates' shrewd inventions,
or at the least products of his celebrated irony. Socrates
had the intelligence to make right guesses concerning the
future, and that explains the dairaonion.
^eller rejects such a rationalization of the daimonion,
feeling it far better to regard the phenomenon the way Socra-
tes did, as an instance of divine revelation. Better yet,
however, is to look at the daimonion--as Socrates, a man of
his time, was unable to do--through the eyes of modern man's
1 Ibid. , p. 90. 2 Ibid . , p. 221. 3 Ibid . , p. 82.
understanding of himself. Zeller comes finally to a position
regarding the daimonion that in twentieth century terms can
be called the voice of the sub-conscious.
In this connection, he writes of Socrates: "Sometimes
the soul of the philosopher, diving in to its own recesses,
so far lost itself in this labor as to be insensible to
externa] impressions. ... In doing this, he discovered a
residuum of feelings and impulses, which he watched with con-
scientious attention without being able to explain them from
what he knew of his inner life." Hence came his belief in
the daimonion as of divine origin, a conviction arrived at
almost as by a process of elimination.
Actually, as teller conceives the daimonion, it is
"the general form which a vivid but unexplored sense of the
propriety of a particular action assumed for the personal
consciousness of Socrates." Elsewhere he describes it simply
as "the sense of what is suited to his individuality." In
his most complete statement on the daimonion, which deserves
full quotation, "eller writes of what in his judgment lies
behind the operation of the daimonion:
It might be some conscientious s crvple overpowering
the philosopher's feelings without his being fully con-
scious thereof. It might be some apprehension of the
consequences of a step, such as sometimes instantaneously
flashes on the expedient observer of men and of circum-
stances, before he can account to himself for the reasons
of his misgiving. It might be that an action in itself
neither immoral nor inappropriate, jarred on his feelings,
as being out of harmony with his special mode of being
1 Ibid. , p. 82. 2 Ibid. , p. 95. 3 Ibid. , p. 67.
and conduct. It might be that on unimportant occasions
all those unaccountable influences and impulses came into
play, which contribute all the more to our mental
attitude and decision in proportion as the object itself
affords less definite grounds for decision. In this
respect the daimonion has been rightly called "the inner
voice of individual tact," understanding by tact a
general sense of propriety in word and action as exempli-
fied in the most varied relations of life in small
things as well as in great. This Socrates early noticed
in himself as unusually strong, and subsequently by his
peculiarly keen and unwearied observation of himself
and other men he developed it to such a pitch of accuracy,
that it was seldom or as he believed never at fault.
Its psychological origin was, however, concealed from
his own consciousness. It assumed for him from the
beginning the appearance of a foreign influence, a higher
revelation, an oracle. 1
In 1903 the English classical scholar F. W. H. Myers,
who also founded the Society for Psychological Research,
authored a two- volume work entitled Human Personality and Its
Survival of Bodily Death . In his chapter on motor automatism,
he cites Socrates as a historic example of monitory inhibition.
It is a case, he writes, "which can never lose its interest,
a case which has been vouched for by the most practical, and
discussed by the loftiest intellect of Greece--both of them
intimate friends of the illustrious subject."
He treats Socrates as an instance of wise automatism,
believing that messages were conveyed to Socrates from his
non-rational self, yet at a level deeper than the level of
dream and confusion, "from some self whose monitions convey
to us a wisdom profounder than we know." So does he reveal
1 Ibid . , pp. 95-96. 2 II, 95. 3 Ibid. , II, 100.
his understanding of the daimonion as the voice of Socrates'
While Myers speaks of the daimonion as a "monitory
voice" on occasion, he concludes that it was "not so much
a definite voice as a sense of inhibition." He sees that
the instances of its occurrence fall into three categories,
with some overlap from one to the other. Most instances are
where the warning voice or its absence imparts to Socrates
wise counsel, on both major and trivial matters. A second
category covers those occasions where the warning voice gives
knowledge not attainable by ordinary means, as of potential
rapport. He conceives of "some inward and perhaps tele-
pathic instinct expressed by the monitory voice" which told
Socrates without his consciously considering it whether or
not a would-be companion could profit from the association.
A third category includes a very few instances where something
like clairvoyance might have been present. Here Myers admits
the evidence to be very slender, such that he cannot be sure
that the daimonion warned Socrates of anything beyond the
ability of human wisdom to discover. Myers suggests that some
rational guess is likely to have been made, though--to Socra-
From his study of the citations in Plato and Xenophon,
Myers recognizes that the story of Socrates and his daimonion
1 Ibid . , II, 98. 2 Ibid . , II, 103.
3 Ibid. , II, 98.
is "rich in unworked psychological suggestion." While he
indulges in it himself, and encourages others to do so, he
can give no credence to Lelut's theory that--on the basis of
the evidence- -Socrates was insane. He calls attention to
Lelut in order then to disagree with him. In his counter-
argument he gives his most complete statement on the nature
of the daimonion as the voice neither of conscious reason nor
divine agency, but of the sub-conscious, subliminal self:
The messages which Socrates received were only advanced
examples of a process which, if supernormal, is not
abnormal, and which characterizes that form of intelli-
gence which we describe as genius . . . , best defined not
as "an unlimited capacity of taking pains," but rather
as a mental constitution which allows a man to draw
readily into supraliminal life the products of subliminal
thought. . . . Beneath the superficially conscious
stratum of our being there is not only a stratum of
dream and confusion, but a still subjacent stratum of
coherent meditation as well. . . . The monitions which
Socrates thus received were for the most part such as
his own wiser self might well have given; and that where
the limits of knowledge attainable by his own inmost
reflection may possibly have been transcended, they seem
to have been transcended in such a direction as a
clairvoyant development of his own faculties might allow,
rather than in such a way as to suggest the intervention
of any external power. 2
Among other prominent Socratic scholars , Theodor
Gomperz is the one most convinced that the daimonion is the
voice of Socrates' sub-conscious. While acknowledging Sacra-
tes to be "a man who was common-sense personified," and even
charging him with showing an "exaggerated reverence for what is
1 Ibid. , II, 100. 2 Ibid. , II, 95-96. 3 II, 89.
founded on reflection," Gomperz recognizes that he also re-
ceived unquestioningly the guidance of what he himself called
"a voice" or "the accustomed sign." Gomperz notes too that
Socrates attributed his daimonion to a god or spirit, and
suggests that this was "as much because of his inability to
explain it as because of the benefits he derived from obeying
it." To Socrates' credit, that is, he had both a logical
ground (he could not accout for it otherwise) and a pragmatic
ground (it benefited him) for regarding the daimonion as a
For Gomperz, however, Socrates was mistaken in his
estimate of the daimonion. It represented not the influence
of an external spirit but rather the stirring of his own sub-
conscious self. He writes that Socrates "was here guided by
a species of instinct, a dim but truthful estimate of his own
capabilities emerging from the sub-conscious undercurrents of
psychic life." Further than this very general statement on
the daimonion, however, Gomperz is unwilling to go:
Whether the warnings that arose from the depths of
the unconscious took the form of actual hallucinations
of the sense of hearing; or whether insignificant feel-
ings of inhibition, such as we all have experienced, were
also regarded by Socrates as instances of divine inter-
vention, so that the daimonion became a common name for
physical processes of more than one kind--on such questions
as these we are thrown back on conjecture, and are
hardly in a position to formulate even a conjecture with
any show of probability. 4
1 Ibid. , I, 390. 2 Ibid . , II, 87.
3 Ibid. , II, 88. 4 Ibid.
Karl Joel, a comtemporary of Goraperz just before the
turn of the century, likewise looks upon the daimonion as
related to forces at a non-rational level beneath the sur-
face of Socrates 1 consciousness. In his 1893 work Per Echte
und der Xenophontische Sokrates he suggests that the daimonion
signified a reaction within Socrates' total self to his con-
sciously restricting himself to rational modes of response,
and that in fact his ruthless quest for intellectual clarity
aroused in him sub-conscious forces which were all the more
powerful for being suppressed. He writes of the daimonion
that "it was the revenge of the alogon meros psyches which
driven back by this rationalist into the darkest corners of
the soul thence exercised its sway all the more imposingly."
T he Voice of God
The third of the three credible views of Socrates '
daimonion is that it was in fact what he believed it to be, a
divine sign granted him by "the god." While he neither names
nor describes the god, it is clear both that he truly believes
in the god and that he means no one of the traditional gods
of Mount Olympus, but rather a god who is of purer spirit than
to be conceived anthropomorphical ly. Even when Socrates uses
the plural term "the gods" rather than the singular, there is
Greek for "irrational part of the soul."
Classical Review, VII (1893),
Quoted in H. G. Dakyns, "The Socrates of Xenophon--
Studies by Joel and Richter, The
Plato Apology 35 e ; supra , p. 67.
implied a unity of being and purpose and a moral perfection
that are absent from the popular conceptions. It seems not
unwarranted to make a qualified equation of Socrates' "the
god" with the Judaeo-Christian "God" as alike referring to
an overarching Supreme Being, and so in fact many scholars
Among this number there are those, especially within
the twentieth century, who suggest that Socrates' experience
of the daimonion is best described- -albeit in figurative
language- -as his hearing the voice of God. The daimonion is
in fact God's revealing his will to Socrates, what theology
calls "special revelation." It is to be understood, though
at best incompletely, by using that same metaphor that Socrates
himself used: he heard the voice of God.
Forbes and Guardini are the two scholars who most ably
present this view, and it is therefore upon them that the dis-
cussion centers. Further support for the view comes from
Sauvage. In addition, there is a quintet of distinguished
Socratic scholars who, while true to the tradition of pure
scholarship are not anxious to involve themselves in claims
concerning God and the supernatural, at least give evidence of
an honest agnosticism, even a positive openness, regarding the
possibility that Socrates' daimonion was in fact a "divine
sign." They are the scholars Grote, Burnet, Taylor, Cornford,
and Friedlander; and to each of them brief attention will be
In 1913 there was published for a series of biographi-
cal studies a volume entitled Socrates , written by the British
clergyman J. T. Forbes. In discussing Socrates' religious
beliefs and practices, Forbes acknowledges with most scholars
that Socrates very definitely held to a belief in a Supreme
Being he called "the god," and goes further than most in con-
ceiving the daimonion to be the voice of the god, or as he
Citing the evidence from Plato and Xenophon, he docu-
ments Socrates' firm belief in God, at the same time marking
how far distant Socrates' religious beliefs were from those
of his contemporaries. While he conformed in some measure to
conventional piety, Socrates retained what Protestants call
"the right of private judgment," and in fact regarded a sub-
jective interpretation as both his right and his responsibility,
He sustained his belief in God by reasoning about the being of
God and his relations to men. All of this adds up, as Forbes
remarks, to "a process which made Socrates a dangerous friend
to orthodox Greek religion." He virtually ignored tradition
and external authority as grounds for belief, and found that
belief rising instead out of his own experience of God.
One of the ways in which Socrates openly acknowledged
the activity of God in his life was through the daimonion. He
speaks of it as a "divine something" which surely expresses
1 P. 215.
the mind of God. But while Socrates believed God to be both
the source and the guarantor of the daimonion, he held no such
notion concerning his own human reason. He sensed God at work
in the daimonion but not in the ordinary operations of his
This, for Forbes, is the defect in Socrates' own
understanding of his daimonion. In singling out the daimonion
as the "sign of the god," Socrates fails to see the activity
of God in the more normal processes of reasoning, feeling moral
obligation, etc. The suddenness and authoritative character
of the special experiences led him to attribute them to excep-
tional divine intervention, but to that extent may also have
prevented him from ascribing the whole of his mental life to
God. Forbes writes that "all mental life is a participation
in the reason of God; it is divine inspiration that gives us
understanding." It is precisely this that Socrates could not
see. "instead of saying simply that the 'sign' was a message
from the divinity, if Socrates had generalized his explanation
he would have said that all legitimate exercises of his inner
life were no less and no more 'wrought in God 1 than his obedi-
ence to the restraints of the daimonion. The mistake was to
identify inexplicability with divinity." 2
Rather than following most other scholars in rational-
izing the daimonion as a product of Socrates' reason or sub-
conscious, Forbes accepts it as truly a sign from God, and
1 Ibid. , p. 227. 2 Ibid . , p. 228.
extends God's activity to account for all mental life. Beyond
that, he notes the reverence with which Socrates regarded the
daimonion as further indication that it was indeed a divine
sign. No mere hunch or urging from his sub-conscious could
have so gripped Socrates. In his most complete statement on
the daimonion as the voice of God, Forbes writes:
What the usual explanations do is to complete the
rationalizing process by extending it to what was to him
the voice or sign of the divinity. These theories
cannot explain how his own intuitions or presentiments
or momentary reasonings that acted like instinct could
yet so appeal to his absolute reverence and obedience,
and wear a character so remarkable. They did not do so
by a process of mistake or illusion, but because at
these points in experience there was an intensifying of
the union which was ordinarily unmarked, a rising into
consciousness of feelings simultaneously with pre-
monitions or forecasts which like every part of his
mental processes depended on God, and whose dependence
was made strikingly obvious at the time. ... It would
require one to disbelieve the great challenge, "is He
not the God of the Gentiles also?" or to rest in that
parochial philosophy which turns away from experiences
essentially religious as not only intractable but
repellent, not to see in this manifestation or attenuated
but real indication of the contact of the human spirit
with the spirit of Him who besets us behind and before. ^
Another scholar who holds to the view that the daimon-
ion is best conceived as the voice of God is Romano Guardini,
whose book The Death of Socrates appeared in English transla-
tion in 1948. For Guardini, the daimonion is "that striking
phenomenon which marks the religious figure of Socrates."
1 lbid . , pp. 230-31.
Romano Guardini, The Death of Socrates , trans. Basil
Wrighton (London: Sheed and Ward, 1948) , p. 3.
He regards the daimonion as being what Socrates said it was ,
the sign of the god, and accepts Socrates' experience of it
as "a primarily religious experience."
Guardini dismisses any notion that the daimonion was
a persona] genius or guardian spirit, one of those hybrid
divinities whom Socrates describes in his defense as "ille-
gitimate children of the gods, either by nymphs or other
mothers." On the other hand, he writes, "it certainly does
not stand for the voice of reason or conscience, as a rational-
istic interpretation would have it. Rather it is quite plainly
a question of some warning coming from without and bearing a
numinous character." Guardini stresses the numinous char-
acter of the daimonion, and believes that while Socrates
experienced it as coming from outside himself, he also felt
it "as a power intimately related to the core of his own
Both the manner of occurrence and the mode of operation
of the daimonion support, for Guardini, the view that it was
a divine voice. He writes:
The "voice" has the character of something instantan-
eous and coming from elsewhere, which places it rather in
the vicinity of prophecy. . . . That this guidance never
commands, but only forbids, increases the credibility
of the account. A certain arbitrariness attaches to it
on this score, which harmonizes with the irrationality
of the religious element as well as with the man's
1 Ibid. , p. 49. 2 P1ato Apology 27 d.
3 P. 3. 4 Ibid. , p. 43. 5 Ibid. , p. 50.
For Guardini, as previously noted, the daimonion is
but the most striking indication of Socrates' very strong
religious nature, which in its fullness provides the only
adequate explanation of a central problem in understanding
Socrates. He poses the problem, and it is a crucial one, thus:
When we consider, on the one hand, how reverent his
nature is, and on the other hand, how relentlessly he
puts people into a position of new and dangerous responsi-
bility, we have to ask ourselves whence he gets the
authority and power to do this. Socrates is no absolutist;
rather he is suspicious of any over-positive assertion,
sceptical towards himself, and deeply conscious of his
responsibility towards men, over whom he has such power.
What makes him, as a living and feeling man, equal to his
Guardini believes that only the consciousness of an
authority outside himself could have inspired and justified
for Socrates his mission to awaken men to themselves and to
the shallowness of their traditions. Socrates found that
authority, which he felt as a religious authority "bearing a
numinous character," both in the oracle of Delphi and in the
daimonion. Replying to his own question concerning Socrates'
motivation, Guardini writes:
In the last resort the only possible answer seems to
be that it is something religious. Even if he did not
really make the three speeches of the Apology before the
court, at any rate they represent the justification of
his master's activity given by Plato. Even if the oracle
story should not be taken as simple fact, it would still
express some ultimate reality which the great disciple
perceived behind the figure of his master. The existence
and activity of Socrates are rooted in the consciousness
of a divine mission. This is expressed in a certain
belief or trust, but stands also in relation with an
original religious experience which accompanies his whole
activity, namely "the familiar soothsaying of the
One of the most recent books written about Socrates
is the 1959 study by the French scholar Micheline Sauvage,
Socrates and the Human Conscience . In this stimulating con-
temporary look at the philosopher, Sauvage sees the daimonion
as giving an important insight into Socrates: "The man is
seen more clearly in the light of this inspiration, which in-
ternalizes the influences external to the spirit and objecti-
fies its inner demands, so keeping an equal balance between
man and the god. Note well this equilibrium; this is the
first time it occurs in the history of the Western soul.
Sauvage notes that the daimonion would never have
posed any problem for his fellow Athenians if it could have
been seen wholly as a command laid upon him by some existing,
external god, a power already recognized in Greek religious
tradition. Yet to conclude from this that the daimonion was
simply the product of Socrates' own consciousness is mistaken.
In a passage significant for its evaluation of other theories
of the daimonion, Sauvage writes:
To make this interior voice wholly subjective is to
destroy its religious character and falsify Socrates'
position. . . . Modern rationalism is in the stream of
that tradition when it denies Socrates' daimonion all
transcendence; another step and it becomes a pathological
oddity, a hallucination or a hysterical symptom: why
not? But even stopping short of such absurdities, one
1 Ibid. , pp. 50-51. 2 P. 92.
may make it just a metaphor for a common psychological
process, inspiration in its least spiritual sense, or
even an effect of "interior speech. ' In this view it
is no longer the instrument of a communication, but
leaves Socrates enclosed in himself, in a sort of
This autarchy, for Sauvage, "is not at all what our
sources suggest. The daimonion's admonition . . . always
comes as a surprise, and begins by being marked with a certain
note of incomprehensibility. It is received first, explained
later." Citing Socrates' refusal to prepare a defense to
the assembly, Sauvage maintains that "before he understood
that his condemnation was not an evil, he had submitted to an
inner, superrational injunction."
This combination, appearing for the first time in
Socrates' daimonion, of a felt inner reference with a felt
superrational reference seems in conventional terms a contra-
diction, or at least a paradox. It is as the latter that
Sauvage would regard it, saying of the daimonion that "it is
at once internal and external to the soul, which it enlightens
in order to govern; it is not an intermediary being but a
mediating utterance . " And for Sauvage, that utterance cannot
adequately be conceived apart from the god, or God, whose
voice it was.
Turning now to a group of five eminent Socratic scholars
whose views on the daimonion have not yet been discussed, it
appears that none of them takes a position that is clear and
1 Ibid . , p. 93. 2 Ibid .
3 Ibid. 4 Ibid . , p. 94.
definite in terras of one or another of the categories devel-
oped in this chapter. These scholars, if they have opinions
or theories concerning the daimonion, prefer not to articulate
them, but rather to reflect an honest agnosticism. All agree
that to Socrates the daimonion was unmistakably the voice of
the god; i.e., his so representing it was no pious hoax or
fraud. But beyond that they hazard little in the way of a
personal estimate of what the daimonion was.
Granting an understandable hesitancy on the part of
professional scholars to become involved in questions of the
supernatural, and an even stronger reluctance to commit them-
selves to answers involving the supernatural, there might be
said to be an "argument from silence" to support their tend-
ency, or at least openness, to accept Socrates' account of
the daimonion as a divine voice. Such at any rate is the
reason for reviewing the opinions of these men at this point
in the discussion. That their openness to the daimonion being
the voice of God is at least a fair suggestion will become
evident as the discussion continues, touching briefly on each
of the five distinguished men.
George Grote, an eminent classical scholar of the
nineteenth century, lived in a day when even to acknowledge
the possibility of explanations beyond the natural was to
court ridicule and risk professional reputation. Yet in his
1875 three-volume work, Plato and the Other Companions of
Socrates , he insists that if Socrates is to be understood at
all, it must be recognized that "Socrates was a very religious
man, much influenced by prophecies, oracles, dreams, and
special revelations." Grote neither accepts these divine
revelations at their face value, nor does he attempt- -as do
some of his contemporaries --to rationalize them. He simply
calls attention to them, and to Socrates' own reliance on
them. Grote accepts as quite literal Socrates' last request
that a cock be sacrificed to Asclepius. It was not an instance
of his accustomed irony, but an observance of his accustomed
Socrates accepted his daimonion in the context of his
conviction that while the gods govern the world and administer
the affairs of men primarily upon discoverable principles of
regular sequence, there are also by the gods : design events
and irregularities that cannot be fathomed apart from their
special revelations. Grote sees that Socrates regarded his
daimonion as a "divine auxiliary," a "divine ally." His
careful translation of the Theages 128 d refers to the daimon-
ion as that "peculiar superhuman something attached to me by
For Grote, it is important to understand the complete
sincerity with which Socrates says, in effect: "'I am the
instrument of a divine ally, without whose active working I
can accomplish nothing. . . . The assistance of the divine
ally is given or withheld according to motives of his own,
1 II, 95. 2 Ibid. , I, 436.
3 Ibid. , I, 438. 4 Ibid. , I, 433.
which I cannot even foretell, much less influence.'" In the
strongest statement which could support Grote's regarding the
daimonion as the voice of God, he writes that "Socrates him-
self had perhaps a greater number of special communications
from the Gods than any man of his age."
John Burnet, a respected classical scholar writing in
the first three decades of the twentieth century, likewise
recognizes Socrates' belief in the possibility of divine
revelations. Of Socrates, he says: "He clearly believed it
quite possible that a higher power might make use of oracles,
dreams, and the like to communicate with human beings. He
was the least dogmatic of men on such subjects, and his own
'voice' and his visions seemed a case in point."
Speaking with special reference to the daimonion,
Burnet insists that Socrates could not have conceived of his
daimonion as a personal genius, but only as a "sign" of a god.
His linguistic study convinces him that daimonion was never
used as a noun- substantive in classical Greek, that not until
its first appearance in the Septuagint did it begin to function
as a diminutive for daimon . Thus, for Socrates, the daimonion
"comes from God, but it is not a 'divinity' of any kind." In
his most comprehensive statement on the daimonion, Burnet
1 Ibid . , I, 438-39. 2 Ibid. , I, 461.
Greek Philosophy: Thales to Plato , p. 136.
"^ Plato's Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito , p. 16.
It belonged to the irrational part of his soul, even
more than dreams. . . . That being so, it is obviously
futile to rationalize it. We must simply accept the
fact that it was a perfectly real experience to Socrates,
though not apparently of paramount importance. ... It
served to justify certain instinctive reluctances of
which he was unable to give a clear account to himself.
But he believed in it all the same, and actually heard
the "voice." 1
A certain ambiguity in this estimate by Burnet is
paralleled also in his article for the Encyclopaedia of
Religion and Ethics , where he remarks that "Socrates naturally
spoke of it as something superhuman ( daimonion ) .... On
the other hand, the attitude of Socrates to it, as to most
things of the kind, is one of humorous half -belief. He is
made to say that the 'voice' was always right, and it is
possible that he had a genuine belief in revelations of this
kind. That only illustrates his temperament, however."
Burnet's estimate of the daimonion, if not humorous, seems
likewise to be of half-belief. His refusal to rationalize it,
however, signifies a break with the views of many of his men-
tors and an openness to its being a superrational phenomenon.
A. E. Taylor, a scholar contemporary with Burnet and
a specialist in Socratic studies, regards Socrates' daimonion
as "his most striking singularity." It is the most obvious
evidence for what Taylor sees as a strong vein of mysticism
1 Ibid. , pp. 16-17.
John Burnet, "Socrates," Encyclopaedia of Religion
and Ethics , XI, 670.
Socrates , p. 44.
in Socrates. The daimonion, he writes, "is one indication
among others that Socrates really possessed the temperament
of the 'visionary,' though unlike most seers of visions he
kept that side of his nature well in check, as St. Paul did
his gift for 'speaking with tongues." 1
In an Encyclopaedia Britannica article, Taylor rejects
views of the daimonion as intuitive conscience or as a symptom
of mental disorder, and refers to it as "interior audition,
... a psychic phenomenon of a kind not specially uncommon."
While this might seem to justify Taylor as one who believes
the daimonion to be the voice of Socrates' sub-conscious, it
is significant that in his voluminous writings on Socrates,
this is the sole instance of his attempting to explain it.
Rather than forcing Taylor on the strength of this one refer-
ence to a definite position, it seems more feasible to include
him with those whose basic stance is an agnostic one.
F. M. Cornford, another eminent scholar of the first
half of the twentieth century, joins his contemporaries in
rejecting any thought that Socrates conceived his daimonion
as a personal genius. This was a later development within
Platonism, and wrongly ascribed to Socrates. The concept that
each man has a guardian spirit Cornford traces back to a near-
primitive category expressed by the Finnish word haltia . He
quotes a 1903 work by Tylor, who writes that "'every object
in nature has a haltia , a guardian deity or genius, a being
''ibid. , p. 45. 2 XX, 918.
which was its creator and thenceforth became attached to it. 1 "
Comford adds, "These haltiat are obviously group-souls or
daimons arrested in an earlier stage than Plato's Ideas,
retaining more soul -properties. " This he sees to be the back-
ground out of which Platonism came to its doctrines concerning
Beyond disassociating Socrates from these Platonic
doctrines, Comford is willing to say very little about the
daimonion. That he has a more open mind on the daimonion than
many earlier scholars is apparent from his rather strong state-
ment that Socrates himself "was not prepared, like some nine-
teenth century agnostics, to dismiss as superstitious nonsense
anything he could not understand and account for ' scientifi-
cally. 1 " His statement may indeed imply agreement with
Socrates' own estimate of the daimonion as a divine sign, but
he nowhere says so explicitly. The closest he comes is to
cite with seeming approval the view of Coleman Phillips on, a
lawyer who in 1928 authored the book, The Trial of Socrates .
There Phillipson writes: "'The premonitory sign was of momen-
tary duration. It emanated from a divine original, but was
not ascribed to any particular deity. It was not a divine
being itself. ... It came to him unsolicitedly, and Socrates'
Quoted from Primitive Culture , II, 243, in From
Religion to Philosophy , p. 25~T.
From Religion to Philosophy , p. 253.
Principium Sapientiae , p. 140.
belief in it was serious and sincere.'"
Paul Friedlander , the final one of a group of five
eminent Socratic scholars whose views on the daimonion tend
toward an open agnosticism, readily acknowledges what he terms
"the demonic dimension" in Socrates. Writing of the daimonion
in his two-volume work Plato , the first volume of which appear-
ed in 1928, he both grants its reality and at the same time
rejects every nineteenth century attempt to rationalize it:
This man, who more than any other proposed to clarify
by the power of his intellect what was unclear and
ambiguous, recognized mysterious forces, which he obeyed
without examining their claim. He liked to talk- -and
often did- -about his "daimonion". . . . We shall not turn
to psychopathology to inquire into the nature of this
daimonion, nor join Schopenhauer in his attempt to
assign it a place among dreams, seeing ghosts, and other
occult phenomena. It would be still more inappropriate
to try to explain this extraordinary phenomenon rationally
by calling it to the "inner voice of individual tact," an
"expression of spiritual freedom," or a "sure measure of
one s own subjectivity," thus confining it to our rational
and social world of experience. Indeed, we are already
closing off a possible approach by calling it "the daimon-
ion," as if it were an object, instead of using the
neutral Greek expression the demonic," which on the one
hand expresses an element of uncertainty- -"but you do
not know whence it comes and whither it goes "--and on the
other indicates that this force is not within and at the
disposal of a person, but is received from a larger sphere
external to him, and acknowledged with reverence and awe. 3
Besides conceiving the daimonion as on a "demonic"
level, Friedlander also grants that it may be seen on a "divine"
level. He cites from Plato's Apology 31 d that there Socrates
refers to the daimonion as "a divine and demonic element."
1 Quoted in ibid . 2 I, 32.
3 I, 32-33. 4 Quoted in ibid . , I, 33.
Turning to the Alcibiades I 103-106, he notes the virtual
equation that is made between daimonion and theos , and adds :
"It would be pedantic to ask whether the daimonion and God
are one and the same in this context. They are--and they are
not. We are dealing with active powers, not with names."
While Friedlander does not articulate a definite view
concerning the daimonion, his above statements give evidence
of a considerable openness. He goes further than the vast
majority of modern Socratic scholars towards accepting as a
real possibility that the daimonion was what Socrates said it
was , the voice of God.
The Daimonion in Psychology
Socrates, the philosopher of the fifth century B.C.,
provides a fascinating subject for one of the newest and most
modern branches of human thought, the discipline of psychology.
Many of the personal characteristics of Socrates, taken alone
or in combination, seem virtually to demand consideration by
psychologists and psychiatrists, as well as by Socratic schol-
ars. The daimonion is his most striking singularity, but is
by no means his only one. There are the trances, the facial
appearance, the marked influence which he exerted on others
not only through what he said, but through his very voice and
Not surprisingly have certain psychologists pronounced
Socrates insane, subject to acute hallucinations and delusions,
X I, 35.
prone to photoparasthesia and melancholia. Predictably they
have called attention to his "cretin-like physiognomy" and
to his mesmeric influence on his companions.
It was during the so-called formative years of psy-
chology, while it was gradually becoming the quasi-scientific
discipline it is now, that psychologists showed most interest
in Socrates. This was the nineteenth century, when psychology
was more a deductive than an inductive study, and when men
like Lelut and Lombroso could build their theories free of
the requirement that they be confirmed by controlled experi-
ment. In the period from 1780-1900 there were no less than
ten books or major articles specifically on Socrates 1 daimon-
ion. More than half of these first appeared in the years
from 1860-1900, and had a distinct psychological flavor. The
authors were not for the most part themselves psychologists,
but were influenced by the contemporary psychology.
The broad consensus among nineteenth century psychol-
ogists was that Socrates' daimonion was a subjective phenome-
non arising out of his subliminal self; i.e., the voice of
his sub-conscious. If Socrates actually heard a voice at all,
it was a sudden and dramatic projection into external experi-
ence of decisive thoughts coming from his sub-conscious.
In the twentieth century there has been a marked trend
Cesare Lombroso, quoted in Forbes, p. 223.
Dic tionary of Philosophy and Psychology , ed. James
Mark Baldwin (3 vols., Glouchester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1960),
toward a more experimental psychology, and a corresponding
movement away from attempts to psychoanalyze figures of the
far-distant past, no matter how fascinating. Psychologists
today simply grant that the evidence is too slight for sound
theorizing; and while they continue to be concerned with the
singular characteristics of Socrates' personality and behavior,
that concern manifests itself in a study not now of Socrates
but of persons who today show those same traits.
It is not within the scope or intent of this discussion
to attempt an adequate psychological explanation, or even
description, of the type of phenomenon of which Socrates'
daimonion is but one instance. The focus here is upon the
one man, Socrates, and his experience. Some psychological
data have already been presented, and in Part Three a limited
psychological evaluation will be necessary, even as here in
Part Two. But a full treatment of the daimonion from the
standpoint of the discipline of psychology is not contemplated.
It would be beyond the writer's capacity to do so, even if it
were not in the first place true that the evidence is too
slender to justify the attempt.
In this latter respect, it is significant that in a
standard nine-volume index of psychoanalytic writings up to
the year 1960, there are only four entries referring to Socra-
tes, none of them dealing specifically with the daimonion.
Index of Psychoanalytic Writings , ed. Alexander
Grinstein (9 vols., New York: International Universities Press,
1956-1966), V, 2669; IX, 4723.
Similarly, the Psychological Abstracts for the years 1927-1960
show only one entry for Socrates, a 1948 study by Nils Almberg
which compares Socrates 1 behavior with that of a mentally ill
person. The comment on the study indicates that "the analysis
deals with constellations of closely related traits rather
than the isolation and comparison of single traits."
Despite Myers 1 claim that the story of Socrates is
"rich in unworked psychological suggestion," it is clear that
modern psychologists have been hesitant to apply themselves
to a study of Socrates and his daimonion. This relative
silence of twentieth century psychology and psychiatry is a
quite proper recognition of the sketchiness of the historical
evidence, and constitutes a proper warning against becoming
too sure concerning the true nature of the daimonion.
Nevertheless, it is one purpose of this discussion to
attempt the closest possible definition of Socrates' daimonion,
granting the lack of either historical or psychological cer-
tainty. To that end, this and the previous chapters have been
pointing. To that task the discussion now turns.
Cumulated Subject Index to Psychological Abstracts
1927-1960 , ed. G. K. Hall and Co. (2 vols., Boston: G. K. Ha 1 1
and Co. , 1966) , II, 385.
Psychological Abstracts , XXIII (1949), 373, ref. Nils
Almberg, Kring Sokrates' Personlighet : en Psykologisk Studie
(Lund: C. W. K. Gleerup, 1948), 178 pp.
3 II, 100.
THE DEFINITION OF SOCRATES' DAIMONION
How shall the daimonion of Socrates be understood?
With what degree of precision can it be defined? What in fact
was this daimonion that the man of reason obeyed so unquestion-
ingly? How can his reliance on its counsels be reconciled
with his full commitment to the use of reason?
These are the questions that bring to fccus the first
of the two problems which the daimonion poses. The second
problem, concerning the epistemological validity of Socrates'
experience of the daimonion and of the counsel it presented,
is the burden of Part Three of this discussion. The first
problem seeks its solution here, building on the assumptions
granted for this study and on the insights so far suggested.
It is the task of this chapter to reach a definite conclusion,
as far as that is possible, regarding this trait that was just
as characteristic of Socrates as his turned-up nose and pro-
truding eyes. The daimonion: what was it?
Limitations of Socrates' Own Definition
Without question, the best source for defining the
daimonion would be Socrates himself. It was his experience,
and it was a quite private experience. If it was a voice,
only he heard it. Yet an attempt to learn from Socrates him-
self what the daimonion was is complicated by a number of
factors. It is essential to take a hard look at these.
To begin with, Socrates apparently never suggested a
definition of his daimonion, either to say what it was or why
he so highly regarded it. He did not define it; he assumed it.
He did not discuss it; he obeyed it. He often said that he
was guided by the daimonion, but never what it was that guided
him. He frequently referred to it as a divine sign or voice,
but whether these are to be taken literally or metaphorically
is unclear, for nowhere does he give the elaboration necessary
to be certain about this.
A second complication in taking Socrates' statements
about his daimonion at face value is simply that no one can be
sure exactly what the word daimonion meant to Socrates. In
fifth century Greece there was considerable confusion over its
meaning, such that many classical scholars would follow Grote
in regarding the term undefined and ^indefinable. It seems to
have been a neuter noun, signifiying a thing of divine or de-
monic origin rather than an object of worship itself. Yet
Plato and Xenophon, in reporting Socrates, are inconsistent in
their usage, which may indicate that Socrates himself showed a
lack of consistency.
A third barrier to learning about the daimonion from
Socrates is raised by the disagreement between the two primary
sources in reporting him. Plato pictures the daimonion, in
genera] , as a private inhibitory voice; whereas Xenophon
represents it as a private little oracle, giving both negative
and positive counsel, and not only to Socrates but to his
A fourth difficulty in consulting Socrates himself for
a definition of his daimonion is that, while he was a man far
in advance of his time, he was also a man of his own time.
Specifically, he held those beliefs concerning gods, daimons ,
and special revelations that were common to the fifth century.
His religious inheritance predisposed him to consider as of
divine origin any guidance or warning that could not other-
wise be accounted for. Granted an ambiguity in the concepts
of god and daimon, he could possibly have related his daimon-
ion to a personal daimon rather than to a god, and then like
Heraclitus have denied the daimonion all transcendence, but
this is unlikely. More certain is it that he could not have
conceived that in himself he had either the personal freedom
or the nonrational resources to come to decisions independently
of an external oracle. To move from fifth century Greece's
total reliance on objective revelation to accepting the author-
ity of his own subjectivity was too big a step even for Socra-
tes to take.
Finally, and as a corollary to what has just been said,
Socrates had no opportunity to avail himself of the insights
afforded through the discipline of psychology. Although it is
clear that he had a wide-ranging working knowledge of what
today would be termed psychological principles, he had not the
formal framework of psychology within which to reflect upon
his daimonion, and by which to communicate his reflections to
For all these reasons, Socrates cannot himself supply
an adequate definition of his daimonion. It is of course be-
cause this is so that the previous chapters have sought to
elaborate what others have seen the daimonion to be. It will
be well , at this point in the search for a final definition,
to bring a brief review of their conclusions, and to evaluate
them in turn. From this will emerge the best possible under-
standing of Socrates' daimonion.
Review and Evaluation of Others' Definitions
In bringing this brief review of what others have said
about the daimonion, the same roughly chronological order will
be followed as in the previous five chapters. There will be
virtually no footnoting of the views presented, since in every
instance this has already been done. The purpose here is
simply to summarize in order then to evaluate, stressing espe-
cially those insights that make a positive contribution to
what will emerge as a final definition of the daimonion. For
clarity, and to emphasize the changing interpretations of the
daimonion, the review and evaluation will be set out under
four heads: primary sources, early philosophers and Platonists,
modern philosophers, and modern Socratic scholars.
Among the four contemporary primary sources for the
study of Socrates, Plato's dialogs are the most extensive both
with regard to the man and his thought in general, and in
specific references to the daimonion. In eight of the dialogs
there is a total of thirteen uses of the Greek daimonion . The
resultant picture of the daimonion is of an "inner voice" of
or from the god, which from his childhood spontaneously came
to Socrates to warn him against a particular course of action
he was contemplating. Sometimes the issue at stake was seri-
ous, sometimes trivial. While it always spoke to inhibit, its
silence might be assumed to have communicated approval. It
operated especially with regard to matters that Socrates could
not have foreseen by use of his reason, such as the value of
his associating with certain young men. Socrates spoke freely
of his daimonion, though not to define it, and conceived it as
a divine revelation of a rare kind, perhaps even unique to
himself. In two of the eight dialogs, where Platonic author-
ship is doubtful, there are the suggestions that the daimonion
might itself be a god, and that its warnings were not only to
Socrates but also to his friends.
In evaluating Plato's picture of the daimonion, the
central question is how far Plato at this particular point
colored his Socrates to conform to his own ideal of philosophy
and a philosopher. However, while it is doubtless true that
the Platonic Socrates and the historical Socrates "constitute
a double star which not even the spectrum analysis of the
latest philology can resolve," the problem is not as serious
Shorey, p. 11.
for the daimonion as in many other areas. Both Socrates and
Plato appear to accept an Implicit demonology while at the
same time refusing to dogmatize on it. It seems fairly certain
that both men recognized that there are dimensions of human
experience that cannot be measured by the rational or sensory
faculties. Plato's frequent resort to myth in the dialogs
can fairly be traced to a similar disposition in Socrates.
Both men would have room in human experience for such a phenom-
enon as the daimonion. For this reason, there would seem to
be no good reason why Plato would wish to distort Socrates'
experience of the daimonion, either to underplay it or over-
play it. What he says about the daimonion may be assumed
worthy of trust. Plato gives not only the most but also the
best evidence on which to base an understanding of Socrates'
The writings of Xenophon constitute the other major
contemporary primary source for the study of Socrates. Xeno-
phon records eight uses of the Greek daimonion in three works.
That which emerges is a somewhat inconsistent picture of the
daimonion as being by nature at least as much a separate god
or daimon as a neuter voice or sign of a god. The emphasis is
upon the naturalness and orthodoxy of Socrates' experience.
It is because Socrates is such an upright man and of such deep
piety that the gods of Athens favor him with privileged com-
munications which differ from their other revelations to men
only in the manner of their occurrence; i.e., it is an internal
rather than an external oracle. The daimonion operates to give
rather random counsel, both negative and positive, to Socrates
himself and also to his friends. He speaks of it openly, and
accepts its counsels as infallible.
To evaluate Xenophon's estimate of the daimonion, it
is again necessary as with Plato to recognize that he shaded
his presentation of Socrates' thought and personality to con-
form it to his particular purpose for writing. Xenophon was
Socrates' apologist, seeking to justify his teacher and friend
in men's eyes. Because of this, his estimate of the daimonion
must be held suspect. In his attempt to "whitewash" Socrates,
Xenophon would have suppressed any singularity in his person-
ality or thought which might be interpreted as making him
different from other men. It would be necessary for Xenophon
to say of the daimonion precisely what he does say: it is a
quite orthodox and proper means of divine revelation, differing
from other forms only in that Socrates experienced it as an
internal oracle. If in fact it were other than this, Xenophon
could not have said so. What he says about the daimonion must
be judged of little value in determining its true definition.
The other two contemporary primary sources for Socrates
are the writings of Aristophanes and Aeschines. Neither of
the two men so much as mention the daimonion, but it is pre-
cisely the fact that may be seen to have significance. It is
particularly significant that Aristophanes makes no reference
to the daimonion in his biting caricature of Socrates in the
Clouds , written in 423 B.C. Clearly no apologist for Socrates,
Aristophanes distorts every exploitable feature of Socrates'
thought and personality to discredit Socrates and to warn
the Athenians against this dangerous sophist-scientist. A
champion of conservatism in Greek morality and religion, Aris-
tophanes would surely have turned virulent abuse loose upon
the daimonion if he had seen anything unusual or unorthodox
in it. He in fact charges Socrates with the introduction of
new divinities, but never mentions the daimonion as a case in
point. It could be that he did not know of it; but far more
likely is it that he accepted that Socrates was occasionally
guided by his daimonion, that he recognized that it was not
some new god, and that he saw it as neither prominent enough
nor unusual enough to warrant his lampooning it. Aristophanes'
silence lends valuable and necessary perspective to a study of
the daimonion, and establishes that it was not as outstanding
and obvious a feature of Socrates as might be thought. From
this distance in history, it is surely his most striking
singularity. To his contemporaries it was far less prominent,
and hardly notorious.
Aeschines, in whose dramas Socrates is the narrator,
likewise is silent about the daimonion. He founded no school
of his own, nor did he seemingly have any philosophic axe to
grind, so that he had no reason to play down the daimonion.
His writings all date from after Socrates' death, and suggest
by their silence that the daimonion was no more prominent in
the latter years of Socrates' life than when Aristophanes wrote
his brilliant comedy. Among the four contemporaries who pro-
vide primary sources for the study of Socrates, clearly
Aeschines is the one with the least bias. It is this fact
which strengthens the argument from silence, both by Aristophanes
and Aeschines, that Socrates' daimonion attracted little notice
among his fellow Athenians, and certainly was far from creat-
ing a public scandal. It formed no part of the charge against
Socrates, for the simple reason that it was not all that impor-
tant a feature of his personality or that formative an influ-
ence on his thought.
There are two other primary sources for the study of
Socrates' daimonion in the writings of Cicero and Plutarch.
Neither man was a contemporary of Socrates , and in none of
their references to the daimonion is there anything that adds
to the picture of the daimonion which emerges from the writings
of Xenophon and the author of the Theages . Accordingly, a
consideration of their particular contributions to an under-
standing of the daimonion is best set within the context of
the following section.
Early philosophers and Platonists
During the nine hundred years from Plato to the last
of the great Neo-Platonists , Proclus , there emerges a clear
direction in which men came to think of Socrates' daimonion.
Gradually the focus shifts from a neuter daimonion to a per-
sonal daimon, which then assumes its place within a systematic
demonology built on Plato's thought. In point of time, the
philosopher Cicero is the first to give major attention to
the daimonion. Subsequently, the Platonists Plutarch,
Apuleius, and Proclus give their accounts of it; and the
dairaonion comes more and more to be regarded as a particular
case in the whole order of daimons.
For Cicero, the daimonion of Socrates is best conceived
as a divinum quiddam , a divine something, which is neuter in
form, inhibitory in manner, and which operates both for Socra-
tes and through him for his friends. The daimonion is not
itself a god, but rather a warning from a god. Its counsels
are trustworthy for the same reason that the dreams of a
moderate and sensible man may be trusted; i.e., a purity of
mind, which allows Socrates to respond to influences that other
men are not alert enough or free enough from their passions
In evaluation, it is this final insight which consti-
tutes Cicero's most important contribution to an understanding
of the daimonion. The validity of the claims to knowledge
which it presents is strengthened by the purity and integrity
of the one, Socrates, to whom they are given. The analogy
that suggests itself is of the good tree producing good fruit.
Further, in the very apt Latin phrase divinum quiddam , Cicero
has given necessary recognition to the fact that the true
nature of the daimonion always remains, at least in part, a
Plutarch's estimate of the daimonion follows closely
that of Cicero, including the endorsement of the daimonion' s
counsels on the basis of Socrates' purity and sensitivity.
The further suggestion that Plutarch brings concerns the nature
of the "voice" Socrates hears. It is to be understood with-
out reference either to a physical sound in the environment
or a physical organ in the body. Socrates receives communica-
tions from the gods and daimons via an immaterial medium.
The physical analogy to the hearing of a voice is the best,
perhaps the only, and thus a necessary analogy to use in
describing the daimonion. But it remains an analogy, and is
It is this emphasis on the immateriality of the dai-
monion, operating apart from a physical source or receptor,
that marks Plutarch's contribution toward understanding the
daimonion. It may be helpful and indeed necessary, in speak-
ing of the daimonion, to use the physical analogy to a voice,
but nothing in the evidence warrants the conclusion that it
was in fact a physical voice. Though occasionally it "spoke"
to Socrates when he was in the presence of others, only he
In Apuleius, the focus shifts almost totally away from
an impersonal daimonion which was the "certain voice" Socrates
heard, to a personal daimon which Apuleius sees as the source
of the voice. Socrates' daimon is a separate, god-like being
which acts as his guardian, and which manifests itself to him
not only to his ears but perhaps to his eyes as well, in
visions. Apuleius is one of the first to suggest that it
functions as Socrates' conscience. In evaluation, Apuleius
contributes nothing to an understanding of the daimonion in
his accommodating it to a Platonic demonology.
Proclus completes the process of transition in
virtually equating the daimonion with a persona] , god-like
daimon. He calls it a guardian spirit, and allots it a pre-
eminence in the order of daimons , which in turn he conceives
as a middle rank of beings binding together the gods and men.
The basic notions are in Plato, but it is with Proclus that
a consistent, systematic demonology is developed. In fitting
Socrates daimonion to it, Proclus offers no positive contribu-
tion to the search for the definition of the daimonion.
From the time of Proclus forward to the Italian
Renaissance, there was little encouragement given to intellec-
tual speculation on the life and thought of the early Greeks.
With a revival of interest in Plato, however, and a general
re-opening of the vocation of philosophy, attention again
turned to the study of Socrates, and to consideration by some
of his daimonion. Four philosophers especially have written
concerning the daimonion: Descartes, Hegel, Nietzsche, and
Kierkegaard. The direction of their interpretation is clearly
away from conceiving the daimonion as a personal genius or
god-like guardian spirit, and toward regarding it as a wholly
interna] phenomenon, an aspect of Socrates' own personality.
Descartes is the first of the modern philosophers to
discuss the daimonion, which he understands as the pre-
disposition Socrates had to honor his inward inclinations.
When Socrates felt an inner joy over some projected course, he
knew it would turn out well. When he felt sadness, he knew
the outcome would be unsuccessful. His previous experience
had taught him to rely on these inner feelings, which he con-
ceived as the manifestations of a private daimonion granted
him by the gods, but which really were nothing more than his
own subjective feelings.
In evaluation, Descartes' denial of all transcendence
to the daimonion makes possible a more rational approach and
thus a more rational definition of the daimonion, but at the
price of ignoring the reverential regard Socrates had for it.
As will be developed in this chapter's final section, it
simply will not do to assume an internal, psychological solu-
tion to the problem of the daimonion.
Hegel presents a most impressive argument for conceiv-
ing the daimonion as a physiological mechanism that allows
Socrates to dare to make certain decisions for himself. He
sees Socrates as standing at the very point of transition from
man's dependence on external oracles to his relying on his own
subjective consciousness. For Hegel, Socrates could not have
possibly taken upon himself wholly to make his own decisions.
His subjectivity had to be cloaked in a physiological guise,
which Hegel sees to be the daimonion. It was in fact an
oracle, but totally internal to Socrates and--though unrecog-
nized—an aspect of his own individuality.
The major contribution Hegel makes to understanding the
daimonion is to see it neither as an external oracle nor as
simply the exercise of Socrates' personal freedom. It stands
at neither of these extremes, but somewhere inbetween. It
operates as a physiological mechanism, and so has a certain
"other-ness" about it. Yet it is wholly within Socrates. The
daimonion testifies to what, in the language of mysticism, is
called "the beyond that is within."
Nietzsche, to whom Socrates was both hero and villain,
reflects no consistent understanding of the daimonion. He
relates it in one reference to aural delusions, but elsewhere
writes of it as if it were a special gift bestowed upon a
strong-willed, and therefore favored, individual. It clearly
represents, for Nietzsche, the instinctive as opposed to the
rational side of Socrates' nature.
The most significant insight Nietzsche gives into the
daimonion comes, as with Aristophanes, through an argument
from silence, and moves to the same conclusion; i.e., that the
daimonion did not exert a major influence upon Socrates.
Nietzsche would have wished that the daimonion, indicative of
Socrates' instincts, would have controlled his behavior; for
thus Socrates would have been more truly a man, and more fit
to be his hero. His failure to proclaim that the daimonion
strongly influenced Socrates is an admission that it did not.
Kierkegaard focuses considerable attention on Socrates
daimonion, and stresses that an accurate definition for it is
impossible. He cites that Socrates referred to it both as
manifesting itself to him, and so the source of the sign; and
also as occurring, and so the sign itself. He concludes that
the daimonion is an expression for something utterly abstract
and without any other predicate than divine. The effects of
the daimonion he places within the context of the whole of
Socrates' life, recognizing that it operated only with respect
to private decisions and never to concerns of the whole com-
munity, and that it neither influenced Socrates' most impor-
tant decisions nor produced his most significant insights.
Rather than attempting to explain the daimonion from without,
Kierkegaard tries to conceive it from within; and so he arrives
at his conception of the daimonion as a "necessary limit,"
inhibiting Socrates from feeling that he was wholly self-
determining, and inhibiting others from drawing the same con-
clusion. Socrates definitely had his daimonion. While it
may be a symbol by which Socrates himself understood the
process of his freely and subjectively making his own decisions,
it must at the same time be seen as a "necessary limit" to
emphasize how radical an exercise of freedom it was for Socra-
tes to decide on this basis. The daimonion cannot be ex-
plained away, any more than it can be neatly defined.
The insight that Socrates' daimonion has both a sym-
bolic and a real existence is one of two major contributions
Kierkegaard makes toward attempting a final definition of the
daimonion. He refuses either to rationalize the daimonion or
to leave it as an influence wholly separate from Socrates'
own personality. In so doing, and by conceiving the daimonion
as a "necessary limit," he furthers the argument that in some-
what different form Hegel states. There is both other-ness
and subjectivity in the daimonion, and no view of it is
adequate if either is left out. Kierkegaard's other contribu-
tion to a definition of the daimonion is his insistence that
no final definition is possible. There is an abstractness
about the daimonion which will forever leave it partly in the
realm of the mysterious.
Modern Socratic scholars
Among modern Socratic scholars, for whom the daimonion
of Socrates is not just an optional philosophic excursion but
a necessary problem demanding solution, there are generally
speaking five answers given. Of the five broad definitions of
the daimonion under which the large number of modern scholars
can variously be grouped, two are hardly credible on the
assumptions that are here and generally granted, and so receive
very little support: the voice of conscience and the mark of
insanity. The other three are not only credible, but each of
the three is ably explicated by leading scholars of the last
one hundred years. These are the views of the daimonion as
the voice of reason, the voice of the sub-conscious, and the
voice of God.
To consider the five broad classifications in turn,
the interpretation of the daimonion as the voice of conscience
builds upon either one of two foundations. On the one hand,
the daimonion may be regarded as a veritable deification of
Socrates' conscience, such that when the daimonion warns him
against a proposed action, it is really his own sense of right
and wrong operating, though perceived as possessing divine
authority. On the other hand, the daimonion can be seen as
simply the way Socrates took to describe to himself and others
the operation within him of his accumulated habits of moral
judgment, which functioned so rapidly that there seemed to
be no process of conscious decision involved.
In evaluation, the view that the daimonion was the
voice of Socrates' conscience founders on the fact that very
seldom if ever did the daimonion prompt Socrates on a matter
of right and wrong. Its warnings were not concerning moral
issues, but matters of expediency, and specifically matters
beyond the scope of reason to anticipate. Neither as a divine
assist nor as an automatic response did the daimonion allow
Socrates to avoid the personal moral responsibility which he
saw and accepted for himself.
The definition of the daimonion as a mark of Socrates'
insanity is based upon the judgment that he was subject to
auditory hallucinations or delusions which, along with other
eccentricities in his appearance and behavior, indicate severe
mental illness and imbalance.
That this view of the daimonion need not be taken
seriously is well established by the fact that, whatever his
eccentricities, Socrates can hardly be said to have been in-
sane. His mental and moral achievements, his lucidity, his
consistency in thought and action, the lack of any suggestion
that any contemporary of his seriously charged him with in-
sanity, all these and more tend toward the conclusion that if
the daimonion rendered Socrates other than normal, it was to
make him not abnormal but supernormal.
To turn to the first of three credible views, the
dairaonion has widely been regarded as the voice of Socrates '
reason. From the evidence in Xenophon, it is possible to
conclude that the daimonion never functioned in a way that
Socrates' reason could not have functioned. It is possible
that he could have "reasoned out" every prompting of the dai-
monion that Xenophon records. On this view the daimonion,
which appeared to Socrates to be a divine voice, was really
a rapid process of reasoning which took place in his sub-
conscious mind. What seemed to Socrates to be an unanalyzed
act of judgment had actually involved his rational faculties.
That the promptings of this voice of his reason may have come
to him as auditory hallucinations does not affect the sound-
ness of this view; for the counsels that came from the daimon-
ion were never, in any of the evidence, irrational. If there
were actual auditory hallucinations, what happened was simply
that the rational suggestions of his own mind were projected
outside of himself and then "heard" by the outward ear.
While it is both tempting and satisfying to suggest
that the man of reason's daimonion was none other than the
voice of his reason, the case for this being so suffers two
serious weaknesses, one historical and one psychological. To
hold that the daimonion never gave Socrates any counsel he
could not have received by use of his own reason is to ignore
the evidence from Plato. Only one who is willing to accept
Xenophon 's account of the daimonion, and to discredit Plato's
claim that Socrates experienced it from childhood, as well as
to discount as unhistorical two citations of the daimonion in
dialogs otherwise granted to be authentic, can support the
view that the daimonion is the voice of reason. Further, to
claim that a process which takes place, unanalyzed, in the
sub-conscious mind is a process in which human reason figures,
is probably to overextend the proper scope of the rational
faculty. Given the five broad definitions of the daimonion
here considered, it will be far better to regard it as the
voice of the sub-conscious if the process just described is
in fact what happened.
Another credible view of the daimonion holds that it
was the voice of the sub-conscious in Socrates. As he thought
deeply about the issues of life, or sometimes simply as he
was experiencing life, monitions came to him from deep within
his own personality, at a non-rational level. A residuum of
feelings and impulses, which he could not account for but
which contributed to making him the person he was, frequently
warned him against some course of action which in itself or
in its outcome would simply not be suitable to his being Soc-
rates. Thus the daimonion can be called the "inner voice of
individual tact," and functioned to bring to Socrates' atten-
tion warnings arising out of his sub-conscious.
In evaluation, this view contributes to the definition
of the daimonion the very necessary psychological insight that
there is more to the total personality of Socrates than merely
his rational self. The dairaonion must be seen neither as an
external oracle nor as a rational faculty. It was rather an
expression of forces which, while germaine to Socrates, were
buried below the level of his understanding. This being so,
however, to regard the daimonion solely as a product of his
sub-conscious is again to disregard the reverential regard
Socrates had for it. He needed to conceive it as something
beyond himself; so it may still need to be conceived.
A final view of the daimonion to which scholars give
their support is that it was the voice of a god, or God. By
what theology calls special revelation, the god gave Socrates
those promptings which he experienced as the warnings of an
inner voice. These religious experiences bore for Socrates
a numinous character, such that he could not fully understand
them, but they occurred in such a manner and with such author-
ity that he could not doubt their divine source. No mere
hunch or rapid bit of unconscious "reasoning" can explain the
absolute obedience and reverence which Socrates, a man who
despised the inspiration of the poets, had for the daimonion.
While he felt the daimonion as intimately related to himself,
and so only his daimonion, he also experienced it as coming
from outside himself, from the god.
To conceive the daimonion as the voice of God is to
take note of the quite singular way in which Socrates experi-
enced it. It is true that, for a man so undogmatic in his
convictions, the unhesitating acceptance of the daimonion 1 s
counsel can only be explained by assuming the overwhelming
authority with which it presented itself to him. Furthermore,
that it functioned only occasionally and not constantly is
sufficient ground for differentiating the daimonion from other
intuitions and presentiments that doubtless occurred right
along to Socrates, as to everyone, and that did not so grip
him. He did not relate every hunch to his daimonion. When
he did experience the voice, there was in the voice an author-
ity that demands a reference beyond Socrates himself.
So, in review, have been presented the various defini-
tions and interpretations men have given to Socrates '' daimon-
ion, together with a brief evaluation of each. In the course
of the review and evaluation, certain clear insights have
emerged. These may now be combined into a final definition,
as far as that is possible, of the daimonion. Just prior to
that, however, attention is directed to the Appendix. There
in tabular form are listed brief phrases defining or describ-
ing the daimonion, with an indication of the source for each
and where each receives expanded treatment in this discussion.
While not exhaustive, this listing is suggestive of the wide
variety of opinion that has emerged from studies of the
A Definition of the Daimonion
"Ah, what is one to say?" Kierkegaard laments that
with some such comment all discussion of Socrates' daimonion
tends to come to an end. Finally he too has to admit that the
daimonion is beyond definition, utterly abstract, inexplicable,
What can one say? For if any one certain insight emerges from
all the foregoing, it is that a precise definition of the
daimonion is impossible. Like the whipporwill, the daimonion
can only be glimpsed, though its presence is undoubted; and
never can it be caught in any net of exact definition.
Why not? Ultimately, because experience of the dai-
monion was Socrates' experience, and a quite private experi-
ence. While he spoke of it as if it were an inner divine
voice, it is not clear that this can be accepted at face value.
Socrates may to some degree have been speaking metaphorically;
and even if he were not, it would still be necessary to chal-
lenge his own conception of the daimonion and be willing to
move beyond it. For he had not the framework or the insights
of today's psychology within which to reflect. He could not
have conceived what it means to call his daimonion, for exam-
ple, the voice of his sub-conscious; nor could he have con-
ceived that within himself he had the personal freedom and
the non-rational resources with which to reach valid decisions
on questions beyond the power of his reason alone to answer.
There is simply no sufficient basis in Socrates and his experi-
ence for defining the daimonion, and therefore no sufficient
basis at all.
The daimonion remains partly hidden in a realm of
mystery, beyond the understanding of Socrates and his inter-
preter alike. Charge it not to the dullness of either, how-
ever, for the truth is that neither Socrates nor any man could
be clear as to the true nature of the daimonion. With no
amount of psychological erudition can the daimonion be
rationalized, for it appears to partake of a reality beyond
the grasp of reason. Finally it can only be acknowledged, as
Cicero phrases it, to be a divinum quiddam , a divine something,
with a question mark permitted on the "divine." The daimonion
cannot be cut and shaped to fit a pet theory, however frus-
trating it may be for those who must have a label for everyone
This is far from saying, however, that all attempts
toward understanding the daimonion are futile. On the contrary,
a careful sifting of the abundance of evidence and opinion on
Socrates' daimonion produces no little insight into its
nature. In light of the assumptions that are here granted
concerning the reality of his experience and his veracity in
reporting it, significant statements concerning the daimonion
can fairly be made, and there can emerge a fairly complete and
reasonably valid definition. Granted that the daimonion re-
mains in part in the realm of mystery, its definition may
nevertheless be attempted, and the attempt counted both worth-
while and successful.
The definition of Socrates' daimonion here set forth
builds, as it were, upon three pillars: historical evidence,
psychological understanding, and religious insight. Let each
in turn lend its support, summarizing all the conclusions that
have come before, and so establishing the final definition.
In defining Socrates 1 daimonion, that which histori-
cally is worthy of the most trust is the evidence of Plato
and the silence of Aristophanes. From these two sources
there emerges a fairly clear picture not only of how Socrates
experienced the daimonion, but also what in fact it was --and
was not. Here is that picture:
The daimonion was a kind of voice . It appeared to
Socrates under a neuter form, was impersonal in character, and
not itself a personal genius or divinity. That it was literally
a physical voice is doubtful. More likely it "spoke" through
an immaterial medium. However, for Socrates to describe it
as a voice was to employ the most fitting analogy, conveying
the sense he had that the communication was from a source
which he felt to be outside himself.
The voice was from the god . He experienced the dai-
monion to be a divine revelation, and attended to it with a
reverential regard. True to his time, he identified inex-
plicability and divinity. He heard his divine voice not only
during his mature years , but from the time of his childhood .
It was not, therefore, simply the rapid functioning of accumu-
lated habits of judgment which as he grew older began to
operate automatically, apart from his reason.
The daimonion was not a prominent feature in Socrates.
If it had been, Aristophanes would surely have exploited it,
and Aeschines would have at least mentioned it. It in fact
occurred but seldom, and attracted relatively little notice.
When it did occur, it came as an inhibitory voice , warning
Socrates against carrying through some proposed action. How-
ever, its silence in a situation was interpreted by Socrates
to be a sign of approval, so that it could function also as
a means of positive encouragement, as in his refusal to pre-
pare a written defense. In indicating not what should be done
but what should not be done, the daimonion is analagous to
the maieutic method Socrates employs in Plato's dialogs, and
so is in character with the "whole" Socrates.
The daimonion occurred on both serious and trivial
occasions . It gave rather random counsel, but always only
upon personal matters , never on matters affecting the whole
community. It spoke only to Socrates , and usually concerning
his own actions. Occasionally, so it appears, it spoke to
Socrates concerning the actions of his friends . Almost always
the daimonion operated with respect to matters beyond the
scope of rational or moral judgment , where human reason x*as
powerless to foresee with any certainty the consequences of
one or another choice. The daimonion guided Socrates in mat-
ters of expediency, and in no way compromised the responsi-
bility he felt and exercised to make full use of his own
reason and to make his own ethical decisions. Nor did the
daimonion figure directly in either his most important deci-
sions or his most profound insights; e.g., his mission to his
Socrates recognized that the daimonion was a very
special case of divine revelation, and that it was perhaps
unique to himself . He regarded it as an infallible voice ,
for the reason that it proved itself so in his experience. He
obeyed it without question, whether it occurred in relation
to a snap decision he had to make or a commitment to a long-
time association with one of the youths who came to him.
The daimonion was both orthodox and unorthodox in
character. In the fact of its occurring, there was nothing
overly unusual, certainly nothing scandalous about it. Revel-
ations from the gods were granted to occur. Socrates' daimon-
ion was not seen as any new or imported divinity. He spoke
of it openly, made no attempt to hide it, and was never
advised by his friends to keep silent about it. It formed
no part of the charge against him. It was unorthodox solely
in the manner of its occurring, as an internal oracle rather
than as an external oracle operating through the reading of
entrails, the flight of birds, chance meetings, etc.
Similarly, the daimonion was at the same time both
rational and mystical in character. It functioned rationally
in respect to the content of its counsels . The guidance it
gave to Socrates always proved, in light of later develop-
ments, to "make sense." It showed itself to be mystical in
the way it affected Socrates, impressing itself upon him with
a spontaneity and an authority that are the marks of "other-
worldly" experience. When the voice spoke, it was as if an
invisible wall was built around him, closing him off from the
counsels of his friends or even his own inclinations.
This, granting the reliability of the best evidence of
history, is what the daimonion of Socrates was and did. In
light of this, certain opinions concerning the daimonion can
summarily be discounted, and need be considered no further.
The daimonion is not, for instance, a mark of Socrates 1 in-
sanity. Nor was Socrates guilty of perpetrating a pious
fraud on his fellow Athenians, by only pretending to be guided
by his daimonion. Nor are his references to the daimonion
instances of his accustomed irony; rather is he sincere in
what he says of it. Because the daimonion did not guide Soc-
rates in matters of right and wrong, but in matters of expedi-
ency, it cannot be conceived as the voice of his conscience;
nor can it be equated to his general belief in a divine
mission to which the god commissioned him.
The daimonion stands, on the pillar of the historical
evidence, as a recurring inhibitory voice guiding Socrates on
matters beyond the scope of his reason, a voice which from
childhood and on serious and trivial occasions alike he heard,
respected, and obeyed as the voice of the god. It was an
inner voice, both orthodox and unorthodox in respect of the
contemporary religion, both rational and mystical in respect
of its effects upon his life.
To the evidence from history there is added the under-
standing of psychology, in establishing a final definition for
Socrates' daimonion. The primary insight psychology affords
is that in every man there is a non-rational component, a level
of feeling below that of reason and inaccessible to it, out
of which flows a veritable stream of desires and inhibitions,
and from which spring many of the major and minor decisions
of a man's life. There were, in other words, within Socrates
himself certain non-rational resources that he marshalled to
make many of his own decisions freely and subjectively,
though it did not appear to him that they were his own deci-
sions. He conceived the guidance of the daimonion as outside
himself because he could not conceive the powers of his non-
In defining the daimonion, it is necessary to recog-
nize that it was both an aspect of his own personality and
that it presented itself to him with a marked other-ness. The
daimonion both was and was not Socrates. In terms of the psy-
chological understanding of Socrates himself, the daimonion
was certainly adjudged to be real, and served to justify for
Socrates the occasional instinctive reluctances which came to
him with such a sense of authority. It may have been that the
daimonion was unreal, and only a symbol which he needed to
invent to veil the truth that he was actually making his own
decisions rather than relying on oracles. More likely, how-
ever, the daimonion had a real as well as a symbolic existence.
There was within it an other-ness, an objectivity, as well as
an obvious subjectivity. Neither can be left out of a com-
In positing the daimonion as a "physiological mechanism,"
Hegel does justice to the demand for both objectivity and
subjectivity in its nature. So likewise does Kierkegaard in
his conception of the daimonion as a "necessary limit" which
prevents Socrates from feeling that he is totally self-
determining, and which warns against reducing the daimonion
simply to Socrates himself.
With respect to the trustworthiness of the daimonion' s
counsels, the judgments of scholars both classical and modern
are psychologically sound. A purity of mind, an integrity of
character, a disciplined life do combine to render a man sensi-
tive to influences which most men are not free enough from
their passions to receive. Further, the counsels so received
may be granted a certain validity, as will be developed in a
Concerning the classification of the views of modern
scholars under the headings of voice of reason, voice of the
sub-conscious, and voice of God, it needs to be said again
that any such classification runs the risk of being arbitrary,
and is to that extent unwarranted and unhelpful. Thus, while
such a classification was helpful in presenting the variety
of opinion on the daimonion, it must now be challenged and
virtually discarded. The line between voice of reason and
voice of the sub-conscious did not prove to be fixed and firm,
nor can there be any arbitrary distinction between either one
and the voice of God. Indeed the voice of God, which of the
three may be the most satisfactory concept (because it can
include the other two), obviously can and does speak through
the reason and the sub-conscious , as well as possibly in a
more immediate sense. Psychological understanding of the
daimonion will not be fostered in an atmosphere of competition
between reason, the sub-conscious, and God.
In a similar vein, psychological understanding of the
daimonion can be undercut by too exclusively rational a psy-
chological orientation. In dealing with the daimonion it is
necessary, if also frustrating, to recognize that it is abstract,
and beyond the scope of laboratory or logic to define. It can
only, in Kierkegaard's word, be conceived, never explained.
Specifically, to deny all transcendence to the daimon-
ion, as most modern philosophers and scholars do, is certainly
to make it more possible to rationalize the daimonion and fit
it into modern psychological categories. It does not, how-
ever, take sufficient notice of the near -reverence with which
the man of reason regarded the promptings of his daimonion.
Socrates showed a consistent reticence to be sure of anything
which he saw to originate in himself. It was for this reason
that he had to assign the daimonion, which had proved itself
infallible, to a divine source. It will not do to ignore this
fact in an eagerness to explain the daimonion. To accommodate
Socrates' daimonion to a system of psychology is no more
warranted or acceptable than to accommodate it to a system of
It is abundantly clear that Socrates regarded his
daimonion as a divine revelation, and that he obeyed it
unquestioning! y as the voice of the god. It is similarly
evident that the manner of its occurrence, with spontaneity
and with commanding authority, is in keeping with the way in
which divine revelations generally are observed to occur. A
combination of these two observations renders plausible, or
at least tenable, the suggestion that Socrates' experience of
the daimonion was in fact a religious experience. Such an
understanding of the daimonion is further strengthened by the
evidence that Socrates felt his daimonion to be both within
him and yet separate from him. It had, that is to say, both
an objective and a subjective reference. In the language of
mysticism, Socrates experienced "the Beyond that is within."
Given this feeling of reverential regard that Socrates
had for his daimonion, and granted that men do have religious
experiences and that they bear the very same marks that his
experience of the daimonion bore, it becomes less tenable to
accept an internal, psychological solution to the daimonion
which leaves Socrates enclosed in himself, in a virtual
autarchy. Respect for the facts, historical and psychological,
gives credence to the conclusion that his experience of the
daimonion was a religious experience, and to the argument that
the daimonion was, as Socrates called it, the voice of god.
The contribution that religion can make, as the third
pillar supporting a final definition of the daimonion, comes
through a type of Christian philosophy of religion, which are**
assumes not only that God is man's creator, but that God may
also be man's companion. The presence and activity of God in
a human life is no abnormality, but in fact the intended
relationship between creator and creature. There is, or may
be, in every man "the Beyond that is within."
On this view, Socrates could have been receiving the
guidance of God by virtue of the fact that he was living in
right relationship with God and so able to be aware of the
divine leading. He conceived God's guidance under the form
of the daimonion, and described it using the analogy of the
So the daimonion of Socrates stands in not unreason-
able explanation. While no full and comprehensive definition
is possible, nevertheless a fair estimate of its nature has
been reached. Historical evidence, psychological understand-
ing, and religious insight combine to render the daimonion
possible of conception, if not explanation.
The daimonion was, as Plato reports Socrates to say,
"a kind of voice." It was, with Cicero, "a divine something;"
with Grote, "a divine ally." It functioned internally, with
Kierkegaard, as "a necessary limit." It may be conceived, in
sum, as an inner and possibly divine voice. It coupled objec-
tive and subjective characteristics so as to suggest "the
Beyond that is within," and on occasion prompted Socrates where
his reason alone could not give sure guidance.
AN EPISTEMOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT
SOCRATES' EXPERIENCE OF THE DAIHONION
With the daimonion defined, the thesis moves to its
second focus, an epistemological assessment of Socrates' experi-
ence of the daimonion and of the counsel it gave. Here the
procedure will be different from that employed in the inquiry
into the daimonion. Rather than attempting a comparative
study of various epistemologies in their relations to and
judgments upon the daimonion, the thesis will examine Socra-
tes' experience of the daimonion primarily (though not exclu-
sively) from the standpoint of a single epistemology, that
offered by the philosophy known as Personalism.
It is one of the major assumptions of this study that
Personalism' s epistemology is adequate to make this assessment,
and the conclusions reached in this section of the discussion
depend heavily upon it. An introductory word concerning this
philosophy, and its epistemology, is accordingly in order.
Personalism, writes one of its leading exponents, is
"that form of idealism which gives equal recognition to both
the pluralistic and monistic aspects of experience and which
finds in the conscious unity, identity, and free activity of
personality the key to the nature of reality and the solution
of the ultimate problems of philosophy." Personalists
affirm this conception of reality and, grounding it in a
Kantian epistemology, make it the basis of a complete meta-
physics. In the concept of personality, Personalists claim
to have the key to an age-old problem of metaphysics; i.e.,
how to conceive of reality so as to provide for both identity
and change, both unity and plurality.
In respect of a theory of knowledge, Personal ism
affirms a necessary distinction and separation between thought
and reality, between my concept of "apple" and an actual
"apple," be that apple material or mental. This frank episte-
mological dualism is opposed both to Hegelian idealism (things
are thoughts) and to a neo-realism (thoughts are "things") .
Recognizing the reality of error in perception, it stands in
contrast to various episteraological monisms which claim that
immediate experience (sensory, moral, religious, etc.) is
Epistemological dualism denies such infallibility in
any form of human knowledge. While in part knowledge rests on
given objective data lying outside the mind, at the same time
it is conditioned by the subjective interpretation of the mind.
Since this is so, no knowledge has absolute certainty, but is
instead grounded in some form of faith; e.g., faith in the
senses' ability to apprehend the real world, faith in revela-
tions as having their source in God, etc.
"Albert C. Knudson, The Philosophy of Personal ism
(New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1927), p. 87.
Such an epistemological dualism, while it provides an
explanation of the possibility of error, poses the problem of
what if any correspondence there is between thought and reality.
Admitting that perfect correspondence cannot be proved, Per-
sonal ism nevertheless affirms a close parallelism between
thought and reality, grounding the parallelism in a theistic
monism. Bowne , the founder of Personalism as a separate phil-
osophy writes that "the [epistemological] dualism of the
finite must be both founded and transcended in a [metaphysical]
monism of the infinite."
It will be from this epistemological stance that, in
the next chapter, Socrates' experience of the daimonion and
its monitions will be evaluated. In that chapter, by a trans-
lating of the monitions and silences of the daimonion into
propositions! statements: they will be given the character of
truth claims, and assessed as such.
In this chapter, the concern will be to consider the
character and validity of the kind of experience of which the
daimonion is one instance. The approach will be, first, to
see Socrates' experience of his daimonion as being capable of
classification both as parapsychological and religious experi-
ence. Secondly, similar experiences of others will be cited.
This will make possible, in successive sections, a pragmatic
and then a theoretical evaluation of this kind of experience
Borden Parker Bowne, The Theory of Thought and
Knowledge (New York: The American Book Co. , 1897'), p. 311.
as a source of truth. Specifically, the question is to what
extent the daimonion may be judged a valid source of truth.
In treating of this question, however, it will be helpful to
cite similar experiences of others, and to evaluate in light
of this larger context.
Experience of the Daimonion: Parapsychological
In modern psychology, Socrates' experience of the
daimonion would fit into the rather broad classification termed
parapsychological experience. Parapsychology is a derivate
field of psychology which has special reference to apparently
supranormal phenomena, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, pre-
cognition, the hearing of voices, the seeing of visions,
apparitions , etc .
In general , parapsychology has only the begrudging
respect of most contemporary psychologists. It is a quite
specialized field, which many would prefer to place wholly
within the realm of abnormal psychology. The data it con-
siders quite obviously generate major difficulties for any
psychology that is based in a physiological reductionism as a
complete view of the human organism. In one way or another,
parapsychology poses a threat to most psychological "systems."
It is unfortunate that over the last seventy years psychology
has shown more interest in becoming a "science" comparable to
the older physical sciences than it has in taking full account
of human experience. Most psychologists have preferred to
deal with data that could be observed "scientifically" (i.e.,
publicly and repeatedly), and so have limited themselves to
studying only what most people do or seem capable of doing.
With the amount of carefully compiled data now avail-
able, however, it would be unrealistic to deny the fact of
parapsychological experience. When Socrates hears a voice,
or William Blake sees a vision, or a spiritualist makes a
"contact," it cannot be reasonably denied that these are their
experiences. Whether they be signs of supranormal powers or
insanity or fraud, whether they give statements that are true
or false, the experiences themselves are facts. Socrates
heard the inner voice; his hearing it was a part of his total
experience; his hearing it was a fact of his experience.
Socrates' experience of the daimonion may have been an in-
stance of parapsychological experience, but that does not
make it any less a fact of his experience than his walking
about Athens barefoot.
Besides fitting into the category of parapsychological
experience, Socrates' experience of his daimonion may also fall
under another classification of experience that is equally
suspect in many circles; i.e., religious experience. Consis-
tent with the philosophy of Personalism, however, this study
grants that there is religious experience; that this experience
involves a God; that men variously conceive of God; and that
God's existence and the varying conceptions of God affect the
Peter A. Bertocci, Introduction to the Philosophy of
Religion (New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1951), p. 86.
interpretation men give to their experiences.
On these assumptions, it becomes possible to speak
of religious experience. This is not to imply that, because
it may be seen as a separate classification of experience,
religious experience is necessarily different in content
and manner of reception from other experience, necessarily.
Brightman, a Personalist, writes: "Religious experience is
any experience of any person taken in its relation to his God .
Religious experience is not a unique kind or quality of experi-
ence; it is rather a unique way of apprehending experience."
Elsewhere he says that "it is experience which has some sup-
posed relation to God as its final cause. The presence of
erroneous beliefs does not affect the reality of such an
experience. No one can doubt that a religious datum is to be
found in human consciousness." The validity of these state-
ments is assumed within this discussion, and from them there
comes the working definition of religious experience: any
experience taken by a man in its relation to his God.
That such a religious datum was present in Socrates'
consciousness is apparent from the review of his life pre-
sented in Chapter III. He was a man aware of the gods, a man
who worshipped the gods , a man who felt his daimonion to be a
special revelation or gift from the gods. Clearly, his
Edgar S. Brightman, Philosophy of Religion (New
York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1^40) , p. 415.
Edgar S. Brightman, "The Dialectic of Religious
Experience, The Philosophical Review XXXVIII (1929) , 557.
experience of the daimonion can be said to be a religious
If the sum of parapsychological experience can be
represented by a circle, and the sum of religious experience
by another circle, the overlap of the two circles is the area
in which Socrates' experience of the daimonion can be said to
fall. When the daimonion occurred or manifested itself to
Socrates, it may be seen, on the grounds being established
here, as a fact of his experience which can be classified both
as parapsychological and religious.
With this double classification so established, it
will be the practice henceforth in the discussion to refer to
Socrates' experience of the daimonion simply as a religious
experience, understanding the term "religious experience" to
be here limited to that portion of all religious experience
which is also parapsychological; i.e., experience in the over-
lap of the two circles. This is done only for convenience,
as the compound adjective "parapsychological-religious ," while
accurate, is also awkward and--with this explanation- -now
unnecessary. Both terms have their drawbacks; both can be
called rather vague, as perhaps any general classification
must be. Of the two, however, "religious" is preferable to
"parapsychological" in that it emphasizes the reverence with
which Socrates apparently regarded the daimonion, the way in
which he related it to the god, and the unquestioning obedi-
ence he gave to its counsels.
One other semantic matter deserves brief consideration.
It might at first seem feasible to term Socrates' experience
of the daimonion a mystical experience, and so simplify the
problem of how to refer to it. In fact, however, this would
be inaccurate. While the adjective "mystical" is often used
loosely to apply to such experiences as the apparent hearing
of a voice, mystical experience is by proper definition non-
sensual, even none one ep tua 1 , hence truly ineffable.
Stace ably and helpfully develops a tight definition
of mysticism, which on the authority of those acknowledged as
the greatest mystics the world has produced rules out of
account voices, visions, clairvoyance, etc. "What mystics
say is that a genuine mystical experience is nonsensuous. It
is formless, shapeless, colorless, odorless, soundless. 1 He
notes further that while mystics may also have parapsychological
experiences, these are separate from mystical experiences.
Often "the sort of persons who are mystics also tend to be
the sort of persons who have parapsychological powers," but
this gives no warrant for confusing the two types of
Socrates' hearing the voice does not then constitute
a mystical experience. He may, on other grounds (e.g., the
trances), have been a mystic, but not because of his daimonion.
Of the four traits of mystical experience in William James'
H/alter T. Stace, The Teachings of the Mystics (New
York: Mentor Books, 1960), pp. 1-14.
2 Ibid. , p. 12. 3 Ibid. , p. 11.
famous formulation (ineff ability, noetic quality, transiency,
passivity), Socrates' experience of the daimonion can be seen
to exhibit the last three. It was not, however, ineffable.
For this reason, his experience of the daimonion cannot
correctly be termed mystical experience.
In sum, Socrates ' experience of the daimonion may be
seen to lie in the overlap between two circles which might be
drawn to represent in the one case parapsychological experi-
ence, and in the other case religious experience. Henceforth,
for convenience, it will be characterized simply as religious
experience, with that term now restricted to only that por-
tion of religious experience which is also parapsychological.
Similar Experiences of Others
Before attempting to evaluate the daimonion as a
source of wise monitions and even truth statements, it will
be useful to add to the experience of Socrates the experi-
ences of others who, like himself, have heard or felt in them-
selves something approximating his inner divine voice. The
citing of these similar experiences will broaden the base of
data on which then an evaluation can be more adequately made.
The common core of all such experiences can be ex-
pressed in the phrase, "Something tells me," which is quali-
tatively different from "I think" or even "it seems to me."
There is more in the experience than can be accounted for by
William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience
(New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1902), pp. 379-82.
describing it as a subjective mood. There is an objective
reference; i.e., the experience brings with it an awareness
that its source is seemingly outside and separate from the
self. Further, this source is very often acknowledged, as
it was by Socrates, to be divine.
Among those whose experiences parallel Socrates'
experience of the daimonion, there are of course many who are
primarily identified with specifically religious traditions.
Within the Judaeo-Christian tradition alone, the instances of
persons who have heard an inner divine voice are beyond num-
bering. Here, after brief mention of a few among many exam-
ples from scripture and church history, special note will be
taken of four contemporary Christians: Thomas Kelly, E.
Stanley Jones, Peter Marshall, and Howard Thurman.
In addition, however, there are those who are more
readily related to a philosophic or literary context than to
a religious one, who have likewise experienced an inner voice
in a manner similar to Socrates. Five will be cited here:
Goethe, Descartes, Montaigne, Lord Bolingbroke, and William
Hale White (Mark Rutherford) . The experiences of this latter
group will be the first noted, concentrating upon Goethe.
Time and again in his conversations with Eckermann,
Goethe speaks of "the daimonic," acknowledging it to be a
force which is beyond his understanding but which "manifests
itself in the most varied manner throughout all nature--in
the invisible as in the visible." Especially does he recog-
nize it as operative in the lives of the great men of every
age. He cites Napoleon as one "of the daimonic sort . . .
and in the highest degree, so that scarce anyone is to be
compared with him. Daimonic beings of such sort the Greeks
reckoned among their demigods."
In the same vein he comments that "the daimonic loves
to throw itself into significant individuals, especially when
they are in high places, like Frederic and Peter the Great."
He notes his own implicit trust in the late Grand-Duke, but
acknowledges that "when the daimonic spirit forsook him, and
only the human was left, he knew not how to set to work."
Goethe also acknowledges the daimonic to be operative
in his own life: "The daimonic is that which cannot be ex-
plained by Reason or Understanding; it lies not in my nature,
but I am subject to it." As an instance of it, he refers to
a new edition he is preparing of his Metamorphosis of Plants ,
saying that "the book gives me more trouble than I thought,
and I was at first led into the undertaking almost against
myself, but something daimonic prevailed, which was not to be
resisted." Noting this latter point of not resisting the
daimonic, Friedlander compares Goethe's experience to that of
John Oxenford, Conversations of Goethe (2 vols.,
London: Smith, Elder & Co. , 1850) , II, 359.
2 Ibid . 3 Ibid . , II, 363. 4 Ibid .
5 Ibid. , II, 359. 6 Ibid. , II, 374.
Socrates , observing that Goethe too was inclined "to respect
forces of resistance turning to one's advantage as daimonic
elements, which one worships without presuming to explain
While Goethe never characterizes the daimonic explic-
itly as a voice or as divine, it is clear that he would
acknowledge that it could so manifest itself. He himself
felt "subject" to it and obeyed its command as a man would
obey a voice of authority. As to its source, he gives more
than a hint in his response to Eckermann's suggestion that
the active power they are calling the daimonic does not enter
into the idea of the Divine: "My good friend, what do we
know of the idea of the Divine? and what can our narrow ideas
tell of the Highest Being? Should I, like a Turk, name it
with a hundred names, I should still fall short, and in com-
parison with such boundless attributes, have said nothing."
So does Goethe reflect a healthy agnosticism with
respect to the daimonic, both as to its nature and its source.
He recognizes it as being present in human experience, and
attributes at least a measure of the greatness of great men
to it. He does not claim to be able to explain it, but
neither does he wish to explain it away. It operated in the
lives of others, and in his own life as well. Karl Jaspers
writes that "Goethe did not seek the daimonic. He merely
1 I, 33-34.
Oxenford, II, 363.
experienced and respected it as the limit of his experience.'
In this conception of Goethe's experience of the daimonic
there is a striking parallel to the way in which Kierkegaard
sees Socrates' daimonion to have acted for him; i.e., as a
"necessary limit." The two men, both of them giving high
regard to human reason, were alike "subject" to what one
called the daimonion, the other the daimonic, a force or
presence which functioned as a limit on their subjective
While Goethe speaks more openly and more frequently
than others of his experience of the daimonic, he is not alone
among philosophers in acknowledging it. Descartes is another
who recognized in himself experiences similar to those of
Socrates. His philosophical career had a daimonic origin,
when on the night of November 10, 1619, the Spirit of Truth
spoke to him in an oracle. He devoted a book to Socrates'
daimonion, so his seventeenth century biographer Adrian
Baillet reports. Sauvage relates the two in his comment that
"no more than Socrates does Descartes dream of contrasting
interior monition with ordered research. ... He too has his
dreams and providential warnings, his trust in something which
is not, like good sense or phronesis , 'the most widely shared
Quoted in Friedlander, I, 345.
Supra , pp. 171-76.
Cited by Sauvage, p. 91.
Cited by Sauvage, p. 159.
thing in the world,' but a special gift to those in whom the
Spirit breathes. 1 For both men, reason and divine guidance
worked hand in hand to give wisdom.
Another who acknowledges in his own experience a force
which he likens to the daimonion of Socrates is the French
essayist, Montaigne . In the essay entitled "Of Prognostica-
tion," he gives his estimate of Socrates' daimonion and also
notes his own experience, which parallels that of Socrates
both in its form and in the fortuitous results of following
its counsels. The passage, in which there is the further
suggestion of a divine sovrce for the experience, deserves
Socrates ' daimonion might perhaps be no other but a
certain impulsion of the will, which obtruded itself
upon him without the advice or consent of his judgment;
and in a soul so enlightened as his was, and so pre-
pared by a continual exercise of wisdom and virtue, 'tis
to be supposed, those inclinations of his, though sudden
and undigested, were very important and worthy to be
Everyone finds in himself some image of such agita-
tions, of a prompt, vehement and fortuitous opinion; and
I may well allow them some authority, who attribute so
little to our prudence, and who also myself have had
some, weak in reason but violent in persuasion and dis-
suasion, which were most frequent with Socrates, by
which I have suffered myself to be carried away so for-
tunately, and so much to my own advantage, that they
might have been judged to have had something in them of
a divine inspiration. 2
The eighteenth century English statesman Lord
Bolingbroke also compared his experience to that of Socrates,
seeing himself to be influenced by what he termed his "genius,"
which however spoke--or so he believed! --in quieter accents:
3 Ibid. 2 I, 45-46.
"My genius, unlike the daimonion of Socrates, whispered so
softly that very often I heard him not, in the hurry of those
passions by which I was transported."
The English novelist of the late nineteenth century,
William Hale White , who wrote under the pen name of Mark
Rutherford , is yet another whose experience of an inner
inhibitory voice bears a very close resemblance to Socrates'
experience of the daimonion. Woodhead cites this passage from
White's Autobiography (1881), and indeed the similarities are
I had a mind to write her; but I felt as I have often
felt before in great crises, a restraint which was gentle
and incomprehensible, but nonetheless unmistakable. I
suppose it is not what would be called conscience, as
conscience is supposed to decide solely between right
and wrong; but it was nonetheless peremptory, although
its voice was so soft and low it might easily have
been overlooked. Over and over again, when I have pro-
posed doing a thing, have I been impeded or arrested by
this same silent monitor, and never have I known its
warnings to be the mere false alarms of fancy. 2
To turn from the philosophic -literary context to a
more specifically religious one, there are found in the
Judaeo- Christian tradition, as in others, countless examples
of men and women who claim to have heard the voice of God.
Numerous instances are reported in the Old and New Testaments.
Sometimes the voice is heard as a loud call; at other times
it is a soft whisper. Sometimes it accompanies a vision, as
Quoted in Paul Elmer More, Platonism (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1917), p. 148.
Cited by W. D. Woodhead, "The Daimonion of Socrates,"
Classical Philology , XXXV (1940), 426.
of an angel; or it may be directly an inner voice. Amos
writes, "The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord
God has spoken; who can but prophesy?" But for Elijah it
was at the cave at Mount Horeb "a still small voice." The
Old Testament prophets, almost to a man, say with Ezekiel,
"The word of the Lord came to me .... ' If this is a
mere literary device, it was surely not so understood by the
hearers then, nor by most since then. It was through an
angel that the voice came to Zechariah: "I am Gabriel, who
stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to
you." So likewise was the voice manifested to Mary and
Joseph, to Philip the Ethiopian, and others. But at other
times it had no visible source. It could be on occasion
heard by others , as by Peter and James and John when it came
to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Or it could be
truly an inner voice, which others standing by could not hear,
as when it spoke to Jesus after his baptism and to Paul on
the road to Damascus.
Through all of church history there has been a steady
witness to this same experience of hearing the voice of God.
It spoke to Augustine in the garden, to Joan of Arc in the
fields, to John Bunyan as he was playing a game of tip-cat on
^os 3.8. 2 I Kings 19.12. 3 Ezekiel 6.1.
4 Luke 1.19. 5 Luke 1.26, Matthew 1.20, Acts 8.26.
6 Mark 9.2-8. 7 Matthew 3.16-17, Acts 22.9.
a Sunday. In most cases the testimony implies an inner
voice, which others would not have heard were they present.
In the present century there are many respected
Christians who continue to give evidence of this truly inner
voice which comes from God. Often it bears the inhibitory
character of Socrates' daimonion, though it is by no means
limited to this kind of guidance.
The late Thomas Kelly , Quaker philosopher and de-
votional writer, reflects his belief that within every man
there is "an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place,
a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continu-
ously return." He affirms the practice of inward listening
to be the very heart of religion. He speaks of yielding to
"the monitions of the Inner Instructor," of following "God's
faintest whisper," of living "a life of such humble obedience
to the Inner Voice as we have scarcely dared to dream."
Believing that the experience of hearing the inner voice is
not his alone, but that many others share it too, he writes:
"We have all heard this holy Whisper at times. At times we
have followed the Whisper, and amazing equilibrium of life,
amazing effectiveness of living set in. But too many of us
Osborn, p. 161.
Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion (New York:
Harper 6c Bros., 1941), p. TT.
3 Ibid . , p. 32. 4 Ibid . , p. 49.
5 Ibid. , p. 52. 6 Ibid. , p. 75.
have heeded the Voice only at times. Only at times have we
submitted to His holy guidance. We have not counted this
Holy Thing within us to be the most precious thing in the
world." So does Kelly testify to the inner voice, and to
the results of following its counsels.
The Methodist missionary to India, E. Stanley Jones ,
affirms that throughout his long ministry he has been guided
by the inner voice of God. In one of his meditations he
defines what he means by the inner voice, revealing its simi-
larity to Socrates' daimonion:
By the Inner Voice I do not mean the voice of con-
science, for the Inner Voice gives guidance not merely
where a matter of right and wrong is involved as in
conscience, but where one is taking life-directions,
deciding perplexities , and where one is bidden to take
up tasks and assume responsibilities. The Inner Voice
is not contradictory to an enlightened conscience, but
is in addition to it and beyond it. It is the Spirit
of God speaking to one directly and authentically. 2
Like Socrates, Jones experienced the inner voice on
occasions both crucial and also seemingly trivial. An early
instance of its occurring was in a moment of utter humilia-
tion during his first sermon, when the voice restrained him
from sitting down in shame and bid him abandon his manuscript
and speak very simply to the congregation. Another and even
more crucial occasion was when, more than fifty years ago, he
1 Ibid. , p. 116.
E. Stanley Jones, Victorious Living (London: Hodder
& Stoughton, 1943), p. 260.
E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of the Indian Road
(London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1929), p. 171.
was despairing of the shattered state of his health and about
ready to give up the new missionary task which awaited him in
India. The voice came without his bidding, while he was in
prayer, and assured him of a divine strength which would
always sustain him. But on trivial occasions too he re-
ceived its guidance. In the book of meditations already
cited (a book which, by the way, the voice had told him to
write! ), he mentions an instance where the voice assured him
that he would find his lost glasses.
One of the most recent instances of his hearing the
voice dates to June, 1967. Jones had planned to go to Israel
to negotiate the purchase of some land in Galilee for an
international retreat center. Just a few days before war
broke out between Israel and Egypt, the voice warned him
against going. In personal correspondence he writes: "Have
had six blessed months in Hawaii, Japan, Korea, Philippines,
India, Finland, Scotland, Denmark and Wales. Four days before
the outbreak of war in Israel I awoke with the Inner Voice
saying 'Cancel.' I cabled, 'Cancelling visit.' So I did not
go to Galilee about the Ashram." On this occasion, as at
other times, there is a parallel to Socrates' experience of
his daimonion, in the inhibitory manner of its operating.
Ibid . , p. 30.
E. Stanley Jones, Victorious Living , p. 5.
"" ibid . , p. 264.
Personal letter to Mrs. E. C. Pope, June 25, 1967.
Another prominent and popular American churchman of
this century, the late Peter Marshall , also testifies to the
guidance of an inner voice from God. On one occasion it
quite literally saved his life. One summer, while a young
man, he worked in the small English village of Bamburgh,
close to the Scottish border in the region of numerous lime-
stone quarries. Walking home one very dark night from a
neighboring village, he took a short-cut across the lonely
moors. In her biography, his wife describes his hearing the
voice that night:
Suddenly he heard someone call, "Peter! ..."
There was great urgency in the voice. He stopped. "Yes,
who is it? What do you want?" .... Then he heard it
again, even more urgently: "Peter! ..." He stopped
dead still, trying to peer into that impenetrable dark-
ness, but suddenly stumbled and fell to his knees.
Putting out his hand to catch himself, he found nothing
there. As he cautiously investigated, feeling around
in a semicircle, he found himself to be on the very
brink of an abandoned stone quarry. Just one more step
would have sent him plummeting into space to certain
This incident made an unforgettable impression on
Peter. There was never any doubt in his mind about the
source of that Voice. 1
His confidence in the available guidance of God was
a hallmark of his ministry, and was frequently reflected in
his prayers as Chaplain of the United States Senate. One day
a senator came to him and said, "You seem to think a man can
get specific guidance from the Lord about his work. Tell me
now, do you really think God could tell me how to vote on the
Sugar Bill?" Marshall's reply was prompt: "I certainly do.
Catherine Marshall, A Man Called Peter (London:
Peter Davies, 1955), p. 16.
within its own personal pattern.
Even the very language of Thurman is reminiscent of
Socrates, as in the instances flutarch describes of Socrates'
detour through the Trunkmakers ' Street and the retreat through
The Gullies. Socrates himself could well have said, at
least for himself, that "the individual life . . . seems con-
stantly to be the recipient of something that does not arise
within its own personal pattern." This is what he experienced
in the daimonion.
So, in a fashion similar to the way Socrates received
the guidance of his daimonion, do men today continue to be
guided by what many of them refer to, in the manner of Socra-
tes, as an inner voice.
All through history, from the Hebrew patriarch
Abraham to Socrates to Paul to Joan of Arc to Goethe to
E. Stanley Jones to the young New York City Pentecostal mini-
ster David Wilkerson, countless men and women have claimed
to hear an inner voice. The question arises as to what
validity their experiences possess. Specifically, are they a
valid source of information, on the basis of which a person
can hope to know and act? To this question the discussion
Howard Thurman, The Growing Edge (New York: Harper
& Bros. , 1956) , p. 75.
Supra , pp. 136-37. Genesis 12.1-3.
David Wilkerson, The Cross and the Switchblade
(Westwood, N. J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1964), pp. 7, 25, 52.
turns, beginning with a pragmatic evaluation and then a
Does it "work" to regard experiences such as Socrates '
experience of the daimonion as a valid source of truth? Prag-
matically, the answer is a severely qualified yes. The
evidence may be said to be strong, but hardly conclusive.
Socrates ' own experience of the daimonion on the
assumptions here granted, appears to validate in pragmatic
terms that experience; for in fact it did "work." If, as is
assumed, the primary sources may be trusted, his following
the guidance of his daimonion always had beneficial results.
When the daimonion warned against a prospective young compan-
ion, Socrates knew from experience that the association could
not be fruitful. The daimonion' s resisting his entering upon
a career in politics, its holding him back from leaving the
gymnasium, its insisting that he atone for the impiety in his
mocking but eloquent discourse against love, its preventing
him from preparing a formal defense, even its seeming to
approve his virtually inviting the death sentence- -all this
he judged to be in his own best interests; and so it appears
to have been.
By his own profession, as recorded by Xenophon and
Plato, his experience of the daimonion was a valid source of
good and true advice, for in every instance the warnings
proved to be true: " I have revealed to many of my friends
the counsels which God has given me, and in no instance has
Of course, God may not send you a telegram. My own experi-
ence backs up what Abe Lincoln said once: 'When God wants
me to do or not to do anything, He can always find a way of
letting me know!"
A final example of those whose experience resembles
Socrates' experience of the daimonion is the Baptist author
and university chaplain, Howard Thurman . In one of his more
recent books he reports a personal experience of God's warn-
ing to which there are numerous parallels in the life, not
just of Socrates, but of many a man and woman. It emphasizes
both the inhibitory character of the inner voice, and also
the fact that its source is acknowledged to be outside the
self. Thurman writes :
Some years ago I was crossing the United States by
the southern route. I had been advised to stop at San
Antonio to see the Alamo. So, when the train stopped
at noon for a half hour, I got off to look around. If
I found myself interested, I could stay until the next
train. At first, I thought I would not stay, but just
as the conductor announced that the train was ready to
go, in a split second I changed my mind. I ran into the
car, took my topcoat and bag, and jumped off the slowly
moving train, much to the consternation of the conduc-
tor. I caught the midnight train. The next day when
the train to which I had transferred approached Yuma,
Arizona, it slowed. Just off the track ahead were to
huge engines like two monsters that had been in a life-
and-death struggle, and some fifteen or twenty steel
cars twisted and turned over. Their sides had been cut
open by acetylene torches so that the dead could be
removed. That was the train that I had suddenly jumped
off, several hours before.
This may be a poor example of what I mean, but cer-
tainly the grace of God operates in such a way that the
individual life--your life and mine--seems constantly
to be the recipient of something that does not arise
"Vioted in ibid. , pp. 254-55.
the event shown that I was mistaken. . . . This thing that
has come upon me must be a good. ... I have a clear proof
that this is so; for my accustomed guide would certainly have
opposed me if I had not been going to meet with something
good." Xenophon notes too the pragmatic value that follow-
ing the daimonion's guidance had for Socrates' friends:
"Many of his companions were counseled by him to do this or
not to do that in accordance with the warnings of the deity:
and those who followed his advice prospered, and those who
rejected it had cause for regret."
As for Socrates , so for others has it "worked" to
regard experiences similar to Socrates' as a valid source of
truth. Many of those who cite such experiences , whether their
own personal experience or that of another, also give evidence
of the value of such experience for giving wise counsel.
Thus Goethe, acknowledging the influence of "the daimonic
spirit in the Grand-Duke, makes this pragmatic evaluation:
"in cases where my own understanding and reason were insuffi-
cient, I needed only to ask him what was to be done. . . .
and I could always be sure of happy results."
Montaigne is another who affirms the pragmatic value
of such experience, which on occasion was his personal
experience, saying that when he has let himself be guided by
Xenophon Apology 14. Plato Apology 40 c.
Xenophon Memorabilia i. 1. 5.
4 0xenford, II, 363. 5 Ibid.
it the end result has turned out "so fortunately, and so
much to my own advantage." Descartes reflects a similar
confidence in the pragmatic value of experiences which, like
Socrates, he too has had. Commenting on Socrates 1 daimonion
in the "Letter to Princess Elizabeth" in November, 1646, he
But as touching the important actions of one's life,
when they appear so uncertain that prudence cannot teach
us what we should do, I think it is indeed right to
follow the advice of one's genius, and that it is a good
thing to be firmly persuaded that the tasks we undertake
without repugnance, with that freedom which usually goes
with joy, will not fail to come to a good issue. 2
The philosopher Schopenhauer, in a chapter he titles
"On Instinct and Mechanical Tendency," cites a young spider
spinning its web "although it neither knows nor understands
the aim of it." He compares this to Socrates' obeying his
daimonion without being able rationally to justify it, and
affirms that it was right for Socrates --and hence for others
as well--so to respond. He notes from his own day three
"quite well-authenticated cases." experiences of inhibition
comparable to Socrates' experience of the daimonion. In one
instance a man who had booked passage on a ship refused to
board it, unable to give a reason; the ship went down. In
another a man went with friends to a powder magazine, but
when he arrived he was seized with an unexplainable anxiety
and would not go in; the magazine blew up. In the third a
I, 46. Quoted in Sauvage, p. 172.
3 III, 99. 4 Ibid.
man aboard ship went to bed fully clothed without knowing
why; the ship sank and he was one of few to be saved. In
each case, so Schopenhauer implies, it was right for the one
involved to obey the impulse. So does he give to such experi-
ences a pragmatic value.
William Hale White, whose experience of inhibitory
warnings closely parallels that of Socrates, has previously
been quoted as saying that "over and over again, when I have
proposed doing a thing, have I been impeded or arrested by
this same silent monitor, and never have I known its warnings
to be the mere false alarms of fancy." Thomas Kelly adds
his testimony that "at times we have followed the Whisper,
and amazing equilibrium of life, amazing effectiveness of
living set in." E. Stanley Jones writes that: "As I look
back across the years I am impressed that whenever I have
sincerely listened to and followed that Voice it has never
let me down. It has always proved right."
So the evidence accumulates, from Socrates himself
and from others, to suggest that there are reasonable grounds
for regarding experiences such as his of the daimonion as a
proper source of valuable advice. A man, that is to say, can
have some confidence in the guidance that so comes to him,
1 Ibid. , III, 99-100.
Woodhead, Classical Philology , XXXV, 426; supra ,
Kelly, p. 116; supra , p. 282-83.
E. Stanley Jones, Victorious Living , p. 264.
because in fact "it works" to trust it. For many, including
Socrates, the experience was a responsible source of truth.
As Jones says, "it has never let me down. It has always
And yet the further facts of history, the full testi-
mony of men, is that while such experiences sometimes and for
some persons have an undoubted pragmatic value as a source
of good counsel, there is as impressive a body of evidence to
say that experiences like those of Socrates are by no means
worthy of trust, or even deserving of consideration. On the
contrary, they are false, deceptive, misleading, often tragic
or at least tragicomic.
It is not just the mentally ill, in and out of psy-
chiatric hospitals, who "hear voices" that are irrational,
impractical, and in no sense helpful. In these cases the
experience is the manifestation of a psychic sickness. But
sincere men, whose integrity and sanity are beyond question,
have likewise been mistaken in assuming as true the guidance
of an inner voice which they clearly heard. Following that
guidance has led to their hurt or humiliation. It has not,
in other words, proved for them to be good and wise counsel.
In order that a place might be saved for special
revelation from God, the problem this poses has usually been
"solved" in one of two ways. Either the person led astray by
his experience has been on that account labeled a "nut," or
the voice has been attributed to the self or the Devil, or--
if granted to be from God--assumed to have been misinterpreted.
Neither of these two "solutions" in fact solves any-
thing. The first of them is merely name -calling, and is no
explanation at all. The second amounts to nothing more than
reasoning in a circle; i.e., including the conclusion in the
premise. If it is granted that a genuine experience of God
is valid and worthy of trust, then it is already established
that an experience unworthy of trust is not from God. There
is no logical fallacy in connecting the two statements:
"Because an experience comes from God, it is trustworthy,"
and "Because an experience is not trustworthy, it does not
come from God." ("Because A, then B" implies "Because not B,
then not A.") But neither is there any logical movement; it
amounts to a tautology. There is, however, a logical fallacy
in connecting "Because an experience comes from God, it is
trustworthy" with "Because an experience is trustworthy, it
comes from God." ("Because A, then B" does not connect with
"Because B, then A.")
The problem remains as to whether experience similar
to Socrates' experience of the daimonion is a valid source
of truth. To answer in terms of whether or not the inner
voice is the genuine voice of God is simply to ask the same
question in another way, and thus only to restate the problem.
The facts are that the testimony of history is mixed, and
there is no certain way of guaranteeing the validity of a
given experience. Just because a man hears what he calls the
inner voice of God is no sign that he is justified in trusting
its guidance. All such experiences, whether bearing true or
false knowledge-claims, are in the terms of this discussion
properly termed religious experiences, for whether they
actually come from God or not they are taken by the subject
in relation to God.
Pragmatically, then, the answer to whether experiences
like that of the daimonion are a valid source of truth is
both yes and no. For one experience, where the results of
following the guidance it brings are beneficial, the pragmatic
evaluation is positive: yes, trust the experience. For
another experience, where the results are not beneficial, the
pragmatic evaluation is negative: no, do not trust it. The
yes answers, from men of the stature of Socrates and Descartes
and E. Stanley Jones, prevent a summary dismissal of all such
experience as unworthy of trust or consideration. The no
answers , while they do not disprove the yes answers , prevent
too ready and too great a degree of confidence in accepting
every murmur of an inner voice as the word of truth.
An unequivocal, conclusive pragmatic evaluation for
experience similar to Socrates 1 experience of the daimonion
is thus not possible "across the board." Further, for a par-
ticular experience a pragmatic evaluation cannot be made
until after the results are known, by which time it can be of
no value in that specific situation.
For such reasons, it seems advisable to look beyond
a pragmatic reference to evaluate experience, such as of the
daimonion, for its suitability as a source of truth. The
discussion turns to a theoretical evaluation of experience
similar to that of Socrates.
Are there prior, theoretical grounds for feeling any
confidence that experience such as Socrates ' experience of
his daimonion is a valid source of knowledge? Socrates him-
self apparently assumed his experience to be valid, and
trusted both the experience itself and the guidance that came
through it. As he is reported, he never justified the experi-
ence rationally, seeking to give an intellectually respectable
account of it. Rather, he regarded it as divine revelation,
the interior speaking of the voice of his god.
In his case, personal experience seems to have given
him good "reason" to heed the daimonion 1 s warnings, but this
strictly speaking was only a pragma tic -empirical, not a
rational, ground for so doing. With his mind, he apparently
could not explain how such experience could come to be; and
as far as is known he did not try to wrestle with the question,
He spoke of his mental and psychological processes as human
up to the limit of his being able to understand them; beyond
that, he spoke of them as divine. And there he seems to have
left the matter. That it was divine revelation was only an
assumption, not a rational conclusion, but it evidently satis-
fied Socrates. He did not question the daimonion. He
listened for it, and to it.
In the attempt to present a theoretical evaluation of
his experience, it will be helpful to begin by examining
Socrates' own conviction that human reason is limited, and
so cannot serve as an adequate arbiter of all human experi-
ence. Not only Socrates but many others as well, some of
whom will be cited, share this conviction of reason's limita-
tions. Following this, the discussion will turn to a con-
sideration of intuition, as Bergson conceives it, and the
value of such a concept in assessing human experience. A
third step in the evaluation will be to develop carefully the
relationship between reason and intuition. Finally, drawing
on assumptions taken from the philosophy of Personalism, the
validity of experience such as that of the daimonion will be
judged in relation to the whole of human experience, and the
claim presented that there are reasonable grounds --in theory
as in practice- -for regarding it as a valid source of counsel
The limitations of reason
While Socrates apparently did not articulate a closely
reasoned defense of his reliance upon the daimonion, it is
likely that, had he done so, one step in the argument would
have been to show that human reason alone cannot give an ade-
quate account of all experience, nor can it serve as an ade-
quate guide to all conduct. For while he championed the full
use of reason, for himself and others, he was not so obsessed
with it that he was blind to its limitations.
Socrates in fact steered clear of an uncritical
rationalism, which he saw to be just as impoverishing as an
uncritical acceptance of the traditions and institutions of
the present society. Rather did he keep himself open to life
on all its levels, and refuse to dismiss as superstitious
nonsense what he could not rationally explain. No thoughtful
man, he believed, would want to be exclusively rational, and
shut out all experience that would not fit in the frame of
His conviction of reason's limitations stands behind
his profound equation of wisdom with ignorance, and marks him
as the thoroughly undogmatic man. He showed a healthy reluc-
tance, unusual in a man who prizes the rational faculty, to
be too sure about either his most cherished beliefs or his
most serious doubts. In respect to the latter, More comments
that Socrates was "too sincerely sceptical to set up the
dictates of private doubts versus the intuition that might
lie half-concealed in the popular myths." Occasionally he
himself chose to use myth, when he recognized that no logical
concept could serve as the vehicle of communication.
Believing in the full use of reason, yet tempering
his respect for reason with an awareness of its limitations
in some ranges of human experience, Socrates reached a posi-
tion which safeguards both reason and the reasoner. On the
one hand, reason is protected from being overextended beyond
its proper bounds. At the same time, man is protected against
an overzealous and exclusive reliance on reason. This is
perhaps most markedly illustrated in Socrates' convictions
1 P. 143.
about the relationship between reason and divine revelation.
Neither one is the whole answer to man's quest for knowledge;
both together, each in its proper place, are necessary. As
Xenophon expresses it, citing Socrates' opinions on revelation;
If any man thinks these matters are wholly within
the grasp of the human mind and nothing in them is beyond
our reason, that man, he said, is irrational. But it
is no less irrational to seek the guidance of heaven in
matters which men are permitted by the gods to decide
for themselves by study. ... In short, what the gods
have granted us to do by the help of learning, we must
learn; what is hidden from mortals we should try to find
out from the gods by divination: for to him that is in
their grace the gods grant a sign.-*-
Not only Socrates, but many of the world's great
philosophers have acknowledged reason's limitations, and
argued for the acceptance of claims to truth coming from other
forms of human experience. Cicero is one, who with special
reference to divine revelation sets the case very ably, from
an empirical point of view, in a passage which merits full
You demand a full explanation of everything- -and you
have, of course, a complete right to do so. But we are
not dealing at the moment with that phase of the subject.
We are asking whether a given phenomenon actually occurs
or does not occur. To illustrate: if I aver that a
magnet attracts and draws iron to itself but am unable
to tell you why, then you will refuse to admit the
existence of magnetic force--will you not? That is
certainly the attitude you are assuming toward the
matter of the reality of divination, in spite of the
fact that we ourselves have observed it, heard about it,
read accounts of it, and received it like a legacy from
our ancestors. The man in the street was thoroughly
convinced of the power of clairvoyance long before
philosophy, which is not so very ancient, ever saw the
light of day; and since its birth not one respectable
1 Memorabilia i. 1. 9.
philosopher has arisen in opposition to the general
opinion. Pythagoras, Democritus, and Socrates I have
already quoted. 1
The British Empiricists (Locke, Berkeley, and Hume)
sharply contradict Spinoza's sublime trust in reason, which
begot a magnificent structure of logic and metaphysics, by
affirming that all knowledge comes through experience through
the senses. Locke's famous statement is to the effect that
nothing can be in the mind except what was first in the senses
The mind at birth is a tabula rasa , a clean sheet on which
only sense experience can make a mark. In Hume's thorough-
going scepticism, empiricism undercut the very foundation of
human reason. He said of mind what Berkeley had said of
matter. If matter does not exist except as a bundle of per-
ceptions in the mind, then neither does mind exist other than
as a different bundle of perceptions. The mind is no sub-
stance, no real entity, but only a series of separate percep-
tions. The inferences on which reason operates and depends
(e.g. , causality, necessity) are unverifiable.
Immanuel Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason , pro-
tests against reason's funeral, which Hume had apparently
proven. But in order to revive reason he has to limit
strictly its applications. For Kant, the mind is a director,
not merely a collector, of perceptions. There is a pure
reason, with a priori principles independent of experience.
The mind is "an active organ which molds and coordinates
On Divination i. 39.
sensations into ideas, an organ which transforms the chaotic
multiplicity of experience into the ordered unity of thought. 1
In functioning as an agent of selection and coordina-
tion, however, reason can deal only with perceptions, and
never with a "thing-in-itself . " Kant has to draw a tight
circle around the pure (theoretical) reason which he has
worked so hard to establish and justify. There can be no
leap from personal experience to ultimate reality. No infer-
ences about ultimate reality can legitimately be made. Any
attempt of the reason to do so amounts to nothing more than
Reason cannot then consider the most profound ques-
tions man raises. While Kant is unwilling to accept his own
conclusion, and so goes on to posit a "practical reason" as
a guide to belief and conduct, he admits that it has validity
only for making moral decisions and can never be said to
yield knowledge in the theoretical sense. So, for Kant also,
does reason emerge as an insufficient opening into the full
range of human experience.
Henri Bergson sets the limitations of reason in a
somewhat different philosophical context. In a chapter on
"The Method of Philosophy," he argues the absolute necessity
of risking to go beyond reason in the search for knowledge.
Using an analogy in which he compares swimming to walking,
he writes :
Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (New York:
Simon & Schuster, 1926), p. 202.
Reason, reasoning on its own powers, will never suc-
ceed in extending them, though the extension would not
appear at all unreasonable once it were accomplished.
Thousands and thousands of variations on the theme of
walking will never yield a rule for swimming. Come,
enter the water, and when you know how to swim, you will
understand how the mechanism of swimming is connected
with that of walking. Swimming is an extension of
walking, but walking would never have pushed you on to
swimming. . . . Reasoning, in fact, always nails us
down to the solid ground. ... In theory there is a
kind of absurdity in trying to know otherwise than by
intelligence; but if the risk be frankly accepted,
action will perhaps cut the knot that reasoning has
tied and will not unloose. 1
As will become evident, Bergson's insight that reason cannot
extend its own powers even though the extension once accom-
plished would not seem unreasonable is of crucial importance
in granting a validity to non-rational forms of experience
as a source of truth.
Kierkegaard too sees the limitations of human reason
and argues with an almost logical precision that, even as the
like cannot grasp the unlike, neither can the rational nature
of man grasp the divine nature of God. Speaking with specific
reference to Socrates, he writes:
The connoisseur in self-knowledge was perplexed over
himself to the point of bewilderment when he came to
grapple in thought with the unlike. ... If man is to
receive any true knowledge about the Unknown (God) he
must be made to know that it is unlike him, absolutely
unlike him. This knowledge the Reason cannot possibly
obtain of itself. . . . For how should the Reason be
able to understand what is absolutely different from
itself? . . . Merely to obtain the knowledge that God is
unlike him, man needs the help of God. 2
Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution , trans. Arthur
Mitchell (London: Macmillan & Co. , 1928) , pp. 204,203.
Philosophical Fragments , pp. 37, 36.
Divine revelation, that is to say, is necessary if a man is
to know anything at all of God. His own reason cannot be a
valid source of knowledge concerning God.
In sum, there is a strong intellectual tradition
asserting the limitations of reason. In line with this,
Socrates was right in his willingness to be open to life on
all its levels, and to accept the daimonion as a potential
source of valid advice, and even truth-claims. "Reason as
consistency has great value in testing the connections between
the ideas we already have, and exposing errors; but we cannot
rely upon it as the sole guide to the nature of the world as
it is and may be. "
The realm of intuition
There is evident, running right through the life and
thought of Socrates, a creative tension between reason and
intuition. His experience of the daimonion and the trances
are but the most striking examples of his openness to intui-
tion. His very understanding of education rests on the opera-
tion of intuition. He cannot "teach" a companion, but can
only lead him by a path of dialectic to that moment when an
inner spark may be struck, bringing light to the understanding.
Socrates believes he cannot be a "teacher," but only a "mid-
wife," because learning depends on intuition as well as upon
the exercise of reason. Reason can clear away the underbrush
to make ready for the intuition. Reason can and must function
Bertocci, p. 55.
following the intuition. But reason cannot substitute for
intuition in the search for knowledge. The two are linked
together in a creative tension which is also a creative
Bergson gives to this realm of intuition, which in
Socrates is seen to complement the realm of reason, con-
siderable philosophical support. He scores "the exaggerated
confidence of philosophy in the powers of the individual
mind," and argues that the origin of every creative philosophy
is an intuition: "Whether it is dogmatic or critical, whether
it admits the relativity of our knowledge or claims to be
established within the absolute, a philosophy is generally
the work of a philosopher, and a single and unitary vision
of the whole. It is to be taken or left. '
Philosophy, for Bergson, thus proceeds by intuition,
which he defines as "the kind of intellectual sympathy by
which one places oneself within an object in order to coin-
cide with what is unique in it and consequently inexpres-
sible." Philosophy, then, "consists in placing oneself
within the object itself by an effort of intuition. ... To
philosophize, therefore, is to invert the habitual direction
of the work of thought."
Creative Evolution , p. 201. Ibid .
Henri Bergson, An Introduction to Metaphysics , trans.
T. E. Hulme (London: Macmillan & Co., 1913), p. 6.
4 Ibid. , pp. 37, 59.
Even the certainties of science, Bergson believes,
begin with an intuition, which reason subsequently works
through to exactitude and logical precision. Because the
intuition is momentary, and the rational unfolding of it
sometimes a matter of years, "we often take the logical equip-
ment of science for science itself, forgetting the metaphysical
intuition from which all the rest has sprung."
Bergson 1 s claim receives support from the example of
the scientist who "sees" a truth in a flash of intuitive in-
sight and then verifies it scientifically. Archimedes, Galvani,
and Einstein are three among many who arrived at a scientific
truth in such a fashion.
The argument that Bergson advances, that there is a
realm of intuition separate from reason, is a strong one,
both for philosophy and for science. In sum, it is that "the
simple act which starts the [rational] analysis, and which
conceals itself behind the analysis, proceeds from a faculty
quite different from the analytical. This is, by its very
definition, intuition." As he then continues in the same
passage to describe intuition, he could well be speaking
directly of Socrates' daimonion: "There is nothing mysterious
in this faculty. Everyone of us has had occasion to exercise
it to a certain degree. . . . It is not a thing, but the
direction of a movement, and though indefinitely extensible,
1 Ibid. , p. 62. 2 Ibid. , p. 76.
it is infinitely simple."
The relationship of intuition and reason
To attempt to relate the two realms of reason and
intuition is to look not away from Socrates but toward him,
for clearly he assumed such a relationship to exist. An
oversimplified contrast between the two would be quite
strange to Socrates, the man with the daimonion. He was
neither a cold rationalist who summarily rejected all other
forms of experience, nor was he an Eastern mystic who denied
all validity to reason in the search for truth. The creative
tension between the two he saw to be a creative partnership.
Reason and intuition do not pull against each other but in
the same direction, toward truth.
Others, including Descartes and Kant, likewise con-
ceive the relationship between reason and intuition to be
complementary, and so would not dream of contrasting inner
monition with ordered research. Reason is important but not
all -important , for intuition enriches and enlarges knowledge
beyond what the purely rational can achieve. Sauvage sum-
marizes Descartes' view of the place of intuition: "We must
beware lest we blind the eye of the spirit and obscure the
natural light by ill-conceived study."
An openness to intuition need not, then, be equated
to a rejection of reason. Nothing more is involved than the
simple recognition, made clear in Bergson, that while reason
1 Ibid. , pp. 76-77. 2 P. 159.
has a unique function to perform in testing the connections
between ideas already present to the mind, it cannot tran-
scend itself, even when the results of so doing would not
appear as unreasonable.
Thus, on the grounds developed in the preceding dis-
cussion, reason cannot serve as the sole guide and interpreter
of human experience. Intuition is its partner, leading out
in new directions and to new insights that reason can then
examine and correct and correlate with truth-claims arising
from other experiences of man's total life. As Bertocci
writes: "Reason does not put the brakes on life; it does not
destroy life. It rather follows life as a father may follow
his child down the street to curb costly and unnecessary,
though easily understandable, recklessness."
Reason, in sum, in accepting a partnership with in-
tuition, is humble enough "to content itself with establish-
ing the reasonableness of believing, not the reasonableness of
what is believed." Intuition, in turn, is humble enough to
receive the guidance and correction of reason. As an Indian
philosopher writes: "intuition, though it includes the testi-
mony of will and feeling, is never fully attained without
strenuous intellectual effort. It cannot dispense with the
1 P. 67.
Henry Sidgwick, Outlines of the History of Ethics
(London: Macmillan & Co. , 1886) , p. 147.
discipline of reason and the technique of proof."
Reason and intuition need not then be hostile to one
another, but may in fact interact toward the goal of a more
complete and more certain knowledge.
The validity of religious experience
If reason and intuition may be said to be yoked in a
creative partnership, each complementing the other in the
search for knowledge, then it follows that reason and reli-
gious experience, such as Socrates' experience of the daimon-
ion, may also be similarly yoked. Religious experience is one
among several forms of human experience that fall within the
realm of intuition as here described. As such, it often
claims truth beyond the reach of reason.
Some argue that religious experience possesses a
uniqueness that prevents its being finally reduced to any
other form of human experience. Albert C. Knudson, a Personal-
is t, expresses this uniqueness by extending Kant's argument
for a moral a priori. Knudson sees that there are four basic
endowments of the mind, conforming to four basic types of
human experience: sensory, moral, aesthetic, and religious.
The mind uses these immanent mental principles, "categories"
in Kant's term, to order experience. He speaks of them as
the four a prioris , each of which is self -verifying while at
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan , Radhakrishnan: An Anthology ,
ed. A. N. Marlow (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd. , 1952) ,
the same time grounded in a common human reason.
The religious a priori, which enables the mind to
receive knowledge from religious experience, is for Knudson
absolutely underived. His argument for the religious a
priori is essentially an empirical one: "it is the univer-
sality and inevitability of religion that leads us to believe
that it is structural in human nature or the human reason."
It is a great "racial fact." The nature of the religious
a priori can be learned from history and a study of the great
world religions, the "concrete products of the religious a
priori." In sum: "The religious a priori is not dependent
on anything outside itself for its validity. It has an
autonomous validity; it is a self -verifying aspect of our
mental life." 5
A later Personalis t, Peter Bertocci, grounds the
validity of religious experience as a source of knowledge in
his concept of the "datum self." He sees man to be aware of
his self as a unitas multiplex , a multiple unity, or better a
unity encompassing diversity. This "datum self" may be
likened to a hand with seven fingers, with which man reaches
out to experience his world; e.g., everything from his own
body to the multiplication tables to a physical object to God.
Albert C. Knudson, The Validity of Religious Experi -
w York: Abingdon-Cokesbvry Press, 1937), PP« 159-65.
3 Ibid. , p. 171.
5 Ibid. , p. 175.
ence (New York: A
Ibid. , p.
Ibid. , p.
These seven fingers of the self correspond to the seven
mental activities of thinking, feeling, willing, wanting,
experiencing moral obligation, experiencing the beautiful,
and experiencing the holy. They are ultimately irreducible
one to the other; yet neither are they wholly separate, but
connected as the fingers in a hand. There is truly a unity
which encompasses diversity.
Psychology, while not pronouncing on the validity of
religious experience, acknowledges the reality of such non-
rational experience, relating it to a level of the self below
that of conscious reason. Speaking of this subliminal self,
William James wrote more than fifty years ago that "our
intuitions, hypotheses, fancies, superstitions, persuasions,
convictions , and in general all our non-rational operations
come from it. . . . It is also the fountainhead of much that
feeds our religion. In persons deep in the religious life
. . . the door into this region seems unusually wide open. '
Subsequent explorations in psychology lend support to the
assumption of a sub-conscious self.
It is to this self that psychologists have related the
daimonion of Socrates. Myers cites Socrates' experience of
the daimonion in support of his thesis that "beneath the
superficially conscious stratum of our being there is not
Bertocci lectured on his concept of the "datum self"
in this author's hearing, during a semester course, "Meta-
physics," in the College of Liberal Arts, Boston University,
in the spring of 1956.
2 Pp. 483-84.
only a stratum of dream and confusion, but a still subjacent
stratum of coherent meditation as well." In the Freudian
division of self into id, ego, and superego, the daimonion
relates most closely to the superego, which Freud claims first
begins to function (as did the daimonion) as a warning voice
to inhibit action. Further, it is well-attested that the
possibility of rapport, which for Socrates came through the
daimonion, is very often given not on the level of conscious
reason but through the sub-conscious.
So there are seen to be a number of reasonable argu-
ments for the conclusion that religious experience, such as
Socrates' experience of the daimonion, is not only real, but
also a source of counsel and guidance. It can be viewed as
one among a number of forms of human experience which are
irreducible one to the other, and which the human mind can
use in the quest for truth.
In this first of two chapters with an epistemological
focus, there has been the attempt to evaluate Socrates' dai-
monion as a valid source of good counsel. His experience has
been seen to be one instance in the larger realms of both
parapsychological and religious experience, and in fact to
lie in the overlap of the two.
To assist in the evaluation, the similar experiences
of others, from both philosophical and religious traditions,
were cited. On this broadened base of experience, a pragmatic
1 II, 96.
evaluation revealed that to many men, and very often con-
sistently to the same man, experiences such as Socrates'
experience of the daimonion have proved valid sources of
advice. However, an abundance of evidence in the other
direction forbids too uncritical a reliance upon such experi-
ence. Further, a pragmatic evaluation was revealed to be
limited in that it offers no help for a specific instance,
since it cannot be made until the "results" are known.
To determine if there are any prior grounds for trust-
ing experiences such as those given by the daimonion, a
theoretical evaluation was made. The limitations of human
reason were noted, and the conclusion was drawn that reason
cannot serve as the sole guide and arbiter for human experi-
ence. The realm of intuition was explored, and the proper
relationship of intuition and reason declared not to be that
of opposition but of a creative partnership. Final ly, the
validity of religious experience as a source of knowledge was
grounded in the Personalis t position that religious experience
is a basic and irreducible form of human experience, which
the mind through its inherent structure can receive and use
in the search for truth.
If, then, the daimonion of Socrates is a specific in-
stance of religious experience, it may be judged, pragmatically
and theoretically, to have value for knowledge. The general
principle may have its specific application. Not to grant it
would be to deny the principle. As Hegel writes, speaking of
Socrates and coupling the willingness of men to admit cf
divine revelation in general with their reluctance to admit
of it in any one instance: "This unbelief, which thus does
not deny the general fact and general possibility, but
believes it in no particular case, really does not believe
in the actuality and truth of the thing."
There remain now the questions of whether the daimon-
ion, through its monitions and silences, went beyond the
mere giving of advice and presented or implied statements of
fact; and if so, whether those statements were true. Did
the daimonion make truth-claims? If so, what epistemological
status have they? To these questions the discussion now
Lectures on the History of Philosophy , I, 433.
THE DAIMONION AS A "VOICE OF TRUTH"
In this second of two chapters with an epistemological
focus the task is to examine not the religious experience out
of which statements of purported truth arise, but the validity
of such claims themselves. Beyond the question of the
validity of experiences such as Socrates ' experience of the
daimonion, there is the further question of the cognitive
value of what such experiences present. Granted that reli-
gious experience issues in truth-claims, what may be said of
the truth of such claims? Specifically, was the daimonion a
"voice of truth"?
Before assessing the cognitive value of such truth-
claims, and therefore of the daimonion itself, there is a
prior question to consider, the question of truth itself.
What is truth? What does it mean to say of a proposition
that it is true? It is with an assumption as to the criterion
of truth that the discussion must begin. Then, in light of
it, the cognitive value of truth-claims such as presented by
Socrates' daimonion may be judged.
In the process of making this evaluation, three
twentieth century views will be cited. Each grows out of a
philosophy which accepts the general position of episteraologi-
cal dualism; yet each differs from the other two, particularly
as regards religious experience. The three will be the Per-
sonalis t position of Knudson, Brightman, and Bertocci; the
Quaker consensus of Rufus Jones and Elton Trueblood; and an
empiricist critique by Bertrand Russell. From these will
emerge some reasonable grounds on which to base an evaluation
of the daimonion.
The Criterion of Truth: Comprehensive Coherence
What makes a proposition true? What is the criterion
of truth? It is one of the first and most fundamental ques-
tions in philosophy, yet one to which many conflicting ans-
wers are given. Crucial differences exist in regard to what
constitutes the test for truth.
The variety of answers is explained by the differ-
ences among men on a yet more fundamental issue; i.e., where
to look for truth. What are the data to be considered in
judging the truth of a particular proposition? What data are
to be included in a general quest for the whole body of truth?
To refer again, as in the preceding chapter, to reason and
intuition will be to illustrate the conflicts that arise from
looking for truth in one place as opposed to another. If
truth be sought just in the realm of reason, then the criter-
ion of truth becomes logical certainty. If truth be sought
only in the realm of intuition, the criterion of truth
becomes psychological certitude. A wide chasm separates the
The issue of where truth is to be found is not only
crucial, but also more difficult to resolve than first
appears. A person's temperament, his unconscious prejudices,
all his previous experiences conspire to incline him one way
or another, so that it becomes hard to consider impartially
the question of where truth lies. The dilemma, and the
danger, are well summarized in a passage noting the necessity
of choice and urging that it be thought through carefully:
We can choose, singly or together, to pay serious
attention only to those ideas and responses that
commend themselves to our present states, excluding as
incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial all testimonies --
joyous or anguished- -that conflict with what we already
take into account. We can decry the witness of the
mystics because we have never had a mystical experience.
We can belittle rational argument because we have not
disciplined ourselves to follow a chain of reasoning.
We can despise the insights of yesterday's prophets be-
cause they speak their own dialect and not ours. Or
worse, we can unthinkingly and unimaginatively take for
granted that everybody else is really just like our
private selves, so that sometimes extreme statements of
mystics, scholars and prophets need not be taken any
more seriously than we take our own extreme statements
made in fear or anger or fun. We can cut them down to
size. The alternative is to give as much weight to
others ' experiences and interpretations as we give to
our own, no less and no more.J-
One of the grounds for this discussion, as developed
in the preceding chapter, is the wisdom of regarding all forms
of human experience as potential sources of knowledge. Reason
can be seen to have its limitations: it can test connections
between ideas for logical consistency, but it cannot transcend
Mary McDermott Shideler, "is Metaphysics Necessary,"
The Christian Century , LXXIX (March 21, 1962), 354.
a purely rational reference and so cannot be the sole guide
to human experience, which includes more than the rational
experience. Other forms of experience, of moral obligation
and of beauty and of the divine, are likewise limited.
If this be so, it follows that the search for truth
knows no arbitrary boundaries. Truth may be found anywhere
among the forms of human experience, and is neither proved
nor disproved by its source alone. In this light, naturalists
and positivists and mystics who would exclude whole areas of
human experience from consideration are not empirical enough.
In unduly restricting their data, they fail to do justice to
the total experience of man.
The clear implication of the foregoing, namely that
truth may be found in many forms of human experience, is that
the terms "knowledge" and "truth" must be given a meaning
beyond that of logical certainty. It is possible and proper,
that is to say, to use the terms in such statements as "That
is right (or beautiful, or holy) ... I love my wife. . . .
It is true that the sun will rise tomorrow." None of these
statements could be said to be true if logical certainty were
the criterion; yet not to speak of knowledge in these areas
of experience is to impoverish the meaning that men find in
This in turn suggests a broadening of the very term
"reason" beyond its strict definition, so that it has appli-
cation not only within the narrow context of logical con-
sistency but in the wider context of the correlating of all
experience. Such a broadening already exists in the use of
the adjective "reasonable" with connotations beyond the
purely rational. Writing of this fuller scope for reason,
Bertocci suggests that "living and observing will have to come
to the aid of logic, and this very appeal to the whole of the
available evidence in support of some option or other is the
life of reason. "
One outcome of this attention to the whole of human
experience, with its consequent broadening of the concepts
of truth and reason, is the choice of coherence as the cri-
terion of truth. The Personalists have developed this,
though it by no means originates with them. One of them
writes, referring to the correlating of experience: "it is
this shuttling back and forth of ideas and experiences, with
each being allowed to guide the other, that we have in mind
when we use the words growing, empirical coherence."
It is as empirical coherence that the criterion has
usually been presented by Personalists. The adjective was
chosen to emphasize the important difference between a
strictly logical coherence, referring to a system of logical
"musts," and the broader understanding of coherence that the
criterion is meant to convey; i.e., a coherence which couples
to logical "musts" the connections between events in
Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion , p. 77.
Ibid . , p. 58.
abbreviate it further into a single phrase, "coherence means
inclusive systematic consistency."
As here understood, coherence differs markedly from
consistency. Whereas consistency requires only the absence
of contradiction, coherence in addition requires attention
to the facts of experience, and the relating of propositions
about these facts in an orderly and systematic way, leaving
no facts out.
One important implication of the coherence criterion
deserves special mention. Since a reference to the whole of
experience is required, and since experience is constantly
expanding, the application of this criterion can never justify
a claim that any single truth is fixed and static. There is
a provisional nature to all truth; there is no closed system
of true propositions. But to admit this, according to the
Personalists, is not to throw truth into disrepute. It is
rather to recognize that an openness to correction and revision
in the light of new experience is one of the surest guaran-
tees that today's truth can serve for tomorrow as well.
To refer again to the realms of reason and intuition,
the coherence criterion can be said to give in comparison a
more comprehensive test for truth than either logical cer-
tainty or psychological certitude. It considers both rational
and intuitive experience, and in fact all experience, in its
search for truth. Of the truth or falsehood of any
1 Ibid. , p. 68.
While "empirical" is a proper adjective to express
this broader reference, it creates confusion among those who
immediately refer the term to its particular meaning and con-
notations within the philosophical school of empiricism. To
avoid this confusion, Personalists in recent years (e.g.,
L. Harold De Wolf) have begun to refer to the criterion as
comprehensive coherence . It is in this form that the criterion
will be identified here.
Formally, the coherence criterion is set out in this
complete definition offered by Brightman:
According to the criterion of coherence, a proposition
is to be treated as true if (1) it is self -consistent,
(2) it is consistent with all of the known facts of
experience, (3) it is consistent with all other proposi-
tions held as true by the mind that is applying this
criterion, (4) it establishes explanatory and interpre-
tative relations between various parts of experience,
(5) these relations include all known aspects of experi-
ence and all known problems about experience in its
details and as a whole. 2
In an abbreviated definition of coherence as the criterion of
truth, Brightman writes that "any proposition is true, if it
is both self-consistent and coherently connected with our
system of propositions as a whole." He notes: "By coherence
is meant, literally, 'sticking together.' The coherence cri-
terion looks beyond the mere self -consistency of propositions
to a comprehensive, synoptic view of all experience." To
In lectures at Boston University, spring, 1956.
2 A Philosophy of Religion , p. 128.
Edgar S. Brightman, An Introduction to Philosophy
(New York: Henry Holt & Co. , 1951), p. 69.
proposition, the coherence criterion asks: Which hypothesis
is more consistent with all known propositions and with other
data, and enables the best organization of the data, with a
minimum of mystery?
As already suggested, this criterion has been used,
consciously or unconsciously, by many of the world's greatest
thinkers. Hegel gave it classical form, and founded his
system of absolute idealism upon it. It figures in the
developed thought of Plato. In his Academy, the technical
name for a theory accounting for all the relevant observed
facts was a "hypothesis," which was said to "save appearances;"
i.e., it accounted for facts in a coherent way. In the
Socratic method itself there is the assumption that truth is
a coherent system.
Since this is so, it may seem to be unnecessarily
laboring the point to be developing the coherence criterion
so fully. Something which is apparently so elementary and so
generally accepted may seem so obvious as to bear only a brief
mention. Yet Brightman sounds a proper caution: "Fundamental
thinking will never be done if you are to accept as true
whatever appears to be obvious; it is obvious that the earth
stands still while the sun goes around it--obvious, but not
In addition, comprehensive coherence has been
Ibid . , p. 70. Taylor, Socrates , p. 159.
An Introduction to Philosophy , p. 70.
repeatedly and severely challenged as the criterion of truth.
One charge is that the acceptance of this criterion makes
all truth merely relative, and ultimately leads to scepticism.
No truth is really final; therefore, no truth is trustworthy.
Another charge is that the inclusion of all forms of human
experience destroys objective truth, and leaves only a shift-
ing and undependable relativism on which to found truth.
Thinking of the many kinds of intuitive experience, Stace
objects that "to place the truth in any sort of perception is
in principle to do as Protagoras did, to yield oneself up a
helpless prey to the subjective impressions of the individual."'
Perhaps the most critical objection comes from the neorealists,
who charge that the coherence criterion makes all truth inter-
dependent, whereas in fact many truths are true independently
and do not depend on whether anything else is true or not.
The neorealists would hold, to use an example Brightman cites
in discussing their objection, that "a straight line is the
shortest distance between two points, whether grass is green
or not." 2
To each of these challenges, answers may be given.
Briefly, the response to the charge that coherence makes all
truth relative is this : to say that man can know only in part
is simply to recognize that his apprehension of truth is ever
growing; it is not to say that the present state of knowledge
Hjalter T. Stace, A Critical History of Greek Phil -
osophy (London: Macmillan & Co., 1920), p. 154.
An Introduction to Philosophy , p. 72.
is unworthy of trust or of the term truth. To the charge
that the inclusion of all experience destroys objective truth,
the response is that not to do so is to fail to do justice to
the variety of the very experience of man to which the truth
tries to give meaning and order. Finally, to the charge that
all truth is not interdependent, it may be replied that such
an assertion can be made only after the coherence criterion
has itself been applied.
To turn from the objections to coherence as the cri-
terion of truth to positive reasons for accepting it, two of
the Personalists 1 arguments in particular may be noted. The
first is that in comparison to all other criteria of truth,
coherence is the most satisfactory. Every other suggested
criterion suffers from the defect of incompleteness. The
social criteria (custom, tradition, consensus gentium ) may
be useful as guidelines to truth, but cannot be said to be
reliable, nor are they responsive to new experience. Cri-
teria based on immediate perception (instinct, feeling, sense
perception, intuition) provide a certitude which turns out,
however, to be deceptive, concealing the lack of interpreta-
tion and correlation which the data immediately perceived re-
quire. Other rational criteria besides coherence (correspond-
ence, practical consequences, consistency) likewise show the
defect of incompleteness. Correspondence fails in that ideas
1 Ibid .
The following discussion is based upon ibid . , pp. 47-
cannot be compared to reality directly, but only to other
ideas. The criterion of practical consequences is unclear,
and suffers from the variety of presuppositions which may be
hidden in the term "practical." Consistency is necessary but
not sufficient as a criterion of truth. It is logically
possible that a five-legged philosopher exists in the fourth
dimension, for there is no inconsistency in such an assertion.
It is not, however, therefore true. Consistency is regulative,
not constitutive, of truth.
A second argument which Personal is ts offer for
accepting comprehensive coherence as the criterion of truth
may be very briefly stated, for it is simply that the coher-
ence criterion cannot be denied without being affirmed. As
Brightman ably summarizes :
If I say coherence is not the test of truth, I must
appeal either to contradiction and incoherence or to
some form of coherence. And even if I appeal to the
realm of contradiction and incoherence, if I mean what
I say and stick to it, I am again appealing to coherence.
If I do not mean what I say, it is time to stop
So comprehensive coherence seems strongly enough
supported to be used as a criterion of truth. Accordingly,
in this argument, a proposition will be judged to be true if
it meets the twin tests of internal consistency and interrelat-
edness with all other knowledge -claims judged to be true.
It remains now to assess the cognitive value of the
1 Ibid. , pp. 72-73.
specific truth-claims presented by Socrates' daimonion. In
making this evaluation, by the criterion of comprehensive
coherence, it will be helpful first to narrow the focus from
the broad range of human experience to solely religious experi-
ence, and to examine the right to truth which claims arising
from such experience possess. Then, finally, the particular
truth-claims of the daimonion will be evaluated.
The Truth-Claims of Religious Experience
In determining the cognitive value of the truth-claims
which are given in religious experience, there is the special
difficulty that they present themselves with a commanding
authority, so much so that even to question their truth seems
both presumptuous and impious. Nevertheless, the contention
here is that there can be no retreat, even in the possible
presence of the divine, from the coherence criterion of truth.
The claims of religious experience are granted a full hearing
within the criterion of comprehensive coherence; and while
they are entitled to that, they deserve no more than that.
On the assumptions here granted, knowledge is not imparted
im-mediately from any source. The mind is active in the
interpretation of all experience, and may distort whatever it
As philosophers who accept this stance of epistemologi-
cal dualism have come to assess the truth-claims of religious
experience, they have had to balance the authority of such
claims with their general epistemological theory. From this
have emerged a variety of perspectives and conclusions. Three
fairly contemporary views, all from the twentieth century,
will be cited here to indicate the range of opinion that is
possible within roughly the same epistemological framework.
They will be the Personalist position, the Quaker consensus,
and an Empiricist critique.
The Personalist Position
For philosophers of the school of Personalism, the
truth-claims arising from religious experience deserve equal
consideration with similar claims coming from other forms of
human experience. After rejecting the argument of immediacy
and the pragmatic argument as sufficient to establish the
truth of such claims, Knudson develops his theory of the four
basic types of human experience: sensory, religious, moral,
and aesthetic. Each, he argues, is within the capacity of
every man. Corresponding to each there is, in man's mind, a
basic mental principle, an a priori similar in function to a
It is the religious a priori which makes religious
experience possible for man, and which gives to that form of
experience and its truth-claims a certain validity. The argu-
ment previously presented for the validity of religious
experience as a source of truth-claims is essentially the same
as Knudson develops for the validity of the truth-claims
themselves. A religious a priori is the ground for
•'- The Validity of Religious Experience , pp. 159-80;
supra , p. 307.
confidence. The position is not that truth-claims arising
from religious experience are therefore true; it is, however,
that they are valid along with other claims to truth.
A later Personalist, Brightman, balances the emphasis
Knudson makes with a marked stress on the need for coherence
in assessing truth-claims. He rejects as too extreme Knudson 1 s
religious a priori. Granting its sturdy simplicity and rational
vigor, he nevertheless argues that it de-emphasizes too much
the coalescence which the total of all experience and claims
to truth must exhibit. He recognizes that "there is implicit,
in the apparent absurdity of the frequent appeal for a separ-
ate criterion for religious truth, one factor of real impor-
tance; namely, the justified demand on the part of religion
that its claims shall be judged on the basis neither of
abstract a priori considerations alone nor of non-religious
experiences alone." But at the same time he insists that
"the validity of religious experience, like the validity of
reason, is to be found in its appeal to the largest and most
inclusive view of experience."
A third Personalist, Bertocci, names the two dogmatisms
that can most seriously prejudice the cognitive value assigned
to the truth-claims of religious experience. Not only a
religious authoritarianism but also a psychological reduc-
tionism can cause distortion and deception in the search for
1 A Philosophy of Religion , p. 123.
2 Ibid. , p. 437.
truth. Rejecting both, he holds as does Brightman that
"religious insights are not independently valid but are sub-
ject to test by coherence with the rest of human experience."
It is necessary, that is, to check the cognitive value of the
claims of religious experience, as of every other form of
experience. The conviction of immediate contact does not in-
sure immediate knowledge; what is "read off" may have been
"read in. " "Knowledge about God cannot be firmly rooted in
religious experience alone."
To support his contention, Bertocci cites the amazing
variety of claims made by mystics, many of which are self-
contradictory. The only common core such mystical experi-
ences seem to exhibit is a sense of the divine beyond one's
self. But there is no clear light even upon the nature of
the divine, much less upon anything else. Rather is there
widespread confusion and disagreement. He is suspicious of
the truth-claims of certain mystics, moreover, because they
tend to do no more than confirm what the mystics already
believe to be true. "One speaks to a God whom he expects to
listen; and listens to a God whom he expects to speak; and
hears him say what, one is convinced, needs to be said."
The Personalis t position is thus seen to be one in
which the truth-claims of religious experience are considered
1 Pp. 85-90. 2 Ibid. , p. 106.
3 Ibid . , p. 93. 4 Ibid. , pp. 97-106.
5 Ibid. , p. 106.
on an equal footing with similar claims arising from other
aspects of human experience. Their cognitive value is not
assured by the immediacy and authority which characterize
them, nor even by the religious a priori. Rather is it
established by application of comprehensive coherence as the
criterion of truth. As Brightman says: "No single experience,
religious or non-religious, carries its truth with it. Every
experience or intuition must be tested by its relation to the
claims of other experiences and our synoptic insight into
experience as a whole." So also Bertocci:
It seems best, accordingly, to evaluate the claims
made about religions experience in the spirit of fair
inquiry, considering them neither as necessary aberrations
nor as indubitable evidence which must be taken at face
value. The same criterion of truth must hold here as is
required for sensory, moral, and aesthetic experience;
we must scrutinize religious "revelation" in the light «
of all we know about it and the rest of human experience.
A Quaker consensus
Philosophers in the tradition of the Society of Friends
approach the question of the cognitive value of the truth-
claims of religious experience with metaphysical and episte-
mological presuppositions which are similar to those of the
Personalists. The universe is not "a dull, dead, mechanical
thing," but is ultimately spiritual in nature. Man, too, is
basically a spiritual being. There is great emphasis upon
what Quakers call the Inner Light in man, "the doctrine that
1 A Philosophy of Religion , p. 436. 2 P. 90.
Rufus M. Jones, The New Quest (New York: The Macmillan
Co. , 1928) , p. 179.
there is something Divine in the human soul." The Inner
Light is man's source of spiritual guidance and the ground of
his spiritual certitude. If properly cultivated, it may be-
come "the truest guide of life" man has. Prayer and medita-
tion are the means of cultivating the Inner Light, for they
constitute "a method of empirical discovery, a technique for
contacting and learning to know Reality . . . , the exploration
of Reality by entering the Beyond that is within."
Unlike many other schools of mysticism which champion
an epistemological monism, the Quaker school--with some excep-
tions — accepts the position of epistemological dualism. Most
Quakers follow Kant in affirming the existence of a personal
self which binds together and interprets human experiences.
The mind, that is to say, operates throughout the range of
experience, and itself contributes to it. "The mind is not
a spectator of events but a creative and constructive factor
Fundamental within the structure of the mind are cer-
tain totalities, or "ideals of reason" in Rufus Jones' phrase,
which men are bound to employ in thinking and acting rationally,
even though they extend beyond the mind's strictly rational
Rufus M. Jones , The Social Law in the Spiritual World
(New York: George H. Doran Co., 1904), p. 149.
2 Kelly, p. 32.
Gerald Heard, A Preface to Prayer (New York: Harper
& Bros., 1944), pp. 51,~37i
Rufus M. Jones, The New Quest , p. 207.
capacities. Among these "ideals of reason" is the religious
a priori, God. Man can have religious experiences because
his mind is constituted in part by the religious a priori.
However, religious experience is like other experience in that
the mind is active in its reception; so that it too is in part
subjective and in need of examination.
Such an examination cannot be purely rational, how-
ever. Some matters, and indeed for the Quakers the most vital
ones, "lie too deeply imbedded in the sub-soil of life to be
settled by debate. . . . From first to last our life values,
our sense of worth, are formed and shaped in this deeper
region below the level of conscious reflection and reasoning."
The great sentiments which in fact rule the life of man are
realities to reckon with, despite their being only slightly
touched by logic.
Quakers join the Personalis ts in seeing that the pri-
mary value of religious experience is not so much that it
leads to new facts and discoveries as that it imparts a new
power to discriminate and to interpret reality with clearer
insight. Rufus Jones, for one, doubts that knowledge comes
through ready-made oracular communications. Men do not re-
ceive "secret messages from sociable angels." He writes
Rufus M. Jones, The World Within (New York: The
Macmillan Co., 1918), pp. 75, 78.
Rufus M. Jones , Pathways to the Reality of God (New
York: The Macmillan Co., 1931), p. 43.
elsewhere: "The new acquisition is not an accumulated stock
of ideas, not a logical proof which can be transmitted in
words . "
At the same time, however, the truth-claims of reli-
gious experience do have a cognitive value. Jones rejects
George Fox's claim that the psychological immediacy of a
revelation is the criterion of its truth, and argues that any
revelation "must undergo critical examination and verification
before it can be forthwith treated as authentic. . . . Not
everyone who claims to have seen has thereby actually seen."
In this process of verification, the most important
single test for Jones is a pragmatic one. "That which is 'of
God' in our lives and that which is revealed of Him in our
word and deed must fit into the spiritual order of our common
humanity and prove its value by promoting and advancing this
order." Jones speaks of "affirmation mystics," who accept
the world as worthful and life as good, as superior to "nega-
tion mystics" who deny the world and are trying always to
transcend the finite. The best evidence for the truth of
any revelation is if it results in a strengthened social con-
science and social concern for mankind.
Elton Trueblood, another Quaker philosopher, likewise
Rufus M. Jones, The New Quest , p. 184.
2 Ibid. , p. 159.
The Social Law in the Spiritual World , p. 181.
4 Ibid. , pp. 131-38.
challenges an epistemological monism in respect to religious
experience, arguing that since it is similar to all experi-
ence in being in part subjective, so also are its truth-
claims subject to distortion and misinterpretation. Instances
of false claims, however, do not warrant a rejection of all
such claims to revelation: "it is indeed a curious leap to
conclude, from the fact that men make mistakes, that there is
no reality which they are making mistakes about." While not
infallible, revelation may be cognitive.
For Trueblood, the best test of the truth of a claim
arising from religious experience is by comparison with more
experience of the same kind. In this respect there are, he
sees, four specific criteria that can be employed to advant-
age. One is the number of reporters making the claim. A
second is the quality of the reporters; i.e., the effective-
ness of religion in their own personal lives as regards their
honesty, sincerity, and integrity. A third criterion is the
agreement of the reports. The fourth, similar to that of
Rufus Jones, is a pragmatic test, relative to the difference
that accepting the revelation as true makes in the life of
the one regarding it as true. If the result is a sensitized
conscience and a zeal in reforming social ills, then the
Elton Trueblood, The Logic of Belief (New York:
Harper & Bros., 1943), p. TW.
Elton Trueblood, The Knowledge of God (New York:
Harper 6c Bros., 1939), p. IT.
3 The Logic of Belief , pp. 206-12.
revelation is likely to be true.
In fairness, it must be said that not all Quaker
philosophers agree with the epistemological dualism of Jones
and Trueblood. Thomas Kelly, for example, feels that in the
deep and intimate matters of life there can be no external
authority such as reason. Nothing can take the place of in-
ward conviction. Rather than encouraging a process of examina-
tion and verification for revelations, he reflects almost a
distrust of reason in saying that "straddle arrangements and
compromises between our allegiances to the surface level and
the divine Center cannot endure." Gerald Heard, himself not
a Quaker but closely identified with the tradition, speaks
of how the media of reason and experience necessarily distort
knowledge which is beyond the reach of ordinary intelligence.
That knowledge, for Heard, comes most directly- -and most
truly- -through prayer and meditation. It is better to trust
it as it comes than to subject it to the tests of reason and
The majority opinion among Quaker philosophers and
thinkers, however, is to reject an epistemological monism and
to grant the necessity of testing claims to revelation.
Douglas Steere speaks for most when he acknowledges that "our
truth-seeking minds demand insistently that in matters which
are to affect our whole style of life, the wall of separation
must go down and we must interpret what we love in the light
1 P. 49. 2 P. 46.
of the rest of our experience."
The Quaker consensus, then, is that religious experi-
ence can be a valid source for both inspiration and knowledge.
While its claim to knowledge must be examined, religious
experience can give truth. "We may discover a deep- lying,
often unrecognized divine order and, I dare say, divine pur-
pose that is at work through men and through the processes
of History, working not by miracle or by apocalyptic acts of
intervention, but by inner guidance and direction." The test
for truth involves comparison with other religious experiences
of similar kind, and also a pragmatic reference to what re-
sults in the way of an increased social awareness and sense
of responsibility. The best evidence that someone has received
a true revelation is "the emergence in the person of the
spirit of love." 3
An Empiricist critique
One among a number of ways in which philosophies may
be classified is according to their method. On this classifi-
cation philosophies are said to be either a priori or empiri-
cal. In actual fact, the method of most philosophies turns
out to be a blend of the two. Nevertheless, one or the other
approach is the more characteristic. In the two positions
Douglas V. Steere, On Beg inning From Within (New York:
Harper & Bros., 1943), p. 92.
Rufus M. Jones, The New Quest , p. 85.
3 Ibid . , p. 174.
thus far presented in this evaluation of the truth- claims of
religious experience, the a priori method predominates.
Neither Personalis ts nor Quakers deny the necessity for experi-
ence, but the ordering of that experience is affirmed to be
by certain innate a priori principles within the mind, of
which the religious a priori is one.
To balance the discussion, a third position will be
presented, from a philosophy employing a method that is almost
entirely empirical. It is from the philosophical position
of Bertrand Russell that an empiricist critique of the truth-
claims of religious experience can be given.
A prior word is in order, however, concerning the
British Empiricists, upon whose thought Russell builds. John
Locke may be regarded as the founder of empiricism, "which is
the doctrine that all our knowledge (with the possible excep-
tion of logic and mathematics) is derived from experience."
On this view, there are no innate ideas or a priori principles
present in the mind by which it orders experience. Rather is
the mind a tabula rasa which builds its ideas solely from
sensations and from perceptions of its own operations. Even
the correlating of ideas, and such criteria as consistency
Russell rejects the thorough -going empiricism of Hume,
which virtually destroys knowledge, and grants --non-empirically
--the principle of induction. Cf. Russell, History of Western
Philosophy , pp. 699-700.
Russell, History of Western Philosophy , p. 633.
3 Ibid. , p. 634.
and coherence, are derived from experience, not given to it.
Berkeley and Hume, following Locke, modify only slightly this
empiricist theory of knowledge.
Russell identifies himself as a "member of the philo-
sophical school of logical analysis, which he says "sets to
work to eliminate Pythagoreanism [i.e., mystical elements]
from the principles of mathematics, and to combine empiricism
with an interest in the deductive parts of human knowledge."
His brand of empiricism, which he calls "modern analytical
empiricism," differs from British empiricism in "its incor-
poration of mathematics and its development of a powerful
logical technique. Russell claims that this expanded empiri-
cism can achieve real answers to certain philosophical prob-
lems that have long defied solution. Its methods closely
resemble the methods of science, and by its strict avoidance
of all ethical and political concerns it corrects what Russell
regards as the unfortunate alienation which since Plato has
separated philosophy and science.
It is with this philosophical stance, quite different
from that of the Personalists and the Quakers, that Russell
comes to evaluate the truth-claims of religious experience.
He rejects the statement of Royce, frequently quoted by Rufus
Jones, to the effect that mystics are the real empiricists
1 Ibid. , p. 864. 2 Ibid. , p. 857.
3 Ibid . , p. 862. 4 Ibid .
Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic (London: George
Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1949), p. 7.
after all, for they receive what experience gives them and
do not question it. Rather than, with the mystics, regarding
the body as a distracting and distorting encumbrance, Russell
grounds his empiricism in sensory experience: "To the
empiricist, the body is what brings us into touch with the
world of external reality."
Even so, however, he does not wish summarily to dis-
allow claims to truth that come through religious experience.
He grants that men may receive valid intuitions, and that
"there is an element of wisdom to be learned from the mystical
way of feeling which does not seem to be attainable in any
other way." He is quick to argue, though, that "insight,
untested and unsupported, is an insufficient guarantee of
truth, in spite of the fact that much of the most important
truth is first suggested by its means. . . . Insight is what
first leads to the beliefs which subsequent reason confirms
or confutes. . . . Reason is a harmonizing, controlling force
rather than a creative one."
Russell then sees no intrinsic opposition between
reason and insight. Whereas Bergson champions intuition over
against intellect, Russell is not concerned to do the oppo-
site. He rather regards the two as working together, and
that in fact it is this combination that makes a man a great
History of Western Philosophy , p. 158.
Mysticism and Logic , p. 11.
3 Ibid. , pp. 12-13.
philosopher. He writes of Heraclitus: "The facts of science,
as they appeared to him, fed the flame in his soul, and in
its light he saw into the depths of the world. ... In such
a nature we see the true union of the mystic and the man of
science- -the highest eminence, as I think, that it is possible
to achieve in the world of thought."
The most developed form of instinct is what Russell
calls intuition, and to the truth-claims of intuition he
grants a special regard, especially in practical matters of
expediency beyond the scope of reason. He mentions that in-
tuitions are least liable to error in sensing friendship or
hostility in others. These are "often felt with extraordinary
discrimination through very careful disguises." He cites
too that intuition is "at its best in such matters as self-
preservation and love, [where] intuition will act sometimes
(though not always) with a swiftness and precision which are
astonishing to the critical intellect." Yet for more theo-
retical matters, indeed for the general scope of philosophy,
intuition is a poor guide, "it is here, more almost than
anywhere else, that intellect proves superior to intuition,
and that quick unanalyzed convictions are least deserving of
In summary of the three positions here set forth, it
appears that there are significant areas of agreement among
1 Ibid. , pp. 3-4. 2 Ibid. , p. 13.
3 Ibid. , p. 17. 4 Ibid . , p. 18.
Personalists, Quakers, and an Empiricist such as Russell, con-
cerning the cognitive value of truth-claims arising out of
religious experience. All would agree, for instance, that
claims to revelation, although not independently valid, can
in Brightman's words "make specific contributions to the
systematic whole of objective knowledge." Religious experi-
ence is one valid source of truth. There is agreement too in
conceiving that reason and intuition, rather than having to
oppose each other, may complement one another in a creative
partnership, each contributing in the quest for knowledge.
The disagreements exist, not over the question of
whether there may be truth in the claims of religious experi-
ence, but on how that truth shall be measured. Personalists
hold to the comprehensive coherence criterion of truth, which
while generally acceptable to the others is severely qualified
in one direction or another. Quakers, rather than relating
the truth-claim to all other human experience, prefer to re-
late it simply to other claims of the same kind to test its
truth. In addition, they give it a pragmatic test, believing
that if it is true it will result in a greater sense of
responsibility for the welfare of mankind and in a greater love
for neighbor. Russell would of course reject this latter test
as irrelevant to the truth of any claim, because of its ethi-
cal reference, and evaluate an intuition more rationally,
giving it special regard only if it concerns a practical
1 The Philosophical Review , XXXVIII, 558.
matter of expediency where reason can be no guide.
From the sum of these considerations, it follows that
there are some reasonable grounds for granting a possible
cognitive value to the truth-claims presented in religious
experience. Within the assumed framework of epistemological
dualism, such claims have no unique right to be regarded as
true; however, they may be coherently related to the claims
arising from other forms of experience and in this context
contribute to the body of truth.
With the completing of this general evaluation of the
truth-claims of religious experience, the discussion can now
move to its final focus, on the specific truth-claims of the
The Truth-Claims of the Daimonion
Was Socrates' daimonion a "voice of truth"? Granting
that his experience of the daimonion may be placed in the over-
lap of the two circles of parapsychological and religious
experience, and using the criterion of comprehensive coherence
just described, the answer is yes. It shall here be shown
that the truth-claims presented by the daimonion satisfy the
comprehensive coherence criterion of truth. The daimonion' s
claims to truth meet the twin tests of the criterion: inter-
nal consistency and interrelatedness with all other claims
judged to be true.
To support this conclusion will require first a care-
ful examination of the specific truth-claims which the
daimonion presented to Socrates. Then, measuring by the com-
prehensive coherence criterion, it must be shown that they
meet the tests of truth set by this criterion. Further, it
will be demonstrated that they receive further support from
the slightly modified criteria of both the Quakers and an
Empiricist such as Russell.
Finally, in light of the related fact that while Soc-
rates ' daimonion may have been a voice of truth it was neither
his only voice of truth nor one to be accepted uncritically,
the question will again be opened as to why Socrates himself
apparently never evaluated his voice of truth, and the hypothe-
sis suggested that actually he did make such an evaluation,
though confirmation of that fact is nowhere recorded.
The specific Truth-Claims of the daimonion
In the primary sources from Plato, Xenophon, Cicero
and Plutarch, there are no less than thirty-three references
to specific truth-claims presented by the daimonion. Eleven
are from Plato, another twelve possibly from Plato (in dialogs
of questionable authenticity) , five from Xenophon, two from
Cicero, and three from Plutarch. Of these, twenty-nine are
directly attributed to Socrates himself, while the other four
are citations of specific truth-claims by particular individu-
als named by the author.
Eliminating from consideration all but the instances
Alcibiades I , Theages .
where the reference is by Socrates himself, and then account-
ing for duplication of the identical truth-claim in the writ-
ings of the same author, there are seen to be twenty-two
separate truth-claims of the daimonion. Plato records nine-
teen of these (including eight from dialogs possibly spurious) ,
Xenophon one, and Cicero two.
The first surprise in this listing is the single
reference from Xenophon. Yet it is the case that while Xeno-
phon writes often of the daimonion, he cites only five specific
truth-claims, and four of these are identical. Of further
interest, though not of any special significance, is that
literally speaking no claim of the daimonion is exactly dup-
licated in any two of the primary sources, although the types
of situations are often quite similar. However, it is sig-
nificant—and this is the other surprise to appear from the
listing--that while Xenophon writes of the daimonion giving
both positive and negative counsel to Socrates and his friends,
not one of the twenty-two separate truth-claims supports the
view that the daimonion directly encouraged a particular
course of action. Fifteen are instances of inhibitory warn-
ings; while the other seven, all of which are cited by Plato,
are examples of the approval which Socrates inferred from the
silence of the daimonion.
Of the four thus eliminated, two (Plutarch On the
Genius of Socrates 581 d and 581 e) are identical with in-
stances which Socrates himself cites, while the other two
( ibid . , 580 e, and Xenophon Symposium viii. 5) closely resemble
specific citations by Socrates. No significant evidence is
To assess the truth of the claims of the daimonion,
it will be helpful not only to restate them from the primary
sources, but at the same time to recast them into a form which
will allow the simple judgment of true or false to be given.
Care has been taken to accomplish this recasting without dis-
torting what the daimonion' s monition or silence implied.
The daimonion is here "quoted" as if it were speaking to Soc-
rates in the second person singular, on the twenty-two
separate specific occasions which the primary sources record.
The terminal words "right" and "wrong" refer simply to the
good or bad consequences of the proposed action, for Socrates
and/ or for others, as the case may be.
For convenience, the truth-claims are grouped under
four classifications: Personal Conduct, Personal Associa-
tions, Advice to Others, and Trial and Death.
For you to take part in politics is wrong.
For you to leave the dressing room in the gymnasium
now is wrong. *• ~
For you to cross the stream now is wrong.
For you to leave before atoning for your impiety is
For you to take the road from Delium the others are
taking is wrong. 5
Plato Apology 31 d; supra , p. 85.
Plato Euthydemus 272 e; supra , p. 88.
Plato Phaedrus 242 e; supra , p. 89.
Ibid . ; supra , p. 89.
Cicero On Divination i. 54. 123; supra , p. 134.
For you to renew your companionship with this young
man is wrong . 1
For you to renew your companionship with this young
man is right. 2
For you to approach Alcibiades now is wrong./
For you to approach Alcibiades now is right. ,-
For you to associate with this young man is wrong.
Advice to Others
For Charmides to train for the Nemean races is wrong.
For Timarchus to leave the wine-party to kill Nicias
is wrong . 7
Again, for Timarchus to leave the wine-party to kill
Nicias is wrong. 8
For the Athenian fleet to go to Sicily is wrong. 10
For Sannio to go on this military campaign is wrong. |-
For Crito to take this walk in the country is wrong.
Trial and Death
For you to leave your house this morning is right. -.o
For you to continue on your way to court is right.
Plato Theaetetus 151 a; supra, p. 91.
Ibid . ; supra , p. 91.
Plato Alcibiades I 103 a; supra , p. 93.
Ibid . ; supra , p. 93.
Plato Theages 129 d; supra , p. 97.
6 Ibid . , 128 e; supra , pp. 96-97.
7 Ibid. , 129 b; supra , p. 97.
8 Ibid. , 129 c; supra , p. 97.
9 Ibid . , 129 d; supra , p. 97.
Ibid . ; supra , p. 97.
Cicero On Divination i. 54. 123; supra , p. 134.
Plato Apology 40 b; supra , p. 85.
Ibid . ; supra , p. 85.
For you to be making your defense as you are doing
is right. 1 2
The outcome of your trial will be to your benefit.
It is better for you to die now and be released from
For you to reason out your defense to the jury in
advance is wrong. 4
In addition to the "surprises" already mentioned to
which the list draws attention, there is a further insight
that comes from setting side-by-side the truth-claims of the
daimonion. It is that the daimonion' s guidance acted for
Socrates as the confirmation of what could have been in most
cases a semi-rational "hunch." In twenty of the twenty-two
instances, Socrates could well have been led by his reason to
form the rather vague and unsupportable opinion which the
daimonion convinced him was a certain truth.
Only his refraining from leaving the dressing room in
the gymnasium and his warning Crito against the walk in the
country seem to go beyond what could have begun as a semi-
rational "hunch." Conceivably, even these could have first
been a "hunch" (e.g., that the two sophists might soon arrive,
for they often come to the dressing room at about this time
of day) , but this is perhaps to strain at making the evidence
fit the theory. For the others, however, there is little
Ibid . ; supra, p. 85.
Ibid . , 40 c; supra , pp. 85-86.
Ibid . , 41 d; supra , p. 86.
Xenophon Memorabilia iv. 8. 5; supra , pp. 118-19.
difficulty in believing that the guidance of the daimonion,
far from opposing the pull of Socrates' reason, went further
than his reason could go, but in the same direction.
The truth of the daimonion' s claims
When the specific truth-claims of the daimonion are
measured by the criterion of comprehensive coherence, there
is no reason to reject them; it coheres to regard the daimon-
ion as a "voice of truth." With reference to the first of
the two tests which the criterion imposes, none of the daimon-
ion' s truth-claims (as translated into propositions) is in-
ternally inconsistent. All are logically acceptable proposi-
tions. In the second and more crucial test, that of inter-
relatedness to the system of propositions as a whole, the
truth-claims which the daimonion presented to Socrates may be
seen to be coherently related with all that is held to be true
Taking the twenty-two truth-claims one by one, it
becomes increasingly apparent that they cohere with all that
is known of Socrates: his life, his mission, his values, his
To refer first to his personal conduct , for him to
refrain from an active political involvement in the life of
Athens is in keeping with the role in which he sees himself,
that of "gadfly" 1 to the state. He can fulfill his function
much better outside the structure than in, for the machinery
Plato Apology 30 e.
of government cannot tolerate on the inside one so firmly
opposed to its foundation principles as Socrates was. He was
right in holding that "if I had attempted to take part in
politics, I should have perished at once and long ago without
doing any good either to you or to myself."
Again, for Socrates to pass up an opportunity for
fruitful discussion by which others may be enlightened would
be opposite to his sense of mission. Thus it was right for
him to stay behind in the dressing room where he could encoun-
ter the two sophists. It is in harmony with his heightened
sense of personal integrity, moreover, for him to have refused
to leave Phaedrus without first setting right his false, mock-
ing discourse against love. And to pause and consider before
following on after his companions in the retreat from Delium
is coherent with his constant habit of working things through
for himself, following his own course rather than accepting
uncritically the decisions and actions of the crowd.
In the daimonion's guidance concerning his personal
associations , there is further evidence of a coherence with
the total person of Socrates. Socrates learned in his experi-
ence that with some men it is possible to be in rapport, with
others it is not. He knew, again empirically, that there is
no profit in beginning or continuing a companionship where
the sense of rapport is clearly lacking. By heeding the
daimonion's counsel to avoid a particular relationship, he
1 IbicL , 31 d.
showed himself--as at other points in his life--to be open
to the realm of intuition, to forces which operate in life
and which are to be respected, even when they cannot be
rationally comprehended. Socrates discovered in his experi-
ence that often life is deeper than logic. He acknowledged
in some areas the limitation of his reason, and was ready to
say that all his knowledge was but ignorance indeed. Wisdom,
he claimed, was to know that this is so. Life gives other
signs, in other ways, for what is right to do or not do. The
daimonion was one such sign, and it is in keeping with the
total Socrates that he let himself be guided by it.
At the same time, however, he was conscious of the
possibility of change, in himself and in others, so that a
lack of rapport today need not mean the same for tomorrow.
He was open to the new circumstances that a new day can bring
forth, and to the crucial importance of timing in human rela-
tionships. Thus it was consistent for him not only to allow
a non-rational intuition to govern his personal associations,
as with Alcibiades, but also to let a new intuition reverse a
former pattern. Experience in general, and Socrates' experi-
ence in particular, suggest the wisdom of respecting intuition,
and even anticipating its changing counsels, within the diffi-
cult area of personal relationships. It coheres for Socrates
to have done so.
Of the six specific instances where the daimonion gives
advice to others , all but one are from the possibly spurious
Theages , and that one is from a much later writing of Cicero
in which he reports what he had heard or perhaps read in a
source which no longer survives. Thus the evidence that the
daimonion actually gave this kind of guidance for others is
of a dubious quality. There seems little pattern, moreover,
to the kind of situation in which the daimonion gives counsel.
In one case it is a political context, in all the others a
very personal circumstance, usually but not always of criti-
cal import. It is difficult, in short, to attest the genu-
ineness of the references which suggest that the daimonion
gave counsel through Socrates to his friends.
However, if this be so--and granting for the moment
that these are real events correctly reported--it is not
difficult to see the daimonion' s giving advice for others as
coherent with all that is known of Socrates. He thought
deeply, and could well have anticipated, at least to the point
of "hunch," the consequences of not only his own but others'
actions. All of the individuals cited were his friends, and
it is well established that he enjoyed his friends and so
would care about their personal safety and well-being. He
was far from being a man alone and apart, and doubtless he
did concern himself with the fortunes of his friends, even to
the point of worry when there was good cause. For him to have
received the guidance of the daimonion and passed it on would
thus be in keeping with his own character and sense of values.
As for the actual advice itself, it is coherent with the
whole body of knowledge, since it in fact proved itself true
in at least five of the six experiences cited. Of the fate
of "the handsome Sannio" nothing is known.
With reference finally to the daimonion' s guidance
at the time oX Socrates ' trial and death , there is further
evidence to suggest that by the criterion of comprehensive
coherence the truth-claims which were implied by the daimon-
ion's silence were true. In the circumstances of the trial
there was much that was problematical , beyond the power of
Socrates' reason to anticipate. There was the question of
the mood of the jury, which could shift with the wind. There
was the question of whether to prepare a formal defense or to
depend, as was his custom, on an extempore presentation.
Above all, there was the whole question of death itself,
whether it would be for him at this time a good or an evil.
In this situation especially, where reason was so
limited, it is coherent that the daimonion should have guided
Socrates by an approving silence. Where a man can rationally
decide, as often he said, that man has no business seeking
or depending upon revelations from the gods. Where reason
cannot guide, such revelations are to be received gratefully
and obediently. This was such an instance, and the daimonion
supplied the guidance that reason could not. By its silence
the daimonion approved Socrates' conduct just before and at
the trial, and approved also its outcome. By its actual warn-
ing against the preparation of a formal defense beforehand,
it respected the Socratic principle that the circumstances of
Xenophon Memorabilia i. 1. 9, i. 3. 4; Anabasis iii.
any meeting must determine the form and content of what is
In both the fact and manner of its operation, the
daimonion can be seen to be interrelated with the total Soc-
rates. Moreover, to take the judgment of history that Socra-
tes was right in his actions at the trial and in accepting
death as he did, the assumptions he made from the silence of
the daimonion proved wise, good, and true. It coheres for
Socrates to have conducted himself as he did in the final
episode of his life.
The specific truth-claims of Socrates' daimonion, as
they have here been recast into propositional form, are there-
fore seen to fit the comprehensive coherence criterion of
truth. They meet the two tests of internal consistency and
interrelatedness with all other propositions judged to be
Beyond this, too, there are additional grounds sup-
porting the truth of the daimonion* s monitions, or proposi-
tions. These grounds are in the reports that all of the
daimonion' s claims proved themselves true in experience. It
did "work" for Socrates to refrain from politics, stay in the
dressing room, take the other road from Delium, finally
approach Alcibiades, warn Crito, reject a prepared defense,
etc. These simple pragmatic grounds support the conclusion
that the daimonion was a "voice of truth. "
Further, the truth-claims of the daimonion are
strengthened by the modified coherence criteria which the
Quakers and the Empiricist, Bertrand Russell, introduce in
the particular area of religious experience.
Whereas the Personalis ts apply their one criterion
comprehensively across all areas of human experience, Quakers
prefer to evaluate the truth-claims of religious experience
by restricting the reference to more experiences of the same
kind, and to stress a pragmatic test in which truth is at-
tested by its producing a socia] concern and a spirit of love
among men. In this respect, the daimonion gains credibility,
for the guidance Socrates received does reflect a sense of
social responsibility and a concern for the welfare of others.
His political life is again a case in point, for by refrain-
ing from a head-on collision with the state he was able to
influence the life of Athens more effectively. The instances
of his advice to others, if they be authentic, are a further
indication that he was concerned for others. So also is the
whole episode of the trial, where with the daimonion 1 s approv-
ing silence he tailored his defense so as to reaffirm, for
the good of the community, the principles which had shaped
For the Empiricist, Bertrand Russell, the truth-claims
of religious experience are worthy of consideration especially
if they concern matters of expediency which lie beyond the
comprehension of reason. He mentions specifically the sensing
of friendship or hostility in others, and self-preservation.
It was of course precisely in these two areas that the daimon-
ion often guided Socrates. His personal associations with
others the daimonion both discouraged and, by its silence,
approved. At the time of the trial, when self-preservation
was an issue, Socrates again relied upon the monition or
silence of the daimonion.
Thus it seems reasonable to conclude, by the criterion
of comprehensive coherence and with secondary support from a
strictly pragmatic test and the special tests of the Quakers
and Russell, that the propositions implicit in the daimonion 1 s
monitions and silences were true. The daimonion was to this
extent a voice of truth. This is not to say that it was the
only voice of truth that Socrates heard, nor that it was the
most authoritative. It is to say that, as it presented him
with specific counsel, it was not only a trusted but a trust-
worthy guide to truth.
Socrates' own evaluation: a hypothesis
Throughout the whole of this entire discussion, the
assumption has been that Socrates uncritically accepted his
daimonion as a voice of truth, and that he obeyed its coun-
sels without ever calling them into question. To have sug-
gested that the daimonion was a voice of truth is not to
answer the difficulty, first posed in the Introduction, that
for Socrates to have unquestioningly obeyed the daimonion is
inconsistent with his firm commitment to human reason. It
would surely seem that the man who said "an unexamined life
is not worth living" would also have wanted to say "an
Plato Apology 38 a.
unexamined truth-claim is not worth trusting."
While the preceding discussion has given some reason
to believe that it was well for Socrates to have accepted the
guidance of his daimonion, there remains the puzzling question
as to why Socrates himself apparently did not challenge his
voice of truth. It has been suggested that his religious
inheritance predisposed him to receive the daimonion as divine
revelation, and that he therefore saw no need to subject its
guidance to cross-examination by his reason. Yet this is not
a very satisfactory or happy explanation, for he did not
accept uncritically other insights and institutions which were
regarded as divinely ordained.
This final section in the body of the thesis, virtually
a postscript, will re-open the question of how Socrates him-
self evaluated the truth which the daimonion presented. V7as
he content to regard the daimonion as the voice of the god,
and so not question its counsels? Or did he at some stage or
other evaluate the experience and its truth-claims , as he did
all others, by the light of his reason? Is it absolutely
necessary, that is, to accept the inconsistency that the
daimonion has been assumed to introduce, or is another explana-
Let the hypothesis be advanced that Socrates actually
did evaluate the daimonion 's claims to truth. What evidence
can be cited to support such a hypothesis? In fact, the evi-
dence is considerable, though by no means conclusive. If it
goes beyond the primary sources, it stays well within the
bounds of probability.
Socrates first began to experience his daimonion in
the days of his childhood. Probably at first he readily
accepted the warning voice without feeling any desire or need
to justify it. As he grew older he came to have a high degree
of confidence in the monitions of the daimonion, for in his
actual experience they had proved themselves true time after
time. Pragmatically, he discovered that the counsels of the
daimonion were always right and always in his best interests.
Later, as his commitment to reason formed and matured,
he came to a stage when he vigorously challenged the daimon-
ion 1 s trustworthiness. It was then not enough for him to
accept uncritically whatever the daimonion counseled. On the
whole question of the daimonion itself, and on its specific
guidance, Socrates entered into a probing inner dialog with
himself, seeking rationally to understand what was happening
in his experience. The outcome of this inner dialog was that
he recognized that in certain areas of human experience reason
is limited, and that it was precisely at these points where
the daimonion was giving counsel. Along with this, he
acknowledged the existence of the supernatural and granted
that it was "reasonable" for the gods to want to communicate
directly with men, through such means as the daimonion.
Socrates thus concluded both that it was appropriate
for the daimonion to guide him where his reason could not,
and that it was reasonable to expect that the gods could and
would give guidance in this way. Meanwhile, the counsels of
the daimonion continued to prove true by the pragmatic test.
Beyond that, they were revealed, after the fact, always to be
in harmony with what his reason, had it been able at the time,
would have itself directed.
Socrates finally had no other choice, rationally,
than to accept the guidance presented by his daimonion as
being true. It cohered for him to regard it as a voice of
truth. He came to look upon it as virtually infallible: "I
have revealed to many of my friends the counsels which God
has given me, and in no instance has the event shown that I
was mistaken." Speaking of the Tightness of his actions at
the trial, he says: "I have a clear proof that that is so;
for my accustomed guide would certainly have opposed me if I
had not been going to meet with something good."
Having thus justified to himself his reliance on the
daimonion, Socrates did not find it necessary in subsequent
periods of his life to be preoccupied with the questions he
had already answered to his own satisfaction. Nor did he feel
compelled to speak of it often. There was not much he could
say in any case. He could not prove the daimonion true on a
strictly rational basis. So he was content to let his experi-
ence speak for itself.
Furthermore, there was not much concerning the daimon-
ion that he was called upon to say. If at one stage he had
to question this experience, his friends never did have to.
Xenophon Apology 14. Plato Apology 40 c.
They accepted readily enough both his daimonion and its warn-
ings, and saw nothing particularly startling or unusual in
it. When Aristophanes, who doubtless had at least heard of
the daimonion, penned his vigorous attack on Socrates, he
never even mentioned it.
So it was that Socrates, having justified the daimon-
ion and its claims to himself, found no reason to have to
justify it to others, nor even to reveal the inner dialog
that he had carried on with himself. He had thought it
through; it cohered for him to regard the daimonion as a
voice of truth; and as no one was questioning it, he kept
silent except to voice the specific truths it communicated.
This is the hypothesis which, if true, rescues Socra-
tes from the inconsistency of obeying the daimonion without
examining its claims. The immediate and weighty objection to
the hypothesis is of course that little to substantiate it
appears in the primary sources. The crucial step in the above
reconstruction is the positing of a stage fairly early in
Socrates' life where he wrestled with a rational explanation
for the daimonion. Yet there is nothing in the writings of
either Plato or Xenophon to suggest that this was so.
With reference to this objection, however, it must be
remembered that neither Plato nor Xenophon was writing a
biography of Socrates in the modern sense. They did not set
out to trace the development of his life and thought, but
rather reflected the experiences and convictions of the older
Socrates. As previously noted, neither could have had any
reliable personal recollections of Socrates before he was
fifty- five. The Socrates about whom they write, and whom they
quote, had already worked the problem of the daimonion through
for himsel . It no longer puzzled him. And since it did not
worry his friends, but rather only intrigued them, he had no
cause to reveal that earlier inner dialog in which he summoned
the daimonion before the bar of his reason and there justified
So the hypothesis stands, probable if not proveable.
Socrates, the man of reason, believed also that his reason
had its limitations, and that the gods--through such means
as the daimonion- -would want to communicate to men their
counsel on matters beyond the comprehension of unaided reason.
His examination of his own experience convinced him that the
gods did so communicate to him, and that his daimonion was a
"voice of truth."
Supra , pp. 28-29.
The daimonion of Socrates has always been a source of
both fascination and frustration among men. Its occurrence
within the life of one who was wholly committed to a full and
disciplined use of his reason is itself striking. Even more
intriguing is what the primary sources report to be his in-
stant obedience to its counsels. Yet, fascinating as the
daimonion is, it is at the same time a crux philologorum which,
far from yielding to reasoned inquiry, stubbornly resists all
attempts at rational explanation. It remains always in part
within the realm of mystery.
Significant judgments can, however, be made concerning
the daimonion and its monitions, and even (by interpretation)
its claims to truth; and to do so has here been the aim. It
has been one purpose of this thesis to search for a definition
of the daimonion. Starting with the assumptions that Socrates
actually experienced a form of inner communication, that he
spoke truthfully of it, and that Plato and Xenophon have re-
ported him with reasonable accuracy, the search has revealed
that, although the daimonion is finally inexplicable, it is
nevertheless capable of conception and a fair degree of
understanding. The second purpose, with an epistemological
focus, has been to assess Socrates' experience of the daimon-
ion as a source of good counsel, and even as a source of
propositions, and to evaluate those propositions on the basis
of a coherence theory of truth as exemplified in the philo-
sophical school of Personalism. Both purposes have been ful-
filled, and the conclusions which have been reached may now
The search for a definition of the daimonion has been
based in a thorough exploration of the thirteen literal refer-
ences to the daimonion in eight dialogs attributed to Plato
and the eight references in three writings of Xenophon. The
surprising silence of both Aristophanes and Aes chines has
been studied for its significance. Considerable effort has
been pressed to examine what leading Platonists, and other
philosophers, and Socratic scholars have reported concerning
the daimonion and its claims. From the sum of this study, in
which a wide range of opinion and evaluation became evident,
there has emerged a fair definition of the daimonion.
Granted that the daimonion does not yield a closely
reasoned explanation, and that therefore a precise definition
is beyond reach, it is still possible- -on the assumptions here
granted--to "conceive" the daimonion. When this is done,
there are seen to be reasonable grounds for the hypothesis
that the daimonion could be an inner urging (subjective) or
divine voice (objective) , inhibitory in the manner of its
operation, which guided Socrates from the days of his childhood
on usually personal matters of expediency, both crucial and
trivial. It exhibits a number of pairs of seemingly opposite
qualities, evidence of its mysterious and almost paradoxical
character. Considered as divine revelation, for example, it
seems both orthodox in the fact of its occurrence and unortho-
dox in the manner of its occurrence. It joins together, more-
over, both rational and mystical elements. Its counsels
appear always, in due course, amenable to reason; yet it
impressed itself on Socrates with the spontaneity and author-
ity that suggest the "otherworldly."
Most significantly, the daimonion seems to have com-
bined both subjective and objective elements in its nature.
There is reason to suggest, that is, that it had a real exist-
ence, both within Socrates himself and also apart from Socra-
tes. The daimonion was one important aspect of his own per-
sonality, though without the insights of modern psychology
he himself could not realize this. As a man of his time he
could not make in one leap the transition from external author-
ity to personal freedom in thought and action. To bridge the
gap, the daimonion functioned as a "necessary limit" on his
subjectivity, helping him to accept his own intellectual and
moral autonomy against the traditional reliance on custom and
outside authority. Yet, granted this, there appears to be an
objectivity in the nature of the daimonion which warns against
hastily reducing it simply to Socrates himself. It is diffi-
cult to believe that he would have responded with such rever-
ence and obedience to monitions arising solely from within
himself, even if from a sub-conscious self he could barely
conceive. On the assumptions of this study, there are
grounds for the hypothesis that the daimonion was from an
objective, possibly divine source, as well as within Socrates.
Finally, his obedience to its counsels did not appear
to compromise his commitment to reason. The daimonion gave
guidance only in those situations and relative to those
decisions where his reason could not give a sure direction.
It functioned within his life in a manner consistent with his
reliance on the fullest possible use of his reason. For while
Socrates championed the disciplined use of reason, he steered
clear of an uncritical rationalism. He believed there was
much only the gods knew, and so looked beyond reason to
divine revelation for what lay outside the power of the mind
to discover. It is not impossible that in the daimonion, his
inner divine voice, he experienced such revelation; and he
With respect to the second purpose of the thesis, an
epistemological assessment of the daimonion and its claims
has shown, first of all, that there is some support for the
hypothesis that Socrates' experience of the daimonion pre-
sented him with good and wise counsel which he did well to
regard. A strong intellectual tradition, complemented by
pragmatic considerations, supports the contention that not
all the truth accessible to man is accessible directly to his
reason. Intuition, including what is here called religious
experience, can be yoked in a creative partnership with reason
in the search for truth.
Further, there are reasonable grounds for believing
that the specific monitions and silences of Socrates' daimon-
ion contained true propositions. By restating the monitions
and silences in propositional form, then assessing these
propositions in terms of comprehensive coherence, and finally
citing the reported subsequent pragmatic verifications, the
conclusion has been drawn that the truth-claims of the
daimonion were in fact true.
The primary sources record no fewer than twenty- two
separate occasions on which the daimonion gave Socrates spe-
cific counsel. The range of concerns over which it operated
was broad, including his personal conduct, personal associa-
tions, advice to others, and his trial and death. Yet in no
one of the twenty- two claims is there any internal incon-
sistency. Each is a logically possible proposition. In addi-
tion, the daimonion' s specific claims have individually been
seen to be coherently related to all other propositions, and
especially those concerning Socrates , which are held to be
true. The actual counsel of the daimonion, as well as his
obedience to it, coheres with the total person of Socrates:
his life, his sense of mission, his system of values, his
character. And it has been seen that invariably, as things
are reported to have turned out, the daimonion' s counsel
proved to be good advice.
So the discussion ends. While the daimonion remains
still partly in the realm of mystery, a search for definition
and an epistemological assessment reveal the grounds for re-
garding it as an inner and possibly divine voice, a voice
which to Socrates was a "voice of truth," one that he trusted
and that proved trustworthy.
To be sure, there are those who, with Macaulay, count
the stories of the daimonion as absurd, and who pronounce
Socrates to have been "a strange, fanciful, superstitious old
fellow." But more there may be, and more correct, who hold
that truly great men commonly unite within their nature ele-
ments of the most varied kind and admit of no final conflict
between, e.g. , a commitment to reason and spiritual intuition.
Indeed, it may be in the union of such apparent opposites
that their greatness consists.
To have been open to life and to truth on all its
levels and in all its forms, to have refused to dismiss as
superstitious nonsense what he could not rationally explain,
and to have been as humble in the region of mystery as he was
keen in the region of knowledge- -accounts for much of the
greatness of the man with the daimonion.
Quoted from Macaulay' s diary, June, 1855, in Osborn,
DESCRIPTIVE PHRASES FOR THE DAIMONION
the certain voice
of his domestic
uncommon strength of
judgment and justness
of moral judgment
honor his inward
voice or sign of the
the demonic dimension
quotes others (un-
named) : expression of
sure measure of his
a species of instinct 211-12
divine auxiliary 223-24
a warning from with- 217-20
out, bearing a
Description Supra , pp ,
his subjective 162-65
oracle a physio-
one aspect of his
hallucinations of 199-201
the sense of hear-
ing, having an extra-
a reaction against 213
a necessary limit 171-76
expression for some-
symbol for his freely
J. S. Mill
a figure of speech
impulsion of his
will, acting before
the counsels of his
sense of inhibition
voice of conscience
trans . Church
kind of voice
trans . Lamb
trans. Warrington -
Supra , pp
voice of reason
unanalyzed act of
an inspiration which
to the spirit and
an inner super-
province of such
rapid moral judg-
ments as cannot be
referred to distinct
inner voice of
sense of what is
suited to his
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THE DAIMONION OF SOCRATES: A SEARCH FOR DEFINITION
AND AN EPISTEMOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT
ALTON R. POPE
B.M.E., Cornell University, 1951
S.T.B., Boston University, 1957
AN ABSTRACT OF A MASTER'S THESIS
submitted in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree
MASTER OF ARTS
Department of Philosophy
KANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY
Socrates, who was committed to the fullest possible
use of his reason, at the same time appeared to obey unques-
tioningly the counsels of his daimonion. His experience of
the daimonion, and his obedience to it, raise important ques-
tions in the areas of Socratic studies and epistemology. What
was the daimonion, and how and why did it influence Socrates?
What is the validity of this kind of experience, and were the
specific claims contained in the monitions and silences of
the daimonion true?
To these questions the thesis is addressed. As neces-
sary background, the religious inheritance which Socrates
received as a fifth century Greek is explored, revealing that
it was an easy and almost inevitable assumption for him to
make that the gods often gave special revelations to certain
men, and that in fact any knowledge not coming through the
conscious reason was an instance of divine revelation. Fur-
ther, an examination of the total person of Socrates, includ-
ing his personal characteristics and beliefs and behavior,
indicates that he recognized the limitations of human reason
and that he was open to life and to truth on all levels.
The search for a definition of the daimonion begins
with a thorough study of the primary sources, principally the
thirteen references in dialogs attributed to Plato and eight
references in the writings of Xenophon. It proceeds in an
ordered investigation of what others through the ages have
reported concerning the daimonion. The evaluations both of
early Platonists and philosophers, and of modern philosophers
and Socratic scholars, assist in the forming of a final
estimate. Cicero, Hegel, and Kierkegaard are among those who
offer significant insight into the daimonion.
Finally the daimonion is beyond any precise definition,
for it lies in part within the realm of mystery. It is possi-
ble, however, on the assumptions that Socrates actually experi-
enced his daimonion and that he spoke truthfully of it, to
arrive at a viable hypothesis as to its nature and effects.
According to this hypothesis, the daimonion may have been an
inner, inhibitory, divine voice, a voice which while it
possibly had a divine source yet blended inextricably with
Socrates' own personality, and which guided him on personal
matters of expediency. Further, on the basis of the primary
sources, it seems fair to conclude that his obedience to its
counsels did not compromise his commitment to reason, for the
daimonion appeared to give guidance only where his reason
could not be certain.
Several conclusions emerge from an epistemological
assessment of the daimonion. The experience of the daimonion
may be said to lie in the overlap of two circles representing
parapsychological and religious experience. When Socrates'
experience and the similar experiences of others are given
both a pragmatic and theoretical evaluation, there are seen
to be reasonable grounds to warrant the hypothesis that such
experiences may have a validity in the search for truth.
Further, by using a comprehensive coherence criterion of
truth, as exemplified in the philosophical school of Per-
sonalism, it is possible to conceive that the twenty-two spe-
cific claims interpreted from the monitions and silences of
the daimonion were true. Each is internally consistent, and
each is coherently related to all other propositions,
especially those concerning Socrates, which are held to be
true. Moreover, by special tests developed for just such
experience, the probable truth of the daimonion 1 s claims
receives added support.
Building on the assumptions adopted, it is reasonable
to conclude that the daimonion of Socrates may have been an
inner, possibly divine voice which he obeyed without offense
to his reason, a voice which provided him with good counsel,
and which was for him a "voice of truth. "