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B.M.E. , Cornell University, 1951 
S.T.B. , Boston University, 1957 


submitted in partial fulfillment of the 

requirements for the degree 


Department of Philosophy 

Manhattan, Kansas 


Approved by: 

Major Professor 

Chapter Page 





Gods and Daimons, and Their Relation to 

Human Beings 
Popular Religious Practices 
Grammatical Considerations 


His Mission 

Personal Characteristics and Behavior 

His Beliefs 

His Trial and Death 



The Eight Dialogs 

The Effect of Plato's Own Views 



The Daimonion in Xenophon 

Other Contemporary Sources: Aristophanes 

and Aeschines 
Noncontemporary Sources: Cicero and 











Chapter Page 








Naive Interpretations 

The Voice of Reason 

The Voice of the Sub-conscious 

The Voice of God 

The Daimonion in Psychology 


Limitations of Socrates' Own Definition 
Review and Evaluation of Others' 

A Definition of the Daimonion 



Experience of the Daimonion: Parapsy- 

chological and Religious 
Similar Experiences of Others 
Pragmatic Evaluation 
Theoretical Evaluation 


The Criterion of Truth: Comprehensive 

The Truth-Claims of Religious Experience 
The Truth-Claims of the Daimonion 





"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? ' " 

Soren Kierkegaard 

The Concept of Irony , 
p. 185. 



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 
was exposed." 

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 
reasonable conclusions. 

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 
the daimonion. 

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, 
and Conclusion. 



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 
the discussion. 

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. 

4 5 

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 . . . 

Grammatical Considerations 
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 
nov7 turns. 


"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 
among men. 

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 

His Mission 

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 

then begun. 


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 , 
XX, 918. 

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 

chit-chat." 3 

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. 

2 3 

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 
know. " 

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 

writes : 

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- 

;t \ 

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 

12 3 

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 
at." 2 

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. 

2 3 

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 



1 2 

of oligarchs, nor of an angry populace, could sway his 

decision to live as the righteous man, serving his city and 

serving his god. 

His Beliefs 

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 

sciences. " 

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. 

i 2 

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 
own nose. 

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 

1 2 

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 
and trial. 

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 

1 2 

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. 
2. 43. 

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 
one month. 

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 

p. 64. 

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 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 
others . 

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 
otherwise noted. 

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 
The Apology 

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 
as noted: 

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 
something good. 

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 Euthyphro 

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) ; 
"oracle" (JowettTT 

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. 

The Euthydemus 

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. 

The Phaedrus 

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. 

The Republic 

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. 

The Theaetetus 

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. 

Platonic authorship. 

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, 
Pericles . 
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. 

The Theages 

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 
a whole. 

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 
translation) . 

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- 
by misled. 

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 
those involved. 

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- 
tively minor. 

His philosophy 

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 
answer . 

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 
this conclusion. 

His demonology 

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 

1 2 

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 
the daimons. 

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 

*271 d. 

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 
the dialogs. 

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. 



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. 

The Memorabilia 

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) ; 
"genius" (AshleyTT"^ 


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); 
"genius" (Ashley^ 


Hermogenes , but when I did try to think out my 
defense to the jury, the deity l at once 
resisted. "2 

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, 
coincidences, etc. 

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). 

The Symposium 

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 Apology 

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 
Apology . 

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. 

Apology 31- 

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 daimonia. 

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 

Athenians . 

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 
of others. 

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 , 

1 2 

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 
"the god." 


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 
following chapter. 

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. 


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- 
cluding Socrates. 

1 2 

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 
of Socrates. 

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 

^ss b. 

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 
Socrates alone. 

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 

future events." 

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 
your adversity. 

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. 

2 ^ 

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 

spiritual opposition." 

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 
perception. l 

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 
bridle." 2 

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 
now turns. 


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. 

existing Reality. 

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 
freedom. " 

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 
himself .1 

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 
very individuality. 


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. 

2 1 

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 
insipid." 2 

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 
representation. " 

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 
glad. 4 

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 
(1833), 540. 

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 
contemplation. " 

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 

Bertrand Russell 

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. 


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 
and Guardini. 

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 
for this. 

Naive Interpretations 
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) , 
II, 95. 


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 

raise monuments." 

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, 

p. 4. 

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 

1 2 

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 
substantival. "' 

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- 
developed self-knowledge. 

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. 

Other scholars 

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), 
p. 520. 


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 
himself .1 

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. 

and Joel. 


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 

throughout indefinitely." 

Further, Socrates quite consistently sees his daimonion 

i 2 

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- 
tes—all unconsciously. 

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 

Other scholars 

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 
divine sign. 

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 
have done. 

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 
believes God. 

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 
existence. " 

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 
personality. 5 

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 
own task?l 

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 

1 Ibid. 


activity, namely "the familiar soothsaying of the 

Other scholars 

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 
autarchy. 1 

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 

2 3 

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 
divine appointment." 

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 

writes : 

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 
personal daimons. 

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 
physical presence. 

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), 
III, 479-82. 

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. 


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 
friends . 

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. 

Primary sources 

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 
to receive. 

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 
no definition. 

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 
heard it. 

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. 

Modern philosophers 

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 
and everything. 

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. 

Historical evidence 

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 
fellow citizens. 

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. 

Psychological understanding 

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- 
rational self. 

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- 
plete definition. 

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 
subsequent chapter. 

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 

Religious insight 

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 
divine voice. 

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. 



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 

and Religious 

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 
them. m1 

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 
full quotation: 

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. 

Pragmatic Evaluation 

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. 

2 3 

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 
theoretical one. 

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 

1 2 

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 

generalizes : 

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 

1 2 

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 , 
p. 280. 

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 
proved right." 

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. 

Theoretical Evaluation 

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 
and guidance. 

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 
human reason. 

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 
a hypothesis. 

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." 

1 2 

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) , 
p. 118. 

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. 


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. 
4 Ibid. 

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 
true." 3 

In addition, comprehensive coherence has been 

1 2 

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 
talking. 1 

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 
Kantian "category." 

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 
of events." 

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 

1 Ibid. 

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 
uncritical acceptance. 

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 
daimonion itself. 

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 
being rejected. 

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. 
Personal Conduct 

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 

wrong. 4 

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. 


Personal Associations 

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 
trouble. 3 

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 
of Socrates. 

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. 
1. 3-7. 

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 
his life. 

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- 
tion possible? 

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. 

1 2 

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 
be summarized. 

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 
obeyed it. 

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, 

pp. 156-57. 






Description £ 

)upra, p 



the certain voice 
of his domestic 




uncommon strength of 
judgment and justness 
of thinking 




accumulated habits 
of moral judgment 




divine something 
divine warning 




predisposition to 
honor his inward 




voice or sign of the 




the demonic dimension 
quotes others (un- 








named) : expression of 
spiritual freedom 
sure measure of his 
own subjectivity 

a species of instinct 211-12 

divine auxiliary 223-24 
divine ally 

a warning from with- 217-20 
out, bearing a 
numinous character 












Description Supra , pp , 

his subjective 162-65 
oracle a physio- 
logical mechanism 
one aspect of his 

hallucinations of 199-201 
the sense of hear- 
ing, having an extra- 
ordinary value 

a reaction against 213 
his rationalism 

a necessary limit 171-76 
expression for some- 
thing utterly 

symbol for his freely 
deciding within 



auditory hallucina- 


J. S. Mill 


a figure of speech 





impulsion of his 
will, acting before 
the counsels of his 





sense of inhibition 
monitory voice 





aural delusion 
divine voice 





spiritual agent 
voice of conscience 




trans . Church 

divine guide 



trans. Jowett 

prophetic guide 
kind of voice 

usual sign 
internal sign 



trans . Lamb 

trans. Warrington - 

Status Description 

certain spiritual 
divine agency 

spiritual sign 
divine spirit 

Supra , pp 



divine sign 
inner voice 
familiar spirit 




guardian spirit 




voice of reason 
unanalyzed act of 




an inspiration which 
internalizes the 
influences external 
to the spirit and 
objectifies its 
inner demands 
an inner super- 
rational injunction 



province of such 
rapid moral judg- 
ments as cannot be 
referred to distinct 




spiritual tact 




warning voice 
interior audition 


trans . 



the deity 


trans . 



divine sign 
divine thing 



inner voice of 
individual tact 


sense of what is 
suited to his 




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submitted in partial fulfillment of the 

requirements for the degree 


Department of Philosophy 

Manhattan, Kansas 


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. "