Ethics and the Divine: Inflections of Otherness in Socrates

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Socrates' passion for questioning directly ensues from his aporetic relation to daimonion and to the god to whom he offers his obeisance and allegiance. His relation to the divine recurrently initiates aporia and questioning regarding both the nature and boundaries of human wisdom; ultimately, it is a questioning of what human knowledge might accomplish in the moral domain when empowered by theion ti, daimonion ti. This article argues against all rationalist interpretations of the Socratic daimonion and maintains that Socrates' aporetic relation to divinity is central to his commitment to questioning, it highlights the primacy of his faith in the divine over all rational deliberations and cognitively derived aporias. True, Socrates' elenctic questioning comes to the god's aid and assistance by initiating aporia on a rational level. However, it is argued here that essentially his commitment to questioning opens the possibility of self-knowledge through an aporetic relation to divinity that purely transcends the rational as well as the irrational. For Socrates, the gods have an unfettered scope of activity in the incomprehensible sphere that is other to the life of reason.

Socrates' singularity is highlighted by the remoteness of the puzzling ambiguity of the god's riddle reinforced by the enigmatic otherness of the preventive voice of daimonion, both of which foreground his ethical relation to others and otherness. The alleged wisdom and ethos of every person (every other) he encounters establishes his relation to otherness qua the divine; it is essentially a relation with the radical otherness of the other. It is a pre-ontological relation with daimonion with that which is other than reason in all ways superceding it but not in conflict with it. The aim of Socrates' elenctic questioning is to ascertain in the moral domain the nature of what is virtuous (what is bioteon) in relation to theion ti, manifesting itself vis-à-vis the apotreptic gaze or voice of divinity. Today, Socrates would continue to play the role of gadfly, to stir, urge, cajole and encourage us to reason and examine our lives but above all, he would counsel us to become well established in the divine because only then can we truly ethicize our existence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-76
Number of pages19
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Event5th International Conference of Philosophy on Ethics in the Public and Private Spheres: Ancient Greek and Modern Perspectives of the South African Society for Greek Philosophy and the Humanities - University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
Duration: 30 Apr 20082 May 2008
Conference number: 5

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