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International Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 56, Issue 3, September 2016

Jeremy Bell
Pages 297-314

The Coherence of Socrates’s Mission

The debate over Socrates’s claim in the Apology to have practiced philosophy as a divinely ordained mission is almost as old as this claim itself. Yet scholars remain divided over the issue because of the extraordinary difficulty of understanding how Socrates interpreted the negative proclamation of the oracle as providing a positive prescription for a way of life. Finding this difficultly insurmountable, many authors have denied the coherence of Socrates’s account. In this essay, I argue that the debate can be resolved by revisiting the interpretation of human wisdom offered in the Apology. Demonstrating that Socrates understands human wisdom to be structurally incompatible with the claim to possess it, I show that he is thereby prevented from ever simply affirming the truth of the oracle and that this, in turn, establishes his philosophical practice as a lifelong mission.

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