Pic of the Day: Socrates takes Hemlock

Since the (tentative) name of this blog is so heavily reliant on the Greek Philosophical tradition, I thought it appropriate to put up a picture about the founder of that tradition, and what happens to such philosophers when they get “uppity.”  From Socrates came Plato, from Plato came Aristotle and his school the Lyceum.
The Pythagorian Mathematikoi didn’t fair too well either.  Many were killed, and at one point the members of one of their schools were locked inside it, and burned alive.

Science, Mathematics, Philosophy, Art, Politics, War, Death.  They are not in anyway disjoint sets.   The very act of discussion is an act of freedom and democracy.   It isn’t absolute.  It can disappear overnight.

-Saij

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2 Responses

  1. Great post. The painting is just so breathtaking.

    I would only add two thoughts:

    1. That it would be a bit difficult to equate our modern notion of free expression with Socrates type of questioning.

    2. That Aristotle, unlike Socrates, decided to leave Athens before he himself was made to take the Hemlock.

    It would be great if you developed a bit more the idea as to why precisely the Mathematikoi specially were persecuted, and why in contrast today it sounds funny if a mathemactician feels she has to run for his life. Is it simply becasue we are more open?

    This article might interest you:

    Ahrensdorf, Peter J. 1994. “The Question of the Historical Context and the Study of Plato,” in Polity, vol. XXVII, Number 1 (Fall, 1994), pp. 113-135.

    Andrés

  2. Andres,
    I totally agree that there is a real difference between what we today think of as free expression and what Socrates was doing. Socrates’ style questioning is, by it’s nature, provocotive and agressive. It is directed at the questioned person, probing.

    Today we tend to think of free speech as the ability to say what you want when you want. Like, “there is no god,” or “I believe that in 1980 aliens secretely invaded earth.” It’s an all encompasing freedom of random expression. But, implicitly, that includes the freedom to question and probe.

    As for the second point, Aristotle was smart. I would have left, too. But, the fact that he was in a position where he was forced into the choice is poignant. Societies where one is allowed to say and write whatever they want are rare at best. Even that popular bastion of freedom and democracy, Athens, was hardly an ideal.

    Being at a University, studing a subject that some societies have thought to be outright witchcraft is something rather amazing, in a historical sense.

    I haven’t yet checked out your reference, but I will. Thanks.

    EDIT: I forgot to answer your Mathematikoi question. Here’s a quote:

    In 460 BC the Society [2]:-

    … was violently suppressed. Its meeting houses were everywhere sacked and burned; mention is made in particular of “the house of Milo” in Croton, where 50 or 60 Pythagoreans were surprised and slain. Those who survived took refuge at Thebes and other places.

    Happy times indeed!

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