Seeking True Wisdom Ignorance is a lack of knowledge and unawareness of the happenings of the world. Socrates believes that knowledge does not consist merely of factual details but also deals with self-understanding and justice. “The Apology,” written by Plato, describes the defense Socrates gives at his trial in Athens. Socrates is giving his defense against charges of not believing in the gods and corrupting the youth. During his defense, Socrates expresses that he does not possess wisdom. By stating this, Socrates had a claim of ignorance in which he stated that he knew he knew nothing.
This statement actually serves as a clear display that Socrates did possess some wisdom; he was not a genius, however, he recognized his lack of knowledge and tried to help others realize that their knowledge was not complete. In society today, people have a tendency to think that they know everything and cannot be wrong. However, this is obviously false because people overestimate their knowledge while underestimating the knowledge of others. Socrates realizes that he does not know everything and states, “Certainly I would pride and preen myself if I had this knowledge, but I do not have it, gentlemen (Apology, 20c).” Realizing that he was not all knowing and that it is impossible to know everything about every subject was the first step to gaining real knowledge. Socrates claim of ignorance is valid because he does possess some knowledge, just not all that is possible.
When Socrates went around questioning politicians, poets, and craftsmen, he was able to conclude that they all thought they knew a lot but truly did not; this showed their lack of true knowledge. Socrates was different from these people because he discovered that he did not really know anything. This is evident when he quotes the oracle in saying, “This man among you, mortals, is wisest who, like Socrates, understands that his wisdom is worthless (Apology, 23b).” Socrates realized that what he knew did not have real value. This is true because he believes that knowledge is deeper than facts and goes into knowing the best way to live life, which he did not claim to know. Negative and positive consequences can arise from Socrates claim of ignorance for his method of questioning. Socrates method of inquiry consisted of questioning people who had the pretense of knowledge.
He questioned them on the positions they affirmed and worked them through various questions into a contradiction that would then prove their original beliefs wrong. The person proven wrong would then either accept that they did not really know anything about what they were talking about or they would resist facing a lack of knowledge and disbelieve Socrates. This method of questioning is called dialectic and seeks to find truth. While convincing his listeners that he knows nothing, he also may make himself a less credible source to adhere to because he states that he lacks knowledge. The listeners may therefore listen warily and not indisputably believe his claims.
A lack of knowledge by the questioner however can prove to be beneficial because if an unwise person is able to prove someone wrong, it shows how little the other person knew to begin with. Socrates, unlike the pretentious citizens who were offended by his lines of questioning, did not pretend to have the answers; he did not pretend to know what is best. He shows his self doubt in his range of wisdom when he states, “Human wisdom, perhaps. It may be that I really possess this, while those whom I mentioned just now are wise with a wisdom more than human; else I cannot explain it, for I certainly do not possess it (Apology, 20e).” Socrates believed that there is a best standard for human conduct and political rule; but he did not claim to possess that standard. He viewed himself as a seeker of the truth. Some would say that Socrates knowledge that he knew nothing, shows that he actually knew everything.
He claimed that he did not possess true wisdom which he believed was self-knowledge. To Socrates, self-knowledge is different from knowledge of information. Those who believe Socrates was all-knowing, should realize that Socrates did not possess what he felt was true wisdom. Socrates had knowledge of information, but he claimed to not have self-knowledge. Socrates did know some things and have some self-knowledge because he recognized that knowledge of information as not true wisdom, however, he still stressed that he did not know everything. Not only must one know what it means to be a human being in the best sense and understand ones own character, but to know better means to do better.
One can know many things and still not know how to live well and how to be just. The claim of ignorance as beneficial and positive may be disputed with the argument that Socrates still ended up with the death penalty. Despite receiving the death penalty Socrates held no scorn, “You too must be of good hope as regards death, gentlemen of the jury, and keep this one truth in mind, and that his affairs are not neglected by the gods (Apology, 41d).” Even in his death, he still attempted to project a message that would cause people to live a better life. Others may believe that Socrates did have true knowledge and hid it to teach others. This is a reasonable thought because Socrates did want to teach others to search for wisdom.
However, Socrates himself was constantly on a search for what is justice and how to live because he believed that, “..the unexamined life is not worth living for man (Apology, 38a).” He did not have a complete understanding of this knowledge, but by questioning others he stirred them to search for true wisdom. No human actually knows the proper way to live and only hopes that they will find insights that can help them to discover the meaning of justice. In the “Meno,” Socrates introduces his doctrine of learning as recollection. This doctrine states that the soul is immortal and goes through reincarnations. When the soul is outside the body, the soul has seen everything.
This doctrine relates to Socrates belief of learning by association. This states that one must search for the things one does not know. Socrates believes that true learning involves recollection, so a good teacher does not hand over information. He stressed that teaching is pointing someone in the right direction and asking the right questions. He still affirmed that he did not possess knowledge, and stated “..I am so far from knowing whether virtue can be taught or not that I do not even have any knowledge of what virtue itself is” (Meno, 71a).
Socrates used this method to help others find self-understanding because this was the only method he believed would help people to discover true wisdom. Socrates claim of ignorance displays a deep wisdom that cannot be achieved by many humans. Socrates recognized that the earthly knowledge that he had was not important and held no value. From this he made the statement that he knew he knew nothing. This statement is justly constructed because for Socrates the only real knowledge was that of self-understanding and justice, which he did not have complete understanding of. Most humans believe that they possess real knowledge, however, it is necessary to realize that this knowledge is not complete and they must continuously seek truth.
Bibliography Plato’s Apology.