The problem of the Euthyphro is what is religion (T6 The respondent Euthyphron is certainly meant to be a kind of Orphic sectary, not, as has been fancied, a representative of ordinary Athenian belief and practice. Socrates had associated with such men and was known to hold unusual beliefs about the soul; hence it was important to make it plain that he was some thing different from a fanatic. The dialogue, interesting also from its well-developed logical terminology, enables Socrates to repudiate immoral mythology and to reject the conception of "religious duty" as fulfilment of purely arbitrary commands. Its central thought, which, however, is not formally asserted as a conclusion, is that the "service" (0Eparda) of God which is re ligion means co-operation with God and under God in the pro duction of a "noble work" (7rIercaXop gpyov), the nature of which is not further defined, though it is sufficiently clear that the "work" meant is the "tendance of the soul." Consideration of the Apology and Crito in detail belongs rather to the study of Socrates (q.v.) than to that of Plato. Of the Apology we must be content to say here that the real defence of Socrates is contained in the pages which explain that the main spring of his life has been his conviction that he has a mission from God to spend his life in "philosophy," the endeavour to "make his own soul as good as possible," and to incite mankind to do the same; to this mission it is his duty to be strictly faithful, even if faithfulness means condemnation as a traitor by the democracy. The Apology thus depicts Socrates as carrying out in his own practice the ethical programme of the Gorgias. The actual accusation is treated with contempt and satirical humour. (See article SOCRATES.) The point of the Crito, though simple, is often missed. Was Socrates wantonly throwing away a valuable life by refusing to escape from prison? Why did he make this refusal? Because, though the conviction was materially iniquitous, it was the verdict of a legitimate court, which could not be disregarded without real disloyalty. Socrates has been wronged not by the law, but by politicians who have abused the law. If he disregarded the conviction, he would be directly doing a wrong against the whole social system.
"Popular morality" is confused in theory and unreliable in practice because it does not rest on any assured insight into absolute good; "philosophic morality," just because it does rest on such certain insight, is a morality of absolute and uncondi tional obedience to conscience, such as Socrates had shown. Since the task of the statesman is simply the task of "tending the soul" extended to the "national" soul as its object, the "philo sophical" moralist is also the only true statesman. True states manship means the promotion of national character as the one thing which matters, and is therefore simply the application, on the grand scale, of the principles of absolute morality; what falls short of this is opportunism masquerading as statesmanship.
These convictions clearly imply a far-reaching metaphysic as their foundation and justification. The principles of this meta physic, though they are frequently hinted at in passages of dialogues already reviewed, are put before us more explicitly in those we have now to consider; in connection with them we shall also observe an explicit theory of knowledge and scientific method.
Death, then, only completes a liberation which the philosopher has been "rehearsing" all through life—if, that is, the soul con tinues to exist after death, as there are reasons for thinking. For : I. There is a belief that the soul has a succession of many lives, and that when it is born into this world, it has come back from another. And there are two considerations to be urged on behalf of this belief. (a) The processes of nature in general are cyclical. The hot becomes cold, the cold hot; the waking go to sleep, the sleeping wake. It is reasonable to suppose that this applies to the case of dying and coming to life, so that the dead return to life, just as the living die. If this were not so, if the process of dying were not reversible, life would ultimately vanish from the universe. And (b) we may appeal to the doctrine that what we call "learning" is really "recollection," "being reminded" of something. This certainly seems to be the case, for in all our science we are perpetually being "put in mind of" precise ideal standards, mathematical or moral. We reason about exact quality, absolute justice and the like. Sense or experience never presents us with such perfect equality or justice; it only suggests them or "reminds us of them." We must therefore have become ac quainted with them before we were confined to our bodies, and therefore must have existed before our birth. Now (a) and (b) together would prove what we want to prove, the soul's survival of death, though our "dread of the dark" makes us demand a more convincing argument.