The Death of Socrates

The burning of the Pythagorean school had already signalized the war, not less ancient, not less eager, of the oppressors of mankind against philosophy. The one and the other will continue to be waged as long as there shall exist priests or kings upon the earth; and these wars will occupy a conspicuous place in the picture that we have still to delineate.

Priests saw with grief the appearance of men, who, cultivating the powers of reason, ascending to first principles, could not but discover all the absurdity of their dogmas, all the extravagance of their ceremonies, all the delusion and fraud of their oracles and prodigies. This discovery they were afraid these philosophers would communicate to the disciples that frequented their schools; from whom it might pass to all those who, to obtain authority or credit, were obliged to pay attention to the improvement of their minds; and thus the priestly empire be reduced to the most ignorant class of the people, which might at last be itself also undeceived.

Hypocrisy, alarmed and terrified, hastened to bring accusations, against the philosophers, of impiety to the Gods, that they might not have time to teach the people that those Gods were the work of their priests. The philosophers thought to escape persecution by adopting, in imitation of the priests themselves, the practice of a double doctrine, and they confided to such of their disciples only whose sidelity had been proved, doctrines that too openly offended vulgar prejudices.

But the priests represented to the people the most simple truths of natural philosophy as blasphemies; and Anaxagoras was prosecuted for having dared to assert, that the sun was larger than Peloponnesus.

Socrates could not escape their fury. There was in Athens no longer a Pericles to watch over the safety of genius and of virtue. Besides, Socrates was still more culpable. His enmity to the sophists, and his zeal to bring back the attention of misguided philosophy to the most useful objects, announced to the priests that truth alone was the end he had in view; that he did not wish to enforce upon men a new system, and subject their imagination to his; but that he was desirous of teaching them to made use of their own reason: and of all crimes this is what sacerdotal pride knows least how to pardon.

It was at the very foot of the tomb of Socrates that Plato directed the lessons which he had received from his master.


Retaliation from the priesthood.

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 Outlines of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Condorcet, Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat (1795), Outlines of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind, Retrieved on 2012-08-06
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  • Folksonomies: philosophy