Prof. Jyl Gentzler
Socrates: Impious or
Was Socrates impious or not has been very controversial after his execution.When
debating this, based on the bias of our modern convention, we do not literally regard impiety as
guilty. However, it is vital to put this dispute back to Ancient Greece for consideration. After
taking the religion custom and public rituals of Ancient Greece into account, Socrates’
unorthodox religious views were indeed impious.
In Athenian society of Ancient Greece, religion had a great social function, which is a
tool for mediating state and public affairs. Assemblies also needed to be based on religious
rituals to show good faith. Athenian were absolutely collectivist when it comes to religion
affairs, so the people could not accept the god that most people did not accept at all. Anybody
trying to break the consensus would encounter disparagement without doubt, more seriously, it
might irritate the ruling class. Based on these practices, it was justified to charge people who are
Having knew Athenian religion, it is reasonable to argue Socrates is guilty for impiety.
In Apology, the recoding of Socrates’ trial, Socrates mentioned “ I have a divine or spiritual sign,
this began when I was a child.” , which is actually his own inner voice. (31c 31d) For the
priests, the mediators between gods and human, they thought Socrates got a private channel,
which menaced the power of priests. This voice in fact also goes against Athenian religion
norms. In the religion consensus of Ancient Greece, this “divine voice” never appeared before.
In Apology, 21a, Socrates tells the story of the oracle which claims that there is no one
wiser than Socrates, and after knowing this oracle, he goes out to test the oracle yet does not find
wiser people and also gets a lot of unpopularity. In 23b, he attributes this to the service of the ...