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Political Philosophy: Steering The Middle Course

1615 words - 6 pages

Political philosophy is not a simple set of doctrines or theories; rather it is a way of life. The political philosopher’s life is a constant struggle between the political and the philosophical. He sees the contradictions that exist at all times in both worlds and lives with the questions more so than others. The true political philosopher can never be purely political or purely philosophical. Nevertheless, a political philosophical life is worth living if the proper balance between the political and the philosophical is obtained.
Socrates, founder of political philosophy, believes it necessary to be concerned with the way one should live individually and collectively, but holds it higher to try to understand this way of life. Because he believes it more important to understand this way of life, he lives with the questions of political philosophy at all times, but can never provide assertive answers to the question. Evidently, then, Socrates does not leave a set of theories or doctrines on how to understand the political philosophical life; leaving a set of theories or doctrines would imply that he knows the answers to this way of life.
Illustrated in the Memorabilia and the Oeconomicus, Xenophon’s Socratic writings, are examples of how Socratic philosophy does not have the assertiveness needed for political life. In the Memorabilia, Xenophon recounts the relationship between Socrates and Critias. Critias resents Socrates for giving the opinion of Critias having a swinish passion in desiring Euthydemus, with Euthydemus and others present. Later on, when Critias becomes one of the Thirty, he makes a law forbidding the teaching of the art of speech, an art Socrates possessed. Socrates never directly confronts Critias to address the injustices under his govern. At another time, Xenophon says Socrates somewhere said that a president over a city who made its citizens fewer and worse was as bad as the herdsman over a herd of cattle who made the cattle fewer and worse. When this was reported to Critias, he brought Socrates before him and showed him the law. Leo Strauss, a political philosophy scholar, offers the most related parallel to this event in the prophet Nathan from the Bible. Nathan confronts and rebukes David in private for his injustice, while Socrates neither directly confronts nor rebukes Critias. One can correctly assume that Socrates’s philosophy, then, does not have the certitude found in Biblical text. Again, the account of Socrates and Critias shows that Socratic philosophy is not assertive.
Likewise, the Oeconomicus gives insight to Socrates’s uncertainty about the problem always present; additionally, it shows how Socrates could not leave a set of doctrines because he is aware that not all things are knowable. Socrates recounts to Critobulus his encounter and conversation with Ischomochos, a man heard to be a gentleman. It is safe to assume that Socrates has Ischomochos in mind when discussing the “best friend” with...

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