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Oedipus and Socrates on the Quest for Self-Knowledge

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image of Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought

This article explores how Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Plato’s Apology of Socrates address the question of whether reason can ground the good human life. Sophocles’ tragedy and Plato’s dialogue both tell of the search for rational self-knowledge. Both Oedipus and Socrates are recognized for human wisdom and are presented as skeptical toward the gods. Yet, whereas Oedipus’ life ends in tragedy, Socrates’ life does not. Sophocles thus suggests that the rational search for truth must be limited by a pious respect for the gods. Plato, on the other hand, preserves Socrates’ belief that the ‘unexamined life is not worth living for a human being’. Four lines of inquiry into the causes of this divergence are then explored: 1) Socrates’ order of knowledge from particular to universal, 2) Oedipus’ proneness to anger, 3) Socrates’ private life in contrast to Oedipus’ public life and, 4) the differing status of the family.

Affiliations: 1: Campion College, University of Regina 3737 Wascana Parkway, Regina, sk S4S 0A2CANADA ann.ward@uregina.ca

10.1163/20512996-12340117
/content/journals/10.1163/20512996-12340117
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/content/journals/10.1163/20512996-12340117
2017-04-04
2018-06-21

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