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"The Philosophical Rhetoric of Socrates' Mission"

Robert Metcalf


The Philosophical Rhetoric Of Socrates' Mission

"This article analyzes the philosophical rhetoric of Socrates' account of his 'mission' on behalf of the god at Delphi, one of the most memorable parts of his most famous memorial in Plato's Apology. But it is controversial as to what it means to Socrates and what it should mean to readers of Plato's text. First, there is the curious fact that the story occurs nowhere outside the competing versions of Socrates' defense-speech in Plato and Xenophon, and in the latter version, the oracular report differs significantly in content and import: there the Pythia proclaims, not that no one is wiser than Socrates, but that no one is more generous or more just. Furthermore, the sequence of events that make up Socrates' mission is itself difficult to discern, from its apparent prompting by the oracular message to Chaerephon, to Socrates' initial effort to refute it, to his ultimate practice of elenchos in order that the oracle might remain unrefuted. Socrates introduces the story of the oracle only after he dismisses, the charges circulated by his first accusers--namely, that he investigates the things under the earth and heavenly things, and that he educates people for money. Insisting that he does not dishonor the knowledge involved in these activities, Socrates nonetheless offers defense apart from simply disowning such knowledge, presumably because these activities are not related to pragma which has earned him his peculiar reputation."


Metcalf, Robert. "The Philosophical Rhetoric of Socrates' Mission." Philosophy and Rhetoric 37.2 (2004): 143-66.