About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Socrates vs. Jesus
Right now I just wanted to share the following thought. The book occasionally compares Socrates to Jesus. This has been done before (indeed, some of the early Church fathers considered Socrates a pre-Christian saint, whatever that may mean), but it does bother me.
True, the two teachers do share some (though by no means all) their ethical precepts. So do many other great figures of the past (Buddha, for example), and of course so do many contemporary thinkers. Moreover, those precepts are rather generic and quite obvious from the point of view of a workable society (e.g., there wouldn't be much of a society if people felt it were ok to go around randomly killing each other). Hence, the similarity there is superficial.
The difference, on the other hand, is huge. Jesus -- for all we know (since he didn't actually write anything down, another superficial similarity with Socrates) -- claimed to be divine (hence inherently superior to his disciples) and taught by (divine) authority. Socrates claimed to be just a humble person trying to figure things out, and encouraged people to use reason, not faith, to understand what life is about. The Socratic dictum was the same found at the entrance of the oracle at Delphi: Know Thyself, not "got Jesus?"
I can't imagine a sharper difference between the two figures, and in my book Socrates beats Jesus hands down. Next time you face an ethical dilemma, it would make much more sense if you asked yourself: "What Would Socrates Do?"