Skip to Content

Category Archives: Socrates-Plato

[post_grid id="10039"]

Learning Greek with the Ancients: Noesis

by February 17, 2021

Written by Visnja Bojovic, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

It is old news that ancient thinkers were constantly questioning human learning, morals and behavior. Greek perceptions of the mind or soul were very different from contemporary views, which can make them all the more difficult to grasp for the modern reader.

However, we will make an effort to understand quite a complex concept in the ancient Greek thought: mind. Considering that the mind is quite a broad topic, I decided to focus on what it meant to just one philosopher—Plato.

Mosaic from Pompeii (1st c. BC) showing Plato’s Academy.

Starting as early as Homer, ancient thinkers began differentiating learning through perception or sensation from the learning that comes through awareness. Even though we can claim with certainty that this distinction existed, these two ways of learning were never clearly defined, and a lot of things about them remain obscure.

One thing we do know for sure is that learning through perception or sensation in Greek was called aisthesis (αἴσθησις) and that learning through awareness was always related with nous (νοῦς).

The meaning of nous depended on the concept it represented, as well as the philosopher who used it, but, roughly put, we can say that it meant ”mind”.

Aristotle claimed that the Presocractic philosophers did not make this distinction between learning through the mind and learning through perception. There were, however, some attempts.

Heraclitus, for example, in his teaching about logos, agrees that the senses are unreliable, but he does not clearly explain how logos (the truth, the essence) is revealed to us. He does relate it with nous, though.

Plato sheds new and slightly clearer light on the concept of learning through his theory of knowledge as presented in Phaedo. He puts the soul in the center of this theory, making all cognitive activity the result of the operation of the soul. He characterizes sensation as the perception of the soul through the body, whilst reasoning is made by the soul itself.

However, in Phaedo, this distinction comes through in terms of the objects perceived/understood. There is no further clarification regarding how these processes function nor the differences between them.

Marble statue of the ancient greek philosopher Plato

Marble statue of Plato

In the Republic, on the other hand, these concepts reappear in a much more complex manner through Plato’s famous analogy of the divided line (γραμμὴ δίχα τετμημένη). In a short discourse (509d-511c), Plato’s Socrates presents an epistemological theory that later proved fundamental to Plato’s metaphysics. In this discourse, he describes the four levels of existence and, more importantly, the four corresponding ways of knowing these levels of existence—i.e., the four ways of accessing knowledge.

Plato visualizes this as a line that is divided into two, unequal parts, which are then further divided into two parts each. These four parts represent four different states of mind, as well as four ways of acquiring knowledge. The fact that these parts are unequal is important.

The first part, the smaller one, consists of the visible world, the world we perceive through senses, or the physical world, if you will. This physical world is just a series of passing reflections of the other world, the world of ideas.

This corresponds with the lowest form of learning, called eikasia (εἰκασία) (opinion-imagination). In this realm, the eye makes guesses whilst observing the likenesses of the visible things. Another part of this world is pistis (πίστις) (opinion-belief), in which the eye makes predictions based upon observing physical, visible things.

For us, the second part is far more relevant and interesting, because in it, Socrates claims that the knowledge we have of the forms is of a much higher importance than the knowledge of the particulars of the perceptual world. He refers to this as dianoia (διάνοια), which Plato characterizes as knowledge (thought) that recognizes some ideas and makes hypotheses, similar to mathematical reasoning.

Socrates teaching

Alcibiades being taught by Socrates (detail), by Marcello Bacciarelli c. 1776

The highest realm and the highest form of knowledge is our noesis (νόησις). This is considered philosophical understanding, containing ideas and truth given by the Good itself.

It is not accidental that noesis is represented by the largest part of the line, given that Plato thought that few people understood the world of ideas. This is elaborated further in his allegory of the cave, which most readers are probably already acquainted with. Understanding noesis can make it much easier for us to understand Plato’s epistemological theory.

Through reading about this, we may (and probably will) agree with Socrates that we know that we know nothing, as the highest truth is quite difficult to grasp. However, learning about the questions that the ancient philosophers were discussing and grasping the concepts that they came up with will hopefully take us one step closer to understanding of noesis itself and the greater world in which we live.

References:

Phaedo, Plato

Republic, Plato

Greek Philosophical Terms, F. E. Peters

Psychology, Philosophy, and Plato’s Divided Line, John S. Uebersax

 

The Undermined Valentine

by February 12, 2021

Written by Nickolas Pappas, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

There’s a story about love in Plato’s Symposium that captures the feeling of romantic love superbly, like a Valentine to everyone who’s ever had that experience. This may be why the story is one of those pieces from a Platonic dialogue (like the Atlantis legend) that people know about even if they don’t know it’s from Plato.

Within the Symposium the story is told by Aristophanes, in real life a comic playwright, in this dialogue also someone relaxing at a dinner party with Socrates and others and wondering where love comes from. He says the first human beings were double creatures: a big head on each one, with two faces looking in opposite directions, and a spherical, four-legged, four-armed body.

These first people were contented things but they thought they could conquer heaven, and to punish them for their arrogance the gods decided to weaken them. Zeus and Apollo cut every happy four-legged double-faced human into a pair of single-faced bipeds—needless to say, unhappy ones. Misery defines existence for people like them, which is to say people like us. You have had half of you amputated. You’re all phantom pain.

Image source: Sapardanis Kostas

The story slides out of mythical past into the literal lives of those hearing it. You’re only half alive until you come upon that one that you used to be joined to. No wonder you embrace each other, trying to go back to your original condition.

Sex is part of that reunion. The gods planned it that way by moving the first split humans’ genitals around to their front sides, so people could stimulate each other as they hugged and find some relief. And yet, as Aristophanes tells the other guests at this dinner party, sex isn’t everything even in this earthy tale. These couples want something else when they find each other. They may not have the words for their yearning, but what they most crave (isn’t this romantic?) would be to find themselves reconnected into a single being.

Wedded, by Sir Frederic Leighton

There are other notable details in the story. It seems to acknowledge sexual orientation as few works did before the modern age. For this reason there’s a musical number based on the story in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. But even though Plato is unembarrassed by same-sex desire, the taxonomy of sexual identities is an addition to the story, whose main message is that love comes from a crisis long ago. You used to be half of a large complete person, and you never will be again.

Later in the Symposium Socrates offers an alternative theory about thoughtful lovers’ redirecting their erotic desire to worthier objects like social institutions, and then every species of learning, on up to the philosophical understanding of beauty itself.

But even without this theory, Plato’s readers have dashed cold water on the fantasy from Aristophanes. How would you ever find that Ms or Mr Right, if this were true? You don’t know what to look for. It’s impractical to try embracing everyone in the world to see if it will give both of you that special spark.

Idyll, by Sir Frederic Leighton

Let’s say you find someone special. You might reach for words that justify your love – witty, kind, sings like an angel – but according to this story, they’re excuses. The vital decision of whom to join with for life is a decision you made for no other reason than that this is your missing half. Maybe this explains why some long-time couples can only shrug and say they grew up together.

That seems to be the end of it: some recognition of romantic passion on one side, unsexy common sense as the alternative. The true romantic isn’t really silenced by these reasonable objections, because after all, everyone knows the right person is hard to find. (What else would it mean for there to be a right person?) You can still go on dreaming the dream of romance. There’s no law that says you have to be reasonable.

But Plato has more tricks up his sleeve than common sense. He’s more of an underminer than a naysayer. What if the danger with the story of Aristophanes were not that you never get together with the right person, but that you might?

Look at three details in the story that could seem extraneous. Imagine Plato putting Aristophanes on the couch in the psychoanalytic sense instead of the couches that the ancient Greeks reclined on to eat. As Aristophanes spelled out his myth, the double creature that was divided to create you and your special lover had two faces that looked very much alike.

When those first beings were cut in half, Apollo stitched them up leaving only one scar, the navel, and he turned their faces so that they would always look down at themselves and see this reminder of their old separation.

Turning their faces meant that they no longer saw their sex organs (this was prior to their movement, so they were on the other side), meaning these half-people pined for each other without hope for relief, and not knowing what to do together when they did meet up. So then the gods put them through a second operation, moving their genitals to the front side where people could see them. Romantic longing then acquired the new accompaniment of sexual intercourse.

If you were this storyteller’s shrink, you might circle back to some of these points. The story works fine without them, so what are they doing there? Romance is still romance, and the picture of someone you desire as someone you share a body with continues to be a compelling fantasy. “So why did you throw in the part about looking down at your belly button?”

Aristophanes shrugs it off. A fun detail. You tell a story like this and you throw in a little reality as if it’s supporting evidence. The gods cut you apart from your other half so they leave a scar. “It’s a joke!”

But the navel really is a scar, you point out, and it really does show where you were separated from someone else, namely your mother.

“I wasn’t thinking of that!”

“Wait a minute.” You’re not the type of therapist who interrupts, but you want to stay on track. “Why did you say the two faces were alike? People fall in love all the time with people who don’t look like them. But you know who does look alike? A mother and her child.”

Things never move this fast in real-life treatment. For dramatic purposes I’m having you resemble the type of analyst who shows up in movies with a gotcha question that rips away the veil of illusion. But then this Aristophanes is not a real-life character. Plato composed the story that Aristophanes told, making it up out of thin air or taking elements from someone else’s invention. He planted these clues in the story, hints that this is not really about a mythical past and other kinds of beings. If you try to tell a story about powerful one-on-one romantic feeling that goes beyond explanation, you will end up telling the story of returning to your mother.

Plato didn’t know the kinds of things that modern psychologists know. He had little idea of how the brain works. (He did know that thinking happens in the brain, and that a disease like epilepsy, despite being called “sacred,” had its origin in the brain’s material physiology.) But he had made close studies of the people around him, and he observed the characteristics of those who struck him as unbalanced – the form that inner conflict took in such people, or the socially unacceptable sexual desires that lurked in people’s souls and often appeared in their dreams. He had the delicacy to pick up on the resemblance between unquestioning erotic love in adulthood and the infant’s unquestioning mother-love.

Roman Relief of Mother and Child at Aphrodisias, Image Source: Fine Art America

Anyway, Plato didn’t have to be all that original in ascribing incestuous wishes to people. A year or two before he was born, the Athenians watched Sophocles’ great tragedy about Oedipus, whose mother/wife Jocasta says “Men have long slept with their mothers in their dreams”—not as if she were revealing anything new, but as something commonplace.

Bringing this revelation into a description of romance is a way of saying that this man or woman you feel so in love with is a substitute. The story had warned that you might need to find a replacement to love, because common sense says that you might not ever find your other half.

By linking it to infantile desire, Plato changes the whole image of falling in love. Instead of the long familiarity of growing up together, we’re talking about an older familiarity that says “I never grew up.”

What about the third detail? It’s awkward and it slows down the action to say that people were split in half, only later to have their genitals moved around so that they could see this fact about themselves, becoming sexual creatures in the process. As part of a streamlined narrative, it is clunky. But it does click as psychobiography. After the first separation from your mother, you languish, helpless. As a child you experience yearning without knowing where it comes from. Only in puberty do you become aware of yourself sexually, as if for the first time seeing your genitals for what they are.

Sure, it’s impractical to think that there is a single person just right for you. From philosophy’s point of view, as Plato understands philosophy, those other attacks on romance still hold true. But he is also canny enough to write a rival’s tale of romance that spills the beans about the forbidden desire behind it. If you want to see what’s wrong with that cult of romantic love, he’s saying, listen critically to the stories that people tell about it.

The legacy of romantic love is an old one. Valentine’s Day reminds us of that fact every year. Plato reminds us that there’s also an ancient legacy of exposing romantic love as something very different indeed.

Do Philosopher Queens Exist?

by October 17, 2020

You know how it goes… all ancient men hated women. Right?
And Socrates… well, he was a terrible husband. So surely that means he wouldn’t have anything nice to say about the ‘fairer’ sex.
And then, there is the Woman Question...
It’s a scene in Plato’s Republic…. The debate between Glaucon and Socrates is over what women’s nature, role, and political position in the human community is or ought to be.
The solution is notoriously unsatisfying.
Painting of Socrates

Aspasia and Socrates

Indeed, most readers across time and space have found reasons to quarrel with it, whether by attempting to explain that Plato did not mean women to study philosophy after all, or by considering that the caveat of women’s relative weakness undermines the whole of the text’s treatment of women.
But what if…. Socrates (aka Plato) actually wished to educate women?
Perhaps even… gasp… with the goal of creating a Philosopher Queen?
It is this point that one of our Classical Wisdom Symposium speakers – the Assistant Professor at St. John’s University, Department of Philosophy, Mary Townsend – addresses in her excellent book The Women Question in Plato’s Republic.
It’s a book that may make you rethink your views on the Republic… and indeed Plato himself!
In the words of Emily Wilson, Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania and British Classicist famous for her Odyssey translation:
“Townsend’s book should be required reading not only for classicists and ancient philosophy scholars but also for political theorists and people interested in gender studies more broadly.”
Listen to Mary speak live on… Pleonexia.
What is Pleonexia??
First, let me ask – why are we humans almost never satisfied with what they have?
Even after major successes, why do we continue to find new avenues of desire?
The examples of this are endless… but we know in our hearts of hearts that we are all guilty of this.
Well, fortunately for us, Plato wrote many works that explore aspects of our desire for more, always more, the kind of wanting that was known as “pleonexia” in ancient Greek.
In fact, Plato shows us a way to transform our Pleonexia into a pursuit for the highest possible version of what we want: the Good Itself.
Make sure to sign up for our upcoming Symposium (One Week Away!) to learn all about Pleonexia and our desire for more…
NB: Our wine option has closed, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out! In fact, you can get either the One Day or Two Day Pass HERE (now discounted!)
IMMERSE Yourself in the Ancient World… For a Weekend of Wit & Wisdom

Plato’s Symposium: Always Change For Love

by January 11, 2020

By Van Bryan
So, that’s probably a strange thing to say, right?
After all, the popular opinion today is that you shouldn’t change for love and that your spouse shouldn’t make you change. I am who I am and that’s all that I am!
That certainly seems to be the mindset these days; at least that’s what my single friends tell me. They spend their evenings swiping left on their smart phones and making connections with total strangers on Tinder or J-swipe or…whatever.
“Never change for love.” That’s the battle cry.
Besides, if you just be yourself, surely you will find somebody just like you and you will inevitably fall in love.
Right?
“Wrong!” says Plato.
The problem with never changing who you are for love, or never letting your spouse change who you are, is that who you are might very well be a terrible person. What if who you are is an inconsiderate sociopath? Or worse, what if you are a sophist?
What I’m trying to say is that maybe a bit of change wouldn’t be so bad. Perhaps we really should let our lovers change us. Who knows? Maybe they will make us better.
That seems to be Plato’s line of thought at least. Our particular topic of interest comes from Plato’s Symposium, that unique piece of philosophical literature that asks the question: “What’s love?”
Plato is a giant in the field of philosophy. He was easily one of the most, if not the most, influential philosopher in the Western tradition. His Symposium, for those of you who don’t already know, sounds more like the setup for a particularly funny joke than an actual piece of philosophical literature.
“Okay, okay, so a philosopher, a comic playwright, and a politician walk into a bar…”
See what I mean?
A symposium was like a dinner party in the days of ancient Greece. Except, instead of casually drinking beer and playing charades, the participants of a symposium would get rip-roaringly drunk off of wine and then commence to discuss some central topic of philosophical interest; although, that does sound pretty fun too.
symposium
Plato’s Symposium, by Anselm Feuerbach
In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates, Plato’s teacher and the man dubbed “the Father of Western Philosophy”, is joined by a handful of important Athenian figures of the age, the most notable of which are the general Alcibiades and the comic playwright Aristophanes. They all gather to discuss the topic of love.
For the more initiated of you, you will recall that there are no shortage of interesting ideas to discuss in Symposium. However, today we are looking at the speech of Pausanias and the assertion that we ought to let our lover change us.
Pausanias first notes that love is the only thing that can justify some questionable behavior. Under normal circumstances, we might look strangely at a man who lies all night on a front porch. However, when we learn that this man is doing this in pursuit of his lover, then his behavior not only becomes somewhat acceptable, but even admirable.
“And in the pursuit of his love the custom of mankind allows him to do many strange things, which philosophy would bitterly censure if they were done from any motive of interest or wish for office or power. He may pray, and entreat, an supplicate, and swear, and lie on a mat at the door, and endure a slavery worse than that of any slave…” –Plato (Symposium)
Heck, Pausanias tells us that even the gods will forgive you if you commit some transgression whilst in pursuit of your love, and we all know how unforgiving those gods can be.
So love seems to be something of great power and importance. However, Pausanias tells us that, just like anything, there can be good and bad love.
It all comes down to your motivations. Why do you love somebody? It may very well be that you love somebody because they are beautiful or wealthy. This, however, is not true love, and is actually quite dishonorable.
Pausanias tells us that we ought to love our lover’s soul, not their beauty or their bank account. To love either of the latter is truly a base thing, because both of these things are temporary. The beauty of youth invariable recedes, and misfortune may befall any rich man and reduce him to a peasant. Where will your love be then? It will take wings and fly!
“Evil is the vulgar lover who loves the body rather than the soul, inasmuch as he is not even stable because he loves a thing which is in itself unstable…” –Plato (Symposium)
So don’t love your spouse’s beauty and don’t love their account balance. What do you love? Their virtue!
“There remains only one way of honorable attachment which custom allows in the beloved, and this is the way of virtue.” –Plato (Symposium)
Okay, so Plato isn’t telling us that, come next Valentine’s Day, we write on the card, “Dear Honey, I love your virtue.”
Instead, he is telling us that we ought to be drawn to a person for their inner qualities. We should fall in love with the beauty of their soul and its capacity for virtue and goodness.
symposium
Pausanias tells us that we ought to love our lover’s soul, not their beauty or their bank account
Moreover, we should, ideally, find somebody who has different virtues than us. This is where the whole “let your lover change you” thing comes into play.
Find somebody who has different qualities than you. Perhaps they are brave when you are timid. Maybe they are organized while you are messy. Whatever the situation, you should find somebody who possesses qualities that you yourself lack, and then let that person seduce you into becoming a better version of yourself.
True love does not mean loving your spouse for who they are right now. True love means that two people are committed to educating each other in the ways of virtue and enduring the stormy seas that result of such a union.
“This is that love which is the love of the heavenly goddess, and is heavenly, and of great price to the individual and the cities, making the lover and the beloved alike eager in the work of their own improvement.” –Plato (Symposium)
Make sense?
So the next time you think your spouse is trying to change you, just remember that they probably are, and you really ought to let them.

Tyrannical Hell or Harmonious Utopia?

by May 15, 2019

By Jacob Bell, Associate Editor, Classical Wisdom
Imagine this… You are born into a political and social structure which has three classes. The class you are born into depends upon your lineage and will determine the career you have for your entire life. This structure is upheld by a noble lie which is embedded into each citizen of the city-state.
The lie claims that each citizen, being a creation god, has within him or her one of three metals. Those endowed with gold during creation are part of the ruling class. Those with silver are part of the warrior class. Those with bronze are part of the craftsmen and farming class.
Now, it is possible for someone of the gold demarcation to beget a child of silver or bronze status, and it is also possible, but rare, for someone of the lower classes to beget a child of higher status. It is also possible, but difficult, for someone to move up the classes during their lifetime.
Men and women receive the same education, and both are capable of ascending to the highest class, because in this society, the soul is more important than the structure of one’s body.
Soviet Education

Equal education for men and women during the USSR

A plan of eugenics is established, and a careful strategy which seeks to breed the best with the best is enforced. Children are raised collectively and according to political and social dictation.
The silver and gold classes are not allowed to marry or have a private family. They are also not allowed to obtain private property or wealth. They are sustained on what is necessary and nothing more.
The bronze class is allowed more in way of material goods. They receive the biggest portion of their work as farmers and craftsmen, but they have no say in how the city is run. Rules and law come from the top down.
Education is rigid and includes both academic studies and athletics. What one is allowed to read is dictated by the ruling class; mass censorship is put into practice. They will tell you which poetry you can read, and they will destroy the rest. They will rewrite the works of great poets, allowing only the poetry that encourages moral behavior. The so-called immoral and amoral works are destroyed.
Say goodbye to much of Homer…
Achilles with Hector's body

Achilles with Hector’s body – Not moral enough?

The city-state is closed off to immigration, and travel is discouraged. Everything must be closed off if this delicate and fragile political structure is to exist. Once so-called real knowledge is established, it must be permanent and unchanging. Once the myths are in place, they must be permanent and unquestionable. Questioning the structure of this society and attempting to enact change are both viewed with contempt.
Before we continue, let’s reflect on the city-state outlined above, and ask ourselves if this is a society that we would like to live in. Further, let us ask ourselves if this city-state sounds more like a harmonious utopia or a tyrannical hell…
Got your answers locked in?
As some of you might have already guessed, the city-state outlined above comes from the dialogue titled the Republic. This political and social structure is, for Plato, the ideal state.
Now, I can only speak for myself here – but I’m not much of a fan…
I value freedom and autonomy as a living-breathing individual, this city-state sounds extremely oppressive and tyrannical. I don’t think anyone should dictate what I read, and to establish a city-state on a foundation of self-recognized lies sounds altogether insane.
Although the gold-ruling class is to be comprised of philosopher-kings, I don’t think much philosophizing will be going on. If knowledge is set in stone, there is no room for creative or original thinking.
I think that the ruling-class would be more like computers. They are taught a very specific mode of thinking, and mathematics is of the utmost importance to their education. They would be programmed for certain thought patterns, and they would be instructed to perpetuate the noble lies.

Bust of Plato

Plato’s vision for a harmonious state – for a utopia – is just that, a vision. It is part of his theory of forms, which is to say, not a part of this world.
In the same dialogue, Plato wants to claim that if his theory of forms – his ideals – cannot be realized in this world, it is because something is wrong with the world that we find ourselves in.
Plato denigrates this world for the transcendent world of forms; he refuses to accept this life. He wants to exist free of the human condition; free of body, desire, and sensation. He wishes to exist as a disembodied soul.  
In trying to free himself and his peers from the illusions of this world, he unwittingly stumbles further into a fictional realm.
As much as he hated the thought, Plato was human, and even the most recognized and decorated philosophers are wrong about some things.

Socrates: The Man Who Knew Too Much

by April 19, 2019

By Jacob Bell, Associate Editor, Classical Wisdom
Socrates loved the pursuit of wisdom more than any other. He valued truth, understanding, and examination of self and life above all else. He believed that the most valuable thing a person could do was question their thoughts, beliefs, and perceived truths. For Socrates, the examined life was the only life worth living.
Even if you know little-to-nothing about Socrates, you have probably heard the famous dictum which states that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates apparently made this pronouncement at his trial, essentially choosing death over exile.
He thought that living a life in exile would prevent him from taking part in the great philosophical quest for truth.
For Socrates, death wasn’t the end because he believed his soul would continue an existence apart from his body. Socrates believed that the incorporeal-soul was better inclined toward philosophical wisdom, truth, and understanding when it wasn’t weighed down by earthly and bodily desires.
So he chose death over exile.
Socrates' Death

The Death of Socrates, Jacques-Louis David, 1787. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

I can kind of see where he is coming from. After all, my earthly body has already interrupted my writing-flow a few times in the past two hours – bathroom break, drink of water, food… It isn’t easy being a living-breathing organism.
But I would still happily accept exile and be on my merry-way…
Perhaps I am lacking in nobility?
Jump to the 20th century, and we hear a similar pronouncement from the Nobel-prize winning ExistentialistAlbert Camus: “Everything begins with consciousness and nothing is worth anything except through it.”
Camus then goes on to describe consciousness as awareness and makes the claim that along with consciousness comes an inherent desire for truth and meaning. Consciousness allows us to illuminate and examine ourselves, the world, and our place within the world…
…And when we tire of all this self-examination, we can simply point our consciousness in another direction, promptly forgetting about all of our shortcomings.
Or maybe that’s just me.

Albert Camus (November 1913 – January 1960)

Socrates’ examined life is one of conscious awareness. Socrates is conscious of our fallibility when it comes to knowledge and wisdom, and he wishes to illuminate such problems through philosophical discussion with the hopes of finding truth. His examined life is possible only through his conscious awareness.
Socrates and Camus share a system of values. They both believe that the search for truth, meaning, and value is an essential activity of life.
They part ways, however, when it comes to choosing death over an unexamined life…
For Camus, the truth is not worth more than life itself. Life is what allows us the opportunity to question and seek philosophical wisdom. Camus, being an atheist, would refuse the notion of an incorporeal-soul. This life is all that we are given – and this world is all that we can know.
Camus cherished life over truth with such passion that he commended Galileo for abandoning his scientific theory of heliocentrism when the church threatened his life for holding such a controversial position.

Portrait of Galileo

While there aren’t usually contests about such things, I would claim that Camus knew less than Socrates. By this I am referring to that other famous dictum uttered by Socrates that states “I know that I know nothing.”
The accuracy of this pronouncement is questioned by scholars who know more of the matter than I do. These scholars argue that Socrates doesn’t claim to know nothing, but that he is simply aware of his ignorance on certain matters.
The paradoxical “I know that I know nothing” is actually better translated as “What I do not know I do not think I know either.”
In the Apology Socrates is portrayed by Plato as confident in his knowledge to the point of death. One must ponder the notion that if Socrates was actually the person he is often portrayed as being – the wise sage that claims to not know – his fate might have been different.
His confidence is what sealed his fate. His claim to divine inspiration which consequently led him to interrogation-like discourse with his fellow citizens is far and above an earthly-grounded confidence in one’s knowledge.
Socrates believed that he knew quite a lot. He was so firm in his beliefs that he chose death over exile. For Camus, the truth isn’t so firm, and so dying for something which might not actually be true was fundamentally ridiculous.
Alcibiades being taught

Alcibiades Being Taught by Socrates (1776), by François-André Vincent.

Keeping all of this in mind, one is tempted to ask – was the death of Socrates really as noble as it is often portrayed? Or does it reveal to us a disharmony and potential ingenuine nature of Socrates and his intellectual stubbornness?
His constant pestering as the gadfly of Athens coupled with his claim of divine inspiration makes him seem less of a noble seeker of wisdom and more like a charlatan.
But who am I to make such accusations?
I leave you here, to question and reflect on this recognizably unpopular position of Socrates and his death… and I thank Zeus that my impious corruption of you, the reader, is unlikely to end in execution by hemlock.