This blog is a collection of what I find interesting and worth thinking about. To that end, and in-part what motivated me to begin blogging, is the incredibly interesting fact that Socrates was called atopotatos.

Atopos (ἄτοπος)

Adjective

  1. Out of place, out of the way; unwonted, extraordinary; strange, paradoxical; unnatural, disgusting; absurd, marvelous[1]

In Plato’s dialogues, Socrates is considered the pinnacle of the unclassifiable. His atopia (noun) is referred to at Symposium 215a, 221d; he is described as atopos at Gorgias 494d; and in Theaetetus, he recognizes it himself and uses the superlative, “they say I am atopotatos, and all I create is aporia.” (Plato, Theaetetus, 149a)

Socrates’ oddness was not limited to his intellectual presence either. The man was comically ugly. Nietzsche evokes his “crab-like eyes, puffed-up lips, and hanging belly,”[2] and Kierkegaard considers him to be a kobold.[3] As Pierre Hadot puts it, “the figure of Socrates is ambiguous, troubling, and strangely disconcerting.”[4]

So the first figure of philosophy, perhaps the figure of philosophy, was manifestly perplexing. I think two lessons can be drawn:

First, Socrates’ unclassifiable behavior and ceaselessly questioning nature effectively orientates philosophy around a state of wonder. His unashamed admission of ignorance of everything (except that he knows nothing) emphasizes the importance of humility in a subject that can easily tend towards vanity. In a different, but perhaps deeper sense, I believe the state of aporia triggered by Socratic atopia reveals the human condition itself to be profoundly strange, paradoxical, unwonted, absurd, extraordinary, and marvelous. 

Second, most of the time Socrates’ exterior abnormality was only as mask, the prospon of Socratic irony. For he purposefully masked himself and his philosophical profundity, feigning a form of self-deprecation, in order to inquire with his interlocutors on equal footing. His pretense of ignorance afforded others the opportunity to present their own beliefs and ultimately enter into a productive dialogue.

It is thus these two lessons, that worthwhile philosophy admits a sense of wonder and the recognition that productive discourse stems from personal humility, that I hope to keep ready to hand in my own work.

 

[1] Henry George Liddell. Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. revised and augmented throughout by. Sir Henry Stuart Jones. with the assistance of. Roderick McKenzie. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1940.

[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, “Socrates and Tragedy,” volume 1, p. 544

[3] Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony with Constant Reference to Socrates, GW 31, p. 10

[4] Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 148