Socrates was a polytheist for a thousand and one reasons. Once, Meletus had accused him: “Socrates is guilty of corrupting the young and of not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in other new spiritual things”.
In refuting this allegation, Socrates said in the courthouse, “Does any man believe in spiritual activities who does not believe in spirits?” No, his accuser had negated.
In reacting to this response, Socrates went on saying that he does not know how it is possible for “the same man to believe in spiritual activities but not in divine things, and then again for the same man to believe neither in spirits nor in gods.”
Socrates was so wise that it would not be wise enough for one to go just by these words— an extraction from an Apology in deciding that he believed in gods. But this does show one thing, certainly, that he was cognizant of the spiritual. So, going in a similar trajectory, let’s see whether he believed in one god.
Our said seeing will not be clear enough if we do not first come to a consensual or mutual agreement on the concept of ‘believing in’, because that on its own is a crux hindering the simplicity of this matter.
When we see the concept of believe in through the eyes of the Cambridge Dictionary, it means to think that something is real.
On the other hand, some other credible sources have defined believe in as having confidence in the power or ability of something. Admittedly, this is a more widely accepted definition of the concept.
By the way, in English grammar, we’d call the phenomenon of a double or more meanings polysemy, and whatever we mean to refer to with such words consequently hinges not only on contexts but also on the intention of the speaker or writer.
Anyways, going first by Cambridge Dictionary meaning of believe in, “all evidence points to Socrates being a polytheist” as a study conducted by the Western Kentucky University puts it. This is so because, according to the source, Socrates was—though quite hesitant, willing to pay his respects to Zeus, Athena, and other traditional gods of his people.
However valid this may seem at face level, a closer look will make one understand that it doesn’t align with the widely acknowledged definition of believe in which is equal to having confidence in a thing.
As to the other concept of believing in as having confidence in, it is arguable that Socrates believed in at least two gods: Apollo and daemon, more on this in a bit.
So, yes, Socrates was a polytheist but before we delve into that, let’s scratch out the opinion that he was a monotheist by considering some more views in favor of that.
Why Socrates Seemed a Monotheist
First, In the courtroom in Apology, we hear Socrates say, “I will obey the god rather than you… I shall not cease to practice philosophy… be sure that this is what the god orders me to do, and I think there is no greater blessing for the city than my service to the god.” Here, we didn’t hear him say his service was to the gods but to the god.
We’d later realized what this god is. It is the spirit Socrates claimed to have sitting on his shoulder: ‘daemon’ or alternatively spelt ‘daimon’. It is this spirit that told him when he was doing wrong or allowed him to be when he was doing right. According to Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, this god is what inspired Socrates all his life.
To k!ll two birds with a stone, know that if you’re bemused that Socrates had always spoken about His god, the one he thought to be more rational than all others, know that this (daemon) is the spirit he’s always referred to.
In fact, it was the daemon that made him willingly accept his death. Reports had it that Socrates believed his death would be a good thing since the spirit didn’t tell him otherwise. He was devoted to this one god.
Further, “I shall call upon the god at Delphi as a witness to the existence and nature of my wisdom… for surely he does not lie; it is not legitimate for him to do so… what is probable is that the god is wise”, we’d heard Socrates said in court.
But Plato cleared the air on this in his Apology when he wrote that Socrates believed that Apollo, the god at Delphi, had the responsibility of questioning men’s claims to wisdom.
So, those who confused his use of god here and in the first narrative for his non-conformism should now also realize that we’ve already mentioned two gods in which Socrates believed or demonstrated belief in: the one is daemon, and the other is Apollo. Let’s continue.
Third, though much more controversial than other views, the congruency between the beliefs of the Christian faith and those of Socrates is another reason people often confuse him for believing in one God as other Christians.
As to the foregoing point of view, we shall refer to philosopher Justin Martyr’s Apology where he proposed that the ‘Logos’ Socrates and other thinkers have always worked with turned out to be Christ.
Many seemingly valuable arguments against this claim have since its proposition surfaced but that’s not a kernel here.
In two or less than two sentences, we just want to see the probability of that.
Justin argued that the enablement of Logos (which according to him is Christ) helps discern between truth and falsehood. He consequently implicitly opined that Socrates’ paradigm of thought was inspired by the same source as Jesus’.
That’s how unclear the argument appears— in case it is also unclear to you. But, hey, for what it may be worth, one should also add that Jesus himself isn’t/wasn’t a god.
He lived like a human, but maybe especially like a prophet and a philosopher (a realist). He believed in a God too, the one that if Justin had said Socrates believed in, would have at least been more valid.
One would go on and on if he is to consider all the single stories that have confused us into believing that Socrates believed in just one god.
Is it not preposterous that it is some of those arguments for Socrates’ monotheism that showed us his polytheism when put together?
Consequently, we wouldn’t have to break our neck when launching our argument against the motion. A couple or so other points coupled with the previously examined ones should put sufficient light on the matter.
How Socrates was a polytheist
Andreas Kluth in discussing monotheism in old Athens, said: “The Greeks did not have that concept”.
Further, Socrates believed in the existence of the gods of Athens, at least we were taken back to his background knowledge of Eros, Gaia, and Chaos. But the philosopher also knew them too well than to believe in following their paths.
This is evident in the fact that he questioned Euthyphro on what the gods’ definition of being pious is. He was convinced that the only difference between them and man is their immortality.
In the same vein, some sources also suspect that Socrates and his students believed in the existence of Hermes, the god of business—mostly worshipped by the working class in Greece at the time.
Cutting across both sides, the puzzle Socrates has left us with by often switching between the terms ‘gods’ and ‘god’ when talking seems to have been properly deciphered by some scholar who proposed that he often did that because he believed in a Superior god and thought that other gods must have been parts of that single powerful being.
Conclusively, while Socrates may have seemed to have a Superior god for himself, he did believe in more than one god including Apollo, Daemon, and maybe Zeus, Hermes, and others.Share