Xenophon's Socratic Education

Reason, Religion, and the Limits of Politics

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Dustin Sebell
  • Philadelphia: 
    University of Pennsylvania Press
    , March
     240 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


It is well known that Socrates was executed by the city of Athens for not believing in the gods and for corrupting the youth. Despite this, it is not widely known what he really thought, or taught the youth to think, about philosophy, the gods, and political affairs. Of the few authors we rely on for firsthand knowledge of Socrates—Aristophanes, Xenophon, Plato, and Aristotle—only Xenophon, the least read of the four, lays out the whole Socratic education in systematic order.

In Xenophon's Socratic Education, through a careful reading of Book IV of Xenophon's Memorabilia, Dustin Sebell shows how Socrates ascended, with his students in tow, from opinions about morality or politics and religion to knowledge of such things. Besides revealing what it was that Socrates really thought—about everything from self-knowledge to happiness, natural theology to natural law, and rhetoric to dialectic—Sebell demonstrates how Socrates taught promising youths, like Xenophon or Plato, only indirectly: by jokingly teaching unpromising youths in their presence. Sebell ultimately shows how Socrates, the founder of moral and political philosophy, sought and found an answer to the all-important question: should we take our bearings in life from human reason, or revealed religion?

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Dustin Sebell is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University. He is author of The Socratic Turn: Knowledge of Good and Evil in an Age of Science.


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