Posted by: glue | August 28, 2008

Daimonion (Socratic Relay)

Socrates (in Plato’s dialogue, Apology), explains at his trial his career as a gadfly around the city, including the source of his judgment (prudence) in the daimonion (voice of a daimon) that spoke to him.

“It may seem curious that I should go round giving advice like this and busying myself in people’s private affairs, and yet never venture publicly to address you as a whole and advise on matters of state. The reason for this is what you have often heard me say before on many other occasions–that I am subject to a divine or supernatural experience which Meletus saw fit to travesty in his indictment. It began in my early childhood–a sort of voice which comes to me, and when it comes it always dissuades me from what I am proposoing to do, and never urges me on. It is this that debars me from entering public life.”

A Mantic Event

A Mantic Event

After the guilty verdict, Socrates again referred to his daimonion, attesting to the rightness of his decision to attend the trial rather than to flee into exile.

“In the past, the prophetic voice to which I have become accustomed has always been my constant companion, opposing me even in quite trivial things if I was going to take the wrong course. Now something has happened to me, as you can see, which might be thought and is commonly considered to be a supreme calamity; yet neither when I left home this morning, nor when I was taking my place here in the court, nor at any point in any part of my speech did the divine sign oppose me. In other discussions it has often checked me in the middle of a sentence, but this time it has never opposed me in any part of this business in anything that I have said or done. What do I suppose to be the explanation? I willl tell you. I suspect that this thing that has happened to me is a blessing, and we are quite mistaken in supposing death to be an evil. I have good grounds for thinking this, because my accustomed sign could not have failed to oppose me if what I was doing had not been sure to bring some good result.”

Plato, “Socrates’ Defense (Apology),” in The Collected Dialogues.

Using our heuretic analogy (inventing electracy by analogy with literacy), Socrates provides the prototype of the first literate person, syncretic in his participation in both the oral and alphabetic apparati. The experience of being addressed by a spirit (a daimon), his mantic capacity, is quintessentially oral. His dialectical practice of asking his interlocutors to define their terms is a literate skill.

Instruction: propose a figure who is for electracy what Socrates is for literacy. Who might be a good exemplar of an electrate person?


  1. The Relay

    There are several features of the case of Socrates of interest for our generative analogy:

    1) In Greek, the terms “apology” and “indictment” go together: Socrates defended himself against an indictment (accused of corrupting the youth). Aristotle borrowed the term “indictment” to name the classifying operation of concepts (the Greek word is Kategory).

    2) What is an egent (EmerAgency consultant)? Socrates considered himself to be a consultant for his fellow citizens, but one who acted not in the public sphere of politics, but through his quotidian behaviors as a citizen, in conversation with his peers.

    3) Despite the above point, Socrates was a public figure. His encounters with his fellow citizens, in which he asked them to define their terms, to see if they knew what they were talking about (that is, to test their literacy), drew a crowd of young people, who enjoyed the spectacle. Socrates had a bad reputation (a bad image) in some quarters of Athens, codified in The Clouds by Aristophanes, a comedy that used a satire of Socrates’s behavior to send up the sophists.

    4) The mantic Socrates is once again the relevant one, in electracy. Socrates standing at the threshold of his home, pausing to consult his daimon, is an emblem of “judgment” or “prudence” with immediate relevance for electracy.

  2. how would you characterize or define socrates’ daimon?

  3. Setting the Limit, the Measure

    The Latin translation of “daimon” is “genius,” so part of the value of Socrates as a relay is to revise our modern understanding of that quality. A contemporary reading (treating allegorically the event of the “voice” that called Socrates to account) would characterize the daimonion in one way as as his temperament, disposition, or nature; also as his conscience, or as the virtue of prudence.

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