“What is more, the deity was not content to care for the body but, most important, also implanted in the human being the soul and made it dominant. …For is it not quite obvious to you that, in comparison with the other animals, humans live like gods, naturally excelling them both in body and in soul? For with a human mind and an ox’s body we could not carry out our wishes, nor does the possession of hands without reason provide any advantages. So do you, having received both these priceless gifts, still not think that the gods care about you? What are they to do, to make you believe that you are in their thoughts?”
Socrates, in Xenophon’s Memorabilia
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How often have we wondered whether there is a God who really cares. While this question can be asked in an academic vein, for most of us the question presses itself upon us in the trenches of daily life. It demands to be answered—at times when our ability to endure the strain of life itself comes into question.
Socrates sets about giving his interlocutor arguments, some of them quite persuasive. Yet in the end, I think, Socrates the teacher has perceived that people tend to decide this issue in the inner chamber of their own minds. Often it is not the logical cogency of the arguments that determines the matter, that carries the day. In the end it often comes to a choice, a decision in the will. Which way will I myself choose to answer this question?
But arguments, or even just simple intuitions, can be decisive factors in that decision. Here Socrates does not call Aristodemus to look at the history of the world, or the particular good things in his own life story. He makes what might be the simplest of observations, about a truth that all can see.
You have the power of reason. And you have a body to fit it.
It’s as though he is saying: just think about what you are. You are rational, and you have hands.
For Socrates, therein can be found a key for answering that pivotal question, does God care about me, even in the details of my daily life?
Xenophon (430-354 B.C.) was a soldier, historian, and philosopher of Athens. Like Plato he wrote dialogues featuring Socrates as a great teacher. Among these dialogues are Oeconomicus, translated as The Estate Manager, in which he shares insight into the structure and principles of the ancient household, and also Memorabilia, in which he shares recollections of the life of Socrates.
Image: Photo by Harley Snode
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