Socrates' Divine Sign: Religion, Practice and Value in Socratic Philosophy


180 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-920980-91-2
DDC 183'.2




Edited by Pierre Destrée and Nicolas D. Smith
Reviewed by Jay Newman

Jay Newman is a professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph. His
books include Inauthentic Culture and Its Philosophical Critics and
Biblical Religion and Family Values.


In the writings of Plato and Xenophon, pivotal importance is assigned to
the daimonion, a voice that came at certain times to Socrates and
powerfully influenced the way in which he conducted his affairs. This
special issue of the journal Apeiron offers us 10 studies of the
daimonion, along with a useful preface, a bibliography of sources cited,
and three indexes. The articles are based on papers that were delivered
at a 2003 conference at the University of Brussels.

Students of classical philosophy have had considerable difficulty in
dealing with this aspect of Socratic thinking, mainly because of
obscurities and inconsistencies in the ancient accounts but also at
times due to their own temperamental resistance to acknowledging the
critical importance of the religious dimension of the Socratic and
Platonic enterprises. In this comprehensive and well-structured
collection, exemplary academic specialists address such issues as the
compatibility of Socrates’ references to the daimonion with his
rationalist and intellectualist commitments; the significance of the
competing classical portraits of Socrates; whether the sign is to be
understood as from a god or as an internal force; whether the sign was
unique to Socrates; and how often and under what circumstances the sign
came to Socrates. A noteworthy feature of the volume is the significant
attention given to ancient accounts other than Plato’s. Unfortunately,
the first name of one of the co-editors of the volume, Professor Smith,
is spelled differently in different places, and this will almost
inevitably cause some confusion.

The essays in this collection are of uniformly high quality with
respect to scholarship, clarity, and insight. Two of the contributors
are affiliated with Canadian institutions: Louis-André Dorion of the
University of Montreal and Mark Joyal of the University of Manitoba.
This fine set of studies merits a place in every university library and
is deserving of attention from all students of ancient Greek philosophy.
It will be particularly valuable to university lecturers who are at a
loss for words when trying to explain to undergraduates why the
daimonion is not simply to be understood as the voice of


“Socrates' Divine Sign: Religion, Practice and Value in Socratic Philosophy,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,