A compelling case can be made that in The Republic Plato is conveying his own idea of wisdom and in his work The Apology he is recording Socrates’ concept of what characterized wisdom.
In The Apology, wisdom is linked to goodness, or the perfection and highest ideal that a thing can aspire to. Because of this, Socrates’ in The Apology uses this to argue that the philosopher is the highest profession one can aspire to because a lover of wisdom is a lover of the highest ideal, which is linked to goodness. (The Republic, 35). Socrates in the Apology has some very objective thoughts regarding the ranking of men based on it: ““I thought to myself: I am wiser than this man; neither of us probably knows anything that is really good, but he thinks he has knowledge, when he has not, while I, having no knowledge, do not think I have.”
Socrates uses narrative story to illustrate his thoughts on wisdom in “The Apology. He explains his rational behind the proclamation at the Oracle of Delphi. Chaerephon posed a question to the Oracle at Delphi who asked who was the wisest man. She decreed that there was no wiser man than Socrates (46). Socrates goes through a list of what he knows, and concludes he knows nothing. He realized though he was ignorant of most things, he was aware of this ignorance and in that way, his awareness of his ignorance was what made him wise. Socrates has thus, in his way of seeing, become a threat to the status quo because he has encouraged others to grow in wisdom. He challenged everyone’s notion of wisdom and in doing so challenged the wisdom of the ruling politicos and elites, who did not take kindly to their wisdom being questioned (48).
There are two sorts of wisdom in The Apology. Wisdom of God and wisdom available for humans to attain. Socrates believed a wise man knew the limits of his own wisdom (58). He says that he has infuriated those who pretend to have wisdom but indeed do not. As the Republic is a work about justice that uses political thought to make it’s point, wisdom takes on a much more political nature in The Republic and could be called a political virtue. Plato writes that “Is there any other virtue remaining which can compete with wisdom and temperance and courage in the scale of political virtue” ( 51).
Wisdom in the Republic is seen as necessary in order for governing to aspire to the highest ideal and in The Apology wisdom is seen as necessary for a man to aspire to fully actualize this potential.
There are similarities between the two works and the definition of wisdom. Wisdom is seen in both works as necessary for avoiding excesses. “All his desires are absorbed in the love of wisdom, which is the love of truth” (The Republic, 70).
Wisdom is what Socrates claims to posses in the Apology and through that he sees it impossible to fear death, since wisdom demands that a person not fear the unknown after their life any more than the wisdom that precedes it (The Apology, 17). Both are seen as the highest virtues, but the application of each is used in either work for different ends given the context of each work.
Adam, James. The republic of Plato,. Cambridge: University Press, 1900. Print.
Jowett, Benjamin. Apology. Champaign, Ill.: Project Gutenberg, 1999. Print.
Tredennick, Hugh. The last days of Socrates. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 19691959. Print.