Since Socrates mentioned that God can never perish, then why he spoke about gods?


Phaedo 106d goes like that:

"But,” he said, “it is not needed, so far as that is concerned; for surely nothing would escape destruction, if the immortal, which is everlasting, is perishable.”

“All, I think,” said Socrates, “would agree that God and the Principle of life, and anything else that is immortal, can never perish.”

“All men would, certainly,” said he, “and still more, I fancy, the gods.”

So if Socrates believed in God, why he mentioned other gods ?


Posted 2015-10-24T12:41:10.487

Reputation: 559

According to the punctuation given in the OP, the latter isn't even Socrates' statement.

– Bread – 2019-04-14T17:33:30.027

There's a big difference between "believing in" gods (i.e. false idols) -- and "worshiping" them. – Bread – 2019-04-14T17:35:39.247

Religion in ancient Greece was polytheistic. – John Am – 2015-10-24T14:54:51.890

@JohnAm I know that. But Socrates had monotheistic views, this is why saying God, then "gods" makes me confused – mil – 2015-10-24T15:38:25.370

Theorizing about the god(s) was tolerated but the creation of new deity -religion could give rise to prosecution by law (impiety) – John Am – 2015-10-24T15:47:08.673

There could be lots of reasons - he could have had evolving views, he could have not been certain, or he might merely have been using a common phrase. – James Kingsbery – 2015-10-26T00:28:24.950



In the ancient world and even today there are religious systems that accept one monotheistic Supreme God and a host of minor Gods below (Hinduism is one example) . This could be compared to the host of angels in Christianity. Those minor Gods are like the angels in that they are fallible but much more "faithful" (for example) than most humans. Socrates lives and works in a social system that was more polytheistic (without the one Supreme God idea) but he leaned towards a combination of the two such as exists then in Hinduism and still does today. Socrates proposed to edit the stories told about the minor gods in a way that honored a Supreme God, so he kind of straddled the fence, so to speak. One could theorize that his ideas about this was what drew the ultimate persecution.


Posted 2015-10-24T12:41:10.487


2If you have any references they may help support your answer and give the reader a place to go for more information. Welcome! – Frank Hubeny – 2019-04-14T17:35:16.870


I'm assuming this is a follow-up to this question. As discussed there, while Socrates was arguably monotheistic, he probably wasn't openly so, as a member of a firmly polytheistic society. He certainly occasionally used common idioms and stock phrases that referred to plural gods.

Nevertheless, I believe that in that particular passage, it is Cebes, one of the chief interlocutors of the dialog, who makes the reply referencing "the gods."

Of course, in reality it was Plato who wrote both the question and the answer, but he would presumably have sought to create a reasonable facsimile of how the original person would have spoken.

Chris Sunami supports Monica

Posted 2015-10-24T12:41:10.487

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I don't know why Socrates mentions God and gods; but it isn't an isolated phenomenon; for example:

Lucretious has an invocation to, I think Venus; and also to the One beyond all strife.

Parmenides in his proem, the Way of Truth and Opinion, invokes an (un-named) goddess whilst actually mediating on his notion of the One.

One possible suggestion might be that they were caught up in a transitional moment between the mythos of the old religion, which would retain its function and prestige as a civic religion, whilst theorising the logos of a new religion for the elite - recalling that Socrates was accused of corrupting the aristocratic youth of Athens.

Another suggestion might be - and I have no textual reference to offer here - so it's a speculative thought; is that it's a reflection of ancient Indo-European religion; for when we look at India it's noticeable there is Brahman, and there are avatars; and this too in Christianity - Jesus as the incarnation of (the second person) of God.

Mozibur Ullah

Posted 2015-10-24T12:41:10.487

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