THE SOCRATIC LEGACY Villa’s (2001) gloss on Socrates’ defence (as reported in Plato’s e Apology) to the public charge, brought against him in 399 bc, of being a menace to society deserves careful consideration:
Given the scorn Socrates heaps on the idea of grovelling to save one’s life, there seems little reason to suppose that he is lying when he emphasises his own ignorance of the correct de nition of the virtues, of a positive account of moral truth. e sole form of wisdom he does claim is, famously, the awareness of his own lack of positive knowledge of the good: ‘I am only too conscious that I have no claim to wisdom, great or small’. His radically imperfect ‘human wisdom’ consists in knowing what he does not know, in realizing that he does not possess anything like the moral expertise claimed by the sophists, politicians, and poets. It is this negative wisdom — the sense of one’s own relative ignorance of what virtue is and what the ‘best life’ looks like — which serves as the basis and goad of Socrates’ philosophical activity. (Villa, 2001, p. 18)
According to Villa, Socrates does not deny ‘the good’, but asserts his incapacity to o er a positive account of what constitutes ‘the good’. Socrates’ claim to virtue is his unswerving commitment to questioning his own and others’ taken-for-granted assumptions regarding what goodness is and what virtue is. e good society, according to this reading, is a society which has the capacity to question its own account of moral truth and, in so doing, to rid itself of its own illusions. e basis of Socrates’ philosophical activity is ‘dis-illusionment’: not the Romantic notion of ‘disillusionment’ as loss of hope, but a notion of ‘dis-illusionment’ as the means whereby we strip away false assumptions.