Socrates’s philosophy of wisdom was rooted heavily upon the realization that all humans are ignorant: the defense he used at his own trial was that he himself was the wisest man in Athens simply because he was adequately self-aware enough to recognize his own ignorance, or lack of knowledge. In Sophocles’s play, Oedipus’s hamartia, a tragic flaw, could be seen as either his reckless actions due to his anger and pride. Socrates’s take on human wisdom was founded heavily upon the idea that all humans are limited in their knowledge, and he would see that Oedipus is not wise simply because he possesses traits that are bold and he sees himself in a “God-like” position which ultimately brings him to his determined downfall. There are many claims laid out in Apology, by Plato, regarding the search for knowledge and what one needs to do in order to be “wise”, but Oedipus does not follow such a lifestyle which ultimately leads to his downfall through actions of anger and pride.
Throughout the Trial of Socrates, displayed through Apology, he makes claims that “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology p.34). This statement distinguishes Socrates from other men by sharing his thoughts on self-reflection and holding his/oneself accountable for the gods and their values. Socrates also wrote that the only thing he is sure of is that he knows nothing, which is why the oracle at Delphi called him the wisest of all men. This being said, admitting that he knew if he was wise or unwise would make the oracle’s reason fall apart.
Meaning that, because Socrates was aware of his role as a teacher and being the so called “wisest man”, he could not lose his title by agreeing with the prophets saying that he himself was the wisest- contrasting his original point. This thought of reflecting upon his position in society shows that Socrates had deep interpersonal skills and was truly wise enough to find value in his actions. Going back to the original quote of “the unexamined life is not worth living”, he believed that the purpose of life was to grow and develop spiritually, and philosophically; he claimed that it was necessary to question one’s values and belief systems to determine if they were correct to their beholder.
In Sophocles’s play, hamartia is overplayed, but it could be said that Oedipus’ tragic flaw takes the form of this anger and his intense self-worth. In terms of his power-complex, the argument could state that by acting too rashly when he pushed a man off of the road years before. By doing this action he fulfills the prophecy set against him at birth, saying that he will kill his father unnecessarily. One could refer to his boisterous claim to Tiresias that he would exile whoever was at fault for the sudden plague in his country, but since this action was derived from a place of anger at Tiresias’ refusal to share his knowledge on the fact that Oedipus is truly at fault for the chaos in the city, unknowingly.
However one sees this exchange, one could argue that it would have been wiser if Oedipus had more self-composure and therefore saving himself from his fatal downfall. This could have been done by not acting as publically as he did before he knew all the information. However, this point does not agree with Socrates as well as the second flaw: his self-worth. Through the quote “He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing” shows that the only wisdom that is valuable is that found in a truth that offers nothing to anyone; therefore, proves that Oedipus’s reach for the truth is done out of narcissism, figuring out the truth for his own validation, and not the general knowledge of the public but rather to prove himself and his “power” (Apology p. 4).
Considering Oedipus, himself, a victor who saved Thebes from the Sphinx and who has ruled his land into a prosperous age, he believes these triumphs come from his strength and wisdom. When an unknown plague from unknown circumstances arises in the city, he believes solving a riddle will banish the perpetrator and bring peace back into the city. Socrates probably would have forewarned Oedipus to use his wisdom to publicly acknowledge his limitations, acknowledge how little he actually knows including himself, his land, and the universe. A more cautious and planned out approach could have lessened his downfall, if not alluded to it. In these arguments, though, it should be mentioned that the gods persisted on this downfall, both internally and externally, and the odds were in his favor to fall no matter the circumstances.
Socrates’s original statement claiming that “the unexamined life is not worth living” remains true in comparison to Oedipus, meaning that being able to take time out of one’s day and truly reflect on the actions and knowledge one has acquired makes them intelligent (Apology p.34). It is evident that Oedipus does not carry such a mindset or attitude to admit to his ignorance or lack of knowledge as a way of growth or power. Throughout Sophocles’s play Oedipus, he makes a stance to prove Oedipus’s ignorance to suggest that Socrates’s original point of wisdom regarding admitting one’s lack of knowledge was “ultimate knowledge”, and that Oedipus did not possess this trait which lead to his tragic, but predictable, downfall.