LUDOVICI: The Ugliness of Socrates

The life of Socrates is well known in the philosophical community. It is generally believed that Socrates was wrongfully condemned to death for corrupting the youth of Athens, and that he died as a martyr to Truth and to independent thought. But 20th century British philosopher Anthony Ludovici asserts that this favorable opinion of Socrates is incorrect. In this video, we will explore Ludovici’s argument that Socrates was not only a corrupter of the Athenian youth, but also a corrupter of the subsequent 2400 years of Western thought.

According to Ludovici, the ancient Greeks before Socrates did not believe that a man was composed of a body and an independent soul. To the Greeks, man was an indivisible unit. “Man was a whole, his invisible and visible aspects were one. To estimate the worth of a human being solely from his invisible aspects was a practice not only unknown to them, but also one they would have regarded as ridiculous.”

In such a society, the good man was the man whose physical and mental qualities were good. Socrates, who was one of the ugliest men that ever lived, could never hope to be esteemed good under the standards of Ancient Athens. “He was so ugly that friends, in introducing him, felt obliged to apologise for him. In a beautiful city of good-looking people, who held beauty, and especially male beauty, in high esteem, he was naturally at a great disadvantage. Judged by the prevailing standards, he had to be placed at the bottom of the ladder.”

Socrates naturally resented his inferior position within society. Throughout his life, he worked very hard to nullify his repulsive ugliness; and in the end, he succeeded. “He accomplished this by destroying his countrymen’s belief in the oneness of man; and by dividing man into two (Dualism) and making his invisible attributes far more important than his visible.”

Socrates’ student, Plato, transmitted his teacher’s unwholesome doctrine to posterity, where it eventually assumed the form of the West’s foremost religion – Christianity. The Christian notions of the duality of man, the soul’s independence from the body, the superiority of the soul over the body, and the immortality of the soul are all Socratic notions. “Henceforward, man’s visible aspects, his body, came to be regarded as vile and despicable, and his invisible aspects the only valuable part of him. Wonderful for Socrates and his like! But for the rest of mankind – pollution.”

Predictably, this type of philosophy was appealing to the masses, which is why it has prevailed for over 2400 years. “There were too many in the world whom the Socratic teaching pleased and flattered and, in the end, it became the dominant doctrine of the West. For it made things so easy. No speechifying, no protestations of faith, no airs or graces, could alter the shape of your nose, or modify your height, or make your eyes beautiful, or make you in any way superior in body to the way you had been made. If you were inferior bodily, however, you could, along Socratic lines, always greatly enhance your prestige by posing as a person with a superior soul, and, by making certain professions of faith, adopting airs of piety and purity, and claiming highfalutin interests, pass as a very superior person. In short, Socrates gave the chance of a second innings on the moral side, if your initial innings on the bodily side had been a failure. No wonder Socrates ultimately prevailed.”

It is important to note that modern science has validated the pre-Socratic view of man as an indivisible unit, and has discredited the Socratic notion of Dualism. “The fact that Science has lately swung round to the pre-Socratic Greek view of man, as an indivisible unity, is the important point to remember; because most people today probably imagine that the Socratic hoax about man’s duality, supported as it is by religion, is also the orthodox scientific point of view.”

To conclude, Ludovici claims that posterity’s generally favorable opinion of Socrates is incorrect. Socrates was an ugly man who resented his inferior position in a society that valued both physical and mental beauty. Spurred on by his feelings of inferiority, he convinced others that man was composed of two parts – a body and a soul – and that the soul was superior and far more important than the body. “In plain English – Western philosophy owes its origin to the efforts of a shrewd and ugly outsider, with acute inferiority feelings, to save his self-esteem.”


25 thoughts on “LUDOVICI: The Ugliness of Socrates

  1. Surely one’s essence is not purely physical. One’s essence goes well beyond the physical. There is whatever it is we have in our brains that makes us what we are. Take the not-so-easily identified psychopath for instance. Such people are very often physically beautiful, but after you get to know them you begin to think of them as ugly, grasping and illogical. Or do you lack for such experience? I would like to know.

    • In my opinion, science has not ruled out dualism. The “hard problems” of consciousness have yet to be resolved.

      This is a summary of Ludovici’s thoughts, not mine, on the development of Socratic philosophy.

    • Surely one’s essence IS purely physical. Whatever it is we have in our brains is can’t not be physical. Beautiful people may have abhorring brains. That isn’t a contradiction. There are mysteries of neuroscience, but there is nothing to suggest mind-body duality.

      • True – there is nothing to suggest mind-body duality, but science has not definitively ruled out dualism.

        Of course, science has not definitively ruled out the existence of undetectable leprechauns in my refrigerator either.

  2. This is bullshit. Man is composed of a brain and body. A man with unattractive body can have a highly superior mind compared to others and he should be respected for his mind and his thoughts. This is what socrates ment. There is a sayings, all that glitters isnt gold. This does hold true in this beautiful world.

    • When you write “brain and body,” I assume you mean “mind and body.” The Pre-Socratics did not argue that the mind does not exist. They claimed that the mind was a manifestation of the body, not the actions of a non-physical soul. They valued the man that possessed BOTH physical and mental superiority. Socrates was certainly clever, but he could never be valued in a society that required physical beauty in addition to intelligence. Thus, Ludovici argues that Socrates developed a philosophy that valued the “soul” over the body.

      • I believe soul is what our mind is able to think. We make our soul and refine it through our thoughts with time. Thoughts are produced by mind/brain. So i believe soul and mind are the same.

      • Do you believe that when the body dies, the soul/mind dies too?

        Do you believe that when the brain is damaged, the soul/mind is damaged too?

      • Thoughts don’t die when body dies. It has already been left into the world to flow. So thought is our soul. When brain is damaged no more new beautiful thoughts come out so soul is stagnant and does not grow anymore.

      • That’s interesting.

        As I previously responded to another comment, I don’t agree with Ludovici that modern science has entirely ruled out dualism. The “hard problems” of consciousness have yet to be resolved.

      • Again i do believe through this article you are just telling us that socrates was an unattractive man by his looks and thats why he developed a philosophy to go beyond his looks and to get respect from his society. But his thoughts are valid and true.

      • Yes, this post is solely concerned with the underlying motivations of the development of Socratic philosophy, not whether those Socratic arguments are true.

  3. I thought this was a thought-provoking blog and an interesting delve into historical and contemporary times and their similarities regarding “image-consciousness” which is particularly rampant at the moment with the role social media now plays in our lives. Whatever personal motivations/non-altruistic intentions Socrates had (conscious/subconscious) I am glad this “ugly” man explored the notion of dualism.

    • Yes, it is interesting to consider the similarities between Pre-Socratic Greece and the modern West with respect to physical appearances. Athens had become a decadent City-State at the time of Socrates. The citizens were given up to luxuries and vices, which is one of the reasons why Sparta was able to defeat them in the Peloponnesian War. If Socrates was born 100 years earlier, perhaps he could have saved the Athenians from defeat.

  4. OK, this angle of attack on Socrates is quite surprising, in a way that it challenges/questions our acceptance of dualism idea in a critical way… To be honest I never thought about dualism from the angle that it is excuse for something or appealing to masses just because it discards half of a problem on a individual’s journey to elusive perfection/respected place in society 🙂 Rather, like most of the people I tend to threat it like something explaining complexity of human nature, thing which we like to accept in spite of lack of clarity about delineation and precedence between the parts of it. Whether Ludovici view on Socrates is true or not, it is important point of view to be aware of on the subject of dualism

  5. I love the criticism of duality (a ridiculous notion), and it’s refreshing to read a dissaproving opinion of Socrates, but this critique does seem to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Despite the negatives, surely the Socratic method and the traditions of Plato and Aristotle had an overwhelmingly positive effect on Western philosophy?

    • The method of skepticism certainly had a positive effect on Western philosophy. I won’t argue with that.

      But I think that there is some confusion about Ludovici’s argument. I think that he makes a distinction between the “mind” and the “soul.” The Pre-Socratic “mind” is the body. The body and mind are an indivisible unit. When the body is damaged (brain damage), the mind is damaged. When the body dies, the mind dies.

      The Socratic “soul,” on the other hand, is independent of the body and immortal.

      The “mind” and the “soul” are similar in the sense that they both signify the mental processes of an individual. But there is an important difference in their relation to the body.

      • Oh yes, that’s absolutely clear. The distinction of the “mind” is grounded in material, if perhaps poetic. The distinction of the “soul” is an entirely seperate matter, indeed.

  6. It is interesting that you think that Christianity is dualistic. I have heard other teachings which are not. These teachings talk about resurrection of the whole body- the whole of you. How was it that when Jesus was resurrected he was able to show the disciples the wounds on his hands and feet if his whole body was not resurrected? It is hard to get your head around.How can our bodies be resurrected when we are cremated for instance and become ashes? And yet a tree can grow from a dead seed. Perhaps anything is possible?

  7. This was certainly a good review. I never thought of the corruption in this manner. In his trial, Meletus? and the others not named don’t bring about this charge among the charges he is impugned with though I think I read this in Crito

  8. Make’s sense. The idea that preservation of the body and the mind would be a top priority in a culture is rational and logical. Having a beautiful mind does mean being a good person to others because sympathy, compassion and caring are all emotions brought on by neurological impulses in the brain. Impulses that are triggered through experiences and feelings.

  9. Pingback: LUDOVICI: The Ugliness of Socrates | vequinox

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