“The noblest and best music”

In light of the prior post we really can’t avoid asking the question “for what reasons did Socrates say that philosophy is the noblest and best of music?”

(Socrates…I guess it must be Socrates, or at least a bust of Socrates.)

As readers of the Phaedo are aware Socrates was alluding to the recurring dream that he had in which he was exhorted to

“Make and cultivate music”

(What a man!)

and as he himself explains he took this message as a clear command by the muse, or God, that he should devote his life to philosophy.

Now in endeavoring to answer this question I am taking it for granted that:

  1. Everyone wants to be like Socrates. Socrates is an example of holiness and virtue. He is an especially admirable example of virtue with regard to the extent that a man who does not have the advantages of Christianity is able to achieve any virtue at all!
  2. Socrates is to some extent comparable to Christ insofar as he was put to death for teaching the truth. He was a “martyr” for the truth.
  3. Everything that Socrates said was profoundly wise and therefore, we, who all want to be just like him, should spend a great deal of time in our short lives trying to figure out what he said.
  4. It is also an excellent question to ask for all who are concerned with the liberal education of the young. Because really when you get down to the nub of things, we would all be very, very happy if the sum total of all of our efforts resulted in a student saying some thing like

“I just love Socrates!”


“when I grow up I want to be just like Socrates!”

(Homo sedens fit sapiens!)

As a matter of fact I personally take great delight if perchance once in a great while a student might say “Mr Langley, you are just like Socrates!”

When I hear something like this, or even something vaguely approximating this sentiment within a million miles of the mark – I feel so good all over. A tear pops out of my eye and I feel warm fuzzies swimming all over my whole body!

What teacher would not love, no matter how remotely, to be compared to Socrates?

Therefore this question has profound relevance to the mission of this blog which is about “classical education and the formation of Catholic liberally educated ladies and gentlemen.”

I don’t think it is necessary to justify any further why we need to investigate what Socrates meant when he compared philosophy to music.

So what did he mean? Are there many reasons for what he said or maybe just one good reason?  What if instead of music, the dream alluded to painting – Socrates make and cultivate beautiful paintings!” or “Socrates, make and cultivate beautiful sculptures”

Or is music specifically and specially suited as an excellent symbol or likeness or metaphor for philosophy?

Why is music so suitable as a sign of philosophy?

I can think of at least three reasons…


About marklangley

Presently, the founding Headmaster of Our Lady of Walsingham Academy in Colorado Springs (see www. OLWclassical.org), former headmaster and Academic Dean at The Lyceum (a school he founded in 2003, see theLyceum.org) Mark loves sacred music and Gregorian Chant and singing with his lovely wife, Stephanie, and their children.
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