The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter

Document Type


Publication Date



Mark McPherran and Gregory Vlastos argue that Socrates’ theology threatened Athenian sacrificial practices because it rejected the do ut des principle (aka the principle of reciprocity). I argue that their arguments are flawed because they assume that the Athenians understood sacrifice as something like a commercial transaction. Drawing upon scholarship in anthropology and religious studies, I argue that we need to revise that understanding of sacrifice and that, once we do, McPherran’s and Vlastos’ arguments no longer show that Socrates would have been a significant threat to the practice of sacrifice. Finally, I argue that McPherran’s Socrates does undermine sacrifice, but not for the reasons that McPherran suggests. Rather, he undermines sacrifice by making external actions irrelevant to piety.


Anna Lannstrom presented “A Religious Revolution? How Socrates’ Theology Undermined the Practice of Sacrifice” to the Society at its meeting with the Eastern Division in Boston in 2010. A longer version was published in Ancient Philosophy 31.2 (2011) 261-274.

For information about the author see: