Gadfly (philosophy and social science)

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A gadfly is a person who interferes with the status quo of a society or community by posing novel, potentially upsetting questions, usually directed at authorities. The term is originally associated with the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates in his defense when on trial for his life.



The term "gadfly" (Greek: μύωψ[1], mýops[2]) was used by Plato in the Apology[3] to describe Socrates' acting as an uncomfortable goad to the Athenian political scene, like a spur or biting fly arousing a sluggish horse.

During his defense when on trial for his life, Socrates, according to Plato's writings, pointed out that dissent, like the gadfly, was easy to swat, but the cost to society of silencing individuals who were irritating could be very high: "If you kill a man like me, you will injure yourselves more than you will injure me" because his role was that of a gadfly, "to sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth." This may have been one of the earliest descriptions of gadfly ethics.[citation needed]

Modern politics[edit]

In modern politics, a gadfly is someone who persistently challenges people in positions of power, the status quo or a popular position.[4] For example, Morris Kline wrote, "There is a function for the gadfly who poses questions that many specialists would like to overlook. Polemics is healthy."[5] The word may be uttered in a pejorative sense or be accepted as a description of honourable work or civic duty.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See "Gadfly or Spur? The Meaning of ΜΎΩΨ in Plato's Apology of Socrates".
  2. ^ See "commentary for book 3, line 277, out of George W. Mooney's Commentary on Apollonius: Argonautica".
  3. ^ "Apology 30e".
  4. ^ Liberto, Jennifer (8 August 2007). "Publix uses law to boot gadfly". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 22 June 2008.
  5. ^ Why the Professor Can't Teach (1977), page 238

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of gadfly at Wiktionary