Socrates (June 4, c.470 – May 7, 399 AEV) (Greek Σωκράτης Sōkrátēs) was a Greek (Athenian) philosopher.
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The character of Socrates provides an illustration of a historical conundrum. If Socrates ever wrote a single word, it has not survived. As such, the entirety of modern knowledge concerning Socrates must be drawn from a limited number of secondary sources, such as the works of Plato, Aristophanes and Xenophon. Aristophanes was known as a satirist, and so his accounts of Socrates may well be skewed, exaggerated, or totally falsified. Fragmentary evidence also exists from Socrates' contemporaries. Giannantoni, in his monumental work "Socratis et Socraticorum Reliquiae" collects every scrap of evidence pertaining to Socrates. It includes writers such as Aeschines Socraticus (not the orator); Antisthenes and a number of others who knew Socrates. Plato, following Greek tradition, appears to have attributed his own ideas, theories, and possibly personal traits, to his mentor. Due to the problems inherent in such sources, all information regarding Socrates should be taken as possibly, but not definitely, true.
According to accounts from antiquity, Socrates' father was Sophroniscus, a sculptor, and his mother Phaenarete, a midwife. He was married to Xanthippe, who bore him three sons. By the cultural standards of the time, she was considered a shrew. Socrates himself attested that he, having learned to live with Xanthippe, would be able to cope with any other human being, just as a horse trainer accustomed to wilder horses might be more competent than one not. He also saw military action, fighting at the Battle of Potidaea, the Battle of Delium and the Battle of Amphipolis. It is believed, based on Plato's Symposium, that Socrates was decorated for bravery. In one instance he stayed with his wounded friend Alcibiades, and probably saved his life; despite the objections of Alcibiades, Socrates refused any sort of official recognition and instead encouraged the decoration of Alcibiades. During such campaigns, he also showed his extraordinary hardiness, walking without shoes and a coat in winter.
It is unknown what Socrates did for a living; in Plato's accounts he explicitly denies accepting money for teaching and does not seem to have any source of income, spending all his time engaged in conversation. However, it is unlikely that Socrates was able to live off of family inheritance, given his father's occupation as an artisan; in Xenophon's Symposium, Socrates explicitly states that he devotes himself only to discussing philosophy, and that he thinks this is the most important art or occupation. Aristophanes, in his wildly exaggerated plays, depicts Socrates as running a school of sophistry with his friend Chaerophon; Plato has Socrates tell us that he once spent all of his time on Natural Philosophy, but gave up on it when he came to see that moral philosophy was the most important sort of undertaking.
Socrates lived during the time of the transition from the height of the Athenian Empire to its decline after its defeat by Sparta and its allies in the Peloponnesian War. At a time when Athens was seeking to recover from humiliating defeat, the Athenian public court was induced by three leading public figures to try Socrates for impiety and for corrupting the youth of Athens. According to Dr Will Beldam, he was the first person to question everything and everyone, and apparently it offended the leaders of this time. He was found guilty as charged, and sentenced to drink hemlock, which cost him his life.
According to the version of his defense speech presented in Plato's Apology, Socrates' life as the "gadfly" of Athens began when his friend Chaerephon asked the Oracle at Delphi if anyone was wiser than Socrates; the Oracle responded negatively. Socrates, interpreting this as a riddle, set out to find men who were wiser than him; he questioned the men of Athens about their knowledge of good, beauty, and virtue; finding that they knew nothing and yet believing themselves to know much, Socrates came to the conclusion that he was wise only in so far as he knew he knew nothing. The others only falsely thought they had knowledge. Evidence from the dialogues suggests Socrates only had two teachers: Prodicus, a grammarian and Diotima, a woman from Mantinea who taught him about eros, or love. His knowledge of other contemporary thinkers such as Parmenides and Anaxagoras is evident from a number of dialogues..
Socrates is likely the most influential thinker and philosopher of all time.
The following quotations are attributed to Socrates in Plato's and Xenophon's writings:
- The unexamined life is not worth living. (Apology, 38. In Greek, "ho de anexetastos bios ou biôtos anthorôpôi".)
- For I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or your properties, but first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. - Apology, by Plato. Translated by Benjamin Jowett.
- You, Antiphon, would seem to suggest that happiness consists of luxury and extravagance; I hold a different creed. To have no wants at all is, to my mind, an attribute of Godhead - Memorabilia, by Xenophon. Translated by H. G. Dakyns.
- False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil. (Phaedo, 91)
- So now, Athenian men, more than on my own behalf must I defend myself, as some may think, but on your behalf, so that you may not make a mistake concerning the gift of god by condemning me. For if you kill me, you will not easily find another such person at all, even if to say in a ludicrous way, attached on the city by the god, like on a large and well-bred horse, by its size and laziness both needing arousing by some gadfly; in this way the god seems to have fastened me on the city, some such one who arousing and persuading and reproaching each one of you I do not stop the whole day settling down all over. Thus such another will not easily come to you, men, but if you believe me, you will spare me; but perhaps you might possibly be offended, like the sleeping who are awakened, striking me, believing Anytus, you might easily kill, then the rest of your lives you might continue sleeping, unless the god caring for you should send you another. (Apology)
- Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt? (Last words, according to the Phaedo — Asclepius was the god of medicine and healing, to whom such a sacrifice might be made upon the curing of a disease.)
- Really, Ischomachus, I am disposed to ask: "Does teaching consist in putting questions?" Indeed, the secret of your system has just this instant dawned upon me. I seem to see the principle in which you put your questions. You lead me through the field of my own knowledge, and then by pointing out analogies to what I know, persuade me that I really know some things which hitherto, as I believed, I had no knowledge of. (Oeconomicus by Xenophon, translated: The Economist by H.G. Dakyn)
- Is the pious holy because it is loved by the gods, or is it loved by the gods because it is only. Eurythpro
- And I say that there will only be a perfect city when philosophers have become kings. Republic
- And I went down to Pireus, to the see the festival of the goddess... Opening words of the Republic. The phrase 'I went down' is important because it describes, in the parable of the cave, the duty of the philosopher.
- All learning is really just recollection. Meno
Further reading and external links
- Greek Philosophy: Socrates (http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/GREECE/SOCRATES.HTM)
- Project Gutenberg e-texts on Socrates, amongst others:
- The Dialogues of Plato (http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/authrec?fk_authors=93)
- The writings of Xenophon (http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/authrec?fk_authors=543), such as the Memorablia and Hellenica.
- The satirical plays by Aristophanes (http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/authrec?fk_authors=965)
- Aristotle's writings (http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/authrec?fk_authors=2747)
- Voltaire's Socrates (http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/4683)
- The Second Story of Meno; a continuation of Socrates' dialogue with Meno in which the boy proves root 2 is irrational (by an anonymous author) (http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/254)
- An Introduction to Greek Philosophy, J. V. Luce, Thames & Hudson, NY, l992.
- Introduction to Philosophy, Jacques Maritain
- Greek Philosophers--Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, C. C. W. Taylor, R. M. Hare, and Jonathan Barnes, Oxford University Press, NY, 1998.
- Taylor, C. C. W. (2001). Socrates: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Socrates Quotes (http://www.quote-fox.com/QuoteFox/plBrowse.php/?browse_cmd=browse_source&author_name=Socrates)
- Richard Robinson, Plato's Earlier Dialectic, 2nd edition (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1953). Ch. 2: Elenchus (http://www.ditext.com/robinson/dia2.html) Ch. 3: Elenchus: Direct and Indirect (http://www.ditext.com/robinson/dia3.html)
- Wikipedia. (2005). Socrates (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socrates). Retrieved on July 10. 2005.