54. Socrates - The Founder of Western Philosophy and Thought
Updated: Jun 9, 2020
Who Was Socrates?
Socrates ( c. 470 – 399 BC) was a classicalGreek (Athenian) philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and as being the first moral philosopher of the Western ethical tradition of thought. An enigmatic figure, he made no writings, and is known chiefly through the accounts of classical writers writing after his lifetime, particularly his students Plato and Xenophon. Other sources include the contemporaneous Antisthenes, Aristippus, and Aeschines of Sphettos.
Aristophanes, a playwright, is the main contemporary author to have written plays mentioning Socrates during Socrates' lifetime, though a fragment of Ion of Chios' Travel Journal provides important information about Socrates' youth.
Pic : Statue of Socrates in front of theAcademy of Athens (modern)
Plato's dialogues are among the most comprehensive accounts of Socrates to survive from antiquity, from which Socrates has become renowned for his contributions to the fields of ethics and epistemology.
It is this Platonic Socrates who lends his name to the concepts of Socratic irony and the Socratic method, or elenchus. However, questions remain regarding the distinction between the real-life Socrates and Plato's portrayal of Socrates in his dialogues.
Socrates exerted a strong influence on philosophers in later antiquity and in the modern era. Depictions of Socrates in art, literature and popular culture have made him one of the most widely known figures in the Western philosophical tradition.
As Socrates did not write down any of his teachings,secondary sources provide the only information on his life and thought. The sometimes contradictory nature of these sources is known as the Socratic problem,or the Socratic question.
Plato and Xenophon's dialogues provide the main source of information on Socrates's life and thought.These writings are the Sokratikoi logoi, or Socratic dialogues, which consist of reports of conversations apparently involving Socrates.
Two factors emerge from all sources pertaining to the character of Socrates: that he was ugly (at least as an older man), and had a brilliant intellect. He wore tattered clothes and went barefoot (the latter characteristic made its way into the play The Clouds by Aristophanes). He lived entirely within ancient Athens (at least from his late 30s, and other than when serving on military campaigns in Potidaea, Delium, etc.), he made no writings (at least not about philosophy – only a single verse of poetry composed by him survives), and he was executed by being made to drink hemlock.
II.Socrates as a philosopher
The problem with discerning Socrates's philosophical views stems from the perception of contradictions in statements made by the Socrates in the different dialogues of Plato; and in later dialogues Plato used the character, Socrates, to give voice to views that were his own. These contradictions produce doubt as to the actual philosophical doctrines of Socrates, within his milieu and as recorded by other individuals.
Aristotle, in his Magna Moralia, refers to Socrates in words which make it patent that the doctrine virtue is knowledge was held by Socrates. Within the Metaphysics, he states Socrates was occupied with the search for moral virtues, being the "first to search for universal definitions for them".
The problem of understanding Socrates as a philosopher is shown in the following: In Xenophon's Symposium, Socrates is reported as saying he devotes himself only to what he regards as the most important art or occupation, that of discussing philosophy.
However, in The Clouds, Aristophanes portrays Socrates as running a Sophist school with Chaerephon. Also, in Plato's Apology and Symposium, as well as in Xenophon's accounts, Socrates explicitly denies accepting payment for teaching. More specifically, in the Apology, Socrates cites his poverty as proof that he is not a teacher.
Socrates was an ancient Greek philosopher considered to be the main source of Western thought. He was condemned to death for his Socratic method of questioning.
Born circa 470 B.C. in Athens, Greece, Socrates's life is chronicled through only a few sources: the dialogues of Plato and Xenophon and the plays of Aristophanes.
Because these writings had other purposes than reporting his life, it is likely none present a completely accurate picture. However, collectively, they provide a unique and vivid portrayal of Socrates's philosophy and personality.
Socrates was the son of Sophroniscus, an Athenian stonemason and sculptor, and Phaenarete, a midwife. Because he wasn't from a noble family, he probably received a basic Greek education and learned his father's craft at a young age. It's believed Socrates worked as mason for many years before he devoted his life to philosophy.
Contemporaries differ in their account of how Socrates supported himself as a philosopher. Both Xenophon and Aristophanes state Socrates received payment for teaching, while Plato writes Socrates explicitly denied accepting payment, citing his poverty as proof.
Socrates married Xanthippe, a younger woman, who bore him three sons: Lamprocles, Sophroniscus and Menexenus. There is little known about her except for Xenophon's characterization of Xanthippe as "undesirable."
He writes she was not happy with Socrates's second profession and complained that he wasn’t supporting family as a philosopher. By his own words, Socrates had little to do with his sons' upbringing and expressed far more interest in the intellectual development of Athens' other young boys.
IV. Life in Athens
Athenian law required all able-bodied males serve as citizen soldiers, on call for duty from ages 18 until 60. According to Plato, Socrates served in the armored infantry — known as the hoplite — with shield, long spear and face mask.
He participated in three military campaigns during the Peloponnesian War, at Delium, Amphipolis and Potidaea, where he saved the life of Alcibiades, a popular Athenian general.
Socrates was known for his fortitude in battle and his fearlessness, a trait that stayed with him throughout his life. After his trial, he compared his refusal to retreat from his legal troubles to a soldier's refusal to retreat from battle when threatened with death.
Plato's Symposium provides the best details of Socrates' physical appearance. He was not the ideal of Athenian masculinity. Short and stocky, with a snub nose and bulging eyes, Socrates always seemed to appear to be staring.
However, Plato pointed out that in the eyes of his students, Socrates possessed a different kind of attractiveness, not based on a physical ideal but on his brilliant debates and penetrating thought.
Socrates always emphasized the importance of the mind over the relative unimportance of the human body. This credo inspired Plato’s philosophy of dividing reality into two separate realms, the world of the senses and the world of ideas, declaring that the latter was the only important one.
Socrates believed that philosophy should achieve practical results for the greater well-being of society. He attempted to establish an ethical system based on human reason rather than theological doctrine.
Socrates pointed out that human choice was motivated by the desire for happiness. Ultimate wisdom comes from knowing oneself. The more a person knows, the greater his or her ability to reason and make choices that will bring true happiness.
Socrates believed that this translated into politics with the best form of government being neither a tyranny nor a democracy. Instead, government worked best when ruled by individuals who had the greatest ability, knowledge and virtue, and possessed a complete understanding of themselves.
In 399 BC, Socrates went on trial and was subsequently found guilty of both corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens and of impiety (asebeia, "not believing in the gods of the state"), and as a punishment sentenced to death, caused by the drinking of a mixture containing poison hemlock.
Socrates's death is described at the end of Plato's Phaedo, although Plato was not himself present at the execution. As to the veracity of Plato's account it seems possible he made choice of a number of certain factors perhaps omitting others in the description of the death, as the Phaedo description does not describe progress of the action of the poison (Gill 1973) in concurrence with modern descriptions. Phaedo states, after drinking the poison, he was instructed to walk around until his legs felt numb. After he lay down, the man who administered the poison pinched his foot; Socrates could no longer feel his legs. The numbness slowly crept up his body until it reached his heart.
Socrates chose to cover his face during the execution (118 a6 Phaedo).
According to Phaedo (61c–69e), Socrates stated that "[a]ll of philosophy is training for death".
Pic :The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David (1787)
Socrates's last words are thought to be ironic (C. Gill 1973),or sincere (J. Crooks 1998).Socrates speaks his last words to Crito; there are several different translations:
Crito, we owe a rooster to Asclepius. Please, don't forget to pay the debt.
Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius, Pay it and do not neglect it.
Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius, make this offering to him and do not forget.
Refusal to escape
Socrates turned down Crito's pleas to attempt an escape from prison. Xenophon and Plato agree that Socrates had an opportunity to escape, as his followers were able to bribe the prison guards. There have been several suggestions offered as reasons why he chose to stay:
He believed such a flight would indicate a fear of death, which he believed no true philosopher has.
If he fled Athens his teaching would fare no better in another country, as he would continue questioning all he met and undoubtedly incur their displeasure.
Having knowingly agreed to live under the city's laws, he implicitly subjected himself to the possibility of being accused of crimes by its citizens and judged guilty by its jury. To do otherwise would have caused him to break his "social contract" with the state, and so harm the state, an unprincipled act.
If he escaped at the instigation of his friends, then his friends would become liable in law.
The full reasoning behind his refusal to flee is the main subject of the Crito.In as much as Socrates drank hemlock willingly without complaint (having decided against fleeing), R.G. Frey (1978) has suggested in truth, Socrates chose to commit suicide.
In Nutshell, Socrates was a classical Greek philosopher who is credited with laying the fundamentals of modern Western philosophy. He is known for creating Socratic irony and the Socratic method (elenchus). He is best recognized for inventing the teaching practice of pedagogy, where in a teacher questions a student in a manner that draws out the correct response. He has had a profound influence on Western philosophy, along with his students Plato and Aristole. Though much of Socrates' contribution is to the field of ethics, his input to the field of epistemology and logic is also noteworthy.
Epistemology is the study of the nature and scope of knowledge and justified belief. It analyzes the nature of knowledge and how it relates to similar notions such as truth, belief and justification. It also deals with the means of production of knowledge, as well as skepticism about different knowledge claims.
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