Socrates (469-399 BCE)
Socrates (469-399 BCE)
- Socrates was a great thinker. He influenced the entire development of western philosophy. He wrote nothing. Our knowledge of Socrates comes primarily from Dialogues written by Plato. Plato was deeply influenced by him. It is impossible to see dearly where Socrates’ thought ends and Plato’s begins.
- Socrates lived in Athens. Socrates’ chief concern was to challenge the scepticism of Sophists; Since Sophists threatened the foundations of morality and the State by undermining knowledge.
- For Sophists, knowledge is unattainable and there is no truth. Socrates borrowed his view of life from the inscription at Delphi “Know Thyself”. He boasted that his superiority lay in his awareness of his own ignorance. Unlike the Sophists, he made no claim to the possession of any special knowledge.
- Socrates’ aim was not to construct a system of philosophy but to arouse the love of truth and virtue in men. He did not offer a theory but practiced a method of acquiring knowledge, lived it and taught it to others. Socrates (469-399 BCE)
- His philosophical method was that of elenchus (dialectical): questioning of beliefs in order to establish truths and reveal inconsistencies. He exposed those who, without knowledge, claimed to have found the truth; in his eyes, ignorance disguised as knowledge is mere arrogance and the epitome of falsehood.
- He spent much of his time in discussion & debate with rich young men. He compared him to a midwife. He said, like a midwife, he drew out the thoughts with which his young pupils were pregnant. Socrates (469-399 BCE)
- According to Socrates, knowledge is concerned with the general and not with the particular. For him, conceptual knowledge is the only genuine knowledge. Socrates was not interested in metaphysical speculation. His main concern was ethics and practical aspects of life. Socrates said, “Knowledge is virtue”, that is, moral knowledge and virtue were one and the same thing. If someone did wrong, then it was because he did not know what was right. Socrates (469-399 BCE)
- His ideas and personality won him a devoted following among the young, but he was far from universally admired. He was accused of not worshipping the Gods of the State (as he used to say that he follow an inner divine voice), of introducing new divinity (atheism & impiety) and of corrupting the young. He was given death sentence and his death was brought about by drinking hemlock. Socrates (469-399 BCE)
- During his trial, even when it became evident that he would be sentenced to death, Socrates did not surrender to his accusers. Socrates told the judges that he could have easily framed a defence and would have secured acquittal, but the kind of tactics required would have been beneath him.
- As Socrates said, such an act, although it might have saved his life, would have destroyed his soul, for it would have meant surrendering wisdom to ignorance. For Socrates the real difficulty is not so much to escape death but to escape from doing wrong. Socrates (469-399 BCE)
- “To be afraid of death is just another form of thinking one is wise when one is not”. Socrates’ equanimous acceptance of the verdict increased his fame as a wise man; and he has come to be regarded as the perfect example of the truly philosophical life. Plato was present at Socrates’ trial and later wrote a dramatized version of his speech in Apology.