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Socrates (Σωκράτης)

Full name Socrates (Σωκράτης)
Born c. 469 / 470 BC[1]
Died 399 BC
Era Ancient philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Classical Greek
Main interests epistemology, ethics
Notable ideas Socratic method, Socratic irony
UWASocrates gobeirne cropped.jpg
Part of a series on
Socratic method · Dialogues · Social gadfly · Ascetism · Virtue · Trial · "I know that I know nothing" · Socratic paradox · Socratic problem
Plato · Xenophon · Antisthenes · Aristippus
Platonism · Stoicism · Cynics · Cyrenaics · The Clouds

Socrates (pronounced /ˈsɒkrətiːz/; Greek: Σωκράτης, Sōkrátēs; c. 469 BC–399 BC[1]) was a Classical Greek philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known only through the classical accounts of his students. Plato's dialogues are the most comprehensive accounts of Socrates to survive from antiquity.[2]

Through his portrayal in Plato's dialogues, Socrates has become renowned for his contribution to the field of ethics, and it is this Platonic Socrates who also lends his name to the concepts of Socratic irony and the Socratic method, or elenchus. The latter remains a commonly used tool in a wide range of discussions, and is a type of pedagogy in which a series of questions are asked not only to draw individual answers, but to encourage fundamental insight into the issue at hand. It is Plato's Socrates that also made important and lasting contributions to the fields of epistemology and logic, and the influence of his ideas and approach remains strong in providing a foundation for much western philosophy that followed.

As one recent commentator has put it, Plato, the idealist, offers "an idol, a master figure, for philosophy. A Saint, a prophet of the 'Sun-God', a teacher condemned for his teachings as a heretic."[3] Yet, the 'real' Socrates, like many of the other Ancient philosophers, remains at best enigmatic and at worst unknown.



The Socratic problem

Forming an accurate picture of the historical Socrates and his philosophical viewpoints is problematic at best. This issue is known as the Socratic problem.

Socrates did not write philosophical texts. The knowledge of the man, his life, and his philosophy is based on writings by his students and contemporaries. Foremost among them is Plato; however, works by Xenophon, Aristotle, and Aristophanes also provide important insights.[4] The difficulty of finding the “real” Socrates arises because these works are often philosophical or dramatic texts rather than straightforward histories. Aside from Thucydides (who makes no mention of Socrates or philosophers in general), there is in fact no such thing as a straightforward history contemporary with Socrates that dealt with his own time and place. A corollary of this is that the sources which do mention Socrates don't necessarily claim to be historically accurate, and are often partisan (those who prosecuted and convicted Socrates have left no testament). Historians therefore face the challenge of reconciling the various texts that come from these men to create an accurate and consistent account of Socrates' life and work. The result of such an effort is not necessarily realistic, merely consistent. In general, Plato is viewed as the most reliable and informative source about Socrates' life and philosophy.[5] At the same time, in some works Plato pushed his literary version of "Socrates" far beyond anything the historical Socrates was likely to have done or said. Parsing which Socrates—the "real" one, or Plato's own mouthpiece—Plato is using in any given dialogue can be a matter of much debate.

However, it is also clear from other writings, and historical artifacts that Socrates was not simply a character, or invention, of Plato. The testimony of Xenophon and Aristotle, alongside some of Aristophanes' work within The Clouds, can be usefully engaged in fleshing out our perception of Socrates beyond Plato's work; at the very least, Socrates was a popular manifestation of a common rhetorical tool of the era, that of using argumentum ad verecundiam by having a hypothetical teacher make the argument for the philosopher.


Carnelian gem imprint representing Socrates, Rome, 1st century BC-1st century AD.

Details about Socrates derive from three contemporary sources: the dialogues of Plato and Xenophon (both devotees of Socrates), and the plays of Aristophanes. He has been depicted by some scholars, including Eric Havelock and Walter Ong, as a champion of oral modes of communication, standing up at the dawn of writing against its haphazard diffusion.[6]

Aristophanes' play The Clouds portrays Socrates as a clown who teaches his students how to bamboozle their way out of debt. Most of Aristophanes' works, however, function as parodies. Thus, it is presumed this characterization was also not literal.

According to Plato, Socrates' father was Sophroniscus[7] and his mother Phaenarete[8], a midwife. Though characterized as unattractive in appearance and short in stature, Socrates married Xanthippe[9], who was much younger than he. She bore for him three sons[10], Lamprocles, Sophroniscus and Menexenus. His friend Crito of Alopece criticized him for abandoning his sons when he refused to try to escape before his execution[11].

It is unclear how Socrates earned a living. Ancient texts seem to indicate that Socrates did not work. In Xenophon's Symposium, Socrates is reported as saying he devotes himself only to what he regards as the most important art or occupation: discussing philosophy. In The Clouds Aristophanes portrays Socrates as accepting payment for teaching and running a sophist school with Chaerephon, while in Plato's Apology and Symposium and in Xenophon's accounts, Socrates explicitly denies accepting payment for teaching. More specifically, in the Apology Socrates cites his poverty as proof he is not a teacher. According to Timon of Phlius and later sources, Socrates took over the profession of stonemasonry from his father. There was a tradition in antiquity, not credited by modern scholarship, that Socrates crafted the statues of the Three Graces, which stood near the Acropolis until the second century AD.[12]

Several of Plato's dialogues refer to Socrates' military service. Socrates says he served in the Athenian army during three campaigns: at Potidaea, Amphipolis, and Delium. In the Symposium Alcibiades describes Socrates' valour in the battles of Potidaea and Delium, recounting how Socrates saved his life in the former battle (219e-221b). Socrates' exceptional service at Delium is also mentioned in the Laches by the General after whom the dialogue is named (181b). In the Apology, Socrates compares his military service to his courtroom troubles, and says anyone on the jury who thinks he ought to retreat from philosophy must also think soldiers should retreat when it looks like they will be killed in battle.

In 406 he was a member of the Boule, and his tribe the Antiochis held the Prytany on the day the Generals of the Battle of Arginusae, who abandoned the slain and the survivors of foundered ships to pursue the defeated Spartan navy, were discussed. Socrates was the Epistates and resisted the unconstitutional demand for a collective trial to establish the guilt of all eight Generals, proposed by Callixeinus. Eventually, Socrates refused to be cowed by threats of impeachment and imprisonment and blocked the vote until his Prytany ended the next day, whereupon the six Generals were condemned to death.

In 404 the Thirty Tyrants sought to ensure the loyalty of those opposed to them by making them complicit in their activities. Socrates and four others were ordered to bring a certain Leon of Salamis from his home for unjust execution. Socrates quietly refused, his death averted only by the overthrow of the Tyrants soon afterwards.

Trial and death

Socrates lived during the time of the transition from the height of the Athenian hegemony to its decline with the defeat by Sparta and its allies in the Peloponnesian War. At a time when Athens sought to stabilize and recover from its humiliating defeat, the Athenian public may have been entertaining doubts about democracy as an efficient form of government. Socrates appears to have been a critic of democracy, and some scholars interpret his trial as an expression of political infighting.

Despite claiming loyalty to his city, Socrates clashed with the current course of Athenian politics and society.[13] He praises Sparta, archrival to Athens, directly and indirectly in various dialogues. But perhaps the most historically accurate of Socrates' offenses to the city was his position as a social and moral critic. Rather than upholding a status quo and accepting the development of immorality within his region, Socrates worked to undermine the collective notion of "might makes right" so common to Greece during this period. Plato refers to Socrates as the "gadfly" of the state (as the gadfly stings the horse into action, so Socrates stung Athens), insofar as he irritated the establishment with considerations of justice and the pursuit of goodness. His attempts to improve the Athenians' sense of justice may have been the source of his execution.

According to 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 that none was wiser. Socrates believed that what the Oracle had said was a paradox, because he believed he possessed no wisdom whatsoever. He proceeded to test the riddle through approaching men who were considered to be wise by the people of Athens, such as statesmen, poets, and artisans, in order to refute the pronouncement of the Oracle. But questioning them, Socrates came to the conclusion that, while each man thought he knew a great deal and was very wise, they in fact knew very little and were not really wise at all. Socrates realized that the Oracle was correct, in that while so-called wise men thought themselves wise and yet were not, he himself knew he was not wise at all which, paradoxically, made him the wiser one since he was the only person aware of his own ignorance. Socrates' paradoxical wisdom made the prominent Athenians he publicly questioned look foolish, turning them against him and leading to accusations of wrongdoing. Socrates defended his role as a gadfly until the end: at his trial, when Socrates was asked to propose his own punishment, he suggests a wage paid by the government and free dinners for the rest of his life instead, to finance the time he spends as Athens' benefactor.[14] He was, nevertheless, found guilty of corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens and sentenced to death by drinking a mixture containing poison hemlock.

Bust of Socrates in the Vatican Museum.

According to Xenophon's story, Socrates purposefully gave a defiant defense to the jury because "he believed he would be better off dead". Xenophon goes on to describe a defense by Socrates that explains the rigors of old age, and how Socrates would be glad to circumvent them by being sentenced to death. It is also understood that Socrates also wished to die because he "actually believed the right time had come for him to die".

Xenophon and Plato agree that Socrates had an opportunity to escape, as his followers were able to bribe the prison guards. He chose to stay for several reasons:

  1. He believed such a flight would indicate a fear of death, which he believed no true philosopher has.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 act contrary to Socratic principle.

The full reasoning behind his refusal to flee is the main subject of the Crito.

Socrates' death is described at the end of Plato's Phaedo. Socrates turned down the pleas of Crito to attempt an escape from prison. 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. Shortly before his death, Socrates speaks his last words to Crito: "Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Please, don't forget to pay the debt." Asclepius was the Greek god for curing illness, and it is likely Socrates' last words meant that death is the cure—and freedom, of the soul from the body. The Roman philosopher Seneca attempted to emulate Socrates' death by hemlock when forced to commit suicide by the Emperor Nero.


Part of a series on
Early life · Works · Platonism · Epistemology · Idealism / Realism · Theory of Forms · Form of the Good · Third man argument · Euthyphro dilemma · Immortality of the soul · Five regimes · Philosopher king · Utopia (Callipolis)
Philosophy · Moderation · Death · Piety · Beauty · Dishonesty · Art · Courage · Friendship · Language · Argumentation · Rhetoric · Virtue · Afterlife · Education · Love · Justice · Passion · Monism · Knowledge · Physics · Atlantis · Sophistry · Politics · Pleasure · Nature & Humanity
Ring of Gyges · Allegory of the Cave · Analogy of the divided line · Metaphor of the sun · Ship of state · Myth of Er · Chariot Allegory
Influences and Followers
Heraclitus · Parmenides · Socrates · Speusippus · Aristotle · Plotinus · Iamblichus · Proclus · St. Augustine · Al-Farabi
Academy in Athens · Socratic problem · Commentaries on Plato · Middle Platonism · Neoplatonism · Platonic Christianity

Socratic method

Perhaps his most important contribution to Western thought is his dialectic method of inquiry, known as the Socratic method or method of "elenchus," which he largely applied to the examination of key moral concepts such as the Good and Justice. It was first described by Plato in the Socratic Dialogues. To solve a problem, it would be broken down into a series of questions, the answers to which gradually distill the answer a person would seek. The influence of this approach is most strongly felt today in the use of the scientific method, in which hypothesis is the first stage. The development and practice of this method is one of Socrates' most enduring contributions, and is a key factor in earning his mantle as the father of political philosophy, ethics or moral philosophy, and as a figurehead of all the central themes in Western philosophy.

To illustrate the use of the Socratic method; a series of questions are posed to help a person or group to determine their underlying beliefs and the extent of their knowledge. The Socratic method is a negative method of hypothesis elimination, in that better hypotheses are found by steadily identifying and eliminating those which lead to contradictions. It was designed to force one to examine one's own beliefs and the validity of such beliefs. In fact, Socrates once said, "I know you won't believe me, but the highest form of Human Excellence is to question oneself and others."[15]

Philosophical beliefs

The beliefs of Socrates, as distinct from those of Plato, are difficult to discern. Little in the way of concrete evidence exists to demarcate the two. The lengthy theories given in most of the dialogues are those of Plato, and some scholars think Plato so adapted the Socratic style as to make the literary character and the philosopher himself impossible to distinguish. Others argue that he did have his own theories and beliefs, but there is much controversy over what these might have been, owing to the difficulty of separating Socrates from Plato and the difficulty of interpreting even the dramatic writings concerning Socrates. Consequently, distinguishing the philosophical beliefs of Socrates from those of Plato and Xenophon is not easy and it must be remembered that what is attributed to Socrates might more closely reflect the specific concerns of these thinkers.

The matter is complicated by the fact that the historical Socrates seems to have been notorious for asking questions but not answering, claiming to lack wisdom concerning the subjects about which he questioned others.[16]

If anything in general can be said about the philosophical beliefs of Socrates, it is that he was morally, intellectually, and politically at odds with his fellow Athenians. When he is on trial for heresy and corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens, he uses his method of elenchos to demonstrate to the jurors that their moral values are wrong-headed. He tells them they are concerned with their families, careers, and political responsibilities when they ought to be worried about the "welfare of their souls." Socrates' belief in the immortality of the soul, and his conviction that the gods had singled him out as a divine emissary seemed to provoke, if not ridicule, at least annoyance. Socrates also questioned the Sophistic doctrine that arete (virtue) can be taught. He liked to observe that successful fathers (such as the prominent military general Pericles) did not produce sons of their own quality. Socrates argued that moral excellence was more a matter of divine bequest than parental nurture. This belief may have contributed to his lack of anxiety about the future of his own sons.

Socrates frequently says his ideas are not his own, but his teachers'. He mentions several influences: Prodicus the rhetor and Anaxagoras the scientist. Perhaps surprisingly, Socrates claims to have been deeply influenced by two women besides his mother: he says that Diotima, a witch and priestess from Mantinea, taught him all he knows about eros, or love; and that Aspasia, the mistress of Pericles, taught him the art of rhetoric.[17] John Burnet argued that his principal teacher was the Anaxagorean Archelaus but his ideas were as Plato described them; Eric A. Havelock, on the other hand, considered Socrates' association with the Anaxagoreans to be evidence of Plato's philosophical separation from Socrates.

Socratic Paradoxes

Many of the beliefs traditionally attributed to the historical Socrates have been characterized as "paradoxal" because they seem to conflict with common sense. The following are among the so-called Socratic Paradoxes:[18]

  • No one desires evil.
  • No one errs or does wrong willingly or knowingly.
  • Virtue - all virtue - is knowledge.
  • Virtue is sufficient for happiness.

The phrase Socratic paradox can also refer to a self-refential paradox, originating in Socrates' phrase, "I know that I know nothing" [19]


Socrates often said his wisdom was limited to an awareness of his own ignorance. Socrates believed wrongdoing was a consequence of ignorance and those who did wrong knew no better. The one thing Socrates consistently claimed to have knowledge of was "the art of love" which he connected with the concept of "the love of wisdom", i.e., philosophy. He never actually claimed to be wise, only to understand the path a lover of wisdom must take in pursuing it. It is debatable whether Socrates believed humans (as opposed to gods like Apollo) could actually become wise. On the one hand, he drew a clear line between human ignorance and ideal knowledge; on the other, Plato's Symposium (Diotima's Speech) and Republic (Allegory of the Cave) describe a method for ascending to wisdom.

In Plato's Theaetetus (150a) Socrates compares himself to a true matchmaker (προμνηστικός promnestikós), as distinguished from a panderer (προᾰγωγός proagogos). This distinction is echoed in Xenophon's Symposium (3.20), when Socrates jokes about his certainty of being able to make a fortune, if he chose to practice the art of pandering. For his part as a philosophical interlocutor, he leads his respondent to a clearer conception of wisdom, although he claims he is not himself a teacher (Apology). His role, he claims, is more properly to be understood as analogous to a midwife (μαῖα maia). Socrates explains that he is himself barren of theories, but knows how to bring the theories of others to birth and determine whether they are worthy or mere "wind eggs" (ἀνεμιαῖον anemiaion). Perhaps significantly, he points out that midwives are barren due to age, and women who have never given birth are unable to become midwives; a truly barren woman would have no experience or knowledge of birth and would be unable to separate the worthy infants from those that should be left on the hillside to be exposed. To judge this, the midwife must have experience and knowledge of what she is judging.


Bust of Socrates in the Palermo Archaeological Museum.

Socrates believed the best way for people to live was to focus on self-development rather than the pursuit of material wealth. He always invited others to try to concentrate more on friendships and a sense of true community, for Socrates felt this was the best way for people to grow together as a populace. His actions lived up to this: in the end, Socrates accepted his death sentence when most thought he would simply leave Athens, as he felt he could not run away from or go against the will of his community; as mentioned above, his reputation for valor on the battlefield was without reproach.

The idea that humans possessed certain virtues formed a common thread in Socrates' teachings. These virtues represented the most important qualities for a person to have, foremost of which were the philosophical or intellectual virtues. Socrates stressed that "virtue was the most valuable of all possessions; the ideal life was spent in search of the Good. Truth lies beneath the shadows of existence, and it is the job of the philosopher to show the rest how little they really know."


It is often argued that Socrates believed "ideals belong in a world only the wise man can understand", making the philosopher the only type of person suitable to govern others. In Plato's dialogue the Republic, Socrates was in no way subtle about his particular beliefs on government. He openly objected to the democracy that ran Athens during his adult life. It was not only Athenian democracy: Socrates objected to any form of government that did not conform to his ideal of a perfect republic led by philosophers, and Athenian government was far from that. It is, however, possible that the Socrates of Plato's Republic is colored by Plato's own views. During the last years of Socrates' life, Athens was in continual flux due to political upheaval. Democracy was at last overthrown by a junta known as the Thirty Tyrants, led by Plato's relative, Critias, who had been a student of Socrates. The Tyrants ruled for about a year before the Athenian democracy was reinstated, at which point it declared an amnesty for all recent events.

Socrates' opposition to democracy is often denied, and the question is one of the biggest philosophical debates when trying to determine exactly what Socrates believed. The strongest argument of those who claim Socrates did not actually believe in the idea of philosopher kings is that the view is expressed no earlier than Plato's Republic, which is widely considered one of Plato's "Middle" dialogues and not representative of the historical Socrates' views. Furthermore, according to Plato's Apology of Socrates, an "early" dialogue, Socrates refused to pursue conventional politics; he often stated he could not look into other's matters or tell people how to live their lives when he did not yet understand how to live his own. He believed he was a philosopher engaged in the pursuit of Truth, and did not claim to know it fully. Socrates' acceptance of his death sentence, after his conviction by the Boule (Senate), can also be seen to support this view. It is often claimed much of the anti-democratic leanings are from Plato, who was never able to overcome his disgust at what was done to his teacher. In any case, it is clear Socrates thought the rule of the Thirty Tyrants was at least as objectionable as Democracy; when called before them to assist in the arrest of a fellow Athenian, Socrates refused and narrowly escaped death before the Tyrants were overthrown. He did however fulfill his duty to serve as Prytanis when a trial of a group of Generals who presided over a disastrous naval campaign were judged; even then he maintained an uncompromising attitude, being one of those who refused to proceed in a manner not supported by the laws, despite intense pressure.[20] Judging by his actions, he considered the rule of the Thirty Tyrants less legitimate than the Democratic Senate that sentenced him to death.


In the Dialogues of Plato, Socrates often seems to support a mystical side, discussing reincarnation and the mystery religions; however, this is generally attributed to Plato. Regardless, this cannot be dismissed out of hand, as we cannot be sure of the differences between the views of Plato and Socrates; in addition, there seem to be some corollaries in the works of Xenophon. In the culmination of the philosophic path as discussed in Plato's Symposium and Republic, one comes to the Sea of Beauty or to the sight of the form of the Good in an experience akin to mystical revelation; only then can one become wise. (In the Symposium, Socrates credits his speech on the philosophic path to his teacher, the priestess Diotima, who is not even sure if Socrates is capable of reaching the highest mysteries.) In the Meno, he refers to the Eleusinian Mysteries, telling Meno he would understand Socrates' answers better if only he could stay for the initiations next week. Further confusions result from the nature of these sources, insofar as the Platonic Dialogues are arguably the work of an artist-philosopher, whose meaning does not volunteer itself to the passive reader nor again the lifelong scholar. Plato himself was a playwright before taking up the study of philosophy. His works are, indeed, dialogues; Plato's choice of this, the medium of Sophocles, Euripides, and the fictions of theatre, may reflect the interpretable nature of his writings. What is more, the first word of nearly all Plato's works is a, or the, significant term for that respective study, and is used with the commonly approved definition in mind. Finally, the Phaedrus and the Symposium each allude to Socrates' coy delivery of philosophic truths in conversation; the Socrates of the Phaedrus goes so far as to demand such dissembling and mystery in all writing. The mysticism we often find in Plato, appearing here and there and couched in some enigmatic tract of symbol and irony, is often at odds with the mysticism Plato's Socrates expounds in some other dialogue. These mystical resolutions to hitherto rigorous inquiries and analyses fail to satisfy caring readers, without fail. Whether they would fail to satisfy readers who understood them is another question, and will not, in all probability, ever be resolved.

Perhaps the most interesting facet of this is Socrates' reliance on what the Greeks called his "daemonic sign", an averting (ἀποτρεπτικός apotreptikos) inner voice Socrates heard only when he was about to make a mistake. It was this sign that prevented Socrates from entering into politics. In the Phaedrus, we are told Socrates considered this to be a form of "divine madness", the sort of insanity that is a gift from the gods and gives us poetry, mysticism, love, and even philosophy itself. Alternately, the sign is often taken to be what we would call "intuition"; however, Socrates' characterization of the phenomenon as "daemonic" suggests its origin is divine, mysterious, and independent of his own thoughts.

Satirical playwrights

He was prominently lampooned in Aristophanes' comedy The Clouds, produced when Socrates was in his mid-forties; he said at his trial (according to Plato) that the laughter of the theater was a harder task to answer than the arguments of his accusers. Søren Kierkegaard believed this play was a more accurate representation of Socrates than those of his students. In the play, Socrates is ridiculed for his dirtiness, which is associated with the Laconizing fad; also in plays by Callias, Eupolis, and Telecleides. Other comic poets who lampooned Socrates include Mnesimachus and Ameipsias. In all of these, Socrates and the Sophists were criticised for "the moral dangers inherent in contemporary thought and literature."

Prose sources

Plato, Xenophon, and Aristotle are the main sources for the historical Socrates; however, Xenophon and Plato were direct disciples of Socrates, and presumably, they idealize him; however, they wrote the only continuous descriptions of Socrates that have come down to us. Aristotle refers frequently, but in passing, to Socrates in his writings. Almost all of Plato's works center around Socrates. However, Plato's later works appear to be more his own philosophy put into the mouth of his mentor.

The Socratic dialogues

The Socratic Dialogues are a series of dialogues written by Plato and Xenophon in the form of discussions between Socrates and other persons of his time, or as discussions between Socrates' followers over his concepts. Plato's Phaedo is an example of this latter category. Although his Apology is a monologue delivered by Socrates, it is usually grouped with the Dialogues.

The Apology professes to be a record of the actual speech Socrates delivered in his own defense at the trial. In the Athenian jury system, an "apology" is composed of three parts: a speech, followed by a counter-assessment, then some final words. "Apology" is a transliteration, not a translation, of the Greek apologia, meaning "defense"; in this sense it is not apologetic according to our contemporary use of the term.

Plato generally does not place his own ideas in the mouth of a specific speaker; he lets ideas emerge via the Socratic Method, under the guidance of Socrates. Most of the dialogues present Socrates applying this method to some extent, but nowhere as completely as in the Euthyphro. In this dialogue, Socrates and Euthyphro go through several iterations of refining the answer to Socrates' question, "...What is the pious, and what the impious?"

In Plato's Dialogues, learning appears as a process of remembering. The soul, before its incarnation in the body, was in the realm of Ideas (very similar to the Platonic "Forms"). There, it saw things the way they truly are, rather than the pale shadows or copies we experience on earth. By a process of questioning, the soul can be brought to remember the ideas in their pure form, thus bringing wisdom.

Especially for Plato's writings referring to Socrates, it is not always clear which ideas brought forward by Socrates (or his friends) actually belonged to Socrates and which of these may have been new additions or elaborations by Plato — this is known as the Socratic Problem. Generally, the early works of Plato are considered to be close to the spirit of Socrates, whereas the later works — including Phaedo and the Republic — are considered to be possibly products of Plato's elaborations.


Immediate influence

Immediately, the students of Socrates set to work both on exercising their perceptions of his teachings in politics and also on developing many new philosophical schools of thought. Some of Athens' controversial and anti-democratic tyrants were contemporary or posthumous students of Socrates including Alcibiades and Critias. Critias' cousin, Plato would go on to found the Academy in 385 BC - which gained so much notoriety that 'Academy' became the base word for educational institutions in later European languages such as English, French, and Italian. Plato's protege, another important figure of the Classical era, Aristotle went on to tutor Alexander the Great and also to found his own school in 335 BC- the Lyceum, whose name also now means an educational institution.

While Socrates was shown to demote the importance of institutional knowledge like mathematics or science in relation to the human condition in his Dialogues, Plato would emphasize it with metaphysical overtones mirroring that of Pythagoras - the former who would dominate Western thought well into the Renaissance. Aristotle himself was as much of a philosopher as he was a scientist with rudimentary work in the fields of biology and physics.

Socratic thought along the lines of challenging conventions, especially in stressing a simplistic way of living, became divorced from Plato's more detached and philosophical pursuits but was inherited heavily by one of Socrates' older and diehard students, Antisthenes who became another originator of a philosophy in the years after Socrates' death - Cynicism. Antisthenes attacked Plato and Alcibiades over what he deemed as their betrayal of Socrates' tenets in his writings.

The idea of asceticism being hand in hand with an ethical life or one with piety, ignored by Plato and Aristotle and somewhat dealt with by the Cynics, formed the core of another philosophy in 281 BC - Stoicism when Zeno of Citium would discover Socrates' works and then learn from Crates, a Cynic philosopher. None of the schools however, would inherit his tendency to openly associate with and respect women or the regular citizen.

Later historical effects

While some of the later contributions of Socrates to Hellenistic Era culture and philosophy as well as the Roman Era has been lost to time, his teachings began a resurgence in both medieval Europe and the Islamic Middle East alongside those of Aristotle and Stoicism. Socrates is mentioned in the dialogue Kuzari by Jewish philosopher and rabbi Yehuda Halevi in which a Jew instructs the Khazar king about Judaism. al-Kindi, a well-known Arabic philosopher, introduced and tried to reconcile Socrates and Hellenistic philosophy to an Islamic audience.

Socrates' stature in Western philosophy returned in full force with the Renaissance and the Age of Reason in Europe when political theory began to resurface under those like Locke and Hobbes. Voltaire even went so far as to write a satirical play about the Trial of Socrates. There were a number of paintings about his life including Socrates Tears Alcibiades from the Embrace of Sensual Pleasure by Jean-Baptiste Regnault and The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David in the later 18th Century.

To this day, the Socratic Method is still used in classrooms and law schools as a way of discussing complex topics in order to expose the underlying issues in both the subject and the speaker. He has been rewarded with accolades ranging from numerous mentions in pop culture such as the movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and a Greek rock band to numerous busts in academic institutions in recognition of his contribution to education.


Evaluation and reaction to Socrates has been undertaken with both historical and philosophical inquiry from the time of his death to the present day with a multitude of conclusions and perspectives. One of the initial criticisms levied against the philosopher was presented at his trial - that he was not the proponent of a philosophy but an individual with a method of undermining the fabric of Athenian society, a charge carried by the 500-man jury of Athenians which sentenced him to death. Although he was not directly prosecuted for his connection to Critias, leader of the Spartan-backed Thirty Tyrants, he was seen as a controversial figure, who mentored oligarchs who became abusive tyrants, and undermined Athenian democracy. The Sophist establishment which he railed at in life survived him but was rapidly overtaken by the many philosophical schools of thought that Socrates influenced by the 3rd Century BC.

Socrates' death is considered iconic and his status as a martyr of philosophy overshadowed most contemporary and posthumous criticism at the time. However, Xenophon attempts to explain that Socrates purposely welcomed the hemlock due to his old age using the arguably self-destructive testimony to the jury as evidence. Direct criticism of Socrates almost disappears at this point, but there is a noticeable preference for Plato or Aristotle over the elements of Socratic philosophy distinct from those of his students, even into the Middle Ages.

Modern scholarship holds that, with so much of the philosopher obscured and possibly altered by Plato, it is impossible to gain a clear picture of Socrates amidst all the seeming contradictions. That both Cynicism and Stoicism, which carried heavy influence from Socratic thought, were unlike or even contrary to Platonism further illustrates this. This ambiguity and lack of reliability serves as the modern basis of criticism - that it is near impossible to know the real Socrates. Some controversy also exists about claims of Socrates exempting himself from the homosexual customs of Ancient Greece and not believing in the Olympian gods to the point of being monotheistic or if this was an attempt by later Medieval scholars to reconcile him with the morals of the era. However, it is still commonly taught and held with little exception that Socrates is the founder of modern Western philosophy, to the point that philosophers before him are referred to as pre-Socratic.

Ahmadiyya Viewpoint

Mirza Tahir Ahmad (the fourth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community) argued in his book Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth that Socrates was a prophet of the ancient Greeks. The apparent prophetic qualities of Socrates are indeed a subject for debate [21]. His constant reference to the oracle and how it performs the active function of a moral compass by preventing him from unseemly acts could easily be taken as a reference to - or substitute for revelation. Similarly, Socrates often refers to God in the singular as opposed to the plural and actively rejected the Greek pantheon of Gods and Goddesses unless citing them as examples of their falseness. [6].

See also


  1. ^ a b "Socrates". 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica. 1911. Retrieved 2007-11-14.  
  2. ^ Sarah Kofman, Socrates: Fictions of a Philosopher (1998) ISBN 0-8014-3551-X
  3. ^ Martin Cohen, Philosophical Tales (2008) ISBN 1405140372
  4. ^ Many other writers added to the fashion of Socratic dialogues (called Sőkratikoi logoi) at the time. In addition to Plato and Xenophon, each of the following is credited by some source as having added to the genre: Aeschines of Sphettus, Antisthenes, Aristippus, Bryson, Cebes, Crito, Euclid of Megara, and Phaedo. It is unlikely Plato was the first in this field (Vlastos, p. 52).
  5. ^ There are several reasons this is the case. For one, Socrates is credited as an intellectual by almost every existing primary source. It is more likely then, that a fellow intellectual (i.e., Plato) would be more capable of understanding Socrates's ideas than a military officer, like Xenophon (even though Socrates was himself a decorated soldier). Furthermore, Socrates - as he is depicted by Xenophon's works - does nothing that would lead one to conclude he was a revolutionary or a threat to Athens. Plato's Socrates behaves in ways that would explain why he was condemned for impiety (May, On Socrates).
  6. ^ Ong, pp. 78–79.
  7. ^ Plato, Laches 180d [1], Euthydemus 297e [2], Hippias Major 298c [3]
  8. ^ Plato, Theaetetus 149a [4], Alcibiades 1 131e [5]
  9. ^ Xenophon, Symposium 2.10
  10. ^ Plato, Phaedo 116b
  11. ^ Plato, Crito 45c-45e
  12. ^ The ancient tradition is attested in Pausanias, 1.22.8; for a modern denial, see Kleine Pauly, "Sokrates" 7; the tradition is a confusion with the sculptor, Socrates of Thebes, mentioned in Pausanias 9.25.3, a contemporary of Pindar.
  13. ^ Here it is telling to refer to Thucydides (3.82.8): "Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence, became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defense. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected."
  14. ^ Brun (1978).
  15. ^ Coppens.
  16. ^ Plato, Republic 336c & 337a, Theaetetus 150c, Apology 23a; Xenophon, Memorabilia 4.4.9; Aristotle, Sophistical Refutations 183b7.
  17. ^ Plato, Menexenus 235e
  18. ^ p. 14, Terence Irwin, The Development of Ethics, vol. 1, Oxford University Press 2007; p. 147, Gerasimos Santas, "The Socratic Paradoxes", Philosophical Review 73 (1964), pp. 147-64.
  19. ^ Plato, the Republic. Book I.
  20. ^ Kagen (1978).
  21. ^ Hughes, Bettany. Socrates: The Hemlock Cup. (Random House, 2009)


  • Brun, Jean (1978 (sixth edition)). Socrate. Presses universitaires de France. pp. 39–40. ISBN 2-13-035620-6.   (French)
  • Coppens, Philip, "Socrates, that’s the question," Feature Articles - Biographies,
  • May, Hope (2000). On Socrates. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. ISBN 0534576044.  
  • Ong, Walter (2002). Orality and Literacy. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415281296.  
  • Kagan, Donald. The Fall of the Athenian Empire. First. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1987.
  • Pausanias, Description of Greece. W. H. S. Jones (translator). Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. (1918). Vol. 1. Books I–II: ISBN 0-674-99104-4. Vol. 4. Books VIII.22–X: ISBN 0-674-99328-4.
  • Thucydides; The Peloponnesian War. London, J. M. Dent; New York, E. P. Dutton. 1910. 
  • Vlastos, Gregory (1991). Socrates, Ironist and Moral Philosopher. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801497876.  

Further reading

  • Bernas, Richard, cond. Socrate. By Erik Satie. LTM/Boutique, 2006
  • Bruell, C. (1994). “On Plato’s Political Philosophy,” Review of Politics, 56: 261-82.
  • Bruell, C. (1999). On the Socratic Education: An Introduction to the Shorter Platonic Dialogues, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
  • Grube, G.M.A.(2002). " Plato, Five Dialogues". Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.
  • Hanson, V.D. (2001). "Socrates Dies at Delium, 424 B.C.," What If? 2, Robert Cowley, editor, G.P. Putnam's Sons, NY.
  • Egan, K. The educated mind : how cognitive tools shape our understanding. (1997) University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN 0-226-19036-6 p. 137-144
  • Kierkegaard, Søren (1968). The Concept of Irony: with Constant Reference to Socrates. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 9780253201119.  
  • Levinson, Paul (2007). The Plot to Save Socrates. New York: Tor Books. ISBN 0765311976.  
  • Luce, J.V. (1992). An Introduction to Greek Philosophy, Thames & Hudson, NY.
  • Maritain, J. (1930, 1991). Introduction to Philosophy, Christian Classics, Inc., Westminster, MD.
  • Robinson, R (1953). Plato's Earlier Dialectic. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 9780198247777.   Ch. 2: "Elenchus", Ch. 3: "Elenchus: Direct and Indirect"
  • Taylor, C.C.W. , Hare, R.M. & Barnes, J. (1998). Greek Philosophers — Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, Oxford University Press, NY.
  • Taylor, C.C.W. (2001). Socrates: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.

Socrates [Σωκράτης] (c.470 BC - 399 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher who is widely credited for laying the foundation for Western philosophy.



False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.

Socrates left no writings of his own, thus our awareness of his teachings comes primarily from a few ancient authors who referred to them in their own works.


The words of Socrates, as quoted or portrayed in Plato's works, which are the most extensive source available for our present knowledge about his ideas.

  • By means of beauty all beautiful things become beautiful. For this appears to me the safest answer to give both to myself and others; and adhering to this, I think that I shall never fall, but that it is a safe answer both for me and any one else to give — that by means of beauty beautiful things become beautiful.
    • Phædo
  • False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.
    • Phædo 91
  • In every one of us there are two ruling and directing principles, whose guidance we follow wherever they may lead; the one being an innate desire of pleasure; the other, an acquired judgment which aspires after excellence.
    • Phaedrus
  • Oh dear Pan and all the other Gods of this place, grant that I may be beautiful inside. Let all my external possessions be in friendly harmony with what is within. May I consider the wise man rich. As for gold, let me have as much as a moderate man could bear and carry with him.
    • Socrates' prayer, Phaedrus, 279
  • Has a philosopher like you failed to discover that our country is more to be valued and higher and holier far than mother or father or any ancestor, and more to be regarded in the eyes of the gods and of men of understanding?
    • Crito
  • As for me, all I know is that I know nothing, for when I don't know what justice is, I'll hardly know whether it is a kind of virtue or not, or whether a person who has it is happy or unhappy.
    • Republic, 354b, (conclusion of book I)
The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways — I to die and you to live. Which is the better, only God knows.


Plato's famous account of the trial and death of Socrates.

  • When I left him, I reasoned thus with myself: I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know.
    • Apology, 21d
  • And how is not this the most reprehensible ignorance, to think that one knows what one does not know? But I, O Athenians! in this, perhaps, differ from most men; and if I should say that I am in any thing wiser than another, it would be in this, that not having a competent knowledge of the things in Hades, I also think that I have not such knowledge.
    • Apology, 29b
  • The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being. (ho de anexetastos bios ou biôtos anthrôpôi — ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ)
    • Apology, 38a
      • Variant translations:
        More closely 'The unexamining life is not worth living for a human being'
        The life which is unexamined is not worth living.
        An unexamined life is not worth living.
        The unexamined life is not the life for man.
  • I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or your properties, but and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue comes money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, I am a mischievous person.
    • Apology, 30a-b
  • I realized that it was not by wisdom that poets write their poetry, but by a kind of nature or inspiration, such as you find in seers and prophets; for these also say many beautiful things, but do not know anything of what they say.
    • Apology, 22c
  • Now answer me this. Do you think that the same holds of horses? Do people in general improve them, whereas one particular person corrupts them or makes them worse? Or is it wholly the opposite: one particular person - or the very few who are horse trainers - is able to improve them, whereas the majority of people, if they have to do with horses and make use of them, make them worse? Isn't that true, Meletus, both of horses and of all other animals? Of course it is, whether you and Anytus say so or not. Indeed, our young people are surely in a very happy situation if only one person corrupts them, whereas all the rest benefit them.
    • Apology, 28b
  • 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, 30e
  • The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways — I to die and you to live. Which is the better, only God knows.
    • Apology, 42a

Last words

  • Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?


Words of Socrates as quoted by Xenophon

  • You will know that the divine is so great and of such a nature that it sees and hears everything at once, is present everywhere, and is concerned with everything.
    • Memorabilia I. 4.18
  • If I am to live longer, perhaps I must live out my old age, seeing and hearing less, understanding worse, coming to learn with more difficulty and to be more forgetful, and growing worse than those to whom I was once superior. Indeed, life would be unliveable, even if I did not notice the change. And if I see the change, how could life not be even more wretched and unpleasant?
    • Memorabilia IV. 8.8
  • 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 (The Economist) as translated by H.G. Dakyns.


Socrates as quoted by Plutarch

  • I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.
    • Note: Compare doctrine of fidelity to Athenian law in Plato's Crito.
  • Bad men live that they may eat and drink, whereas good men eat and drink that they may live.

Diogenes Laertius

Socrates as quoted in Lives of Eminent Philosophers

  • I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.
  • Often when looking at a mass of things for sale, he would say to himself, 'How many things I have no need of!"
  • Having the fewest wants, I am nearest to the gods.
  • There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.
    • Variant: The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.


  • Know thyself.
    • This statement actually predates Socrates, and was used as an Inscription at the Oracle of Delphi. It is a saying traditionally ascribed to one of the "Seven Sages of Greece", notably Solon, but accounts vary as to whom. Socrates himself is reported to have quoted it although it is very probable that Thales was in fact the one who first stated it.
  • The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.
    • Apparently dates from 1953: see Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congressional Research Service, Edited by Suzy Platt, 1989, number 195.
    • See also this discussion about the topic.
  • Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.
    • No findable citation to Socrates. First appears in this form in the 1990s, such as in the Douglas Bradley article Lighting a Flame in the Kickapoo Valley[1]. It appears to be a variant on "The understanding is not a vessel which must be filled, but firewood, which needs to be kindled; and love of learning and love of truth are what should kindle it", which appears in early 1860s US educational books [2] - with equally untraceable attribution to Plutarch.

Quotes about Socrates

  • This man here is so bizarre, his ways so unusual, that, search as you might, you'll never find anyone else, alive or dead, who's even remotely like him. The best you do is not to compare him to anything human, but liken him, as I do, to Silenus and the satyrs, and the same goes for his ideas and arguments.
  • I would trade all of my technology for an afternoon with Socrates.
  • Socrates gave a lot of advice, and he was given Hemlock to drink.
  • It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.
  • If anyone thinks that Socrates is proven to have lied about his daimon because the jury condemned him to death when he stated that a divinity revealed to him what he should and should not do, then let him take note of two things: first, that Socrates was so far advanced in age that he would have died soon, if not then; and second, that he escaped the most bitter part of life, when all men's mental powers diminish.


  1. Lighting a Flame in the Kickapoo Valley, Douglas Bradley, Wisconsin Ideas, UW System, 1994
  2. For instance, p.117, The American journal of education, Volume 10, Henry Barnard, pub. F.C. Brownell, 1861 Google Books

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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




From Ancient Greek Σωκράτης (Sōkratēs).

Proper noun

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  1. A Classical Greek philosopher.


Derived terms



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  1. Socrates


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  1. Socrates
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Simple English

[[File:|thumb|right|Portrait of Socrates, a Roman copy from a Greek statue, Louvre museum]] Socrates (470 BC - 399 BC) was an important Greek philosopher and teacher. He lived in the Greek city of Athens. He is perhaps most important because he started trying to find out how people thought. He asked questions about people, for example, how to be a truly good person. He also answered questions with other deeper questions. In his time, this was a new way of finding important facts, and we think that Socrates was the first to do this. This is now called the Socratic method after this man.

Socrates is sometimes called the "father of Western philosophy". This is because the things that he said made people think that he was very wise, and because of the importance and success of the people that he taught, like Plato, a younger philosopher.


The Life of Socrates

Not much is known about the life of Socrates. The main reason why is because Socrates never wrote anything. All of what we know about Socrates is from what other people around that time wrote about him. Our main source of what we know about Socrates is from the writings of his student, Plato. Another of Socrates' students, Xenophon also wrote about Socrates. Plato wrote down many of the conversations that Socrates had with other people. Aristophanes, a person who disliked Socrates, wrote a play called The Clouds. The Clouds portrayed Socrates a crazy person who tried to scam people out of their money, while Plato wrote that Socrates taught for free.

The Socratic problem is that we do not know if Plato's description of Socrates is accurate or not. While a lot of what Plato wrote about Socrates is accepted by historians, some people believe that Plato (who saw Socrates as a hero) portrayed Socrates as a much greater man than he actually was. Some people think that Plato was simply using the character of Socrates as a tool to express his own opinions rather than to accurately write about Socrates. This is what makes Socrates such a mysterious historical figure.

Plato said that the father of Socrates was Sophroniscus, and that his mother was called Phaenarete. His mother was a nurse or midwife who helped women give birth to children. Socrates may have said that his mother's example made him help young people to give birth to new thoughts and ideas. His father was said to be a stonemason, a person who makes things out of stone. Socrates was very poor because he believed that having knowledge was much more important than money. He may have been a stonemason like his father and Plato wrote that he served in the Athens military for a couple of years, but it is said that he generally did not work because he was more focused on thinking about philosophy and discussing philosophy.

Socrates was married to a much younger woman called Xanthippe. It was said that she was often very angry with him and was sometimes violent. No-one is sure if their marriage was happy, although they had three children together. People say that Socrates sometimes made complaints about his wife, but no one knew if he was telling the truth.

Socrates would go to marketplaces and start discussions with people. People were very interested in what he had to say. Some people were his students who followed him and tried to learn from him. He would ask difficult questions to people to show them that they know very little. That made a lot of people angry. He was called a gadfly, a small flying insect that stings horses.

It is said that one of Socrates' friends asked an oracle (a holy person that was wise, respected and who people thought could talk to the gods), if there was any person wiser than Socrates in Athens. The oracle said that there was no wiser person. The oracle was well known for saying things that were not very clear. It did not say that Socrates was the wisest, just that there was no person wiser. Socrates may have then asked many people in the city about this. He made many enemies among the people who were important in the city.

As an old man Socrates would often talk to young men and boys and try to teach them. (In this time women and girls were not given education). Some people were grateful for this and some people hated him for it. He had a group of young friends who loved him a lot and spent a lot of time with him. Sometimes their parents were very unhappy about this.

The Death of Socrates

File:David - The Death of
The Death of Socrates as imagined by Jacques-Louis David (1787)

When Socrates was an old man, at the age of 70, the government of Athens arrested him and put him on trial. There were two charges against him. The first charge was that he "corrupted the youth" with his teachings. The second charge was that he was not faithful to the Greek gods, though Plato writes that Socrates did believe in the Greek gods. These charges may have been lies from the Athens government, but we will never know for sure. That is an example of the Socratic problem. Was Socrates the great wise hero that Plato described him to be or not?

Crito, a friend of Socrates, illegally paid the prison guards to allow Socrates to escape. Socrates, however, decided not to escape. When Socrates was put on trial, he gave a long speech to defend himself against the claims made by the Athens government. When Socrates was asked to propose his punishment, Socrates said that the government should give him free dinners for the rest of his life for all the good that he did for society. The court held a vote between giving Socrates a fine to pay or putting him to death. The verdict was that Socrates was to be put to death.

Socrates did not fear death. He did not try to avoid death by apologizing for his actions because he thought it was morally right to stand by his principles. Socrates was ordered to drink a cup of hemlock (a poisonous liquid). He drank it and died soon after.

The ideas of Socrates

Socrates helped people to see what was wrong with their ideas. Sometimes they liked this, sometimes they were not happy or grateful. He said that he, Socrates, was not wise, but he said something like "I know what I don't know." In other words, he knew the limit of his knowledge. He said that people who do bad things do so because they do not know any better.

People think that Socrates was a good man because he did no harm, except he asked questions about everything. However, during his life many people thought he was a bad person, because he asked those questions and because he made young people unhappy about their lives.

Someone once wrote that Socrates said that "A life that was not examined was not worth living". This means that someone must think about their own life and its purpose. Some people believe that most humans are happier if they do not think too much about their life.

Socrates also taught that many people can look at something and not truly see it. He asked questions about the meaning of life and goodness. These are still very important questions. Much of philosophy (love of wisdom) is about these things.


Socrates is seen by some people as a martyr (a person who dies supporting a certain principle or cause). Socrates is seen a person who willingly died to support his principle that knowledge and wisdom are very important to our lives.

Socrates is known as one of the most important philosophers in history. He is known by some as the father of Western philosophy. While he did not start Western philosophy, he had a big influence on it. Before Socrates, Philosophy was mainly about mathematics and answering questions about our natural world. Socrates expanded upon that and added topics such as ethics, politics, and knowledge to philosophy.



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