Skip to main content
Select Source:

Socrates

Socrates

The Greek philosopher and logician Socrates (469-399 B.C.) was an important formative influence on Plato and had a profound effect on ancient philosophy.

Socrates was the son of Sophroniscus, an Athenian stone mason and sculptor. He learned his father's craft and apparently practiced it for many years before devoting his time almost completely to intellectual interests. Details of his early life are scanty, although he appears to have had no more than an ordinary Greek education. He did, however, take a keen interest in the works of the natural philosophers, and Plato (Parmenides, 127C) records the fact that Socrates met Zeno of Elea and Parmenides on their trip to Athens, which probably took place about 450 B.C. Socrates wrote nothing; therefore evidence for his life and activities must come from the writings of Plato and Xenophon. It is likely that neither of these presents a completely accurate picture of him, but Plato's Apology, Crito, Phaedo, and Symposium contain details which must be close to fact.

From the Apology we learn that Socrates was well known around Athens, that uncritical thinkers linked him with the rest of the Sophists, that he fought in at least three military campaigns for the city, and that he attracted to his circle large numbers of young men who delighted in seeing their pretentious elders refuted by Socrates. His notoriety in Athens was sufficient for the Athenian comic poet Aristophanes to lampoon him in The Clouds, although the Socrates who appears there bears little resemblance to the dialectician in Plato's writings. His endurance and prowess in military campaigns are attested by Alcibiades in the Symposium. He tells of Socrates's valor in battle, which allowed Alcibiades to escape when he was in a perilous situation. He also recounts an incident which reveals Socrates's habit of falling into a kind of trance while thinking. One morning Socrates wandered a short distance off from the other men to concentrate on a problem. By noon a small crowd had gathered, and by evening a group had come with their bedding to spend the night watching him. At the break of day, he offered up a prayer to the sun and went about his usual activities.

In addition to these anecdotes about Socrates's peculiar character, the Symposium provides details regarding his physical appearance. He was short and Silenus-like, quite the opposite of what was considered graceful and beautiful in the Athens of his time. He was also poor and had only the barest necessities of life. He was not ascetic, however, for he accepted the lavish hospitality of the wealthy on occasion (Agathon, the successful tragic poet, was host to the illustrious group in the Symposium) and proved himself capable of besting the others not only at their esoteric and sophistic sport of making impromptu speeches on the god Eros but also in holding his wine. Socrates's physical ugliness was no bar to his appeal. Alcibiades asserts in the same dialogue that Socrates made him feel deep shame and humiliation over his failure to live up to the high standards of justice and truth. He had this same effect on countless others.

His Thought

There was a strong religious side to Socrates's character and thought which constantly revealed itself in spite of his penchant for exposing the ridiculous conclusions to which uncritical acceptance of the ancient myths might lead. His words and actions in the Apology, Crito, Phaedo, and Symposium reveal a deep reverence for Athenian religious customs and a sincere regard for divinity. Indeed, it was a divine voice which Socrates claimed to hear within himself on important occasions in his life. It was not a voice which gave him positive instructions, but instead warned him when he was about to go astray. He recounts, in his defense before the Athenian court, the story of his friend Chaerephon, who was told by the Delphic Oracle that Socrates was the wisest of men. That statement puzzled Socrates, he says, for no one was more aware of the extent of his own ignorance than he himself, but he determined to see the truth of the god's words. After questioning those who had a reputation for wisdom and who considered themselves, wise, he concluded that he was wiser than they because he could recognize his ignorance while they, who were equally ignorant, thought themselves wise. He thus confirmed the truth of the god's statement.

Socrates was famous for his method of argumentation. His "irony" was an important part of that method and surely helped account for the appeal which he had for the young and the disfavor in which he was held by many Athenians. An example comes from the Apology. Meletus had accused Socrates of corrupting the youth. Socrates begins by asking if Meletus considers the improvement of youth important. He replies that he does, whereupon Socrates asks who is capable of improving the young. The laws, says Meletus, and Socrates asks him to name a person who knows the laws. Meletus responds that the judges there present know the laws, whereupon Socrates asks if all who are present are able to instruct and improve youth or whether only a few can. Meletus replies that all of them are capable of such a task, which forces Meletus to confess that other groups of Athenians, such as the Senate and the Assembly, and indeed all Athenians are capable of instructing and improving the youth. All except Socrates, that is. Socrates then starts a parallel set of questions regarding the instruction and improvement of horses and other animals. Is it true that all men are capable of training horses, or only those men with special qualifications and experience? Meletus, realizing the absurdity of his position, does not answer, but Socrates answers for him and asserts that if he does not care enough about the youth of Athens to have given adequate thought to who might instruct and improve them, he has no right to accuse Socrates of corrupting them.

Thus the Socratic method of argumentation begins with commonplace questions which lead the opponent to believe that the questioner is a simpleton, but ends in a complete reversal. It is a method not calculated to win friends, especially when used in public.

Socrates's true contributions to the development of ancient thought are difficult to assess. Plato's dialogues, although they are our single most important source, are not entirely reliable because Socrates is used, especially in the later dialogues, merely as a mouthpiece. It is probable, however, that the Socrates we find in the Apology Crito, and a few of the other early dialogues represents a fair approximation of the man and his thinking. Thus his chief contributions lie not in the construction of an elaborate system but in clearing away the false common beliefs and in leading men to an awareness of their own ignorance, from which position they may begin to discover the truth. Socrates's contribution, then, was primarily the negative one of exposing fallacies, but equally important was the magnetism of his personality and the effect which he had on the people he met. It was his unique combination of dialectical skill and magnetic attractiveness to the youth of Athens which gave his opponents their opportunity to bring him to trial in 399 B.C.

His Death

Meletus, Lycon, and Anytus charged Socrates with impiety and with corrupting the youth of the city. Since prosecution and defense speeches were made by the principals in Athenian legal practice, Socrates spoke in his own behalf. It is uncertain if the charges were the result of his associations with the Thirty or resulted from personal pique. Callias, Plato's uncle, had been the leader of the unpopular Thirty, but it is difficult to imagine that Socrates could have been considered a collaborator when in fact he risked death by refusing to be implicated in their crimes. He had, however, made a great number of enemies for himself over the years through his self-appointed role as the "gadfly" of Athens, and it is probable that popular misunderstanding and animosity toward his activities helped lead to his conviction. His defense speech was not in the least conciliatory. After taking up the charges and showing how they were false, he proposed that the city should honor him as it did Olympic victors. He was convicted and sentenced to death. Plato's Crito tells of Crito's attempts to persuade Socrates to flee the prison (Crito had bribed the jailer, as was customary), but Socrates, in an allegorical dialogue between himself and the Laws of Athens, reveals his devotion to the city and his obligation to obey its decrees even if they lead to his death. In the Phaedo, Plato recounts Socrates's discussion of the immortality of the soul; and at the end of that dialogue, one of the most moving and dramatic scenes in ancient literature, Socrates takes the hemlock prepared for him while his friends sit helplessly by. He died reminding Crito that he owes a cock to Aesculapius.

Socrates was the most colorful figure in the history of ancient philosophy. His fame was widespread in his own time, and his name soon became a household word although he professed no extraordinary wisdom, constructed no philosophical system, established no school, and founded no sect. His influence on the course of ancient philosophy, through Plato, the Cynics, and less directly, Aristotle, is incalculable.

Further Reading

Sources for Socrates's life are the dialogues of Plato, especially the Apology, Crito, Phaedo, and Alcibiades's speech in the Symposium, and Xenophon's Memorabilia, all of which are available in a variety of editions and translations. A comprehensive and major study of Socrates's thought is Norman Gulley, The Philosophy of Socrates (1968). See also Eduard Zeller, Socrates and the Socratic Schools (1885; 3d rev. ed. 1962); A. E. Taylor, Socrates (1933); and Anton-Hermann Chroust, Socrates: Man and Myth (1957).

A dramatic version of Socrates's accusation, self-defense, imprisonment, and death is rendered in simplified, colloquial English by I. A. Richards in Why So Socrates? A Dramatic Version of Plato's Dialogues Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo (1964). Critical treatment of Socrates and his place in the development of ancient thought is in Eduard Zeller, Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy (trans. 1890; 13th ed. revised by Wilhelm Nestle, 1931); John Burnet, Greek Philosophy (1914); and Wilhelm Windelband, History of Ancient Philosophy, translated by Herbert E. Cushman (1956). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Socrates." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Socrates." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/socrates

"Socrates." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved October 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/socrates

Socrates

Socrates

Socrates is a name often relied upon when historians want to invoke a notable person from antiquity. There is good reason for the fame and durability of this name. In both his life and his death Socrates (469399 b.c.e.) provided a model for wisdom and courage.

Socrates spent his life in Athens, the city of his birth (470 b.c.e.). Athens already had produced thinkers and artists of the highest order as well as an experiment in (limited) democracy that has continued to inspire and influence seekers of equality, freedom, and creativity through the centuries. The bust of Socrates in the Museo delle Termein Rome displays the hearty features of a broad-faced, pug-nosed, thick-lipped, and generously bearded man. His friend Alcibiades teased Socrates by likening his face to that of a wild, sensuous satyr. Socrates not only accepted this comparison but added that he had better do more dancing to reduce his paunch. Humor came naturally to Socrates and, in fact, played a significant role in his philosophical method.

Specific information about Socrates' life is sparse. It is believed that he was the son of a sculptor and a midwife. He followed his father's footsteps, working as both a stonemason and a sculptor. He also claimed to be following his mother's line of work, "by helping others to deliver themselves of their conceptions" (Durant 1968, p. 36). Socrates usually kept himself in good physical condition and earned a reputation as a soldier of exceptional stamina, as well as skill and courage. His marriage to Xanthippe produced a family but also her justified complaint that he spent more time gadding about and annoying people than with his wife and children. He enjoyed companionship, cared little about material possessions, and was considered the very model of a well-balanced person: moral, but too earthy to be revered as a saint.

The Athens of Socrates' time enjoyed exceptional intellectual vitality. Almost every facet of life was open for discussion. Here philosophical issues were fresh, live, and compellingthe same issues that would later become weighed down by centuries of further speculation and commentary. The political establishment, however, did not necessarily cherish this free exchange of ideas. Some of these ideas could be dangerous to the institutions that kept the establishment in power.

Socrates became the most adept and, therefore, the most fascinating and most dangerous asker of questions. The "Socratic method" is one of his enduring contributions to philosophical inquiry. He believed that everyone with a competent mind already knows the basic truths of life deep inside of one's being, even if unaware of possessing this knowledge. Socrates would educe knowledge through conversations guided by an unfolding series of questions. True education was educingdrawing something out of, rather than forcing something intothe mind. This dialect method was perfected rather than invented by Socrates. Zeno of Elea (born the same year as Socrates) had already introduced the art of questioning as a way to reach the truth. Socrates had the extra knack of making powerful people uncomfortable by undermining their assumptions with his deceptively simple questions. Bystanders found it amusing to see how people with exaggerated opinions of their knowledge became flustered as Socrates' casual, low-key questions eventually exposed their errors. The victims were not amused, however, and they did not forget.

Plato and Socrates

It is Plato's Dialogues that provide most of what has come down to readers through history about the life and thought of his mentor. There are no books written by Socrates, only his appearance as the main character in Plato's writings and, to a much lesser degree, in plays written during or after his life. There is no way of knowing for sure how much is "pure Socrates" and how much is Plato. The dialogues were not intended as fastidious reportage of actual events and conversations; they were imaginative riffs on ideas and people. Symposium, for example, takes readers to a banquet in which Socrates and his friends entertain and compete with each other to solve the mysteries of love. Plato's Dialogues offer episodes and scenes through which his philosophical points could be made through the characters themselves. His first generation of readers could separate fact from fancy, but this has become much more difficult for the following generations who lack insiders' knowledge of the political, historical, and philosophical milieu of Socrates' Athens.

Plato's account of Socrates offers a remarkable vision of a society superior to any previously known in one of the most influential of the dialogues, The Republic. A rational, managed, and futuristic society is portrayed where even genetic selection and psychological testing exist. The resonance of this imagined society can be felt in many spheres of life in the twenty-first century, including the ever-shifting boundaries between science and science fiction. One of the early masterpieces of philosophy, this dialogue ranges from vigorous discussions of the nature of justice to the recesses of a shadowy cave where readers are challenged to determine the definition of reality. Neither in his life nor in his Dialogue appearances does Socrates demand overthrow of the establishment or express disrespect to the gods. However, his relentless questions raised anxiety and created enemies.

The Death of Socrates

The faithful soldier, the relatively faithful husband, the good companion, and the subtle and witty philosopher all were now in their seventieth year of life and awaiting execution.

Socrates had inadvertently given his enemies an excuse for retaliation. The case against him was so insubstantial that it should have been immediately dismissed. He was accused of impiety, although he had never cursed the gods, and accused of corrupting the young, a charge so far-fetched that it was hard to keep from laughing out loud. What gave the accusations their power was the undercurrent of annoyance at Socrates' habit of raising questions that set too many minds to thinking and could possibly destabilize the establishment. He was blamed for the current state of unrest against the establishment and even accused of being a traitor. These were "trumped-up" charges that Socrates expected the court to overturn. Even when convicted, he could have avoided a serious penalty by saying the right words and admitting some fault. This he would not do: Instead, he stood before them unrepentant and free-spirited. Few of his fellow citizens had expected the death penalty to be enacted. Something had gone wrong with the process of rebuking this distinguished gadfly, and now they would have to go through with the embarrassing act of taking his life.

It would not have been difficult for Socrates to escape. His friends were eager to spirit him away to a safe island, and the authorities seemed inclined to look the other way. Socrates would not accept such a plan, however, much to the distress of his friends. In Phaedo, he told his friend that there was nothing to fear. Death will turn out either to be a long sleep or, even better, the entry to a splendid new form of life. Socrates's ability to accept his death with equanimity became a model for wisdom and courage on the verge of death. He lived his philosophy to the last moment, treating the unfortunate jailer with kindness as he brought forward the cup of deadly hemlock. He bid an affectionate farewell to his friends. When Crito asked, "But how shall we bury you?" he replied:

Any way you likethat is, if you can catch me and I don't slip through your fingers....It is only my body you are burying; and you can bury it in whatever way you think is most proper. ( Dialogues 1942, p. 150)

Socrates quaffed the contents of the cup, described the changes occurring in his bodythe rise of cold numbness upward from the feetand died peacefully. At least that is the scene reported in Phaedo. Some doubt has been cast in late-twentieth-century scholarship. The medical historian William B. Ober notes, along with others, that Plato described an event he did not witness: He was too upset to see his friend's death. More significantly, perhaps, hemlock usually produces a variety of painful and distressing symptoms. Perhaps Plato sanitized the actual death to create a more acceptable memory-scene, or perhaps Greek physicians had mixed hemlock with a gentle sedative in the farewell cup for Socrates' journey to philosophical immortality.

See also: Good Death, The; Immortality; Jesus; Last Words; Philosophy, Western; Plato

Bibliography

Ahrensdorf, P. J. The Death of Socrates and the Life of Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

Brickhouse, Thomas C., and Nicholas D. Smith. Plato's Socrates. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Durant, Will. The Life of Greece. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968.

Ober, William, B. "Did Socrates Die of Hemlock Poisoning?" In Boswell's Clap & Other Essays. Medical Analyses of Literary Men's Afflictions. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.

Plato. Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Symposium, Republic, translated by B. Jowett and edited by Louise Ropes Loomis. New York: W. J. Black, 1942.

Stone. Irving, F. The Trial of Socrates. Boston: Little, Brown, 1988.

ROBERT KASTENBAUM

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Socrates." Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Socrates." Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/socrates

"Socrates." Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. . Retrieved October 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/socrates

Socrates

Socrates

Born: c. 469 b.c.e.
Died: c. 399 b.c.e.
Athens, Greece

Greek philosopher and logician

The Greek philosopher and logician (one who studies logic or reason) Socrates was an important influence on Plato (427347 b.c.e.) and had a major effect on ancient philosophy.

Early life

Socrates was the son of Sophroniscus, an Athenian stone mason and sculptor. He learned his father's craft and apparently practiced it for many years. He participated in the Peloponnesian War (43104 b.c.e.) when Athens was crushed by the Spartans, and he distinguished himself for his courage. Details of his early life are scarce, although he appears to have had no more than an ordinary Greek education before devoting his time almost completely to intellectual interests. He did, however, take a keen interest in the works of the natural philosophers, and Plato records the fact that Socrates met Zeno of Elea (c. 495430 b.c.e.) and Parmenides (born c. 515 b.c.e.) on their trip to Athens, which probably took place about 450 b.c.e.

Socrates himself wrote nothing, therefore evidence of his life and activities must come from the writings of Plato and Xenophon (c. 431352 b.c.e.). It is likely that neither of these presents a completely accurate picture of him, but Plato's Apology, Crito, Phaedo, and Symposium contain details which must be close to fact.

From the Apology we learn that Socrates was well known around Athens; uncritical thinkers linked him with the rest of the Sophists (a philosophical school); he fought in at least three military campaigns for the city; and he attracted to his circle large numbers of young men who delighted in seeing their elders proved false by Socrates. His courage in military campaigns is described by Alcibiades (c. 450404 b.c.e.) in the Symposium.

In addition to stories about Socrates's strange character, the Symposium provides details regarding his physical appearance. He was short, quite the opposite of what was considered graceful and beautiful in the Athens of his time. He was also poor and had only the barest necessities of life. Socrates's physical ugliness did not stop his appeal.

His thought

There was a strong religious side to Socrates's character and thought which constantly revealed itself in spite of his criticism of Greek myths. His words and actions in the Apology, Crito, Phaedo, and Symposium reveal a deep respect for Athenian religious customs and a sincere regard for divinity (gods). Indeed, it was a divine voice which Socrates claimed to hear within himself on important occasions in his life. It was not a voice which gave him positive instructions, but instead warned him when he was about to go off course. He recounts, in his defense before the Athenian court, the story of his friend Chaerephon, who was told by the Delphic Oracle (a person regarded as wise counsel) that Socrates was the wisest of men. That statement puzzled Socrates, he says, for no one was more aware of the extent of his own ignorance than he himself, but he determined to see the truth of the god's words. After questioning those who had a reputation for wisdom and who considered themselves, wise, he concluded that he was wiser than they because he could recognize his ignorance while they, who were equally ignorant, thought themselves wise.

Socrates was famous for his method of argumentation (a system or process used for arguing or debate) and his works often made as many enemies as admirers within Athens. An example comes from the Apology. Meletus had accused Socrates of corrupting the youth, or ruining the youth's morality. Socrates begins by asking if Meletus considers the improvement of youth important. He replies that he does, whereupon Socrates asks who is capable of improving the young. The laws, says Meletus, and Socrates asks him to name a person who knows the laws. Meletus responds that the judges there present know the laws, whereupon Socrates asks if all who are present are able to instruct and improve youth or whether only a few can. Meletus replies that all of them are capable of such a task, which forces Meletus to confess that other groups of Athenians, such as the Senate and the Assembly, and indeed all Athenians are capable of instructing and improving the youth. All except Socrates, that is. Socrates then starts a similar set of questions regarding the instruction and improvement of horses and other animals. Is it true that all men are capable of training horses, or only those men with special qualifications and experience? Meletus, realizing the absurdity of his position, does not answer, but Socrates answers for him and says that if he does not care enough about the youth of Athens to have given adequate thought to who might instruct and improve them, he has no right to accuse Socrates of corrupting them.

Thus the Socratic method of argumentation begins with commonplace questions which lead the opponent to believe that the questioner is simple, but ends in a complete reversal. Thus his chief contributions lie not in the construction of an elaborate system but in clearing away the false common beliefs and in leading men to an awareness of their own ignorance, from which position they may begin to discover the truth. It was his unique combination of dialectical (having to do with using logic and reasoning in an argument or discussion) skill and magnetic attractiveness to the youth of Athens which gave his opponents their opportunity to bring him to trial in 399 b.c.e.

His death

Meletus, Lycon, and Anytus charged Socrates with impiety (being unreligious) and with corrupting the youth of the city. Since defense speeches were made by the principals in Athenian legal practice, Socrates spoke in his own behalf and his defense speech was a sure sign that he was not going to give in. After taking up the charges and showing how they were false, he proposed that the city should honor him as it did Olympic victors. He was convicted and sentenced to death. Plato's Crito tells of Crito's attempts to persuade Socrates to flee the prison (Crito had bribed [exchanged money for favors] the jailer, as was customary), but Socrates, in a dialogue between himself and the Laws of Athens, reveals his devotion to the city and his obligation to obey its laws even if they lead to his death. In the Phaedo, Plato recounts Socrates's discussion of the immortality of the soul; and at the end of that dialogue, one of the most moving and dramatic scenes in ancient literature, Socrates takes the hemlock (poison) prepared for him while his friends sit helplessly by. He died reminding Crito that he owes a rooster to Aesculapius.

Socrates was the most colorful figure in the history of ancient philosophy. His fame was widespread in his own time, and his name soon became a household word although he professed no extraordinary wisdom, constructed no philosophical system, established no school, and founded no sect (following). His influence on the course of ancient philosophy, through Plato, the Cynics, and less directly, Aristotle, is immeasurable.

For More Information

Brickhouse, Thomas C., and Nicholas D. Smith. The Philosophy of Socrates. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000.

Chroust, Hermann. Socrates: Man and Myth. South Bend, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 1957.

Gulley, Norman. The Philosophy of Socrates. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1968.

Phillips, Christopher. Socrates Café: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy. New York: Norton, 2001.

Taylor, C. C. W. Socrates: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Socrates." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Socrates." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/socrates-0

"Socrates." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved October 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/socrates-0

Socrates

Socrates (sŏk´rətēz), 469–399 BC, Greek philosopher of Athens. Famous for his view of philosophy as a pursuit proper and necessary to all intelligent men, he is one of the great examples of a man who lived by his principles even though they ultimately cost him his life. Knowledge of the man and his teachings comes indirectly from certain dialogues of his disciple Plato and from the Memorabilia of Xenophon. In spite of conflicting interpretations of his teachings, the accounts of these two writers are largely supplementary.

Life

Socrates was the son of Sophroniscus, a sculptor. It is said that in early life he practiced his father's art. In middle life he married Xanthippe, who is legendary as a shrew, although the stories have little basis in ascertainable fact. It is not certain who were Socrates's teachers in philosophy, but he seems to have been acquainted with the doctrines of Parmenides, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, and the atomists. He was widely known for his intellectual powers even before he was 40, when, according to Plato's report of Socrates's speech in the Apology, the oracle at Delphi pronounced him the wisest man in Greece. In that speech Socrates maintained that he was puzzled by this acclaim until he discovered that, while others professed knowledge without realizing their ignorance, he at least was aware of his own ignorance.

Socrates became convinced that his calling was to search for wisdom about right conduct by which he might guide the intellectual and moral improvement of the Athenians. Neglecting his own affairs, he spent his time discussing virtue, justice, and piety wherever his fellow citizens congregated. Some felt that he also neglected public duty, for he never sought public office, although he was famous for his courage in the military campaigns in which he served. In his self-appointed task as gadfly to the Athenians, Socrates made numerous enemies.

Aristophanes burlesqued Socrates in his play The Clouds and attributed to him some of the faults of the Sophists (professional teachers of rhetoric). Although Socrates in fact baited the Sophists, his other critics seem to have held a view similar to that of Aristophanes. In 399 BC he was brought to trial for corrupting youth and for religious heresies. Obscure political issues surrounded the trial, but it seems that Socrates was tried also for being the friend and teacher of Alcibiades and Critias, both of whom had betrayed Athens. The trial and death of Socrates, who was given poison hemlock to drink, are described with great dramatic power in the Apology, the Crito, and the Phaedo of Plato.

Philosophy

Socrates's contributions to philosophy were a new method of approaching knowledge, a conception of the soul as the seat both of normal waking consciousness and of moral character, and a sense of the universe as purposively mind-ordered. His method, called dialectic, consisted in examining statements by pursuing their implications, on the assumption that if a statement were true it could not lead to false consequences. The method may have been suggested by Zeno of Elea, but Socrates refined it and applied it to ethical problems.

His doctrine of the soul led him to the belief that all virtues converge into one, which is the good, or knowledge of one's true self and purposes through the course of a lifetime. Knowledge in turn depends on the nature or essence of things as they really are, for the underlying forms of things are more real than their experienced exemplifications. This conception leads to a teleological view of the world that all the forms participate in and lead to the highest form, the form of the good. Plato later elaborated this doctrine as central to his own philosophy. Socrates's view is often described as holding virtue and knowledge to be identical, so that no man knowingly does wrong. Since virtue is identical with knowledge, it can be taught, but not as a professional specialty as the Sophists had pretended to teach it. However, Socrates himself gave no final answer to how virtue can be learned.

Bibliography

See N. Gulley, The Philosophy of Socrates (1968); G. X. Santas, Socrates (1982); L. E. Navia, Socrates: The Man and His Philosophy (1989); T. C. Brickhouse and N. D. Smith, Socrates on Trial (1989); B. Hughes, The Hemlock Cup (2011); P. Johnson, Socrates (2011).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Socrates." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Socrates." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/socrates

"Socrates." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/socrates

Socrates

Socrates (c.470–399 bc) Greek philosopher, who laid the foundation for an ethical philosophy based on the analysis of human character and motives. None of Socrates writings survive. Information about his life and philosophy is found in the dialogues of his pupil, Plato, and the Memorabilia of Xenophon. The son of a sculptor, he fought in the Peloponnesian War. In 429 bc, according to Plato's Apology, the oracle at Delphi pronounced Socrates the wisest man in Greece. Socrates' methodology was based on the dialectic. Unlike the Sophists, he believed that moral excellence is attained through self-knowledge. For Socrates, knowledge and virtue were synonymous; immorality was founded on ignorance. Socrates' criticism of tyranny attracted powerful enemies, and he was charged with impiety and corrupting the young. Condemned to death, he drank the poisonous draft of hemlock required by law.

http://www.philosophypages.com/ph/socr.htm

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Socrates." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Socrates." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/socrates

"Socrates." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved October 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/socrates

Socrates

Socrates (469–399 bc), ancient Athenian philosopher. As represented in the writings of his disciple Plato, he engaged in dialogue with others in an attempt to reach understanding and ethical concepts by exposing and dispelling error (the Socratic method). Charged with introducing strange gods and corrupting the young, Socrates was sentenced to death and died by drinking hemlock.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Socrates." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Socrates." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/socrates

"Socrates." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved October 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/socrates

Socrate

Socrate (Socrates). Symphonic drama in 3 parts for 4 sop. and orch. by Satie to lib. by Plato (trans. by V. Cousin). Parts are entitled 1. Portrait de Socrate, 2. Les bords de l'Ilussus, 3. Mort de Socrate. Comp. 1918. F.p. Paris 1920; f.p. in England BBC broadcast 1949; f. Amer. p. NY (concert) 1965.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Socrate." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Socrate." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/socrate

"Socrate." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved October 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/socrate

Socrates

Socratesatlantes, Cervantes •Ecclesiastes • penates • gentes •Orestes, testes, Thyestes •Achates, Euphrates •diabetes • striptease •pyrites, Stylites, troglodytes •Orontes • Boötes • Procrustes •Harpocrates, Hippocrates, Isocrates, Socrates •litotes • Surtees • Dives

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Socrates." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Socrates." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/socrates-0

"Socrates." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved October 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/socrates-0