His most important
contribution to Western thought is his method of enquiry, known as the
method of elenchos, which he largely applied to the examination
of key moral concepts. For this, is customarily regarded as the father
and fountainhead for ethics or moral philosophy, and hence philosophy
method of elenchos
consists of questions and answers about the definitions or logoi (singular logos), seeking to characterise the general characteristics
shared by various particular instances. To the extent to which this
method is designed to bring out definitions implicit in the interlocutors
beliefs, or to help them further their understanding, it was called
the method of ''maieutics'\'. Aristotle attributed to the discovery of the method of definition
and induction, which he regarded as the essence of the scientific method.
Oddly, however, Aristotle also claimed that this method is not suitable
his method to the examination of the key moral concepts at the time,
the virtues of piety, wisdom, temperance, courage, and justice. Such an examination challenged the implicit moral
beliefs of the interlocutors, bringing out inadequacies and inconsistencies
in their beliefs, and usually resulting in puzzlement known as aporia.
In view of such inadequacies, himself professed his ignorance, but others
still maintained their knowledge claim, whereby claimed that he being
aware of his ignorance is wiser than those who, though ignorant, still
claimed knowledge -- a claim which seems paradoxical at first glance.
This claim was known by the anecdote of the Delphic oracular pronouncement
that was the wisest of all men.
He used this claim
of wisdom as the basis of his moral exhortation. Accordingly, he claimed
that the chief goodness consists in the caring of the soul concerned
with truth and understanding, that "wealth does not bring goodness,
but goodness brings wealth and every other blessing, both to the individual
and to the state", and that "life without examination is not
worth living". also argued that to be wronged is better than to
left no writings;
references to military duty may be found in Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War.
He was prominently lampooned in Aristophanes's comedic play The Clouds produced when was in his mid-forties. appeared
in other plays by Aristophanes such as The Birds because of his being a philodorian, and also in plays by Callias, Eupolis and Telecleides, in all of which and the Sophists were criticised for "the moral dangers inherent
in contemporary thought and literature". The main source of the
historical , however, is the writings of his two disciples, Xenophon, and Plato. Another important source is various references to him in
' father was Sophroniscus,
a sculptor, and his mother Phaenarete, a midwife. He was married to
Xanthippe, who bore him three sons. By the cultural standards
of the time, she was considered a shrew. himself attested that he having
learned to live with Xantippe would be able to cope with any other human
being, just as a horse trainer trained on wilder horses could be more
competent. enjoyed going to Symposia, drink-talking sessions. He was
a legendary drinker, remaining sober, even after everyone else in the
party became senselessly drunk. He fought at the Battle of Potidaea, the Battle of Delium and the Battle of Amphipolis. We know from Symposium that was decorated for bravery. In one instance
he stayed with the wounded Alcibiades, and probably saved his life. During such campaigns,
he also showed his extraordinary hardiness, walking without shoes and
coat in winter.
lived during the
time of transition from the height of Athenian Empire to her defeat by Sparta and its coalition in the Peloponnesian War. At a time when Athens was seeking to recover from humiliating defeat, upon the
instigation of three leading figures at the time, the Athenian public
court tried for impiety and for corrupting the young, found him guilty
as charged, and executed him by ordering him to drink hemlock.
The trial of gave rise to a great deal of debate, giving
rise to a whole genre of literature, known as the Socratic logoi.
It is generally believed that although was one of the noblest men, the
Athenians were not totally unjust in condemning him. ' elenctic examination
was resented by influential figures of his day, whose reputations for
wisdom and virtue were debunked by his questions. The annoying nature
of elenchos earned the moniker "gadfly of Athens."
' elenctic method was often imitated by the young men of Athens, which
greatly upset the established moral values and order. It is known that
there was also a political motive for the indictment of , despite that
three years earlier a general amnesty on all political crimes was decreed.
Indeed, even though himself fought for Athens and argued for obedience
to law, at the same time he criticised democracy, especially, the Athenian
practice of election by lot, ridiculing that in no other craft, the
craftsman would be elected in such a fashion. Such a criticism gave
rise to suspicion by the democrats, especially when his close associates
were found to be enemies of democracy. Alcibiades betrayed Athens in favour of Sparta, and Critias, his sometime disciple, was a leader of the 30 tyrants, (the pro-Spartan oligarcy that ruled Athens
for a few years after the defeat), though there is also a record of
their falling out.
In addition, held
unusual views on religion. He made several references to his personal
spirit, or daimonion, although he explicitly claimed that it
never urged him on, but only warned him against various prospective
events. Many of his contemporary were suspicious of ' daimonion
as a rejection of the state religion. It is generally understood that
' daimonion is akin to intuition. Moreover, claimed that the
concept of goodness, instead of being determined by what the gods wanted,
actually precedes it.
Socrates, the celebrated
Greek philosopher and moralist, was born at Athens in the year 469 B.C.
His father, Sophroniskus, was a sculptor and he followed the same profession
in the early part of his life. His family was respectable in descent,
but humble in point of means. He had the usual education of the Athenian
citizen, which included not only a knowledge of the mother tongue, and
readings in the Greek poets, but also the elements of arithmetic, geometry
and astronomy as then known. Excepting in connection with his philosophical
career, few circumstances of his life are known. He served as a hoplite,
or heavy-armed foot-soldier, at the siege of Potidaea, at the battle
of Deliurn, and at Amphipolis, and his bravery and endurance were greatly
extolled by his friends.
the middle period of his life, he relinquished his profession as statuary,
and gave himself up to the career that made him famous. Deservedly styled
a philosopher, he neither secluded himself for study, nor opened a school
for the regular instruction of pupils. He disclaimed the appellation
of teacher; his practice was to talk or converse, "to prattle without
end," as his enemies said. Early in the morning he frequented the
public walks, the gymnasia for bodily training, and the school where
youths were receiving instruction; he was to be seen at the market-place
at the hour when it was most crowded, among the booths and tables where
goods were exposed for sale. His whole day was usually spent in this
public manner. He talked with any one, young or old, rich or poor, who
sought to address him, and in the hearing of all who stood by. As it
was engaging, curious, and instrutive to hear, certain persons made
it their habit to attend him in public as companions and listeners.
of was his persuasion of a special religious mission, of which he believed
that he had received oracular intimation. About the time when he began
to have repute as a wise man, an admirer and friend, Chaerephon, consulted
the oracle at Delphi, as to whether any man was wiser than . The priestess
replied "none." The answer, he said, perplexed him very much;
for he was conscious to himself that he possessed no wisdom, on any
subject, great or small. At length he resolved to put the matter to
the test, by taking measure of the wisdom of other persons as compared
with his own. Seleting a leading politician, accounted wise by himself
and others, he put a series of questions to him, and found his supposed
wisdom was no wisdom at all. He next tried to demonstrate to the politician
himself how much he was deficient; but he refused to be convinced. He
then saw a meaning in the oracle, to the effect that his superiority
to others lay not in his wisdom, but in his being fully conscious of
his ignorance. He tried the same experiment on other politicians, then
on poets, and lastly on artists and artisans, and with the same result.
Thereupon, he considered it as a duty imposed on him by the Delphian
god, to cross-question men of all degrees, as to their knowledge, to
make them conscious of their ignorance, and so put them in the way of
becoming wise. According to Xenophon, he would pass from his severe
cross-questioning method, and address to his hearers plain and homely
precepts, inculcating self-control, temperance, piety, duty to parents,
brotherly love, fidehty in friendship, diligelice, etc.
Cicero said that
"brought down philosophy from the the heavens to the earth."
The previous philosophies consisted of vast and vague speculations on
nature as a whole, blending together Cosmogony, Astronomy, Geometry,
Physics, Metaphysics, etc. had studied these systems, and they had left
on his mind a feeling of emptiness and unsuitability for any human purpose.
It seemed to him that men's endeavors after knowledge would be better
directed to human relationships, as involving men's practical concerns.
Accordingly he was the first to proclaim that "the proper study
of mankind is man;" human nature, human duties and human happiness
make up a field of really urgent and profitable inquiry.
In the year 400
B.C., an indictment was laid against , in the following terms; "Socates
is guilty of crime; first, for not worshipping the gods whom the city
worships, and for introducing new divinities of his own; next for corrupting
the youth. The penalty due is death." The trial took place before
a court composed of citizen-judges, like our juries, but far more numerous;
the number present seems to have been 557. His defense is preserved
by Plato, under the title Apology of . He dwelt on his mission to convit
men of their ignorance for their ultimate benefit; pronounced himself
a public blessing to the Athenians; declared that if his life was preserved
he would continue in the same course; and regarded the prospect of death
with utter indifference. By a majority of five or six he was adjudged
guilty and sentenced to death by poison. The last day of his life he
passed in conversation with his friends on the Immortality of the soul.
He then drank the hemlock, and passed away with the dignity and calmness
becoming his past career.
The biography of
Socrates, son of the statuary Sophroniscus and of the midwife
Phaenarete, starts when he was born at Athens, not earlier than 471 B.C. nor later than May or June 469 B.C. As a youth
he received the customary instruction in gymnastics and music; and in
after years he made himself acquainted with geometry and astronomy and
studied the methods and the doctrines of the leaders of Greek thought
and culture. He began life as a sculptor; and in the 2nd century A.D.
a group of the Graces, supposed to be his work, was still to be seen
on the road to the Acropolis. But he soon abandoned art and gave himself
to what may best be called education, conceiving that he had a divine
commission, witnessed by oracles, dreams and signs, not indeed to teach
any positive doctrine, but to convict men of ignorance mistaking itself
for knowledge, and by so doing to promote their intellectual and moral
was on terms of intimacy with some of the most distinguished of his
Athenian contemporaries, and, at any rate in later life, was personally
known to very many of his fellow citizens. His domestic relations were,
it is said unhappy. The shrewishness of his wife Xanthippe became proverbial
with the ancients, as it still is with ourselves. Aristotle, in his
remarks upon genius and its degeneracy speaks of ' sons as dull and
fatuous; and in Xenophon’s Memorabilia, one of them, Lamprocles,
receives a formal rebuke for undutiful behavior towards his mother.
as a hoplite at Potidaea (432 - 429 B.C.), where on one occasion he
saved the life of Alcibiades, at Delium (424), and at Amphipolis (422).
In these campaigns his bravery and endurance were conspicuous. But while
he thus performed the ordinary duties of a Greek citizen with credit,
he neither attained nor sought political position. His “divine
voice,” he said, had warned him to refrain from politics, presumably
because office would have entailed the sacrifice of his principles and
the abandonment of his proper vocation. Yet in 406 he was a member of
the senate; and on the first day of the trial of the victors of Arginusae,
being president of the prytanis, he resisted: first, in conjunction
with his colleagues, afterwards, when they yielded, alone, the illegal
and unconstitutional proposal of Callixenus, that the fate of the eight
generals should be decided by a single vote of the assembly.
less courageous than this opposition to the civium ardor prava jubentium
was his disregard of the vultus instantis tyranni two years later.
During the reign of terror of 404 the Thirty, anxious to implicate in
their crimes men of repute who might otherwise have opposed their plans,
ordered five citizens, one of whom was , to go to Salamis and bring
thence their destined victim Leon. alone disobeyed. But though he was
exceptionally obnoxious to the Thirty as appears not only in this incident,
but also in their threat of punishment under a special ordinance forbidding
“the teaching of the art of argument,” it was reserved for
the reconstituted democracy to bring him to trial and to put him to
399, four years after the restoration and the amnesty, he was indicted
as an offender against public morality. His accusers were Meletus the
poet, Anytus the tanner and Lycon the orator, all of them members of
the democratic or patriot party who had returned from Phyle with Thrasybulus.
The accusation ran thus: “is guilty, firstly, of denying the gods
recognized by the state and introducing new divinities, and, secondly,
of corrupting the young.”
his unpremeditated defense, so far from seeking to conciliate his judges,
defied them. He was found guilty by 280 votes, it is supposed, against
220. Meletus having called for capital punishment, it now rested with
the accused to make a counter-proposition; and there can be little doubt
that had without further remark suggested some smaller but yet substantial
penalty, the proposal would have been accepted. But to the amazement
of the judges and the distress of his friends, proudly declared that
for the services which he had rendered to the city he deserved, not
punishment, but the reward of a public benefactor - maintenance in the
Prytaneum at the cost of the state; and although at the close of his
speech he professed himself willing to pay a fine of one mina, and upon
the urgent entreaties of his friends raised the amount of his offer
to thirty minas, he made no attempt to disguise his indifference to
the result. His attitude exasperated the judges, and the penalty of
death was decreed by an increased majority.
in a short address declared his contentment with his own conduct and
with the sentence. Whether death was a dreamless sleep, or a new life
in Hades, where he would have opportunities of testing the wisdom of
the heroes and the sages of antiquity, in either case he esteemed it
a gain to die. In the same spirit he refused to take advantage
of a scheme arranged by his friend Crito for an escape from prison.
ordinary circumstances the condemned criminal drank the cup of hemlock
on the day after the trial; but in the case of the rule that during
the absence of the sacred ship sent annually to Delos no one should
be put to death caused an exceptional delay. For thirty days he remained
in imprisonment, receiving his intimates and conversing with them in
his accustomed manner. How in his last conversation be argued that the
wise man will regard approaching death with a cheerful confidence Plato
relates in the Phaedo; and, while the central argument which rests the
doctrine of the soul’s immortality upon the theory of ideas must
be accounted Platonic, in all other respects the narrative, though not
that of an eye witness, has the air of accuracy and truth.