Socratic method, elenchus, quotations
[Socrates quotes, Socrates biography]
quotes, life, Greek philosopher, dialectic, cultivation of the Soul

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Socrates - Greek philosopher
biography - quotes

Socrates quotes :-

  Know yourself!


  The unexamined life is not worth living.

  I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.

  I hold that to need nothing is divine, and the less a man needs the nearer does he approach divinity.

An outline biography

  Socrates was born around 470 B.C. and as he grew to manhood learnt his family's trade as a sculptor. As well as learning this trade he also received a more formal education in geometry and astronomy. He had a hunger for knowledge that was credible and that could not be undermined by contrary facts. According to an account in Plato's "The Phaedo" Socrates started out with much enthusiasm for the sciences but eventually came to regard his teachers as merely imparting "received knowledge" that they could not themselves prove - he decided to seek true knowledge of "causes" and of "the good" elsewhere and was prepared to rely on his own intuitions as a guide in his search.

  Socrates personal appearance was not impressive. He was seemingly rather ugly with a snub nose, piercing eyes, a broad nose and a wide mouth - he nevertheless became prominent in Athenian life because of the range and qualty of his mind and his ideas!!! Athenians who came to know him held that whatever about his appearance he was "all glorious within" - he was on speaking terms with many of those who were at the centre of Athenian affairs.

  Alike with other citizens Socrates was called upon to serve the Athenian state in times of war. He served as a hoplite soldier and showed much personal courage - he had a naturally mystically inclined personality and was occasionally found to be somewhat rapt in ecstacies and trances even whilst on military service.
  The Athens of the day was morally and ethically dislocated due to the sufferings and struggles associated with the ongoing Peloponessian Wars with Sparta.

  A friend, in consultation with the Oracle at Delphi, asked was any man wiser than Socrates. The Oracle replied that there were not!!! Upon being told of this answer Socrates maintained that this implied that he, alone, had this claim to wisdom - that he fully recognised his own ignorance.

  From that time Socrates sought out people who had a reputation for wisdom and, in every case, was able to reveal that their reputations were not justified. Socrates regarded this behaviour as a service to God and decided that he should continue to make efforts to improve people by persuading and reminding them of their own ignorance.

  What we now call the "Socratic method" of philosophical inquiry involved questioning people on the positions they asserted and working them through further questions into seemingly inevitable contradictions, thus proving to them that their original assertion had fatal inconsistencies. Socrates refers to this "Socratic method" as elenchus. The Socratic method gave rise to dialectic, the idea that truth needs to be approached by modifying one's position through questionings and exposures to contrary ideas.

  Whilst Socrates was polite and considerate, in the ways in which he brought people to face their own ignorance and at the same time encouraged them to join with him in a sincere search for truth, many of these interviews were conducted in public in market-place or Gymnasium. The youth of Athens came to regard it as a form of entertainment to see those of pretentious reputation humbled. Some people used the Socratic method to similarly bring others to face their own ignorance but may have been less polite and more personal in their approach. Those so discomfited often blamed those they held responsible for misleading youth rather than themselves for entertaining unjustifiable pretensions.

  Socrates came to feel that he had a "Divine mission" to improve the moral education of the Athenians and tended to neglect his business in order to spend time in moral philosophising and in informal educational discussions with Athenian youths.

  Prior to the times "philosophy" had been primarily directed towards the natural sciences. Socrates is held to be largely responsible for opening up moral, ethical, and political questions of virtue and justice as being of primary interest to philosphers.

  Socrates married Xanthippe late in his life, possibly as his second wife, some sources suggest that this lady was a tad shrewish. Socrates is held to have been way less serious about earning a living than in continuing his "mission" as a moral educator so Xanthippe, as the mother of a family, may have had grounds for impatience.

  As to Socrates' personal philosophy - he left no writings of his own so we have to rely on sources such as Plato and Xenophon, who knew him and his philosophy personally, for information.
  Both these men were much younger than Socrates and were only really in a position to know him as a philopher during the last decade of his life. Of the two it is Plato who has left the more extensive and vivid record of Sorates' life and teachings in a number of dialogues.

  In Plato's dialogue "The Phaedo" Socrates holds that life must be lived with a view to the "cultivation of the Soul". The Orphic and Pythagorean faith background of the day accepted the deathlessness of the Soul, and accepted physical death as also involving the release of the Soul.
  Where a person had lived a good life, - had cultivated their Soul, - they were held to merit a far more pleasant situation in an afterlife reincarnation than where a person had led a bad life.
  The very fact of belief in an afterlife making the cultivation of the Soul a matter of the utmost importance.

  Platos "The Symposium" (i.e. Banquet) has the mystically inclined Socrates delivering a speech that expatiates on the hunger of the Soul for the Good and the True.

  Socrates did not seek to involve himself in the political life of Athens as he felt that there would inevitably be compromises of principle that he was not prepared to make. As a prominent citizen he was called upon to fulfil minor political roles.
  In 399 B.C. Socrates was accused of "impiety", of "neglect of the Gods whom the city worships and the practise of religious novelties" and of the "corruption of the young".
  These accusations may have been to some extent political as Athens had recently been restored to democracy and several prominent opponents of democratic forms of governance had close links with Socrates.

  Although friends were willing to arrange for his escape Socrates, in deference to the rule of law, took the poison Hemlock in prison in accordance with a death sentence that he did not consider to be justified.

  Two other major quotations from Socrates - (as featured in Plato's Republic which is set out as a report of Socrates' philosophic conversation with several friends) - are featured on our page considering the relationship between "Spirituality and the wider world":-

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