Socratic method, elenchus, quotations
quotes, life, Greek philosopher, dialectic, cultivation of the Soul
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Socrates quotes :-
The unexamined life is not worth living.
I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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":-
Socrates - Greek philosopher
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