Socrates ( 469 BC – 399 BC) was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary Aristophanes.
This is also called the Method of Elenchus or Socratic Debate. Plato was the first to describe it in the "Socratic dialogs". This is a method of philosophical inquiry used for the assessment of key moral concepts. It is for this method that Socrates is considered as the father and originator of moral philosophy and western ethics. The method includes the following points:
interrogating a range of questions regarding a pivotal issue
providing answers to these questions
defending certain points of view
the ideal method to achieve triumph is that if the opponent asserts something opposite to his own statement, then this is an evidence that the enquirer is correct
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.
Plato reconstructed these discussions in a great set of writings known as the Dialogs. It is difficult to distinguish what is Socrates and what is Plato in these dialogs, so we will simply discuss them together.
Socrates wasn’t loved by everyone by any means. His unorthodox political and religious views gave the leading citizens of Athens the excuse they needed to sentence him to death for corrupting the morals of the youth of the city. In 399, he was ordered to drink a brew of poison hemlock, which he did in the company of his students. The event is documented in Plato's Apology.
Socrates' final words were "Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius (the god of medicine). Pay it and do not neglect it."
We have no works written by Socrates and it’s unclear whether he ever wrote anything down himself. We do, however, have dialogues written by Plato which are supposed to be philosophical conversations between Socrates and others. The early dialogues (Charmides, Lysis, and Euthyphro) are believed to be genuine; during the middle period (Republic) Plato began to mix in his own views. By the Laws, the ideas attributed to Socrates aren’t genuine.
The only records we have of the life Socrates are through the previously mentioned Dialogues, and the records and works of Xenophon, a noted Ancient Greek historian. Xenophon having no philosophical views of his own to develop, and no imagination to lead him astray is an excellent witness. Plato, though he understood his master better, is a less trustworthy authority, as he makes Socrates the mouthpiece of his own more advanced and even antagonistic doctrine.
Yet to all appearance The Apology is a careful and exact account of Socrates’s habits and principles of action; the earlier dialogues, those which are commonly called “Socratic,” represent Socrates’ method; and if in the later and more important dialogues the doctrine is the doctrine of Plato, echoes of the master’s teaching are still discoverable, approving themselves as such by their accord with the Xenophonean testimony. It is in the face of these two principal witnesses that The Life of Socrates may be constructed.
Socrates was a widely recognized and controversial figure in his native Athens, so much so that he was frequently mocked in the plays of comic dramatists. (The Clouds of Aristophanes, produced in 423, is the best-known example.) Although Socrates himself wrote nothing, he is depicted in conversation in compositions by a small circle of his admirers—Plato and Xenophon first among them. He is portrayed in these works as a man of great insight, integrity, self-mastery, and argumentative skill. The impact of his life was all the greater because of the way in which it ended: at age 70, he was brought to trial on a charge of impiety and sentenced to death by poisoning (the poison probably being hemlock) by a jury of his fellow citizens. Plato's Apology of Socrates purports to be the speech Socrates gave at his trial in response to the accusations made against him (Greek apologia means “defense”). Its powerful advocacy of the examined life and its condemnation of Athenian democracy have made it one of the central documents of Western thought and culture.
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.
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.
Details about Socrates are derived from three contemporary sources: Besides the dialogues of Plato there are the plays of Aristophanes and the dialogues of Xenophon. Aristotle, a much younger contemporary of Plato, was born after the death of Socrates. If Socrates wrote anything, it has not survived. Aristophanes' portrait of Socrates is at odds with the popular view that Socrates was an intellectual force in Athens during the fifth century BCE. His early play, The Clouds, pictures Socrates as a clown who teaches his students how to bamboozle their way out of debt. This play, originally produced in 423 BC (re-produced in 416 BCE), won third place at the Dionysia theatre festival.
According to Plato, Socrates' father was Sophroniscus and his mother Phaenarete, a midwife after whom Socrates modeled his own career as a midwife to boys in the throes of giving birth to their thoughts. Socrates married Xanthippe, who must have been far younger than her husband. She is alleged to have born him three sons – Lamprocles, Sophroniscus and Menexenus – Socrates died when the boys were all quite young, and takes criticism from his friend Crito for abandoning them.
The trial and execution of of Socrates in Athens in 399 B.C.E. puzzles historians. Why, in a society enjoying more freedom and democracy than any the world had ever seen, would a seventy-year-old philosopher be put to death for what he was teaching? The puzzle is all the greater because Socrates had taught--without molestation--all of his adult life. What could Socrates have said or done than prompted a jury of 500 Athenians to send him to his death just a few years before he would have died naturally?
Finding an answer to the mystery of the trial of Socrates is complicated by the fact that the two surviving accounts of the defense (or apology) of Socrates both come from disciples of his, Plato and Xenophon. Historians suspect that Plato and Xenophon, intent on showing their master in a favorable light, failed to present in their accounts the most damning evidence against Socrates.
Socrates developed a philosophy which, through his own teachings and the teachings of his immediate followers, especially Plato and Aristotle, eventually won the attention and respect of thinking men everywhere. The three great Socratic philosophers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, were to be "rediscovered" during the Renaissance and their rational, practical, and scientific ideas were to influence the thinking and the governmental, religious, and educational institutions of the entire western world.
LIFE OF SOCRATES, 469-399 B.C.
He looked upon the soul as the seat of both waking consciousness and moral character, and held the universe to be purposively mind-ordered. His criticism of the Sophists and of Athenian political and religious institutions made him many enemies, and his position was burlesqued by ARISTOPHANES. In 399 B.C. Socrates was tried for corrupting the morals of Athenian youth and for religious heresies; it is now believed that his arrest stemmed in particular from his influence on Alcibiades and Critias, who had betrayed Athens. He was convicted and, resisting all efforts to save his life, willingly drank the cup of poison hemlock given him. The trial and death of Socrates are described by Plato in the Apology, Crito, and Phaedo.