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"The only real wisdom is knowing you know nothing" Socrates



When Plato sat down and wrote of the wise teacher Socrates in his work "The Apology" this statement, in which Socrates was purported to have said is one of the gems that have withstood time and place.

To know we know nothing is to remain humble and heart centered, not ego driven. Since it appears that most issues in society are centered on having power, retaining power, empowering oneself or others, or dis empowering another for perceived one-up-manship, this wonderfully inspired sentiment gets lots on a narcissistic society.

It would appear that narcissism is alive and spreading in the 21st century. All one need do is look at someones Facebook page to see the multitude of pictures of the self strewn in the albums, and the focus on the life of the self from the ridiculous to the sublime. It is not enough that we think of the effects of something from our own gain or loss, but now we focus on the minutiae of our bodily functions twittering them to all those willing to read those 140 or less updates. There are several articles that examine the idea that because they were often told they were "special" and could "do anything they wanted to do" many of our twenty and thirty something offspring believe they are in fact "entitled" to any and all things by virtue of being alive. This undermines the point mom and dad were trying to make. Told they had limitations during their youth, mom and dad wanted to be sure their offspring knew they had lots of choices in life, but there was nothing in the pep talk that told them to be egotistically self centered in the process!

Knowledge is something we hope to acquire over a lifetime, and by both knowledge and experience we come to the real goal: to attain wisdom. But wisdom and knowledge are fluid. No one, even someone as brilliant as Socrates stops learning, growing and assimilating information. When we come to think ourselves better than another, smarter, or ingrained in a solid belief system, we limit the lives we live. For what is better than knowing each person and new experience, even those that are seemingly perceived as negative can help us to grow? Each term I start a new class I make sure to tell my students they are there to teach me too, and I am open to learn and grow from each of them. The relationship is based on equality, more than an insufferable sense of superiority. I may have studied longer than they, and have loved longer than them, but what makes me wiser? The only thing that makes me wise is knowing I know nothing, and can continue to learn from each new day.

Socrates was considered a dissident in Greece in his time. He was condemned as a heretic for that which he taught his students and sentenced to die by ingesting hemlock. It was the answer that the Oracle at Delphi gave when asked who was the wisest man in Athens at the time. The Oracle replied it was Socrates, although he believed this to be a paradox. Those in Athens who believed themselves to be wise were actually not wise, but Socrates who knew he was not wise was the wisest of all for his admission of his ignorance.

Not wanting to change who he was, Socrates remained true to his beliefs and willingly drank the hemlock that killed him at the end. His death makes him a martyr for his beliefs and opens the door for his student, Plato to write of his thoughts and philosophical discussions that were compilations of possible discussions in his lifetime. When he was on trial for corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens, he used his insights to demonstrate to the jurors that their moral values are not aligned. He reminds them that the material concerns of life should be balanced with concern for ones soul.And it is this soul that is sorely missing from the way people interact in society today as well.

There is nothing wrong with ego if it is in balance with all other areas of ones life. It is when the ego overtakes our lives completely that we can become arrogant, judgmental and self centered. As in all things we must seek to balance our lives with beauty, humbleness and generosity, compassion and love for our fellow man, and remember that there is much to learn, and even if we lived another 200 years, there is no way we could learn it all.


Alice Lee Martin (author) from Sumner, Washington,USA on April 14, 2013:

As far as "spreading" our wisdom, I agree. We need to use our wisdom absolutely! But we need to remain humble and remember we are also vessels that can be refilled and be open to continual learning that others can impart to us as well. Thanks Edwin.

Edwin on April 14, 2013:

But we must remember that we do this to be more happy and live more fulfilling lives being wise is useless if we can't spend it ? Like we have potential but don't want use it I think that's why a lot of people don't be what they want to be.... Since we know let's try our best

Alice Lee Martin (author) from Sumner, Washington,USA on December 02, 2012:

thank you Ken for coming by and leaving this post!

Ken Taub from Long Island, NY on December 02, 2012:

There's not enough Socratic thinking in our modern world. Thanks for rectifying this in part, Aley. Cheers & best wishes, Ken

Alice Lee Martin (author) from Sumner, Washington,USA on November 11, 2012:

thank you for coming by and sharing this!

bkjagadish on November 11, 2012:

In Sanskrit there is a beautiful saying pertaining to acquiring Knowledge :

स्वल्पस्च कालो बहवश्च विघ्नाः ( SVAPLASCHA KAALO BAHAVASCHA VIGHNAH )

meaning - Time is Little, Obstacles are Many !!!...

But we move around thinking that we know all !!!...what a pity !!!...

Thank You for sharing an excellent Hub Aley !!!....

Alice Lee Martin (author) from Sumner, Washington,USA on November 11, 2012:

Good call Tom. Yes, I see your point! Thanks!!

Tom Koecke from Tacoma, Washington on November 11, 2012:

I agree with you about Aristotle being included because of the lineage. However, he is so different from both Socrates and Plato that the lineage extends through others, but not Aristotle.

Aristotle was bright, but in more of an entrapreunarial sort of way. Ultimately, the biggest difference was in the way he and Socrates died. Socrates took his poison despite support to help him escape. Aristotle ran saying they aren't going to get both of us, and died within a year anyway.

Socrates also didn't set astrology back 1,700 years being the "smartest man in Athens."

Alice Lee Martin (author) from Sumner, Washington,USA on November 11, 2012:

he is one of mine too! Perhaps they included Aristotle because he was Plato's student, as Plato was Socrates student. And Aristotle taught Alexander the Great. Such a legacy!

My favorite work is Plato's Allegory of the Cave which when I teach it to students I remind them of being in a movie theater, so they can use their modern imaginations to visualize the allegory.

Socrates was the true hero in that he would not stop doing what he loved to do and would rather die than not do it. What a guy!

Tom Koecke from Tacoma, Washington on November 10, 2012:

Another great read, Aley!

Socrates is one of my heroes. I find it a shame that amongst he and Plato, many will include Aristotle as the third great Greek philosopher. Aristotle so loved the fame and grandeur, which, I believe, Socrates would have found rather disgusting.

Our wisdom is in continued pursuit of truth, and the realization that we know little. Socrates is purported to have claimed that "our senses filter reality."

He also seemed to know that deduction was the test of truth. We should not add two and two to come to four. We should start with four and determine if the two and two were added, multiplied, or squared. That, in itself, will make a world of difference when we are faced with three as one of the factors, and need to know if the answer is five, six, or nine!

bkjagadish from bangalore on August 19, 2012:

" There is nothing wrong with ego if it is in balance with all other areas of ones life. It is when the ego overtakes our lives completely that we can become arrogant, judgmental and self centered ".....Well Said Aley !!!...

Alice Lee Martin (author) from Sumner, Washington,USA on May 30, 2012:

thanks to all for coming by and commenting.

Max on May 30, 2012:

Nice Article.

sid on April 19, 2012:

i like it soooooooooo much !

Alice Lee Martin (author) from Sumner, Washington,USA on July 12, 2011:

Hello Greece! I hope to come visit you one day!

enter2life on June 20, 2011:

Hello from Greece!!! :)

Alice Lee Martin (author) from Sumner, Washington,USA on June 18, 2011:

Thank you DjBryle and Clark Farley for posting comments to my hub. This subject is a very passionate one for me and underlies most of my approach to life. I thank you for your thoughtful words and appreciate your words in a world where many times I find myself thinking I am the only one who believes in such a way....

My best to you both.


clark farley on June 18, 2011:

Intriguing Hub!

It is interesting how 'knowledge' has come to be perceived as such a valued commodity in Western civilization(s), almost as if we could could mark the point of the evolution of power from 'purely physical' (on the part of the individual) to 'mostly intellectual' both, collective and individual.

The assumption of the intrinsic value of knowledge, expressed in the quote that is at the center of (this) Hub, ...'the only real wisdom is...' for some reason makes me think of the statement from the wise zen master in response to a persistant acolyte,

"If you have to ask the question, you cannot understand the answer".

Two very different approachs to the question for knowledge and understanding, I would think.

Thank you for the thought provoking Hub! (sort of morning mental calisthenics, lol)

DjBryle from Somewhere in the LINES of your MIND, and HOPEFULLY at the RIPPLES of your HEART. =) on June 17, 2011:

I love this hub! Truly, no man will ever know everything, and that is the very reason why no man is an island. If this great wisdom of these wise men are more appreciated and understood at the present, the world would be much better. Voted up and clicked all the buttons too! Cheers!

Alice Lee Martin (author) from Sumner, Washington,USA on April 02, 2011:

Thanks Denise. I tell my students all the time that I am not just there to facilitate their learning, but also am there to learn from THEM. We must remain open and humble to be able to fill our "Cup" (mind)....!

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on April 02, 2011:

Beautifully written and best to keep in mind. I must be getting wiser in my old age...the older I get the more in awe I am of how little I know. This one is going on my FB page.

Alice Lee Martin (author) from Sumner, Washington,USA on June 16, 2010:

Thanks jack!

last_jack on June 15, 2010:

I totally agree with what you say in your hub.

Alice Lee Martin (author) from Sumner, Washington,USA on May 22, 2010:

Thanks so much Nellieanna

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on May 22, 2010:

Good discussion here. Wisdom, dignity, humility and a quest for better knowledge are not automatic or chronological developments in the least, but results of whatever experience has been gained, paying attention, study, open mindedness and the realization as this hub is about - that we know nothing in the big scheme of things.

Great hub, Aley ,and stimulating some really good comments!

Alice Lee Martin (author) from Sumner, Washington,USA on May 22, 2010:

Oh, I so agree! There are many people inn their 80's that are are very immature! And one of the most wise people ever was "Manny Stephanek" child who wrote poetry and died before he was a teenager. He was SO wise!

Thanks for coming by!

01vic01 on May 21, 2010:

Nice job with this work.I'm my oppinion, knowledge and wisdom are things which are earned and learned through life experience and actual practice. That being; learn to do good things and then practice them without expecting anything in return. Its too bad that knowledge, wisdom, and age do not necessarily accompany each other (sorry if that sounds rude) but, I have seen younger people carry themselves with more maturity than older ones, and older people with more mental alertness than university students. I guess when it comes down to it, its better to respect wisdom and do away with ignorrance. Socrates was a good example of how bad things can get when people choose to do the opposite. I believe it was also him that said: "A formal attack against ignorrace is impossible because the mob is always ready to protect it's most prized possession".

Alice Lee Martin (author) from Sumner, Washington,USA on May 21, 2010:

Hi Tom...

Thanks for coming by...I do not think there is anything wrong with putting your pictures on your Hubs. The social networking pictures are a different matter, your choices are not erroneous if you realize the difference, many others do not...

With appreciation!


Tom Ware from Sydney, Australia on May 20, 2010:


Thoroughly enjoyed the read. I guess I fall into that category you're chastising, having placed several pictures of my physical self upon the pages of over fifty Hubs, most of them written quite long ago, but with 'cut and paste' at last being seen - hopefully - by others than just myself.

I do realize, of course, that I'm not my physical body, my thoughts, my emotions but am the Observer and Choice Maker in all this - as I expect you do.

Keep up the good work, mate, and I'll probably come back to look at more of your stuff.

Twenty One Days on May 20, 2010:

Nicely said, Aley.

Ego is the center of human thinking and often drives them to extreme lengths -applied or not. But ego defines how they approach life and their willingness to surrender to something greater than their beliefs. I think Socrates knew this, in some small measure. Cheers, James.

Alice Lee Martin (author) from Sumner, Washington,USA on May 20, 2010:

Thanks Nellieanna. We sure do have much to learn and life is short!


Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on May 20, 2010:

I agree with Sierra Greer, Possibly the truest meaning of Socrates statement is that we REALLY do know very little1! Owning up to it may be among the most knowledgeable things we can do! LOL. Shouldn't we be glad we have so much more to know? That is possibly another meaning of it. There is probably never to be an exhaustible supply of unknowns. That's sort of freeing, actually. Knowing one can enjoy the journey and the quest without fear of running out OR of our limitations. Socrates was a very bright guy!

A really good hub subject, Aley!!! And you have to be a wonderful teacher, too!

Alice Lee Martin (author) from Sumner, Washington,USA on May 20, 2010:

Thanks to all...!

Sierra Greer on May 20, 2010:

Wow! I totally agree with this philosophy! For me, the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.

You go girl!


Laurel Rogers from Grizzly Flats, Ca on May 20, 2010:

The health of the soul is so seemingly forgotten! It appears to have been the case even in ancient Greece. Like Jung's individuation, it is something to strive for throughout our lives.

Thanks so much for addressing this, Aley-big thumbs up!

Mentalist acer from A Voice in your Mind! on May 20, 2010:

I Consider facebook and Twitter as junk mail.

Alice Lee Martin (author) from Sumner, Washington,USA on May 20, 2010:

AH! It is well hidden....actually here in WA state there have been a few people who mistook a plant for am herb, and used it on their salad. One died, one gravely ill. Hemlock..!

Micky Dee on May 20, 2010:

Great hub Aley Martin! I think people will agree to the Golden Rule. Then - the ego speaks and the world is full of self preserving anecdotes. What did I do with that hemlock?

Alice Lee Martin (author) from Sumner, Washington,USA on May 20, 2010:

Thanks suny...always a pleasure to see you!

suny51 on May 20, 2010:

hello professor Aley-so true,I simply love this one for the straight forward message it nails right where it counts. 'never carry your wisdom to your morning walk',Great.

Alice Lee Martin (author) from Sumner, Washington,USA on May 20, 2010:

Thanks so very much to all. I think Socrates is one of my mentors. I teach from a Socratic philosophy and find that the discussions are much more meaningful than learn and "regurgitate"...!

Ah, Balance is key...and remembering our thoughts are things.

Feline Prophet on May 19, 2010:

Interesting hub, Aley. Each of us is a product of our experiences, which are exclusive to us. Similarly others have their own experiences which have given them a specific knowledge and wisdom...and we will never know that. How can anyone then claim to know more than another?

someonewhoknows from south and west of canada,north of ohio on May 19, 2010:

I know the story about Socrates drinking Hemlock.Though I don't recall the statement he made ,it's appropriate that he is the one who said it.It's true that those who would tell the truth however unfavorable it is to those who are within hearing range.

Nice picture!

mrpopo from Canada on May 19, 2010:

It's quite impressive the amount of wisdom that man had, more than 2000 years ago... at the same time it's quite sad that more than 2000 years later, we still don't seem to get the message(s) he sent to us.

Great comparisons with Facebook and Twitter in terms of being self-centered; those things do worry me, as does the increasing advancements of technology in general. Balance, a quality which Socrates also vouched for, is not being accounted for. Everything is getting larger, faster - but not better, simply because of the lack of balance. When our population becomes unsustainable, so much that technological advancements can't keep up with it, we'll know the true meaning of balance.

Thanks for the well-written and informative Hub.