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The Philosophy of Socrates

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Born in Athens at the peak of the Athenian civilization. Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were his contemporaries. He served for several years as a soldier. As a member of the Athenian Senate, he refused to connive in the murder of political enemies of the Government and was later brought to trial on a false charge of "introducing new religious practices and corrupting the young". He was sentenced to death. Socrates was acclaimed as the greatest of the Greek philosophers and thinkers.


The unexamined life is not worth living.


470 BC to 399 BC

Greek thinker and founder of Western philosophy. Socrates committed none of his thinkings to writing. It was only through his pupil Plato that we know his ideas. And it is difficult in the later Plato to distinguish between his own thoughts and those of Socrates.

Socrates lived in Athens, where he questioned fellow citizens on how they should live their lives. 'Know thyself' was his principal axiom, and he believe in the unity of beauty, truth and virtue. It was impossible, Socrates held, to know what was good and not pursue it.

Socrates, the first great Athenian philosopher, taught that the key to a good life lay in moral worth and the practice of virtue, and saw it as his duty to make other citizens aware of the ignorance of the true good.

Socrates wrote nothing down; all we know of his teaching comes from the philosophy of his pupil Plato, who was not quite 30 when Socrates was put to death.

All Plato's major works are in dialogue form, and the main speaker is usually Socrates. It is assumed that in the earlier dialogues this character is the real historical Socrates, while in the later ones he represents Plato's mature development of the teachings of Socrates. The continuity of thought makes it impossible to tell where Socrates leaves off and Plato begins.

Throughout his career Plato remained convinced by the teachings of Socrates, and continued to identify virtue with knowledge. However, the corresponding belief - that evil is inevitably done by the ignorant was probably the basis of Plato's distrust of democracy, for a democracy had convicted Socrates.

Career cut short

Socrates thought all wrongdoing was due to ignorance. But in trying to make his fellow citizens aware of their ignorance, he incurred much personal resentment; this led to his trial and conviction on a charge of impiety and corrupting the young with his teaching.

Awaiting execution he continued to discuss philosophy with his friends and pupils. He refused to take advantage of a plan for his escape, electing instead to drink the hemlock handed to him by the executioner.

Plato was so shocked by the death of Socrates that he abandoned the political career he had planned, developing a distrust of Greek democracy which was reflected in much of his political philosophy.

The Death of Socrates

The Death of Socrates


  • The New International Illustrated Encyclopaedia, Volume 6, 1954
  • Library of Essential Knowledge, Volume 2, Readers Digest, 1980
  • Pictorial Knowledge, Volume 10, circa 1950, Newnes


yvonheckscher on December 17, 2013:

Why allow dubious characters like Newt Gingrich to advertise his name and portrait on a Hub page dedicated to the person recognised for thousands of years and by a great many not only as the iconic father of Western philosophical thought but also as possibly the first person to whom the West owes a set of moral imperatives which place the truth at the pinnacle thereof, worth dying for? Till Socrates came to Athens, it was the practicality of human behaviour that transcended both West and East philosophy, elevating an ends-justifies-the-means mindset to dominance over all other mindsets. Newt's entire career illustrates his reliance on and devotion to pre-Socratic admiration for what works rather than what the sublime could bring, what profits the individual rather than the collective, and what satisfies the beast lurking in man's heart rather than what he can offer for the betterment of his kind.

carlo on November 22, 2012:

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well hi was the man

Kingslin Joshuva on September 26, 2011:

Socrates was an uneducated man, but his thinking and Knowledge has made him the Philosopher of this World....Thanks to Plato who made his Philosophy reachable to the World.

Kolawole enoch on September 13, 2011:

Socrate is my icon, a great thinker from anthen.

banjo idris on September 12, 2011:

you owe the rooster rhetus critos don't forget to pay our debt

Jiggles on January 23, 2011:

Socrates definatly had the right to say what he said, he got killed for questioning the Athens??????? Killed-for questioning his OWN TOWN!!!!!!!!!!

What a shame!

Mariyam on January 04, 2011:

Socrates was a greek thinker and philosopher.

Aklimunnisa on January 04, 2011:

Plato is a socrates student

Saidu Rehman on January 04, 2011:

Socrate is my faviorite great thinker

Saidu Rehman on January 04, 2011:

Socrate is my faviorite great thinker

chakranir from KOLKATA, INDIA on March 06, 2010:

A good and informative write up about a glorious personality of history. Socrates is one of my most enigmatic,attractive and adorable great men. I thank you and appreciate your effort to help me remember him once again.

kyra on February 09, 2010:

i sort of care for socrates because he felt that he knew everything and even when people didn't like him or called him ugly he still kept lhis head up and kept going. i have a lot respect for him for that.

Glen (author) from Australia on November 08, 2009:

Two and a half thousands years on it might appear easy to have an opinion on Socrates, but without men like him we wouldn't have the intellect that we had today to question, think, dream and imagine.

Vfhudson from Chicagoland Area on November 08, 2009:

I do not care for Socrates. He felt that he could do no wrong because we were all clueless of then difference between right and wrong. Epic fail is what they say, now?

jordan on October 22, 2009:

i think he had a right to say what he said. he was a man who questioned the ways of athens and was KILLED for it would you be up set if you wold have to killed if you questioned the ways of YOUR city??????????????i am not saying it was wise to do that but i think it is interesting to learn why he died,how he died and were.DON'T YOU?

soccerlover on August 08, 2009:

he was a very greek philosopher

Woody Marx from Ontario, Canada on May 10, 2008:

Socrates is one of my heroes. Such an eccentric, and such a genius. Everyone should know something about him. Thanks for this.

Glen (author) from Australia on May 06, 2008:

Ushia, that is very interesting. I didn't know that. Is it painful death by this sort of poisoning? Or are they totally off their face? (or muzzle, or snout).

Ushia on May 06, 2008:

hemlock is hallucinogenic poison and made you believe you were an animal before taking your life.

Wonder what animal Socrates was?

Lifebydesign from Australia on May 02, 2008:

Definitely a man before his time and love that 'unexamined life' quote. Great bio about a great man darkside!

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