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Socrates as a Founder of Western Philosophy Essay

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Updated: Aug 31st, 2021

Biography of Socrates

Socrates (469 BC – 399 BC) was born in Athens, Greece and grew up during the golden age of Pericles’ Athens (Ahbel-Rappe and Kamtekar 3). Ahbel-Rappe and Kamtekar noted that Socrates served as “a soldier in the Greek army during his youth” (Ahbel-Rappe and Kamtekar 3). However, many knew Socrates as a person who questioned everyone and everything. Socrates did not write anything about himself because he lived in the ancient time.

Instead, scholars have learned about Socrates’ life through the works of his students like Plato and Xenophon, followers, and contemporaries. Socratic Method provided a basis for “Western systems of thinking, reasoning, logic, and philosophy” (Ahbel-Rappe and Kamtekar 3). The Greece court sentenced Socrates to “death through hemlock poisoning due to changes in political circumstances” (Ahbel-Rappe and Kamtekar 7). Socrates did not flee into exile, but accepted the death penalty.

Socrates was a Greek philosopher, whose life has scanty information. The writings that captured Socrates’ life had other purposes. Hence, it is possible that none of the writings presented a complete picture of Socrates’ life. Generally, collective analyses of all these writings provide useful insights, which are unique and vivid presentations of Socrates’ ideals and personality. Socrates did not come from a noble family. As a result, he must have received basic education of Athens at the time and acquired some skills from his father. Scholars believed that Socrates was a mason (his father’s craft) before he later focused on philosophy. However, scholars differ on how Socrates supported himself through his philosophical ideologies because he remained poor and rarely supported his family.

Socrates fought for democracy in Greece, which scholars believed was the cause of his downfall, trial, and eventual death sentence (Frey 106). Many contemporaries of Socrates “opposed his political, moral, and intellectual beliefs” (Frey 106). The jurors argued that Socrates’ ideas and teachings corrupted the minds of young people. Socrates openly criticized the ruling class for thinking about their own political interests, families, and career.

Self-interest dominated Athens. Plato and Xenophon concurred that Socrates could have escaped into exile, but he chose to face death for several reasons. First, Socrates believed that an escape would show that he feared death (Frey 106). Second, Socrates believed that it would be difficult to teach well his philosophical views while in exile. Finally, Socrates chose to live under the laws of Athens, and an escape would mean he was unprincipled. Socrates died of consuming hemlock poisoning as a punishment from the jury.

Summary of Socrates Accomplishments

Perhaps the most significant contribution of Socrates remains the Socratic Method. It has influenced Western philosophies and concepts of justice and goodness. Today, researchers apply Socratic Method in scientific methods while developing hypothesis. In addition, Socratic Method established Socrates as a political philosopher and a pioneer in other fields like ethics and moral philosophy (Irwin 147). Moreover, educators use the question and answer approach of Socrates to elicit responses from learners.

It is hard to distinguish philosophical beliefs of Socrates from those of Plato because of little differences between the two scholars. Some scholars believe that Socrates’ views and beliefs could have influenced the later works of Plato, particularly in literary writings (Socratic styles). Socrates developed the concept of Socratic paradoxes. Some views associated with Socrates conflict with the normal sense of reasoning. According to Santas, there are Socratic paradoxes, which are self-referential paradoxes with their roots from the Socrates’ phrase “I know that I know nothing noble and good” (Santas 147). Socrates’ phrase of “I know that I know nothing” reflected his deep knowledge in a sense of self-awareness. Scholars believe that the phrase shows Socrates’ wisdom and knowledge in acknowledging his ignorance, wrongdoing, its consequences, and ignorance of people who do wrong things. Socrates’ accomplishments are also in virtue.

Politically, Socrates believed that philosophers were the best people to lead a country. Socrates noted that only wise people like philosophers could understand ideals of the world. Hence, they were suitable to lead others. The Greeks believed in ‘daemonic sign’ or covertness. They noted that Socrates must have perfected the use of these signs. Socrates could only note such inner voices when he was about to engage in a wrongful act. Scholars believed that such signs barred Socrates from actively participating in politics.

An explanation on why Socrates is important

One can understand why Socrates was so important from different perspectives. First, scholars have credited modern philosophy to Socrates (Hadot 93). From philosophical perspectives, one can understand how Socrates made significant contributions to concepts of self-awareness, knowledge, love, virtue, goodness, and justice. These were core bases of Socrates’ teaching. Socrates noted that wrongful deeds resulted from ignorance. Socrates’ political beliefs have encouraged the concept of democracy. Socrates believed that only philosophers were suitable for political leaders because they were wise and could understand the ideals of the world. However, he never engaged in politics.

Socratic Method encouraged the development of modern scientific methods based on hypothesis in which one must determine the best option. Moreover, Socratic Method is the foundation of modern Western philosophical concepts, which emphasis concepts of moral philosophy, justice, and goodness. From the writings of his students, one can establish how Socrates’ ideologies influenced Western speculative ideologies. Philosophical pedagogy could have originated from ideas of Socrates. Trainers have applied this concept by asking questions in order to educe responses from learners. This method allows students to develop critical thinking and insights. Socrates developed the foundation of modern philosophy through his students, such as Plato and Xenophon. In addition, Socrates ideologies established the basis for ethics, logic, and epistemology.

Evaluation of Socrates

Socrates remains one of the most important and influential philosopher of all times. His ideas are the foundation of modern Western philosophical concepts. As a result, he created the idea of self-knowledge. Socrates noted that one should care for one’s self because it was the most imperative thing to do in life. Today, many educators have adopted the concept of question and answer approach to teaching. This was Socratic Method of eliciting best responses from his students. The method has been effective in teaching abstract concepts. This is a dialectical approach, which involves probing ethical and moral concepts like justice and goodness.

It is imperative to note that influences of Socrates found their ways in Plato’s works. This is how one can be able to learn about the Socrates’ dialogue. Philosophical concepts of Socrates appealed to many followers, but the ruling class noted that such influences were dangerous for Athens. Socrates encouraged his students to question their leaders. Socrates also shows what makes ideal integrity even in the face of death. One can learn that it is imperative to discuss and live philosophy as Socrates did (Hadot 93). Overall, it is difficult to come up with effective evaluation of Socrates because scholars have illustrated that Socrates’ students could have possibly changed his ideologies and thoughts. Hence, it is not possible to get a clear account of Socrates amidst diverse claims and evidence.

Works Cited

Ahbel-Rappe, Sara and Rachana Kamtekar. A Companion to Socrates. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2009. Print.

Frey, Raymond. “Did Socrates Commit Suicide?” Philosophy 53.203 (1978): 106-108. Print.

Hadot, Pierre. Philosophy as a Way of Life. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995. Print.

Irwin, Terence. The Development of Ethics. vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press , 2007. Print.

Santas, Gerasimos. “The Socratic Paradoxes.” Philosophical Review 73 (1964): 147– 64. Print.

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