Friday, November 16, 2007

Socrates

Greece is often viewed as the origin of Western thought and culture. This is because of their relatively abrupt rise to recognition of intellect and power. In the area of thought, reason, and philosophy using the term Greece would be inaccurate, as Greece consisted of several independent city-states, all of which relied on their own ways of living. Take Sparta and Athens, for example; Athens was a city of what eventually became the start of democracy, and the people there believed in a wide-ranging education - the indulging of all knowledge. In contrast, the city-state of Sparta believed in only one thing: military and order of the state. The studying and participation in any other vicinities of knowledge, such as the arts, science, arithmetic, and philosophy, were all looked down upon as obstructions to the order established in Sparta. The study of philosophy was taken place centrally in Athens. It is obvious that Athens acquired the most significant achievements in philosophy, theory, and thought, but the question is, Why? Why is it that the Athenians were the first to accomplish what they did in thought? It is simply put that it could have been the cause of heredity and genetics. It is clear that the Athenians and Spartans (and all the other city-states for that matter) differed greatly, and genetics may very likely be the cause of this. (Source 1, Source 2)

"It is an interesting irony that although Socrates was unquestionably one of the most famous and influential figures in western civilization, what we really know about the man and his philosophical views is quite limited. Of course, there is no good reason to doubt that there was a philosopher by the name of Socrates, that he lived in Athens during the fifth century B.C., that he made it his business to engage people in philosophical discussion, often in public places such as the Athenian marketplace, and that he had many devoted friends and an even larger number of implacable enemies. We can also be quite certain that in 399 B.C., when he was well on in years, Socrates appeared before an Athenian court, charged with having violated an Athenian law against impiety, that he was convicted and subsequently executed." (The Philosophy of Socrates, Brickhouse & Smith pg. 14)
The philosophers of Athens were indisputably the most influential and accomplished men of their time, and possibly even ours. Although there are many great philosophers of Athens, there is one in particular who is seen as a "landmark" of thought and exploration of morality. This person is known as Socrates. Socrates in was born in Athens in 469 B.C. and remained there until his execution in 399 B.C. When Socrates was growing up he took part in the customary education of Athenian boys, which consisted of arithmetic and geometry, physical education, music, and literature. Growing up, Socrates took after his father's line of work: sculpting. Socrates, however, later gave up sculpting in his father's workshop, and proclaimed himself to be divinely-inspired to become a reformer of moral principles in his country. He was completely dedicated to his self-assigned mission, and, as we take all of his achievements into perspective of our time, he succeeded. Although seen in his time as what would be called a gadfly, as this was part of his mission, he unmistakeably was the most influential person of his time. He was probably seen as confrontational, as he asked questions which were uncommonly asked, and then seeing fault in the peoples' replies, he would immediately refute and disprove their logic with his intellect and ability to critique the issue from a logical standpoint. It was because of Socrates' style of teaching of morality that he was convicted, condemned, and executed. (Source, Brickhouse & Smith)

Socrates was a pupil of Archelaus, a philosopher, who taught theories of science, which Socrates took great interest in. Although Socrates was influenced by the sciences and the physical world, he became devoted to the area of moral values. He was urged to find the truths of morality, in the sense of what is, and what isn't. Socrates didn't necessarily teach, but he moreover discussed, disputed, and refuted. As his recognition throughout Athens increased, so did his followers, however, along with enemies. He acquired a group of people, particularly young people, who listened intently to his philosophy and followed him as he meandered through the city, with his eyes set on the goal of moral reform. This group of people often offered payments to Socrates for his teachings, but these were declined by him without any hesitance as material success wasn't part of his goal. All the information we have on Socrates is somewhat limited, as it is all secondary sources. Socrates himself never created any writings; most sources which give implications of who he was were dialogues of debates and discussions between Socrates and other philosophical figures. The most famed pupil and recorder of Socrates was Plato, who passed on the teachings of Socrates to his own pupils, such as Aristotle. (Source 1, Source 2)

"It is a bold - some will say over-bold - procedure to try to separate Socrates from Plato. In the dialogues of Plato it would seem that he has so blended his own spirit with that of Socrates that they never again be separated." (Socrates, Guthrie pg. 5)

Plato recorded many dialogues of Socrates, until his death, and took his teachings into his own life as he became the educator at his own academy. In the dialogues Socrates exemplified his own philosophy through Plato, as Socrates' teachings were unlike any other and gave a great amount of influence, especially on Plato. Plato wrote of Socrates in his Apology, when Socrates was put on trial by the sophists, the educated people of Athens who took part in popular debates and who were gifted in rhetoric. The sophists (and other people of Athens who disdained Socrates and his teachings) accused Socrates of impiety, or fault in his ways. In the Apology, Plato illustrates how Socrates proves to those of whom put him on trial that they fail to acknowledge that wisdom comes from a self-realization that you are not wise. The following dialogue of Plato is the Crito, in which Socrates awaits his execution in prison. Friends of Socrates come to him in prison, as they arranged for his escape. Socrates considers escaping, but then makes clear that it his obligation to stay, because it is what's truly right. Even in prison, awaiting death, Socrates maintains his composure; this was the defining moment which showed that he lived his philosophy. The Phaedo is the writing of Plato which portrays the death of Socrates and discusses what happens when a person dies. Plato became the teacher of his own academy and, in contrast to Socrates' style of teaching, set out to systematically teach students by discussing dialogues of Socrates. (Source 1, Source 2)

Socrates is unequivocally the most known and influential philosopher of morality, and it may somewhat of a wonder why this is true. For something to be great, it must stick out from the crowd. Socrates did just this, and was put to death by poisoning. He did what no other individual did: he challenged the people with their ill-used minds and majority-accustomed opinions. Now, this is a bold comparison, but, the likeness of, not his philosophy, but of his ways and how Socrates acted and was treated is much like that of the path Jesus took. Jesus stood out in society, and, although he didn't necessarily challenge people, he taught things which were so unheard of that they were such an impact that they stuck forever. Jesus, parallel to Socrates, also had followers who carried out his philosophy and teachings. Both Socrates and Jesus were convicted for their teachings, with both eventually being executed. It is astonishing how their lives were composed in such similar patterns. All this explains that it is indeed true that to be great, you cannot be without conviction and conflict, and you must go against the accustomed thoughts and opinions of society and culture (however, not in a way that would be considered immoral). (Source: Basically my own thoughts and understanding)

Guthrie, William. Socrates. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1971.

Smith, Nicholaus D., Brickhouse, Thomas C. The Philosophy of Socrates. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2000.