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SOCRATES -His Life and Teaching | Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher

28 Apr 2014
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Admittedly, Socrates was and still remains one of the most important personalities of the ancient Greek culture. His views, his teaching and his action are a milestone in the ancient Greek philosophy. It is no coincidence that the philosophers before him are called “Pre-Socratic”, as with Socrates the philosophical interest shifted substantially from metaphysics and ontology (that deal with questions about the origin of the world and the natural phenomena) to the person and his soul.

Since Socrates hasn’t left any text written, we get the information we have about his life and his teaching from other writers, such as Plato, who outlines in his Socratic Dialogues his teacher’s, Socrates personality and philosophy, Xenophon (in his works Memorabilia and Symposium), Aristotle and Aristophanes with references in some of his comedies.


Information about the life of Socrates

Socrates was born in Athens, in Alopeke municipality in 470 or 469 BC. He lived during the Golden Age of Pericles, when Athens was at the top of power and glory. His father, Sophroniscus was a sculptor and his mother, Phaenarete a famous midwife. While his was still young, Socrates learned and worked on his father’s art. It’s been said actually that one of his works, The Three Graces, was standing to the entrance of Acropolis. However, later Socrates was influenced by the philosopher Archelaus, with whom he met when he was seventeen years old, and decided to turn to philosophy. Socrates was married with Xanthippe by whom he had three sons.

Socrates appearance

As it is mentioned in the historical sources, the external appearance of Socrates was not representative of the ancient Greek beauty and ideals. Nevertheless, what made Socrates special was his inner wealth and ethics. He was a model of courtesy, honesty, intelligence and self-sufficiency and nothing could disturb his peace of mind. Plato says that Socrates was the best, the most sensible and the most righteous of the Greeks.

Socrates participation in political affairs

Generally Socrates didn’t wish to participate actively in the political affairs of his time, except for three battles during the Peloponnesian War (at Potidaea in 432 BC, at Delium in 424 BC and at Amphipolis 422 BC), in which Socrates took part and fought for his country with bravery and perseverance.

Socarates death

Socrates died in 399 BC, after being unjustly sentenced to death by his fellow citizens who accused him of being atheist and of corrupting the young. It is characteristic that although Socrates had the chance to escape, he refused considering that it would be dishonest and preferring to obey and comply with the court's decision, he drank the hemlock.

In the “Ancient Olympic Games Comic” we have the opportunity to meet Socrates, who goes to ancient Olympia to attend the ancient Olympic Games and watch a conversation he has, as the comic’s writer presents it with humor.


The philosophical interest of Socrates

Socrates realized his dealing with philosophy as a mission in which he was motivated, as he claimed, by an inner voice (the demon) that considered it divine. So, without receiving the slightest payment for his teaching, although Socrates himself and his family were living in poverty, he believed that his debt was the spiritual awakening of his fellow citizens. The place where Socrates frequented was not a school but the Agora, where he attracted mainly young people from aristocratic families. However, Socrates was willing to discuss with people from every class about ethical, social, political and religious issues.

Socrates philosophy focused on the man and his nature. His purpose was to reach the self-awareness (the "know thyself") and care for the soul’s moral improvement. Socrates believed, unlike his contemporaries Sophists (a category of teachers specialized in philosophy and rhetoric), that under some conditions and by using the right method we are able to conquer an objective and stable knowledge, which is not subjected to changes according to the place and the time.

The questions that Socrates and his interlocutors tried to answer had to do with the content and substance of concepts like virtue, justice, good etc. He attempted to identify these concepts not in theory but in practice, since Socrates thought that in order to do for example the right and good it is essential to know first what justice and good mean. Socrates believed that nobody is bad willingly but the cause leading him to act illegally is ignorance. Thus, for Socrates virtue and knowledge are identical concepts.


The Socratic teaching method

The method that Socrates used in his teaching was the dialogue, which was divided into two phases. At first, Socrates expressed to his interlocutor his ignorance and pretended that he wanted to learn from him. This feigned ignorance is called Socratic irony. Through the appropriate questions that Socrates posed to his interlocutor, he gave him the opportunity to express his original opinion on the issue discussed. However, as he continued the questions and answers, Socrates eventually revealed the weaknesses of his interlocutor’s view, who reached to logical contradictions and extreme conclusions. Consequently, his interlocutor admitted the instability of his arguments and realized his ignorance (as Socrates used to say "This one thing I know, that I know nothing"). Socrates believed that in order to get to knowledge and truth, we first need to remove of our minds the wrong impressions and perceptions.

In the second phase of the Socratic dialogue, Socrates raised again questions and helped his interlocutor to unfold step by step his thinking more clearly until he reached new conclusions. The dialectical method that Socrates followed is known as Maieutics (= obstetrics). Acting metaphorically like a midwife, Socrates was trying to bring out the truth which believed that was already latent inside every person and he should only have to seek it with the help of philosophy. His reasoning was inductive, meaning that Socrates used simple examples from experience and from everyday life in order to arrive at a true and a strong conclusion as much as possible.

Consequently, Socrates, this great ancient Greek philosopher managed, as Cicero said, to bring philosophy from the stars down to the earth and his contribution to the history of philosophical thought and Western culture as well is huge and recognized worldwide.


Dimi NtouranidouWritten by Dimi Ntouranidou


Graduate teacher of Greek literature (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), Literary editor of publications, Responsible for writing articles about the ancient Olympic Games   






Images of the ancient Greek Olympic Games blog are taken from the Ancient Greek Olympic Games Comic. In the Ancient Olympic Games Comic you will find much more about the ancient Olympic Games while having fun reading a wonderful comic story. You can download a sample episode of the comic here.









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