Socrates is a noteworthy and important historical figure as a philosopher, because of his and his pupils’ influence on the development of the philosophical world. His teachings, famous arguments, and ideas began the outgrowth of all later western philosophies.
Born in 469 BC just outside of Athens, Socrates was brought up properly, and thoroughly educated. He was raised as most Athenians; developing both physical and mental strengths. Socrates then went on to learn from Archelaus the philosopher. Here he studied astronomy, mathematics, and was introduced to philosophy, which was a new concept at the time.
Archelaus taught of explanations for the world with a scientific approach. Socrates, however, turned away from this idea and created his own. He decided that instead of trying to understand the universe, a person should try to understand himself. To express his philosophy, Socrates spent his days in the marketplace of Athens, telling people of his ideas. His voice was heard, and he was soon declared to be the wisest of all men.
Socrates’ was skilled in the art of arguing. He developed a method by which he would win every debate. His favorite hobby was going to the marketplace and debating philosophical issues with other men in front of an audience. The result of these debates was that Socrates embarrassed the wise men in front of the crowd. This caused many to dislike him.
After being named the wisest man, Socrates attempted to prove that this was not true. He debated with many men in the streets. These debates are some of his most famous argument methods. He started the discussion by stating that he knew nothing. As a result of the debate, he was able to prove that although his opponents claimed that they were wise, they knew nothing either. Socrates concluded that he really was the wisest man because unlike the others, he knew that he knew nothing.
Socrates had many ideas and philosophies concerning issues other than the knowledge of oneself. These included explanations of the universe, the belief in god, and life’s goals. Other, earlier philosophers, had many different interpretation for the makeup of the world. Some believed that it was made out of numbers, others thought that it was made of a single substance, or many different substances, while still conflicting philosophers theorized that everything was formed out of atoms, and even illusions. Socrates had his own, different ideas. He believed that the world was made of forms that are not within the reach of our senses, but only of our thoughts. This means, for example, that when we think of characteristics such as roundness, we only picture ideas of it like a ball or a wheel. Therefore, he assumed that we only understand specific things that participate in our lives.
In his search for the inner truth of oneself, Socrates theorized the explanation to the question of what the goals of life are. He concluded that everyone tries to find the meaning of happiness and goodness in their existence. This is the purpose of life. However, true happiness comes in many forms and is disguised in a way that people spend their lives looking for goodness, but finding only the evil in which it is concealed. The only way to discover true happiness, goodness, and the right way, is to fully understand oneself.
Socrates did not believe in the Greek gods or religion. He had his personal view of god. Socrates felt that there must be some form of divine power because everyone seemed to believe in some kind of god and religion. He also believed in a sort of immortality. He hypothesized that there was an afterlife. His explanation for it was that people who had achieved goodness in their lives knew where they were going afterwards, and that evil people tried to ignore the fact that immortality existed. He preached that the soul was a person’s true being, and that our goodness in life reflected on the goodness of our souls. According to Socrates, each individual should try to make his soul as moral as possible so that it can be like god, which will allow the achievement of an afterlife.
Debating in the marketplace of Athens was not Socrates’ only daily activity. He also taught his philosophies to a group of students in a small classroom. These students were much like disciples. They respected and followed in the philosophies of their teacher. Socrates’ most famous pupil, Plato, went on to become a great philosopher like his mentor.
Socrates lived through and fought in the Peloponnesian War. After Athens’ defeat, the democracy was replaced by a tyranny. This did not bother Socrates much because his belief in government was a rather simple and apathetic one. He thought that no matter what kind of government subsists; it should be followed solely because a form of law and order must exist in a society to control it.
One of the tyranny’s leaders was a former pupil of Socrates and hated his teacher. He tried to make life harder for Socrates by banning the teaching of philosophy in the streets. Socrates ignored him. In response to this, the tyrant tried to kill Socrates; but the tyranny was overthrown right on time to prevent this. A new democratic government came into power, the leader of which, Anytus, also hated Socrates because his son, who was the philosopher’s pupil, turned away from the family’s business to become a philosopher. Anytus had Socrates arrested on charges of corrupting Athens’ young and turning them away from Paganism, the Greek religion involving a belief in many gods. Anytus announced the death penalty as a punishment for this crime. It was obviously an outrageous sentence for a crime that was not even committed. Socrates was brought before a jury and instead of using his debating skills to defend himself, he did nothing in his own defense because he was convinced that the entire trial was a joke. The jury voted on the death penalty. Now Socrates had a chance to appeal to the court. He was entitled to suggest forms of punishment other than death to satisfy his crime. Instead of proposing a reasonable penalty, Socrates suggested ridiculous ones which angered the jury; causing them to vote on the death penalty once again. Socrates did not seem to mind at all. He was sent to prison and lived their surrounded by his friends and disciples for his last few days. His life ended by drinking hemlock as his friends cried at his bedside. Only after this scandalous death, did all of Greece realize what they had done; that they had killed one of the greatest philosophers of all time.
Socrates’ life achievements were vast. He introduced new ideas and theories into the philosophical world. His pupil, Plato, went on to influence all of the western world’s philosophical development. Socrates began the evolution of philosophy throughout the world. He took the first step toward advancing modern philosophy, as we know it. His theories and ideas were a whole new concept that helped progress the western philosophy through all of later history.
In conclusion, Socrates’ historical importance is great, due to his extreme influence on the evolution of the world’s ideas of philosophy. Even though Socrates never made written records of his work, his finest and most successful pupil, Plato, recorded much of his teacher’s accomplishments and deeds. From these history has learned so much as to be able to advance and heighten its entire philosophical viewpoints; and until this day, learn from the ancient philosopher, Socrates.
Mark – Socrates, you were raised and educated in many different fields, why did you decide to spend your life as a philosopher?
Socrates – It is true that I have been educated in the arts, literature, and gymnastics as a youth; but in my continuing education as you may already know, I was taught by Anaxagoras, the famous early philosopher. His theories were not ones with which I would agree; such as those stating that all things were made of tiny substances which contained a little of everything, that the sun was a hot rock, and that the moon was made of earth. For these teachings, he was banished from Athens. Nevertheless, he was a good teacher and allowed me to realize that my philosophies were going to be antiscientific and quite different from his. My following philosophical teacher was Archelaus, with whom I studied mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy. I knew that my opinions and theories were strong, I had performing and arguing skills, and my ideas would consist of principles rather than sciences. The simple lifestyle of the philosopher appeals to me. I enjoyed the unusual behaviors that I associated myself with. All that really interested me was the great mysteries of philosophy, and the questions of knowing oneself, which I devoted my life to learning and teaching.
Mark – Your teaching was remarkable and much can be learned from studying it even after your death; why is that you never bothered to record your works for later generations?
Socrates – Many have asked this before and for quite obvious reasons. Most other noteworthy historical figures did keep a record of their works ever since the invention of written language, yet not one of mine exists in writing. I do not exactly know the reason for this. Whether there are records of my work or not, does not matter. I will forever be remembered by my loyal pupils, the Athenian population, and the world. Furthermore, nothing I ever said was of too great importance. And to tell you the truth, I never really wanted to take the time to keep useless records. That nonsense did not concern me nearly as much as most of my other problems as a philosopher. I had to make money somehow, to support my wife and three sons. As you might have guessed, being a philosopher does not exactly bring you riches. One of the reasons I began teaching was to make money. Also, I had to deal with many people’s constant hatred of me, mainly due to my victories in debates against them. Some, with high political positions, even wanted me dead at points of my life. And one even succeeded. So, you see, no matter how simple and easy going my life may seem, there are quite a few difficulties attached to it.
Mark – Your trial and death are quite interesting and famous historical events. They have been interpreted by many and confused some; what caused you to make such drastic and unusual decisions, the consequence of which you knew forehand?
Socrates – This I am aware of. As a matter of fact, some even claim that I was mentally ill, and blame that as the cause for my actions. This of course I deny. The truth includes a mixture between my philosophical beliefs and the thoughts that have occurred to me during my last days. I always believed that there is an after-life. And that must have somehow influenced my decisions. Even though the religious part of this came to me only afterwards. At first many others and I thought that this ridiculous trial was an obvious hoax. Who would have thought that such a crime, which I was evidently not guilty of, be punished by the death penalty. I fooled with the court. They on the other hand were quite serious about it. In the last days, I realized that there was no way out. True I could have argued with the court and won. I could have escaped using the plan devised by my dear friends. But since there was a high-ranking leader who wanted me dead, it was going to happen no matter what. Furthermore, my governmental beliefs stand true in all situations; the law should be followed and that is all. There was not much I was willing to do. After some thinking, I decided to go along with the law, after all, I had lived a happy life. One that I was proud of living, no matter how unusual it may appear to others. I was an old man of seventy. I found and understood myself, and had achieved happiness and goodness. There was nothing more that I desired. I knew what was waiting for me after death and was ready for it.
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