1 October 2018
Who is Socrates?
Today, Socrates is known as one of the wisest men of all time and often cited as the forefather of Western philosophy. Socrates was born in 469 B.C. in Athens, Greece. Growing up, his father was a stonemason, and his mother was a midwife. Socrates would eventually fight in the Peloponnesian War as a foot soldier, and after this, he would begin to explore philosophy. Although we do not know much about Socrates’ early years, we have come to understand who he was mainly through the works of his pupils, specifically Plato. Through Plato's Apology, Meno, and Republic, we learn that Socrates was a unique man who did not care for tradition and was intent in teaching others to question everything just as he did. During this time, Socrates was thought of as an impious and bothersome old man. His method of questioning others would ultimately lead to his death in 399 B.C.
One facet of Socrates that was especially unique was the way in which he questioned everything (now known as the Socratic method). In Plato’s early dialogue the Apology, the reasoning behind Socrates' method of questioning was explained. Socrates' states that his comrade from youth had visited the oracle at Delphi to ask, “Is there anyone wiser than [Socrates],” to which the priestess responded no. Upon hearing this, Socrates is very confused because he knows he is not wise, yet a god cannot lie. Socrates needed to investigate this prophecy, and he did this by first finding someone whom he believed was far wiser than he and cross-examining him. In this conversation, he found the person was not wise yet, believed he was. After repeating this process, Socrates concluded that the god was only using his name as an example to say, "those among you is the wisest who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is worth nothing at all." Therefore, Socrates concluded that the god had commanded him to continue his examinations and when he found those who believe they are wise he pointed out that they are not. It is essential to know how and why his method of questioning originated as it is an integral part of explaining who Socrates was and why he was so unique for his time.
Many people became upset when Socrates did this and would make false claims against him such as him being a sophist. Sophists were a class of rhetoricians and philosophers who were often hired as a teacher in Ancient Greece. Socrates is associated with them because of the dialogues that he engages in, but he wishes to separate his name from sophist. One reason is that Socrates is not paid for what he does, and he never asks for payment, nor refuses to converse without payment. Second, Socrates believes that he is not even a teacher and denies this in the Apology. Socrates also disagrees with sophists on specific issues, and one of the most prominent instances of this is in the Meno. In discussing who should be the teacher of virtues Socrates is upset with the...