Socrates was an ancient Greek thinker whose work proves a major turning point in Western Philosophy. He invented a method of teaching by asking questions, which was called the Socratic method. This method searched for definitions and turned Philosophy from the study of how things are to a consideration of the health of the human soul. Much of this work was brought out by his student, Plato.Socrates was born in Athens, Greece and lived there all his life. When he did leave it was to serve in the Peloponnesian War.
He was married to a woman named Xanthippe and they had two sons. In 399 BC, at about the age of 70, he was accused of impiety and of corrupting the youth of the city by questioning tradition. He was sentenced to death by drinking poison. Many of the details of his life are recorded in Plato’s dialogues.Socrates would challenge anyone with a pretense to knowledge. His friends and followers said his contributions were in the field of moral and logic but the exemplify a philosophical personality. Socrates philosophized by joining in a discussion with another person who thought he knew what justice or courage was.
Under this questioning it became clear that neither of them knew. They would then cooperate on a new idea where Socrates would make interrogatory suggestions that were either accepted or rejected by his friend. Finding a solution always failed, but they would continue to search for one whenever possible.For Socrates knowledge was not accepting a second hand opinion, but personal achievement gained through continuous self-criticism. Philosophy involved not learning the answers but searching for them.
The search was more successful when done by two friends; perhaps one being more experienced that the other but both in love with the goal of truth, reality and the willingness to subject themselves honestly to the critical test of reason alone. Socrates had one of the best ways to describe Philosophy. He considered himself greatly gifted to stimulate the thinking of others.
He opposed cross-examination in a set pattern. First, the subject claims that he has knowledge of some matter that is proven in a proposition that defines an ethical term. Next there is a series of questions from Socrates that he picks out. Then he takes a number of other propositions that, when put together, prove the difference of the original definition. What is really tested is a person and his false conceit. The argument is examined next to each individual to see if there is false argument.
At this point the establishment of truth is not at stake. The question is not whether the person will harm himself to stop his thought but it is his self- confidence that is the issue. Socrates love of this confusing work caused an uproar because people believed he was ” numbing his victims like a sting ray.” Plato then pointed out that these ways were the stimulus of Philosophy.
Our knowledge of the studies of Socrates are limited because he refused to keep his ideas in a system that could be understood by his interpreters. There are many indications that the term “Philosophy” gained new meaning through him. His version of expert skill was concerned mainly with the ethics of human conduct. He opposed to the contemporary lifestyle of successful living by basing it on a new concept of the psyche, this making it the most outstanding factor in human conduct.
Socrates began the term “know thyself” and suggested that introspection showed how man achieves his real personality. The most efficient realization of mans being is when the psyche is in control is in control of the physical and the intellectual while the moral psyche is in control of the rest of it. Happiness then depends not on external of physical terms but on knowingly acting rightly.
Socrates was a man of practical aims who claimed Physics and theoretical Mathematics as useless. He was seeking a way in which his being and right action could be guaranteed. His own character suggested the importance of self-control.
Only a man in control of himself is in control of his actions. The self-discipline of moral reason frees a man of being trapped in temptation so that he can do as he wishes, which is, pursue true happiness. Only rationally controlled action is not self-defeating. No one voluntarily makes a mistake. By “voluntarily” Socrates meant being consistent with ones true will, which is to be really happy. He did understand that people gave in to temptation.
He explained that in these instances one does not believe that what he is doing is really wrong and also does not know that what is being rejected is good. For Socrates, “good” was a term signifying advantage for the doer. He argued that no one would really choose what would harm him nor would they reject that which would benefit him. If a wrong choice is made, it must be an intellectual mistake. Self-examination depends on knowledge. Socrates searched for a practical science of right conduct. The key to this science was to understand knowledge.
He believed it was impossible to be good on purpose unless one first knows what it is. Once he knows what is good then it is a necessary condition of being good. Above all, Socrates was not looking for the actual meaning of the word but what the thing is. For example, clay is earth mixed with water.
This shows that what the word “clay” really is. The success at the attempt of real definition was decided by assumptions about the kind of answer and confusion over the type of question involved.Because of Socrates, Philosophers turned from an interest in scientific explanations of the world to a search for a kind of knowledge that would help the soul continue to grow. He is a model of what a rational Philosopher should be.
He holds a place in history as the first notable martyr for Philosophy, a man who would not give up his principles to save his life.