Biography (469-399 B.C.E)
“To find yourself, think for yourself.”
The Philosophy of Socrates
- Study of Human Nature. Socrates marks the transition from philosophy as a study of the universe to a study of human nature.
- Self Education. The only true wisdom and knowledge comes from self-education and self-discovery. Socrates said that he was “the wisest man” he knew, for he knew that he “knew nothing.”
- The Nature of Virtue
- Moral Scale. Socrates had established a sort of moral scale by which to measure the inherent good of things. At the bottom of this scale was external good; money, possessions and material wealth. Near the middle of the scale was the good of the body; health, strength, and the like. At the top of the scale was the good of the soul; wisdom and moral integrity.
- Destroy Assumptions: Socrates said that philosophy is a peculiar practice because it builds by destroying and what it destroys is assumptions.
The Socratic Method
The full presentation of Socrates notes is available here.
Xenophon’s Vision of Socrates (Second Semester)
- Plato was not the only person to write about Socrates. A different account comes from the Greek soldier and philosopher Xenophon, who argued that Socrates was “ever of human things.”
- As British philosopher Martin Cohen has put it, “Plato, the idealist, offers an idol, a master figure, for philosophy. A Saint, a prophet of ‘the Sun-God’, a teacher condemned for his teachings as a heretic.”
- His Socrates danced for joy and exercise, dispensed wisdom about everyday affairs, and argued for an orderly world ruled by benevolent gods.
- Rather than Plato’s version of Socrates as a man who mocked people in the streets, Xenophon depicted him as someone who gently tried to “cure the intellectual perplexities of his friends.”
- In Xenophon’s dialogues, Socrates leads his listeners to a conclusion gently rather than exposing the error of their ways.
- The existence of benevolent Gods. Xenophon argued that Socrates believed in the idea of ordered system of utility in the universe.
- His Socrates argues against a man who mocks the idea of the gods: “For humans and many other animals, there are ‘eyes so that they can see what can be seen, and ears so that they can hear what can be heard’, eyelids, eyelashes, molars and incisors, erotic desire to aid procreation; all these are ‘the contrivance of some wise craftsman who loves animals’. And what about the cosmos as a whole? ‘Are you, then, of the opinion that … those surpassingly large and infinitely numerous things are in such an orderly condition through some senselessness?’
- As with the individual aspects of the natural world, so also with the system of the world as a whole: it is an orderly, and therefore beautiful, cosmos