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The April Philosophy Book of the Month is The Unbound Soul by Richard L. Haight


The influential Greek philosopher Socrates lived from approximately 470 BC to 399 BC. Most people credit Socrates with setting the foundation of philosophy in the West. Of course, most of what we know about Socrates comes from his student Plato. The dialogues of Plato depict Socrates as a teacher who claimed not to have disciples, as rational man who abides by the divine, and as a virtuous man who the state executes for political reasons. Many people find wisdom in Socrates conflicted personality. Socrates belittled the material enjoyment, but enjoyed beauty. Socrates devoted himself to educating the people around him, but felt indifferent towards his sons.

Socrates' career climaxed when the state put him in on trial and executed him on trumped up charges of corrupting the youth. Plato's dialogues centered around that event. In the dialogues, Plato refers to both the trail and execution as unnecessary. In court, Socrates admitted that he could have gotten out of the trial by giving up philosophy and just keeping to himself at home. Socrates could have evaded the execution by escaping with the assistance of his friends. Socrates cooperation with the government's directive demonstrates a complex insight into Socratic philosophy itself, which Plato explores in the Crito dialogue.

If Socrates published any writings, no trace of them exists. All modern knowledge about Socrates comes almost solely from three sources: the plays of Aristophanes, the dialogues of Plato, and the Xenophon's dialogues.

Socrates contributed much to modern thought, but perhaps most significantly he contributed the Socratic Method, which he used to examine major moral ideas such as the Justice and Goodness. Plato first descried the Socratic Method in his dialogues. The method consists of solving a problem by first asking a question, and you would find the answer to your original problem while finding the answer to your question. This laid the foundation for the Scientific Method. As a result of his achievements in exploring Justice and Goodness, Socrates has earned the title of the father of ethics and political philosophy. Additionally, people regard him as a source of all the major themes in Western philosophy.

The Socratic Method consists of posing a chain of questions to help the thinkers reveal their underlying assumptions and the limits of their knowledge. The Socratic Method finds better hypotheses by identifying and getting rid of contradictory ones. Thus, it forces people to examine the validity of their own beliefs.

Distinguishing Socrates' philosophical beliefs from those of Xenophon and Plato poses difficulty, because what they attribute to Socrates might actually reflect their own thoughts. For example, Plato may have put his own philosophy into the mouth of the character Socrates in his dialogues.

One can most assuredly that the moral and political philosophy of Socrates opposed that of his fellow Athenians. During his trial, Socrates used the Socratic Method to show the incorrectness of the jurors' moral values. He told the Jurors that they ought to worry about the welfare of their soul, but they instead remain concerned about their careers, families, and political responsibilities.

Socrates viewed focusing on the development of the self as better than pursuing material wealth. Socrates urged people to concentrate on community and friendship, which he viewed as the best way for people to grow together.

Socrates believed viewed philosophers as the only type of people suitable to govern. According to Plato, Socrates expressed these opinions without any subtlety. He overtly objected to not only democracy, but also any form of government which failed to conform to his ideal republic governed by philosophers.

Although philosophers have not yet become kings, Socrates' life, ideas, and teachings have massively influenced the world.

We hope this article answered all of your questions about Socrates. If you have any remaining questions, or if you have any comments or suggestions, please post them in our Philosophy Forums.

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