Huwebes, Agosto 30, 2012

The Philosopher


Socrates became very influential in the development of Greek philosophy and, thus, Western philosophy in general. The most extensive knowledge we have of him comes from Plato's many dialogues, but there is a little information about him in the historian Xenophon's Memorabilia, Apology and Symposium, and in Aristophanes' The Clouds and The Wasps. Socrates is best known for the dictum that only the examined life is worth living.

He thought that people should never stop looking for knowledge, and that's why he taught by asking questions. He was later sentenced to death because he was influencing the young people of Greece, or so they said. He questioned laws, customs, and even religion. When he drank the poison given to him, his students cried, but he appeared calm, cool, and collected. He thought that men should die in peace.

He is considered to be the father of democracy and a pivotal character of Western civilisation, but it may equally be that he was largely an invention by Plato. Practically everything that we give Socrates credit for, comes to us via Plato. Greek literature usually featured a dialogue (a question and answer session), which is known to have been a literary device, to aide comprehension with the reader. Plato wrote dialogues, which often cast Socrates in the role of the wise man who initiated his direct audience and the reader in whatever subject that he tackled. Did these dialogues reflect actual conversations from Socrates, or did Plato merely use Socrates as a literary device to put over his own thinking? If Plato did indeed do just that, then Socrates is one of the biggest myths of the Greek world – and we should give even more reverence to the genius of Plato.

Who was the historical Socrates? Most of what is now known about Socrates is derived from information that recurs across various contemporary sources, specifically the dialogues written by Plato, who is seen as one of Socrates’ students, though he is known to have studied elsewhere too (including Egypt). Apart from Plato, there are the works of Xenophon, one of his contemporaries, and writings by Aristophanes and Aristotle. Anything Socrates wrote himself – if he ever did – has not survived. It is very little source material, further complicated by the fact that Aristophanes’ account of Socrates, though contemporaneous, is in fact a satirical attack on philosophers and does not purport to be a factual account of events in the life of Socrates.


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