Socrates, the greatmind-philosopher who we recognize today as a legendary Athenian, was a man whowas able to usher in an era of philosophical inquiry that still lingers in ourpresent day. Enriched in his own hidden wisdom and in logic of common sense,Socrates was a man in search of factual logic, truth and reasoning aboutwisdom. His life-long mission became more than just a simple search; rather itturned into a path of complex missions where answers of true wisdom lead him toface charges of corrupting society.
Despite all circumstances of hisphilosophical life, Socrates remains one of the most significant and mysteriousfigures in the world of Western philosophy. As a remarkable and influentialthinker, Socrates’ devotion in seeking wisdom thorough reasoning transformedthe entire world philosophy. Throughout his philosophical years, Socrates searched forreal knowledge, something that other philosophers didn’t see as priority. Inthe mean time, Socrates worked on a logical approach of “the pursuit of truth”which was developed by the Sophists. Socrates’ fearless ability and purpose andwillingness to call everything into question, and to accept nothing less thansatisfactory, justification of the nature of things, made him the first andvalid advocate of critical philosophy. For example, his unique situationalapproach, use of methods and the ability to solve problems comes into play whenbreaking down a problem into a series of questions, where answers graduallydistilled better solutions while the challenger and the challenged explore theimplications that carefully trigger and stimulate ideas. As a result, Socrateswould disprove and challenge any given contradictory claim with acounterexample that would lead to a modified assertion closer to the truth,which Socrates would then challenge again.
In “Apology” the Athenian democracy put Socrates on trialand charged him with crippling state religion and corrupting the youth. In hisdefense, his speech consisted of his approach to philosophy by exposing andconnecting its relations to real life. Socrates’ commitment to mindfulreasoning and genuine knowledge was what individualized him from the rest. Tocall everything into question and justify claims logically and rationally.
In contrast to Socrates method, Sophists were offering analternative education that claimed to be able to teach anything, which was appealingto wealthy families. Their teaching was controversial and touched on importantphilosophical themes where they advocated a naturalistic worldview in place ofthe traditional and older mythological worldview, which served to underminedtraditional moral and religious values of the children they were instructing.Additionally their teachings included an technique called anti-logic, whichinvolved arguing both sides of a case as strongly as possible. As a result ofthose teachings, Sophists were accused of undermining facts and truth by makingthe weaker argument appear stronger. Moreover, there was an ongoing debateamong the Pre-Socratic philosophers whether so-called facts about the world aresimply matters of human convention or matters of nature (custom versus nature)where Sophists repeatedly defended the “custom” position, especially in mattersof political systems and ethics. Evidently, Socrates’ philosophical mission can be seenhere when he states: “He asked the oracle to tell him whether anyone was wiserthan I was, and the Pythian prophetess answered, that there was no man wiser”(Plato, Apology, pg 2).
Having that thought, Socrates led his effort to refutethe oracle by communicating with the honorable Athenians who he believed werewiser. No matter how the conversation would end, Socrates concluded that he hasan awareness of his own ignorance, the very principle that each of them lacked.His questioning tactics were his main weapon where he helped individuals toachieve genuine self-knowledge (helped them think outside of the box) even ifit often turns out to be undesirable in its nature. His remarkable devotion totruth left his loved ones and close friends puzzled after being convicted bythe jury and by refusing to accept exile to silence as his penalty.
Instead,Socrates upholds his public discussion of the great issues of life, wisdom andvirtue that is the most essential part of any valuable human which leads us tohis philosophical argument of “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Base on Plato’s life representation of Socrates, we seethat he is willing to die for this principles rather than abandon his loyaltyto philosophy. This tactic of philosophical thinking can be applied today,where many people are presented with a similar self-conflict betweenphilosophy, life, and death. Many of us everydayare faced with moments where we must decide between one’s loyalty to the truthor proceed to the opposite end.
For Socrates, the search for knowledge, truth and wisdombegins with an attempt to actually understand the nature of who we truly are ashuman beings. Socrates believed that before one can presume to understand theworld as whole, he/she must begin by understanding the reality of his/her ownconsciousness. The nature of his philosophic views focused on the strength ofthe soul, virtue, as the knowledge and quest for truth through the questioningof beliefs. Socrates believed in the search for wisdom is understood in termsof ones need to understand precisely who he/she is. In “Meno”, Plato introduces us to the philosophical themes that portraysSocrates’s fate and focuses on the general question of virtue and the origin ofour moral knowledge. Witnessing Socratic opinion through out the readings, itis evident that the focus of his discussion from morality to epistemology isfocused on how we possibly identify what virtue is.
Based on the definition of virtue, virtueis a moral excellence. It is a quality that is seen to be morally good and istherefore valued as the building blocks of principle and good moral being.Socrates sees and understands true virtue from the perspective of knowledge,wisdom, courage and moderation. He argues that humans are very different fromone another and unequal in virtue. Interestingly, Socrates claims that virtue”is something” that varies among those humans, but desire for one’s belief tobe good is perfectly universal since no human being ever knowingly desires whatis bad: “Then the acquisition of such goods is no more virtue than thenon-acquisition and want of them, but whatever is accompanied by justice orhonesty is virtue, and whatever is devoid of justice is vice” (Plato, Meno pg 6).Interestingly, Socrates’ statement highlights one’s moral experience, wherepossible realization of what is right spontaneously results in the need toexperience it, despite the fact that one’s moral experience can possibly bemistrusted or misunderstood.
In “Meno” the dialog portrays a theatrical scene where Socrateschallenges Meno into a debate of truth, where Meno courageously assumes hisknowledge of virtue where as a result he’ll find himself in a state ofconfusion, suggesting that virtue is simply the desire for good things. As thedebate unfolds between Socrates and Meno, Socrates asks: “What is the nature ofthe bee? and you answer that there are many kinds of bees, and I reply: But dobees differ as bees, because there are many and different kinds of them; or arethey not rather to be distinguished by some other quality, as for examplebeauty, size, or shape?” (Plato, Meno pg 2). We may say that, the virtue is the gardener whocares for his garden all his life, by doing hard work gains intrinsic andextrinsic awards: personal satisfaction and fresh produces. Due to Meno’sinability to give a true definition of virtue, Socrates was surethat Meno would be able to understand that a virtue is particularly differentfrom function to function, from goal to goal and from person to person. The great foundation of virtue raised a puzzling questionon ability to learn about what we do not know. Socrates’ believed that: “Thesoul, then, as being immortal, and having been born again many times, andhaving seen all things that exist, whether in this world or in the world below,has knowledge of them all; and it is no wonder that she should be able to callto remembrance all that she ever knew about virtue, and about everything; foras all nature is akin, and the soul has learned all things; there is nodifficulty in her eliciting or as men say learning, out of a singlerecollection, all the rest, if a man is strenuous and does not faint; for allenquiry and all learning is but recollection.
And therefore we ought not tolisten to this sophistical argument about the impossibility of enquiry: for itwill make us idle; and is sweet only to the sluggard; but the other saying willmake us active and inquisitive” (Plato, Meno pg 8). On that note, thisstatement leads us to the assumption that either we already know what we’relooking for or we don’t know what we’re looking for. The irony of knowledge raised the questions about our ownunique nature and function that as projected by Socrates, highlights the factof the ability of acknowledging that we already know for a fact of what we needto know, but the question still remains whether or not virtue can be taught(Plato, Meno pg 19). With that being said, argument remains that virtue is aform of wisdom that is acquirable and benefits our education which leads toanother Socratic point of: “if there were teachers, it might be taught; and isthere were no teachers, not?” (Plato, Meno pg 19). By stating this, Socrates overwrites theSophists methods by challenging those who claimed that they were successfuleducators of virtue. Perhaps the best way to understand Socrates would be tosuppose that virtue is a genuine opinion that simply happens to lack a rational justificationwhich today we understand as “intuitive” thinking which leads us toconclude that the difference between genuine knowledge and opinion is of thegreatest importance and it is not enough to accept true opinions or beliefs inorder to be right, but we must have logical reasons that adequately andaccurately justifies them. In the “Euthyphro”, a sharply critical conversationunfolds where Socrates becomes engaged with a conceited young man who isabsolutely aware of his own ethical correctness. The challenge begins whereSocrates asks him to identify and explain what is “piety” (moral duty) andits actual purpose (Plato, Euthyphro pg 3).
The answer Socrates was looking forwas more than just a list of applied actions, he was seeking for a morevirtuous answer. Euthyphros response of what makes “right actions right” isjust a justification of the gods’ approval or it’s a gods’ love, which led toSocrates’s critical and intellectual view. The question of right vs wrong creates a never-ending debate amongpeople, and most likely extends to the gods as well, as they too disagree amongthemselves. In the presenting dilemma, Socrates somehow agrees with Euthypro’spoint: “But I believe, Socrates, that all the gods would be agreed as to thepropriety of punishing a murderer: there would be no difference of opinionabout that” (Plato, Euthypro, pg 4). The argument takes significant turn whenEuthypro states: “I should say that what all the gods love is pious and holy,and the opposite which they all hate, impious,” where Socrates response was:”We shall know better, my good friend, in a little while. The point, which Ishould first wish to understand, is whether the pious or holy is beloved by thegods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods” (Euthypro,pg 5). Evidently, Socrates created a dilemma from a (misleading) question onpious and god’s love where Euthyphro had no legitimate explanation. Supposedly,if the right act is pious because the gods love it, then moral correctness issimply arbitrary, which simply depends on the gods changing their mind.
If thegods approve or love right actions (because they are truly right), then it is apossibility of some kind hidden extraordinary values, which people might cometo know independently. Humans have a code of morality, which is a principle usedto distinguish what we consider right from what we consider wrong. But, if theauthority approves or disapproves certain actions, those decisions must beavailable to all. So based on “Euthyphro” we can conclude that Socrates’approach of persistent questioning guides us to eliminate incorrect answers,which then navigates us toward a significant degree of intellectualindependence. Socrates became known for his great tactics in logicalarguments where as a result society has accepted this philosophical approach ofquestioning. His disposition of critical thinking of a given conversationsopened the door to logic and wisdom to confront the challenges of the truths inthe modern philosophical world.
Socrates’ ability to challenge people inbecoming open minded was a goal of his where his complex and proactive philosophicalpersonality left many to search for truth, morals and wisdoms of life. AlthoughSocrates is no longer alive, his tactics are greatly valued and used today aswe learn and teach others to question, explore and analyze ideas before weaccept them as truth.