Return to opening page

Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.)

Bust of Socrates

In his use of critical reasoning, by his unwavering commitment to truth, and through the vivid example of his own life, fifth-century Athenian Socrates set the standard for all subsequent Western philosophy.

Since he left no literary legacy of his own, we are dependent upon contemporary writers like Aristophanes and Xenophon for our information about his life and work. As a pupil of Archelaus during his youth, Socrates showed a great deal of interest in the scientific theories of Anaxagoras, but he later abandoned inquiries into the physical world for a dedicated investigation of the development of moral character. Having served with some distinction as a soldier at Delium and Amphipolis during the Peloponnesian War, Socrates dabbled in the political turmoil that consumed Athens after the War, then retired from active life to work as a stonemason and to raise his children with his wife, Xanthippe.

After inheriting a modest fortune from his father, the sculptor Sophroniscus, Socrates used his marginal financial independence as an opportunity to give full-time attention to inventing the practice of philosophical dialogue.

For the rest of his life, Socrates devoted himself to free-wheeling discussion with the aristocratic young citizens of Athens, insistently questioning their unwarranted confidence in the truth of popular opinions, even though he often offered them no clear alternative teaching.

Unlike the professional Sophists of the time, Socrates pointedly declined to accept payment for his work with students, but despite (or, perhaps, because) of this lofty disdain for material success, many of them were fanatically loyal to him. Their parents, however, were often displeased with his influence on their offspring, and his earlier association with opponents of the democratic regime had already made him a controversial political figure. Although the amnesty of 405 forestalled direct prosecution for his political activities, an Athenian jury found other charges—corrupting the youth and interfering with the religion of the city—upon which to convict Socrates, and they sentenced him to death in 399 B.C.E. Accepting this outcome with remarkable grace, Socrates drank hemlock and died in the company of his friends and disciples.

I found the following articles of interest:

A.Socrates: general notes on history, sources.
B.Socrates: from Wikipedia
C.Socrates: Philosophical Life
D.Socrates: From the Catholic Encyclopaedia
E.Personal Characteristics of Socrates
F.The Eccentricity of Socrates
G. The Accusations against Socrates
H. The Socratic Method and Doctrine
I.  The Socratics (After Socrates)

A. History.

The growing power of Athens had frightened other Greek states for years before the Peloponnesian War broke out in 431. During the war, Pericles died in the plague of Athens (429); fortunes of war varied until a truce was made in 421, but this was never very stable and in 415 Athens was persuaded by Alcibiades, a pupil of the Athenian teacher, Socrates, to send a huge force to Sicily in an attempt to take over some of the cities there. This expedition was destroyed in 413.
Nevertheless Athens continued the war. In 411 an oligarchy ("rule by a few") was instituted in Athens in an attempt to secure financial support from Persia, but this did not work out and the democracy was soon restored. In 405 the last Athenian fleet was destroyed in the battle of Aegospotami by a Spartan commander, and the city was besieged and forced to surrender in 404. Sparta set up an oligarchy of Athenian nobles (among them Critias, a former associate of Socrates and a relative of Plato), which because of its brutality became known as the Thirty Tyrants. By 403 democracy was once again restored. Socrates was brought to trial and executed in 399 Socrates (469-399), despite his foundational place in the history of ideas, actually wrote nothing. Most of our knowledge of him comes from the works of Plato (427-347), and since Plato had other concerns in mind than simple historical accuracy it is usually impossible to determine how much of his thinking actually derives from Socrates.

The most accurate of Plato's writings on Socrates is probably the The Apology. It is Plato's account of Socrates's defence at his trial in 399 BC (the word "apology" comes from the Greek word for "defence-speech" and does not mean what we would think of as an apology). It is clear, however, that Plato dressed up Socrates's speech to turn it into a justification for Socrates's life and his death. In it, Plato outlines some of Socrates's most famous philosophical ideas: the necessity of doing what one thinks is right even in the face of universal opposition, and the need to pursue knowledge even when opposed  Socrates wrote nothing because he felt that knowledge was a living, interactive thing. Socrates' method of philosophical inquiry consisted in questioning people on the positions they asserted and working them through questions into a contradiction, thus proving to them that their original assertion was wrong. Socrates himself never takes a position; in The Apology he radically and sceptically claims to know nothing at all except that he knows nothing. Socrates and Plato refer to this method of questioning as elenchus , which means something like "cross-examination" The Socratic elenchus eventually gave rise to dialectic, the idea that truth needs to be pursued by modifying one's position through questioning and conflict with opposing ideas. It is this idea of the truth being pursued, rather than discovered, that characterizes Socratic thought and much of our world view today. The Western notion of dialectic is somewhat Socratic in nature in that it is conceived of as an ongoing process. Although Socrates in The Apology claims to have discovered no other truth than that he knows no truth, the Socrates of Plato's other earlier dialogues is of the opinion that truth is somehow attainable through this process of elenchus .

The Athenians, with the exception of Plato, thought of Socrates as a Sophist, a designation he seems to have bitterly resented. He was, however, very similar in thought to the Sophists. Like the Sophists, he was unconcerned with physical or metaphysical questions; the issue of primary importance was ethics, living a good life. He appeared to be a sophist because he seems to tear down every ethical position he's confronted with; he never offers alternatives after he's torn down other people's ideas.

He doesn't seem to be a radical sceptic, though. Scholars generally believe that the Socratic paradox is actually Socratic rather than an invention of Plato. The one positive statement that Socrates seems to have made is a definition of virtue (areté): "virtue is knowledge." If one knows the good, one will always do the good. It follows, then, that anyone who does anything wrong doesn't really know what the good is. This, for Socrates, justifies tearing down people's moral positions, for if they have the wrong ideas about virtue, morality, love, or any other ethical idea, they can't be trusted to do the right thing

A. Socrates: sources
Our best sources of information about Socrates's philosophical views are the early dialogues of his student Plato, who attempted there to provide a faithful picture of the methods and teachings of the master. (Although Socrates also appears as a character in the later dialogues of Plato, these writings more often express philosophical positions Plato himself developed long after Socrates's death.) In the Socratic dialogues, his extended conversations with students, statesmen, and friends invariably aim at understanding and achieving virtue {Gk. areth [aretê]} through the careful application of a dialectical method that employs critical inquiry to undermine the plausibility of widely-held doctrines. Destroying the illusion that we already comprehend the world perfectly and honestly accepting the fact of our own ignorance, Socrates believed, are vital steps toward our acquisition of genuine knowledge, by discovering universal definitions of the key concepts governing human life.

Interacting with an arrogantly confident young man in Euqufrwn (Euthyphro), for example, Socrates systematically refutes the superficial notion of piety (moral rectitude) as doing whatever is pleasing to the gods. Efforts to define morality by reference to any external authority, he argued, inevitably founder in a significant logical dilemma about the origin of the good. Plato's Apologhma (Apology) is an account of Socrates's (unsuccessful) speech in his own defense before the Athenian jury; it includes a detailed description of the motives and goals of philosophical activity as he practiced it, together with a passionate declaration of its value for life. The Kritwn (Crito) reports that during Socrates's imprisonment he responded to friendly efforts to secure his escape by seriously debating whether or not it would be right for him to do so. He concludes to the contrary that an individual citizen—even when the victim of unjust treatment—can never be justified in refusing to obey the laws of the state.

The Socrates of the Menwn (Meno) tries to determine whether or not virtue can be taught, and this naturally leads to a careful investigation of the nature of virtue itself. Although his direct answer is that virtue is unteachable, Socrates does propose the doctrine of recollection to explain why we nevertheless are in possession of significant knowledge about such matters. Most remarkably, Socrates argues here that knowledge and virtue are so closely related that no human agent ever knowingly does evil: we all invariably do what we believe to be best. Improper conduct, then, can only be a product of our ignorance rather than a symptom of weakness of the will {Gk. akrasia [akrásia]}. The same view is also defended in the PrwtagoraV (Protagoras), along with the belief that all of the virtues must be cultivated together.

B. Socrates: from Wikipedia

Socrates (June 4, 470 – 399 BC) (Greek Sokrátes) was a Greek (Athenian) philosopher and one of the most important icons of the Western philosophical tradition.

1.Socratic method
2.His life
3.Philosophical Beliefs
4.Trial and execution
5.The Socratic Dialogues
6.Dialogues about the conviction of Socrates
7.Further reading
Socratic method
His most important contribution to Western thought is his dialogical method of enquiry, known as the Socratic method or method of elenchos, which he largely applied to the examination of key moral concepts and was first described by Plato in the Socratic Dialogues. For this, Socrates is customarily regarded as the father and fountainhead for ethics or moral philosophy, and of philosophy in general.

The Socratic method is a negative method of hypotheses elimination, in that better hypotheses are found by steadily identifying and eliminating those which lead to contradictions. The method of Socrates is a search for the underlying hypotheses, assumptions, or axioms, which may unconsciously shape one's opinion, and to make them the subject of scrutiny, to determine their consistency with other beliefs. The basic form is a series of questions formulated as tests of logic and fact intended to help a person or group discover their beliefs about some topic, exploring the definitions or logoi (singular logos), seeking to characterise the general characteristics shared by various particular instances. To the extent to which this method is designed to bring out definitions implicit in the interlocutors' beliefs, or to help them further their understanding, it was called the method of maieutics. Aristotle attributed to Socrates the discovery of the method of definition and induction, which he regarded as the essence of the scientific method. Oddly, however, Aristotle also claimed that this method is not suitable for ethics.

A skillful teacher can actually teach students to think for themselves using this method. This is the only classic method of teaching that is known to create genuinely autonomous thinkers. There are some crucial principles to this form of teaching:

The teacher and student must agree on the topic of instruction.

The student must agree to attempt to answer questions from the teacher.

The teacher and student must be willing to accept any correctly-reasoned answer. That is, the reasoning process must be considered more important than facts.

The teacher's questions must expose errors in the students' reasoning or beliefs. That is, the teacher must reason more quickly and correctly than the student, and discover errors in the students' reasoning, and then formulate a question which the students cannot answer except by a correct reasoning process. To perform this service, the teacher must be very quick-thinking about the classic errors in reasoning.

If the teacher makes an error of logic or fact, it is acceptable for a student to correct the teacher.

Since a discussion is not a dialogue, it is not a proper medium for the Socratic method. However, it is helpful -- if second best -- if the teacher is able to lead a group of students in a discussion. This is not always possible in situations that require the teacher to evaluate students, but it is preferable pedagogically, because it encourages the students to reason rather than appeal to authority.
More loosely, one can label any process of thorough-going questioning in a dialogue as an instance of the Socratic method.

Socrates applied his method to the examination of the key moral concepts at the time, the virtues of piety, wisdom, temperance, courage, and justice. Such an examination challenged the implicit moral beliefs of the interlocutors, bringing out inadequacies and inconsistencies in their beliefs, and usually resulting in puzzlement known as aporia. In view of such inadequacies, Socrates himself professed his ignorance, but others still claimed to have knowledge. Socrates believed that his awareness of his ignorance made him wiser than those who, though ignorant, still claimed knowledge. Although this belief seems paradoxical at first glance, it in fact allowed Socrates to discover his own errors where others might assume they were correct. This claim was known by the anecdote of the Delphic oracular pronouncement that Socrates was the wisest of all men.

Socrates used this claim of wisdom as the basis of his moral exhortation. Accordingly, he claimed that the chief goodness consists in the caring of the soul concerned with moral truth and moral understanding, that "wealth does not bring goodness, but goodness brings wealth and every other blessing, both to the individual and to the state", and that "life without examination [dialogue] is not worth living". Socrates also argued that to be wronged is better than to do wrong.

His life
Socrates left no writings; references to military duty may be found in Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. He was prominently lampooned in Aristophanes's comedic play The Clouds produced when Socrates was in his mid-forties. Socrates appeared in other plays by Aristophanes such as The Birds because of his being a philodorian, and also in plays by Callias, Eupolis and Telecleides, in all of which Socrates and the Sophists were criticised for "the moral dangers inherent in contemporary thought and literature". The main source of the historical Socrates, however, is the writings of his two disciples, Xenophon, and Plato. Another important source is various references to him in Aristotle's writings.

Sculptures and busts of Socrates depict him as a rather ugly man. These portraits were largely based on descriptions given by his disciple Plato, rather than on direct examination of the philosopher by the sculptor or sculptors.

Socrates' father was Sophroniscus, a sculptor, and his mother Phaenarete, a midwife. He was married to Xanthippe, who bore him three sons. By the cultural standards of the time, she was considered a shrew. Socrates himself attested that he, having learned to live with Xanthippe, would be able to cope with any other human being, just as a horse trainer accustomed to wilder horses might be more competent than one not. Socrates enjoyed going to Symposia, drink-talking sessions. He was a legendary drinker, remaining sober even after everyone else in the party had become senselessly drunk. He also saw military action, fighting at the Battle of Potidaea, the Battle of Delium and the Battle of Amphipolis. We know from Plato's Symposium that Socrates was decorated for bravery. In one instance he stayed with the wounded Alcibiades, and probably saved his life. During such campaigns, he also showed his extraordinary hardiness, walking without shoes and a coat in winter.

Socrates lived during the time of the transition from the height of the Athenian Empire to its decline after its defeat by Sparta and its allies in the Peloponnesian War. At a time when Athens was seeking to recover from humiliating defeat, the Athenian public court was induced by three leading public figures to try Socrates for impiety and for corrupting the youth of Athens. He was found guilty as charged, and sentenced to drink hemlock.

There is a theory held by some historians that Socrates was a fictional character, invented by Plato and plagiarised by Xenophon and Aristophanes, who was used to articulate points of view which were considered too revolutionary for the author to admit to holding them himself. However, this remains a minority view.

Philosophical Beliefs
Socrates believed that his wisdom sprung from an awareness of his own ignorance. “He knew that he knew nothing” (Thomas 83). Along these lines, Socrates also taught that all wrong doing by man could be attributed to a lack of knowledge (“Socrates” 3). In simpler terms, if a person made an error, Socrates would have believed the error must have been due to ignorance of some sort. Most of his brilliant insights such as these came from the counterexamples he asserted while in debate with another Athenian. Sometimes, Socrates’ questioning of others would lead him to the unexpected acquisition of knowledge. Although he never focused on one specific issue, most of Socrates' debates were centered around the characteristics of the ideal man as well as what form the ideal government would take. (Solomon 44).

Socrates believed that the best way for people to live was to focus not on accumulating possessions, but to focus on self-development (Gross 2). He always invited others to try and concentrate more on friendships and a sense of true community, for Socrates felt that this was the best way for people to grow together as a populace. The idea that humans possessed certain virtues formed a common thread in Socrates' teachings. These virtues represented the most important qualities for a person to have, foremost of which were the philosophical or intellectual virtues. Socrates stressed that “virtue was the most valuable of all possessions, truth lies beneath the shadows of existence, and that it is the job of the philosopher to show the rest how little they really know.” (Solomon 44)

Socrates believed that “ideals belong in a world that only the wise man can understand” making the philosopher the only type of person suitable to govern others. Socrates was in no way subtle about his particular beliefs on government. He openly objected to the democracy that was running Athens later in his life. Athenian democracy was not exclusive; Socrates objected to any form of government that did not conform to his ideal of a perfect republic led by philosophers (Solomon 49), and Athenian government was far from that. During the later stages of Socrates' life, Athens was in continual flux due to political upheaval. Democracy was at first overthrown by a faction known as the Thirty Tyrants, led by a man named Critias, who had been a student of Socrates at one time. The Tyrants ruled for a short time before the Athenian democracy was reinstated, at which point it acted to silence the voice of Socrates.

Trial and execution
Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David

The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David (1787)

The trial of Socrates gave rise to a great deal of debate, giving rise to a whole genre of literature, known as the Socratic logoi. Socrates' elenctic examination was resented by influential figures of his day, whose reputations for wisdom and virtue were debunked by his questions. The annoying nature of elenchos earned Socrates the moniker "gadfly of Athens." Socrates' elenctic method was often imitated by the young men of Athens, which greatly upset the established moral values and order. Indeed, even though Socrates himself fought for Athens and argued for obedience to law, at the same time he criticised democracy, especially, the Athenian practice of election by lot, ridiculing that in no other craft, the craftsman would be elected in such a fashion. Such a criticism gave rise to suspicion by the democrats, especially when his close associates were found to be enemies of democracy. Alcibiades betrayed Athens in favour of Sparta, and Critias, his sometime disciple, was a leader of the 30 tyrants, (the pro-Spartan oligarchy that ruled Athens for a few years after the defeat), though there is also a record of their falling out.

In addition, Socrates held unusual views on religion. He made several references to his personal spirit, or daimonion, although he explicitly claimed that it never urged him on, but only warned him against various prospective events. Many of his contemporaries were suspicious of Socrates' daimonion as a rejection of the state religion. It is generally understood that Socrates' daimonion is akin to intuition. Moreover, Socrates claimed that the concept of goodness, instead of being determined by what the gods wanted, actually precedes it.

According to Plato's "Apology," Socrates' three accusers, Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon, all leading members of Athenian political society, indicted him on the basis that he 'corrupted the youth' of Athens and denied the power of the state gods. The offenses charged did not necessarily carry the death penalty, and Socrates himself suggested to his jury that he should be fined thirty minae (the equivalent of approximately eight years of wages for an Athenian artisan). The "Apology" also suggests that the vote on Socrates' guilt was very close, and that his jokes about his punishment resulted in more jurymen voting for his execution than had voted to convict him.

Apparently in accordance with his philosophy of obedience to law, he carried out his own execution, by drinking the hemlock poison provided to him.

Socrates has been revered since his execution as a beacon of free speech.

The Socratic Dialogues
The Socratic Dialogues are a series of dialogues written by Plato in the form of discussions between Socrates and other figures of the time. The ideas that Plato communicates are not placed in the mouth of any specific character, but emerge via the Socratic method, under the guidance of Socrates.

In Plato's philosophical system (Socrates himself left no writings, so the actual content of his teaching is debated), learning is a process of remembering. The soul, before its incarnation in the body, was in the realm of the ideas (or Heaven). There it saw things the way they should really be, rather than the pale shadows or copies we experience on earth. By a process of questioning, the soul can be brought to remember the ideas in their pure form, thus bringing wisdom.

Most of the dialogues present Socrates applying this method to some extent, but nowhere as completely as in the Euthyphro. In this dialogue, Socrates and Euthyphro go through several phases of refining the answer to Socrates' question, "What is piety?"

The following quotations are from the character of Socrates in Plato's writing. In this context, it should be noted that the early works of Plato are generally considered to be close to the spirit of Socrates, whereas the later works — including Phaedo — are not.

• The life which is unexamined is not worth living. — Apology, 38

• False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.
— Phaedo, 91

• So now, Athenian men, more than on my own behalf must I defend myself, as some may think, but on your behalf, so that you may not make a mistake concerning the gift of god by condemning me.  For if you kill me, you will not easily find another such person at all, even if to say in a ludicrous way, attached on the city by the god, like on a large and well-bred horse, by its size and laziness both needing arousing by some gadfly; in this way the god seems to have fastened me on the city, some such one who arousing and persuading and reproaching each one of you I do not stop the whole day settling down all over. Thus such another will not easily come to you, men, but if you believe me, you will spare me; but perhaps you might possibly be offended, like the sleeping who are awakened, striking me, believing Anytus, you might easily kill, then the rest of your lives you might continue sleeping, unless the god caring for you should send you another.

• Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt? — Last words.

• Really, Ischomachus, I am disposed to ask: "Does teaching consist in putting questions?" Indeed, the secret of your system has just this instant dawned upon me. I seem to see the principle in which you put your questions. You lead me through the field of my own knowledge, and then by pointing out analogies to what I know, persuade me that I really know some things which hitherto, as I believed, I had no knowledge of.

Socrates (quoted in Oeconomicus by Xenophon, tr. The Economist by H.G. Dakyns)

Dialogues about the conviction of Socrates


Further reading

• The Dialogues of Plato
• The writings of Xenophon; such as the Memorablia and Hellenica.
• An Introduction to Greek Philosophy, J. V. Luce, Thames & Hudson, NY, l992.
• Introduction to Philosophy, Jacques Maritain

• Greek Philosophers--Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, C. C. W. Taylor, R. M. Hare, and Jonathan Barnes, Oxford University Press, NY, 1998.

• The Trial of Socrates, I. F. Stone, Little, Brown & Co., Boston, MA, l988.
Taylor, C. C. W. (2001). Socrates: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

C. Socrates: Philosophical Life

The most interesting and influential thinker in the fifth century was Socrates, whose dedication to careful reasoning transformed the entire enterprise. Since he sought genuine knowledge rather than mere victory over an opponent, Socrates employed the same logical tricks developed by the Sophists to a new purpose, the pursuit of truth. Thus, his willingness to call everything into question and his determination to accept nothing less than an adequate account of the nature of things make him the first clear exponent of critical philosophy.

Although he was well known during his own time for his conversational skills and public teaching, Socrates wrote nothing, so we are dependent upon his students (especially Xenophon and Plato) for any detailed knowledge of his methods and results. The trouble is that Plato was himself a philosopher who often injected his own theories into the dialogues he presented to the world as discussions between Socrates and other famous figures of the day. Nevertheless, it is usually assumed that at least the early dialogues of Plato provide a (fairly) accurate representation of Socrates himself.

Euthyphro: What is Piety?
In the Euqufrwn (Euthyphro), for example, Socrates engaged in a sharply critical conversation with an over-confident young man. Finding Euthyphro perfectly certain of his own ethical rectitude even in the morally ambiguous situation of prosecuting his own father in court, Socrates asks him to define what "piety" (moral duty) really is. The demand here is for something more than merely a list of which actions are, in fact, pious; instead, Euthyphro is supposed to provide a general definition that captures the very essence of what piety is. But every answer he offers is subjected to the full force of Socrates's critical thinking, until nothing certain remains.

Specifically, Socrates systematically refutes Euthyphro's suggestion that what makes right actions right is that the gods love (or approve of) them. First, there is the obvious problem that, since questions of right and wrong often generate interminable disputes, the gods are likely to disagree among themselves about moral matters no less often than we do, making some actions both right and wrong. Socrates lets Euthypro off the hook on this one by aggreeing—only for purposes of continuing the discussion—that the gods may be supposed to agree perfectly with each other. (Notice that this problem arises only in a polytheistic culture.)

More significantly, Socrates generates a formal dilemma from a (deceptively) simple question: "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" (Euthyphro 10 a) Neither alternative can do the work for which Euthyphro intends his definition of piety. If right actions are pious only because the gods love them, then moral rightness is entirely arbitrary, depending only on the whims of the gods. If, on the other hand, the gods love right actions only because they are already right, then there must be some non-divine source of values, which we might come to know independently of their love.

In fact, this dilemma proposes a significant difficulty at the heart of any effort to define morality by reference to an external authority. (Consider, for example, parallel questions with a similar structure: "Do my parents approve of this action because it is right, or is it right because my parents approve of it?" or "Does the College forbid this activity because it is wrong, or is it wrong because the College forbids it?") On the second alternative in each case, actions become right (or wrong) solely because of the authority's approval (or disapproval); its choice, then, has no rational foundation, and it is impossible to attribute laudable moral wisdom to the authority itself. So this horn is clearly unacceptable. But on the first alternative, the authority approves (or disapproves) of certain actions because they are already right (or wrong) independently of it, and whatever rational standard it employs as a criterion for making this decision must be accessible to us as well as to it. Hence, we are in principle capable of distinguishing right from wrong on our own.

Thus, an application of careful techniques of reasoning results in genuine (if negative) progress in the resolution of a philosophical issue. Socrates's method of insistent questioning at least helps us to eliminate one bad answer to a serious question. At most, it points us toward a significant degree of intellectual independence. The character of Euthyphro, however, seems unaffected by the entire process, leaving the scene at the end of the dialogue no less self-confident than he had been at its outset. The use of Socratic methods, even when they clearly result in a rational victory, may not produce genuine conviction in those to whom they are applied.

Apology: The Examined Life
Because of his political associations with an earlier regime, the Athenian democracy put Socrates on trial, charging him with undermining state religion and corrupting young people. The speech he offered in his own defense, as reported in Plato's Apologhma (Apology), provides us with many reminders of the central features of Socrates's approach to philosophy and its relation to practical life.

Ironic Modesty:
Explaining his mission as a philosopher, Socrates reports an oracular message telling him that "No one is wiser than you." (Apology 21a) He then proceeds through a series of ironic descriptions of his efforts to disprove the oracle by conversing with notable Athenians who must surely be wiser. In each case, however, Socrates concludes that he has a kind of wisdom that each of them lacks: namely, an open awareness of his own ignorance.

Questioning Habit:
The goal of Socratic interrogation, then, is to help individuals to achieve genuine self-knowledge, even if it often turns out to be negative in character. As his cross-examination of Meletus shows, Socrates means to turn the methods of the Sophists inside-out, using logical nit-picking to expose (rather than to create) illusions about reality. If the method rarely succeeds with interlocutors, it can nevertheless be effectively internalized as a dialectical mode of reasoning in an effort to understand everything.

Devotion to Truth:
Even after he has been convicted by the jury, Socrates declines to abandon his pursuit of the truth in all matters. Refusing to accept exile from Athens or a commitment to silence as his penalty, he maintains that public discussion of the great issues of life and virtue is a necessary part of any valuable human life. "The unexamined life is not worth living." (Apology 38a) Socrates would rather die than give up philosophy, and the jury seems happy to grant him that wish.

Dispassionate Reason:
Even when the jury has sentenced him to death, Socrates calmly delivers his final public words, a speculation about what the future holds. Disclaiming any certainty about the fate of a human being after death, he nevertheless expresses a continued confidence in the power of reason, which he has exhibited (while the jury has not). Who really wins will remain unclear.
Plato's dramatic picture of a man willing to face death rather than abandoning his commitment to philosophical inquiry offers up Socrates as a model for all future philosophers. Perhaps few of us are presented with the same stark choice between philosophy and death, but all of us are daily faced with opportunities to decide between convenient conventionality and our devotion to truth and reason. How we choose determines whether we, like Socrates, deserve to call our lives philosophical.

Crito: The Individual and the State
Plato's description of Socrates's final days continued in the Kritwn (Crito). Now in prison awaiting execution, Socrates displays the same spirit of calm reflection about serious matters that had characterized his life in freedom. Even the patent injustice of his fate at the hands of the Athenian jury produces in Socrates no bitterness or anger. Friends arrive at the jail with a foolproof plan for his escape from Athens to a life of voluntary exile, but Socrates calmly engages them in a rational debate about the moral value of such an action.

Of course Crito and the others know their teacher well, and they come prepared to argue the merits of their plan. Escaping now would permit Socrates to fulfil his personal obligations in life. Moreover, if he does not follow the plan, many people will suppose that his friends did not care enough for him to arrange his escape. Therefore, in order to honor his commitments and preserve the reputation of his friends, Socrates ought to escape from jail.

But Socrates dismisses these considerations as irrelevant to a decision about what action is truly right. What other people will say clearly doesn't matter. As he had argued in the Apology, the only opinion that counts is not that of the majority of people generally, but rather that of the one individual who truly knows. The truth alone deserves to be the basis for decisions about human action, so the only proper apporoach is to engage in the sort of careful moral reasoning by means of which one may hope to reveal it.

Socrates's argument proceeds from the statement of a perfectly general moral principle to its application in his particular case:

One ought never to do wrong (even in response to the evil committed by another).
But it is always wrong to disobey the state.
Hence, one ought never to disobey the state.
And since avoiding the sentence of death handed down by the Athenian jury would be an action in disobedience the state, it follows Socrates ought not to escape.

The argument is a valid one, so we are committed to accepting its conclusion if we believe that its premises are true. The general commitment to act rightly is fundamental to a moral life, and it does seem clear that Socrates's escape would be a case of disobedience. But what about the second premise, the claim that it is always wrong for an individual to disobey the state? Surely that deserves further examination. In fact, Socrates pictures the laws of Athens proposing two independent lines of argument in favor of this claim:

First, the state is to us as a parent is to a child, and since it is always wrong for a child to disobey a parent, it follows that it is always wrong to disobey the state. (Crito 50e) Here we might raise serious doubts about the legitimacy of the analogy between our parents and the state. Obedience to our parents, after all, is a temporary obligation that we eventually outgrow by learning to make decisions for ourselves, while Socrates means to argue that obeying the state is a requirement right up until we die. Here it might be useful to apply the same healthy disrespect for moral authority that Socrates himself expressed in the Euthyphro.

The second argument is that it is always wrong to break an agreement, and since continuing to live voluntarily in a state constitutes an agreement to obey it, it is wrong to disobey that state. (Crito 52e) This may be a better argument; only the second premise seems open to question. Explicit agreements to obey some authority are common enough—in a matriculation pledge or a contract of employment, for example—but most of us have not entered into any such agreement with our government. Even if we suppose, as the laws suggest, that the agreement is an implicit one to which we are committed by our decision to remain within their borders, it is not always obvious that our choice of where to live is entirely subject to our individual voluntary control.

Nevertheless, these considerations are serious ones. Socrates himself was entirely convinced that the arguments hold, so he concluded that it would be wrong for him to escape from prison. As always, of course, his actions conformed to the outcome of his reasoning. Socrates chose to honor his commitment to truth and morality even though it cost him his life.

D. Socrates: From the Catholic Encyclopaedia

Greek philosopher and educational reformer of the fifth century B.C.; born at Athens, 469 B.C.; died there, 399 B.C. After having received the usual Athenian education in music (which included literature), geometry, and gymnastics, he practised for a time the craft of sculptor, working, we are told, in his father's workshop. Admonished, as he tells us, by a divine call, he gave up his occupation in order to devote himself to the moral and intellectual reform of his fellow citizens. He believed himself destined to become "a sort of gadfly" to the Athenian State. He devoted himself to this mission with extraordinary zeal and singleness of purpose. He never left the City of Athens except on two occasions, one of which was the campaign of Potidea and Delium, and the other a public religious festival. In his work as reformer he encountered, indeed he may be said to have provoked, the opposition of the Sophists and their influential friends. He was the most unconventional of teachers and the least tactful. He delighted in assuming all sorts of rough and even vulgar mannerisms, and purposely shocked the more refined sensibilities of his fellow citizens.

The opposition to him culminated in formal accusations of impiety and subversion of the existing moral traditions. He met these accusations in a spirit of defiance and, instead of defending himself, provoked his opponents by a speech in presence of his judges in which he affirmed his innocence of all wrongdoing, and refused to retract or apologize for anything that he had said or done. He was condemned to drink the hemlock and, when the time came, met his fate with a calmness and dignity which have earned for him a high place among those who suffered unjustly for conscience sake. He was a man of great moral earnestness, and exemplified in his own life some of the noblest moral virtues. At the same time he did not rise above the moral level of his contemporaries in every respect, and Christian apologists have no difficulty in refuting the contention that he was the equal of the Christian saints. His frequent references to a "divine voice" that inspired him at critical moments in his career are, perhaps, best explained by saying that they are simply his peculiar way of speaking about the promptings of his own conscience. They do not necessarily imply a pathological condition of his mind, nor a superstitious belief in the existence of a "familiar demon".

Socrates was, above all things, a reformer. He was alarmed at the condition of affairs in Athens, a condition which he was, perhaps, right in ascribing to the Sophists. They taught that there is no objective standard of the true and false, that that is true which seems to be true, and that that is false which seems to be false. Socrates considered that this theoretical scepticism led inevitably to moral anarchy. If that is true which seems to be true, then that is good, he said, which seems to be good. Up to this time morality was taught not by principles scientifically determined, but by instances, proverbs, and apothegms. He undertook, therefore, first to determine the conditions of universally valid knowledge, and, secondly, to found on universally valid moral principles a science of human conduct. Self-knowledge is the starting point, because, he believed, the greatest source of the prevalent confusion was the failure to realize how little we know about anything, in the true sense of the word know. The statesman, the orator, the poet, think they know much about courage; for they talk about it as being noble, and praiseworthy, and beautiful, etc. But they are really ignorant of it until they know what it is, in other words, until they know its definition. The definite meaning, therefore, to be attached to the maxim "know thyself" is "Realize the extent of thine own ignorance".

Consequently, the Socratic method of teaching included two stages, the negative and the positive. In the negative stage, Socrates, approaching his intended pupil in an attitude of assumed ignorance, would begin to ask a question, apparently for his own information. He would follow this by other questions, until his interlocutor would at last be obliged to confess ignorance of the subject discussed. Because of the pretended deference which Socrates payed to the superior intelligence of his pupil, this stage of the method was called "Socratic Irony". In the positive stage of the method, once the pupil had acknowledged his ignorance, Socrates would proceed to another series of questions, each of which would bring out some phase or aspect of the subject, so that when. at the end, the answers were all summed up in a general statement, that statement expressed the concept of the subject, or the definition. Knowledge through concepts, or knowledge by definition, is the aim, therefore, of the Socratic method. The entire process was called "Hueristic", because it was a method of finding,and opposed to "Eristic", which is the method of strife, or contention. Knowledge through concepts is certain, Socrates taught, and offers a firm foundation for the structure not only of theoretical knowledge, but also of moral principles, and the science of human conduct, Socrates went so far as to maintain that all right conduct depends on clear knowledge, that not only does a definition of a virtue aid us in acquiring that virtue, but that the definition of the virtue is the virtue. A man who can define justice is just, and, in general, theoretical insight into the principles of conduct is identical with moral excellence in conduct; knowledge is virtue. Contrariwise, ignorance is vice, and no one can knowingly do wrong. These principles are, of course only partly true. Their formulation, however, at this time was of tremendous importance, because it marks the beginning of an attempt to build up on general principles a science of human conduct.

Socrates devoted little attention to questions of physics and cosmogony. Indeed, he did not conceal his contempt for these questions when comparing them with questions affecting man, his nature and his destiny. He was, however, interested in the question of the existence of God and formulated an argument from design which was afterwards known as the "Teleological Argument" for the existence of God. "Whatever exists for a useful purpose must be the work of an intelligence" is the major premise of Socrates' argument, and may be said to be the major premise, explicit or implicit, of every teleological argument formulated since his time. Socrates was profoundly convinced of the immortality of the soul, although in his address to his judges he argues against fear of death in such a way as apparently to offer two alternatives: "Either death ends all things, or it is the beginning of a happy life." His real conviction was that the soul survives the body, unless, indeed, we are misled by our authorities, Plato and Xenophon. In the absence of primary sources -- Socrates, apparently, never wrote anything -- we are obliged to rely on these writers and on a few references of Aristotle for our knowledge of what Socrates taught. Plato's portrayal of Socrates is idealistic; when, however, we correct it by reference to Xenophon's more practical view of Socrates' teaching, the result cannot be far from historic truth.

E. Personal Characteristics of Socrates

SocratesWhat were the personal characteristics of Socrates?  Outwardly his presence was mean and his countenance grotesque. Short of stature, thick necked and somewhat corpulent, with prominent eyes, with nose upturned and nostrils outspread, with large mouth and coarse lips, he seemed the embodiment of sensuality and even stupidity. Inwardly he was as his friends knew, 'so pious that he did nothing without taking counsel of the gods, so just that he never did an injury to any man, whilst he was the benefactor of his associates, so temperate that he never preferred pleasure to right, so wise that in judging of good and evil he was never at fault - in a word, the best and the happiest of men.'

 'His self-control was absolute; his powers of endurance were unfailing; he had so schooled himself to moderation that his scanty means satisfied all his wants.'  'To want nothing,' he said himself, ' is divine; to want as little as possible is the nearest possible approach to the divine life '; and accordingly he practiced temperance and self-denial to a degree which some thought ostentatious and affected.

Yet the hearty enjoyment of social pleasures was another of his marked characteristics; for to abstain from innocent gratification from fear of falling into excess would have seemed to him to imply a pedantic formalism or a lack of self-control. In short, his strength of will, if by its very perfection it led to his theoretical identification of virtue and knowledge, secured him in practice against the ascetic extravagances of his associate Antisthenes.

The intellectual gifts of Socrates were hardly less remarkable than his moral virtues. Naturally observant, acute, and thoughtful, he developed these qualities by constant and systematic use. The exercise of the mental powers was, he conceived, no mere occupation of leisure hours, but rather a sacred and ever-present duty; because, moral error being Intellectual error translated into act, he who would live virtuously must first rid himself of ignorance and folly. He had, it may be conjectured, but little turn for philosophical speculation; yet by the careful study of the ethical problems which met him in himself and in others he acquired a remarkable tact in dealing with questions of practical morality; and in the course of the lifelong war which he waged against vagueness of thought and laxity of speech he made himself a singularly apt and ready reasoner.

While he regarded the improvement, not only of himself but also of others, as a task divinely appointed to him, there was in his demeanor nothing exclusive or pharisaical On the contrary, deeply conscious of his own limitations and infirmities, he felt and cherished a profound sympathy with erring humanity, and loved with a love passing the love of women fellow men who had not learnt, as he had done, to overcome human frailties and weaknesses. Nevertheless great wrongs roused in him a righteous indignation which sometimes found expression in fierce and angry rebuke. Indeed it would seem that Plato in his idealized portrait gives his hero credit not only for a deeper philosophical insight but also for a greater urbanity than facts warranted. Hence, whilst those who knew him best met his affection with a regard equal to his own, there were some who never forgave his stern reproofs, and many who regarded him as an impertinent busybody.

He was a true patriot. Deeply sensible of his debt to the city in which he had been born and bred, he thought that in giving his life to the teaching of sounder views in regard to ethical and political subjects he made no more than an imperfect return; and, when in the exercise of constitutional authority that city brought him to trial and threatened him with death, it was not so much his local attachment, strong though that sentiment was, as rather his sense of duty, which forbade him to retire into exile before the trial began, to acquiesce in a sentence of banishment when the verdict had been given against, him, and to accept the opportunity of escape, which was offered him during his imprisonment.  Yet his patriotism had none of the narrowness which was characteristic of the patriotism of his Greek contemporaries. His generous benevolence and unaffected philanthropy taught him to overstep the limits of the Athenian demus and the Hellenic race, and to regard himself as a 'citizen of the world.'

He was blest with an all-pervading humour, a subtle but kindly appreciation of the incongruities of human nature and conduct. In a less robust character this quality might have degenerated into sentimentality or cynicism; in Socrates, who had not a trace of either, it showed itself principally in what his contemporaries knew as his 'accustomed irony.'  Profoundly sensible of the inconsistencies of his own thoughts and words and actions, and shrewdly suspecting that the like inconsistencies were to be found in other men, he was careful always to place himself? upon the standpoint of ignorance and to invite others to join him there, in order that, proving all things, he and they might hold fast that which is good.

A spirit of whimsical paradox leads him, in Xenophon's Banquet, to argue that his own satyr-like visage was superior in beauty to that of the handsomest man present. That this irony was to some extent calculated is more than probable; it disarmed ridicule by anticipating it; it allayed jealousy and propitiated envy; and it possibly procured him admission into circles from which a more solemn teacher would have been excluded. But it had for its basis a real greatness of soul, a hearty and unaffected disregard of public opinion, a perfect disinterestedness, an entire abnegation of self. He made himself a fool that others by his folly might be made wise; he humbled himself to the level of those among whom his work lay that he might raise some few among them to his own level; he was all things to all men, if by any means he might win some.  It would seem that this humorous depreciation of his own great qualities, this pretence of being no better than his neighbours, led to grave misapprehension amongst his contemporaries. That it was the foundation of the slanders of the Peripatetic Aristoxenus can hardly be doubted.

Socrates was further a man of sincere and fervent piety. 'No one,' says Xenophon, 'ever knew of his doing or saying anything profane or unholy.' There was indeed in the popular mythology much which he could not accept. It was incredible, he argued, that the gods should have committed acts which would be disgraceful in the worst of men. Such stories, then, must be regarded as the inventions of lying poets. But, when he had thus purified the contemporary polytheism, he was able to reconcile it with his own steadfast belief in a Supreme Being, the intelligent and beneficent Creator of the universe, and to find in the national ritual the means of satisfying his religious aspirations.

For proof of the existence of 'the divine,' he appealed to the providential arrangement of nature, to the universality of the belief, and to the revelations and warnings which are given to men through signs and oracles. Thinking that the soul of man partook of the divine, he maintained the doctrine of its immortality as an article of faith, but not of knowledge. While he held that, the gods alone knowing what is for man’s benefit, man should pray, not for particular goods, but for that which is good, he was regular in prayer and punctual in sacrifice, He looked to oracles and signs for guidance in those matters, and in those matters only, which could not be resolved by experience and judgment, and he further supposed himself to receive special warnings of a mantic character through what he called his 'divine sign.'

Socrates' frequent references to his 'divine sign' were, says Xenophon, the origin of the charge of 'introducing new divinities' brought against him by his accusers, and in early Christian times, amongst Neoplatonic philosophers and fathers of the church, gave rise to the notion that he supposed himself to be attended by a 'genius' or 'daemon.'  The very precise testimony of Xenophon and Plato shows plainly that Socrates did not regard his 'customary sign' either as a divinity or, as a genius. According to Xenophon, the sign was a warning, either to do or not to do, which it would be folly to neglect, not superseding ordinary prudence, but dealing with those uncertainties in respect of which other men found guidance in oracles and tokens; Socrates believed in it profoundly, and never disobeyed, it, According to Plato, the sign was a? voice ? which warned Socrates to refrain from some act which he contemplated; he heard it frequently and on the most trifling occasions; the phenomenon dated from his early years, and was, so far as he knew, peculiar to himself. These statements have been variously interpreted.

F.     The Eccentricity of Socrates

The eccentricity of Socrates? life was not less remarkable than the oddity of his appearance and the irony of his conversation. His whole time was spent in public; in the Mode of Life market place, the streets, the gymnasia. He had no liking for the country, and seldom passed the gates. ? Fields and trees,? Plato makes him say, ?will not teach me anything; the life of the streets will.? He talked to all corners, to the craftsman and the artist as willingly as to the poet or the politician, questioning them about their affairs, about the processes of their several occupations, about their notions of morality, in a word, about familiar matters in which they might be expected to take an interest. The ostensible purpose of these interrogatories was to test, and thus either refute or explain, the famous oracle which had pronounced him the wisest of men.  Conscious of his own ignorance he had at first imagined that the god was mistaken. When however, experience showed that those who esteemed themselves wise were unable to give an account of their knowledge, he had to admit that, as the oracle had said, he was wiser than others, in so far as whilst they being ignorant, supposed themselves to know, he, being ignorant, was aware of his ignorance. 

Such according to The Apology, was Socrates? account of his procedure and its results. But it is easy to see that the statement is coloured by the accustomed irony. When in the same speech Socrates tells his judges that he would never from fear of death or from any other motive disobey the command of the god, and that, if they put him to death, the loss would be, not his, but theirs, since they would not readily find any one to take his place, it becomes plain that he conceived himself to hold a commission to educate, and was consciously seeking the intellectual and moral improvement of his countrymen. 

His end could not be achieved without the sacrifice of self. His meat and drink were of the poorest; summer and Winter his coat was the same; he was shoeless and shirtless. ?A slave whose master made him live as you live,? says a sophist in the Memorabilia, ?would run away.? But by the surrender of the luxuries and the comforts of life Socrates secured for himself the independence which was necessary that he might go about his appointed business, and therewith he was content.

His message was to all, but it was variously received. Those who heard him perforce and occasionally were apt to regard his teaching either with indifference or with irritation.  Socrates, was well aware of the result to which their enforced answers tended. Amongst those who deliberately sought and sedulously cultivated his acquaintance there were some who attached themselves to him as they might have attached themselves to any ordinary sophist, conceiving that by temporary contact with so acute a reasoner they would best prepare themselves for the logomachies of the law courts, the assembly and the senate. Again, there were others who saw in Socrates at once master, counselor and friend, and hoped by associating with him 'to become good men and true, capable of doing their duty by house and household, by relations and friends, by city and fellow-citizens' (Xenophon). Finally, there was a little knot of intimates who, having something of Socrates' enthusiasm, entered more deeply than the rest into his principles, and, when he died, transmitted them to the next generation. Yet even those who belonged to this inner circle were united, not by any common doctrine, but by a common admiration for their master's intellect and character.

For the paradoxes of Socrates' personality and the eccentricity of his behavior, if they offended the many, fascinated the few.

'It is not' easy for a man in my condition,' says the intoxicated Alcibiades in Plato's Symposium, 'to describe the singularity of Socrates' character. But I will try to tell his praises in similitudes. He is like the piping Silenes in the statuaries' shops, which, when you open them, are found to contain images of gods. Or, again, he is like the satyr Marsyas, not only in outward appearance, that, Socrates, you will yourself allow, but in other ways also. Like him, you are given to frolic..I can produce evidence to that; and above all, like him, you are a wonderful musician. Only there is this difference, what he does with the help of his instrument you do with mere words; for whatsoever man, woman or child hears you, or even a feeble report of what you have said, is struck with awe and possessed with admiration. As for myself, were I not afraid that you would think me more drunk than I am, I would tell you on oath how his words have moved me, ay, and how they move me still. When I listen to him my heart beats with a more than Corybantic excitement; he has only to speak and my tears flow. Orators, such as Pericles, never moved me in this way...never roused my soul to the thought of my servile condition; but this Marsyas makes me think that life is not worth living so long as I am what I am. Even now, if I were to listen, I could not resist. So there is nothing for me but to stop my ears against this siren's song and fly for my life, that I may not grow old sitting at his feet. No one would think that I had any shame in me; but I am ashamed in the presence of Socrates.'


G. The Accusations Against Socrates

The Death of Socrates
The life led by Socrates was not likely to win for him either the affection or the esteem of the vulgar. Those who did not know him personally, seeing him with the eyes of the comic poets, conceived him as a 'visionary' and a 'bore.'  Those who had faced him in argument, even if they had not smarted under his rebukes, had at any rate winced under his interrogatory, and regarded him in consequence with feelings of dislike and fear. But the eccentricity of his genius and the ill will borne towards him by individuals are not of themselves sufficient to account for the tragedy of 399. It thus becomes necessary to study the circumstances of the trial, and to investigate the motives which led the accusers to seek his death and the people of Athens to acquiesce in it.

Socrates was accused (1) of denying the gods recognized by the state and introducing instead of them strange divinities and (2) of corrupting the young. The first of these charges rested upon the notorious fact that he supposed himself to be guided by a divine visitant or sign. The second, Xenophon tells us, was supported by a series of particular allegations: (a) that he taught his associates to despise the institutions of the state, and especially election by lot; (b) that he had numbered amongst his associates Critias and Alcibiades, the most dangerous of the representatives of the oligarchical and democratical parties respectively; (c) that be taught the young to disobey parents and guardians and to prefer his own authority to theirs; (d) that he was in the habit of quoting mischievous passages of Homer and Hesiod to the prejudice of morality and democracy.

It is plain that the defence was not calculated to conciliate a hostile jury. Nevertheless, it is at first sight difficult to understand how an adverse verdict became possible. If Socrates rejected portions of the conventional of the mythology, he accepted the established faith and defence. performed its offices with exemplary regularity. If he talked of a mantic sign, it was divinely accorded to him, presumably by the gods of the state. If he questioned the propriety of certain of the institutions of Athens, he was prepared to yield an unhesitating obedience to all. He had never countenanced the misdeeds of Critias and Alcibiades, and indeed, by a sharp censure, had earned the undying hatred of one of them. Duty to parents he inculcated as he inculcated other virtues; and, if he made the son wiser than the father, surely that was not a fault. The citation of a few lines from the poets ought not to weigh against the clear evidence of his large hearted patriotism; and it might be suspected that the accuser had strangely misrepresented his application of the familiar words.

To the modern reader Xenophon's reply, of which the foregoing is in effect a summary, will probably seem sufficient, and more than sufficient. But it must not be forgotten that Athenians of the old school approached the subject from an entirely different point of view. Socrates was in all things an innovator, in religion, in as much as he sought to eliminate from the theology of his contemporaries 'those lies which poets tell '; in politics, in as much as he distrusted several institutions dear to Athenian democracy; in education, in as much as he waged war against authority, and in a certain sense made each man the measure of his own actions.

It is because Socrates was an innovator that we, who see in him the founder of philosophical inquiry, regard him as a great man; it was because Socrates was an innovator that old -fashioned Athenians, who saw' in the new fangled culture the origin of all their recent distresses and disasters, regarded him as a great criminal. It is, then, after all in no wise strange that a majority was found first to pronounce him guilty, and afterwards, when he refused to make any submission and professed himself indifferent to any mitigation of the penalty, to pass upon him the sentence of death. That the verdict and the sentence were not in any way illegal is generally acknowledged.

But, though the popular distrust of eccentricity, the irritation of individuals and groups of individuals, the attitude of Socrates himself, and the prevalent dislike of the intellectual movement which he represented, go far to account for the result of the trial, they do not explain the Attack.  Socrates' oddity and demeanour were no new things; yet in the past, though they had made him unpopular, they had not brought him into the courts. His sturdy resistance to the demos in 406 B.C. and to the Thirty in 404 had passed, if not unnoticed, at all events unpunished. His political heresies and general unorthodoxy had not caused him to be excluded from the amnesty of 403. Why was it then, that in 399, when Socrates' idiosyncrasies were more than ever familiar, and when the constitution had been restored, the toleration hitherto extended to him was withdrawn'  What were the special circumstances which induced three members of the patriot party, two of them leading politicians, to unite their efforts against one who apparently was so little formidable'

For an answer to this question it is necessary to look to the history of Athenian politics. Besides the oligarchical party, properly so called, which in 411 was represented by the Four Hundred and in 404 by the Thirty, and the democratical party, which returned to power in 410 and in 403, there was at Athens during the last years of the Peloponnesian War a party of 'moderate oligarchs,' antagonistic to both. It was to secure the cooperation of the moderate party that the Four Hundred in 411 promised to constitute the Five Thousand, and that the Thirty in 404 actually constituted the Three Thousand. It was in the hope of realizing the aspirations of the moderate party that Theramenes, its most prominent representative, allied himself, first with the Four Hundred, afterwards with the Thirty.
In 411 the policy of Theramenes was temporarily successful, the Five Thousand superseding the Four Hundred. In 404 the Thirty outwitted him; for though they acted upon his advice so far as to constitute the Three Thousand, they were careful to keep all real power in their own hands. But on both occasions the ' polity' for such, in the Aristotelian sense of the term, the constitution of 411 - 410 was, and the constitution of 404 - 403 professed to be was insecurely based, so that it was not long before the 'unmixed democracy' was restored.

The program of the ' moderates ' which included (1) the limitation of the franchise, by the exclusion of those who were unable to provide themselves with the panoply of a hoplite and thus to render to the city substantial service, (2) the abolition of payment for the performance of political functions, and, as it would seem, (3) the disuse of the lot in the election of magistrates, found especial favor with the intellectual class. Thus Alcibiades was amongst its promoters, and Thucydides commends the constitution established after the fall of the Four Hundred as the best which in his time Athens had enjoyed.

Now it is expressly stated that Socrates disliked election by lot; it is certain that regarding paid educational service as a species of prostitution, he would account paid political service not a whit less odious; and the stress laid by the accuser upon the Homeric quotation, becomes intelligible if we may suppose that Socrates, like Theramenes, wished to restrict the franchise to those who were rich enough to serve as hoplites at their own expense. Thus, as might have been anticipated, Socrates was a 'moderate,' and the treatment which he received from both the extreme parties suggests that Socrates attempted a rescue-that his sympathy with the moderate party was pronounced and notorious.  Even in the moment of democratic triumph the 'moderates' made themselves heard, Phormisius proposing that those alone should exercise the franchise who possessed land in Attica; and it is reasonable to suppose that their position was stronger in 399 than in 403.

These considerations seem to indicate an easy explanation of the indictment of Socrates by the democratic politicians. It was a blow struck at the 'moderates,' Socrates being singled out for attack because, though not a professional politician, he was the very type of the malcontent party, and had done much, probably more than any man living, to make and to foster views which, if not in the strict sense of the term oligarchical, were confessedly hostile to the 'unmixed democracy.'  His eccentricity and heterodoxy, as well as the personal animosities which he had provoked, doubtless contributed, as his accusers had foreseen, to bring about the conviction; but in the judgment of the present writer, it was the fear of what may be called philosophical radicalism which prompted the action of Meletus, Anytus and Lycon. The result did not disappoint their expectations. The friends of Socrates abandoned the struggle and retired into exile; and, when they returned to Athens, the most prominent of them, Plato, was careful to confine himself to theory, and to announce in emphatic terms his withdrawal from the practical politics of his native city.

H.  The Socratic Method and Doctrine

Socrates was not a 'philosopher,' nor yet a 'teacher,' but rather an 'educator,' having for his function to rouse, persuade and rebuke (Plato, Apology). Hence, in examining his life's work it is proper to ask, not What was his philosophy' but What was his theory, and what was his practice of education' It is true that he was brought to his theory of education by the study of previous philosophies, and that his practice led to the Platonic revival; but to attribute to him philosophy, except in that loose sense in which philosophy is ascribed to one who, denying the existence of such a thing, can give an account of his disbelief, is misleading and even erroneous.  Socrates' theory of education had for its basis a profound and consistent skepticism; that is to say, he not only rejected the conflicting theories of the physicists, of whom 'some conceived existence as a unity, others as a plurality; some affirmed perpetual motion, others perpetual rest; some declared becoming and perishing to be universal, others altogether denied such things, 'but also condemned, as a futile attempt to transcend the limitations of human intelligence their, "pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.' 

Unconsciously or more probably consciously, Socrates rested his skepticism upon the Protagorean doctrine that man is the measure of his own sensations and feelings; whence he inferred, not only that knowledge such as the philosophers had sought, certain knowledge of nature and its laws, was unattainable, but also that neither he nor any other person had authority to overbear the opinions of another, or power to convey instruction to one who had it not. 

Accordingly, whereas Protagoras and others, abandoning physical speculation and coming forward as teachers of culture, claimed for themselves in this new field power to instruct and authority to dogmatize, Socrates, unable to reconcile himself to this inconsistency, proceeded with the investigation of principles until he found a resting place in the distinction between good and evil. While all opinions were equally true, of these opinions which were capable of being translated into act, he conceived, were as working hypotheses more serviceable than others. It was here that the function of such a one as himself began.

Though he had neither the right nor the power to force his opinions upon another, he might by a systematic interrogatory lead another to substitute a better opinion for a worse, just as a physician by appropriate remedies may enable his patient to substitute a healthy sense of taste for a morbid one. To administer such an interrogatory and thus to be the physician of souls was, Socrates thought, his divinely appointed duty; and, when he described himself as a 'talker 'or' converser,' he not only negatively distinguished himself from those who, whether philosophers or sophists, called themselves 'teachers," but also positively indicated the method of question and answer which he consistently preferred and habitually practiced.

That it was in this way that Socrates was brought to regard 'dialectic,' 'question and answer,' as the only admissible method of education is no matter of mere conjecture. In the review of theories of knowledge which has come down to us in Plato's Theaetetus mention is made of certain 'incomplete Protagoreans,' who held that, while all opinions are equally true, one opinion is better than another, and that the 'wise man' is one who by his arguments causes good opinions to take the place of bad ones, thus reforming the soul of the individual or the laws of a state by a process similar to that of the physician or the farmer; and these 'incomplete Protagoreans' are identified with Socrates and the Socratics by their insistence upon the characteristically Socratic distinction between disputation and dialectic, as well as by other familiar traits of Socratic converse. In fact, this passage becomes intelligible and significant if it is supposed to refer to the historical Socrates; and by teaching us to regard him as an 'incomplete Protagorean' it supplies the link which connects his philosophical skepticism with his dialectical theory of education. It is no doubt possible that Socrates was unaware of the closeness of his relationship to Protagoras; but the fact, once stated, hardly admits of question.

In the application of the ' dialectical' method two processes are distinguishable: the destructive process, by which the worse opinion was eradicated, and the constructive process, by which the better opinion was induced.  It was not mere 'ignorance ' with which Socrates had to contend, but 'ignorance mistaking itself for knowledge' or 'false conceit of wisdom,' a more stubborn and a more formidable foe, who safe so long as he remained in his entrenchments, must be drawn from them, circumvented, and surprised. Accordingly, taking his departure from some apparently remote principle or proposition to which, the respondent yielded a ready assent, Socrates would draw from it an unexpected but undeniable consequence which was plainly inconsistent with the opinion impugned. 

In this way he brought his interlocutor to pass judgment upon himself, and reduced him to a state of doubt or perplexity. 'Before I ever met you,' says Meno in the dialogue which Plato called by his name, I was told that you spent your time in doubting and leading others to doubt; and it is a fact that your witcheries and spells have brought me to that condition; you are like the torpedo: as it benumbs any one who approaches and touches it, so do you. For myself, my soul and my tongue are benumbed, so that I have no answer to give you.'

Even if as often happened, the respondent baffled and disgusted by the destructive process, at this point withdrew from the inquiry, he had, in Socrates' judgment, gained something; for, whereas formerly, being ignorant, he had supposed himself to have knowledge, now, being ignorant, he was in some sort conscious of his ignorance, and accordingly would be for the future more circumspect in action. If, however, having been thus convinced of ignorance, the respondent did not shrink from a new effort, Socrates was ready to aid him by further questions of a suggestive sort. 
Consistent thinking with a view to consistent action being the end of the inquiry, Socrates would direct the respondent's attention to instances analogous to that in hand, and so lead him to frame for himself a generalization from which the passions and the prejudices of the moment were, as far as might be, excluded. In this Constructive process, though the element of surprise was no longer necessary, the interrogative form was studiously preserved, because it secured at each step the conscious and responsible assent of the learner.

Of the two processes of the dialectical method, the destructive process attracted the more attention, both in consequence of its novelty and because many of those who willingly or unwillingly submitted to it stopped short at the stage of 'perplexity.'  But to Socrates and his intimates the constructive process was the proper and necessary sequel. It is true that in the dialogues of Plato the destructive process is not always, or even often, followed by construction, and that in the Memorabilia of Xenophon construction is not always, or even often, preceded by the destructive process. There is, however, in this nothing surprising. On the one hand, Xenophon, having for his principal purpose the defense of his master against vulgar calumny, seeks to show by effective examples the excellence of his positive teaching, and accordingly is not careful to distinguish, still less to emphasize, the negative procedure. On the other hand, Plato, his aim being not so much 'to preserve Socrates' positive teaching as rather by written words to stimulate the reader to self-scrutiny, just as the spoken words of the master had stimulated the hearer, is compelled by the very nature of his task to keep the constructive element in the background, and, where Socrates would have drawn an unmistakable conclusion, to confine himself to enigmatical hints. 

For example, when we compare Xenophon's Memorabilia, with Plato's Euthypliro, we note that, while in the former the interlocutor is led by a few suggestive questions to define 'piety' as 'the knowledge of those laws which are concerned with the gods,' in the latter, though on a further scrutiny it appears that 'piety 'is' ' that part of justice which is concerned with the service of the gods,' the conversation is ostensibly inconclusive. In short, Xenophon, a mere reporter of Socrates' conversations, gives the results', but troubles himself little about the steps which led to them; Plato, who in early manhood was an educator of the Socratic type, withholds the results that he may secure the advantages of the stimulus.

What, then, were the positive conclusions to which Socrates carried his hearers, and how were those positive conclusions obtained' Turning to Xenophon for an answer to Induction these questions, we note (1) that the recorded conversations are concerned with practical action, political, definition, moral, or artistic; (2) that in general there is a process from the known to the unknown through a generalization, expressed or implied; (3) that the generalizations are sometimes rules of conduct, justified by examination of known instances, sometimes definitions similarly established. 

Thus in Memorabilia, Socrates argues from the known instances of horses and dogs that, the best natures stand most in need of training, and then applies the generalization to the instance and discussion of men; and he leads his interlocutor to a definition of  'the good citizen,' and then uses it to decide between two citizens for whom respectively superiority is claimed. Now in the former of these cases the process which Aristotle would describe as 'example ' and a modern might regard as 'induction' of an uncritical sort sufficiently explains itself. The conclusion is a provisional assurance that in the particular matter in hand a certain course of action is, or is not, to be adopted. 
But it is necessary to say a word of explanation about the latter case, in which, the generalization being a definition, that is to say, a declaration that to a given term the interlocutor attaches in general, a specified meaning, the conclusion is a provisional assurance that the interlocutor may, or may not, without falling into inconsistency, apply the term in question to a certain person or act.

Moral error, Socrates conceived, is largely due to the misapplication of general terms, which, once affixed to a person or to an act, possibly in a moment of passion or prejudice, too often stand in the way of sober and careful reflection. It was in order to exclude error of this sort that Socrates insisted upon its basis. By requiring a definition and the reference to it of the act or person in question, he sought to secure in the individual at any rate consistency of thought, and in so far, consistency of action. Accordingly he spent his life in seeking and helping others to seek 'the what' or the definition, of the various words by which the moral quality to actions is described, valuing the results thus obtained not as contributions to knowledge, but as means to right action in the multifarious relations of life.

While Socrates sought neither knowledge, which in the strict sense of the word he held to be unattainable, nor yet, except as a means to right action, true opinion, the results of observation accumulated until they formed, not perhaps a system of ethics, but at any rate a body of ethical doctrine. Himself blessed with a will so powerful that it moved almost without friction, he fell into the error of ignoring its operations, and was thus led to regard knowledge as the sole condition of well doing. Where there is knowledge, that is to say, practical wisdom, the only knowledge which he recognized, right action, he conceived, follows of itself; for no one knowingly prefers what is evil; and, if there are cases in which men seem to act against knowledge, the inference to be drawn is, not that knowledge and wrongdoing are compatible, but that in the cases in question the supposed knowledge was after all ignorance. 

Virtue, then, is knowledge, knowledge at once of end and of means, irresistibly realizing itself in act. Whence it follows that the several virtues which are commonly distinguished are essentially one. Piety, justice, courage  and  temperance  are the names which wisdom bears in different spheres of action: to be pious is to know what is due to the gods; to be just is to know what is due to men; to be courageous is to know what is to be feared and what is not; to be temperate is to know how to use what is good and avoid what is evil. Further, in as much as virtue is knowledge, it can be acquired by education and training, though it is certain that one's soul has by nature a greater aptitude than another for such acquisition.

But, if virtue is knowledge, what has this knowledge for its object' To this question Socrates replies, Its object is the Good. What, then, is the Good' It is the useful, the advantageous.  Utility, the immediate utility of the individual, thus Theory becomes the measure of conduct and the foundation the Good of all moral rule and legal enactment. Accordingly, each precept of which Socrates delivers himself is recommended that obedience to it will promote the comfort, the advancement, the well being of the individual; and Prodicus' apologue of the Choice of Heracles, with its commonplace offers of worldly reward, is accepted as an adequate statement of the motives of virtuous action. 

Of the graver difficulties of ethical theory Socrates has no conception, having, as ft would seem, so perfectly absorbed, the lessons of what Plato calls political virtue, that morality has become with him a second nature, and the scrutiny of its credentials from an external standpoint has ceased to be possible. His theory is indeed so little systematic that, whereas, as has been seen, virtue or wisdom has the Good for its object, he sometimes identifies the Good, with virtue or wisdom, thus falling into the error which Plato perhaps with distinct reference to Socrates, ascribes to certain cultivated thinkers. In short, the ethical theory of Socrates, like the rest of his teaching, is by confession unscientific; it is the statement of the convictions of a remarkable nature, which statement emerges in the course of an appeal to the individual to study consistency in the interpretation of traditional rules of conduct.

I. The Socratics (After Socrates)

Far from having any system, physical or metaphysical, to enunciate, Socrates rejected "the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake' as a delusion and a snare; a delusion, in as much as knowledge, properly so called is unattainable, and a snare, in so far as it draws us away from the study of conduct. He has therefore no claim to be regarded as the founder of a philosophical school. But he had made some tentative contributions to a theory of morality; he had shown both in his life and in his death that his principles stood the test of practical application; and he had asserted 'the autonomy of the individual intellect.'  Accordingly, not one school but several schools sprang up amongst his associates, those of them who had a turn for speculation taking severally from his teaching so much as their pre-existing tendencies and convictions allowed them to assimilate.
Thus Aristippus of Cyrene interpreted hedonistically the theoretical morality; Antisthenes the Cynic copied and caricatured the austere example; Euclides of Megara practised and perverted the elenctic method; Plato the Academic, accepting the whole of the Socratic teaching, first developed it harmoniously in the sceptical spirit of its author, and afterwards, conceiving that he had found in Socrates's agnosticism the germ of a philosophy, proceeded to construct a system which should embrace at once ontology, physics, and ethics. From the four schools thus established sprang subsequently four other schools; the Epicureans being the natural successors of the Cyrenaics, the Stoics of the Cynics, the Sceptics of the Megarians, and the Peripatetics of the Academy. In this way the teaching of Socrates made itself felt throughout the whole of the post Socratic philosophy. Of the influence which he exercised upon Aristippus, Antisthenes and Euclides, the 'incomplete Socratics,' as they are commonly called, as well as upon the 'complete Socratic,' Plato, something must now be said.

The ' incomplete Socratics ' were, like Socrates, sceptics; but, whereas Aristippus, who seems to have been in contact with Protagoreanism before he made acquaintance with Socrates, came to scepticism, as Protagoras had done, from the Incomplete standpoint of the pluralists, Antisthenes, like his Socratics. former master Gorgias, and Euclides, in whom the ancients
rightly saw a successor of Zeno, came to scepticism from the standpoint of Eleatic henism. In other words, Aristippus was sceptical because, taking into account the subjective element in sensation, he found himself compelled to regard what are called 'things' as successions of feelings, which feelings are themselves absolutely distinct from one another; while Antisthenes and Euclides were sceptical because, like Zeno, they did not understand how the same thing could at the same moment bear various and inconsistent epithets, and consequently conceiyed all predication which was not identical to be illegitimate.

Thus Aristippus recognized only feelings, denying things; Antisthenes recognized things, denying attributions; and it is probable that in this matter Euclides was at one with him.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how, if the founder of the school had broken loose from the  Zenonian paradox, his successors, and amongst them Stilpo, should have reconciled themselves, as they certainly did, to the Cynic denial of predication.

While the 'incomplete Socratics' made no attempt to overpass the limits which Socrates had imposed upon himself, within those limits they occupied each his department. Aristippus, a citizen of the world, drawn to Athens by the fame of Socrates, and retained there by the sincere affection which he conceived for him, interpreted the ethical doctrine of Socrates in accordance with his own theory of pleasure, which in its turn came under the refining influence of Socrates's, theory.  Contrary,  Antisthenes, a rugged but not ungenerous nature, a hater of pleasure, troubled himself little about ethical theory and gave his life to the imitation of his master's asceticism.

Virtue, he held, depended upon ' works,' not upon arguments or lessons; all that was necessary to it was the strength of a Socrates.  Yet here too the Socratic theory had a qualifying effect; so that Cyrenaic hedonism and Cynic asceticism sometimes exhibit unexpected approximations. The teaching of Euclides, though the Good is still supposed to be the highest object of knowledge, can hardly be said to have an ethical element; and in consequence of this deficiency the dialectic of Socrates degenerated in Megarian hands, first into a series of exercises in fallacies, secondly into a vulgar and futile eristic. In fact, the partial Socraticisms of the incomplete Socratics necessarily suffered, even within their own narrow limits, by the dismemberment which the system had undergone. Apparently the theory of education was not valued by any of the three; and, however this may be, they deviated from Socratic tradition so far as to establish schools, and, as it would seem, to take fees like the professional educators called Sophists.

Of the relations in which the metaphysic of Plato stood to the Socratic search for definitions there are of necessity almost as many theories as there are interpretations of the Platonic system. 
Initiated into philosophical speculation by the Heraclitean Cratylus, Plato began his intellectual life as an absolute sceptic, the followers of Heraclitus having towards the end of the 5th century pushed to its conclusion the unconscious scepticism of their master. There would have been then nothing to provoke surprise, if, leaving speculation, Plato had given himself to politics. In 407, however, he became acquainted with Socrates, who gave to his thoughts a new direction. Plato now found an occupation for his intellectual energies, as Socrates had done, in the scrutiny of his beliefs and the systematization of his principles of action. But it was not until the catastrophe of 399 that Plato gave himself to his life's work. An exile, cut off from political ambitions, he came forward as the author of dialogues which aimed at producing upon readers the same effect which the voice of the master had produced upon hearers.

For a time he was content thus to follow in the steps of Socrates,' and of this period we have records in those dialogues which are commonly designated Socratic. But Plato had too decided a bent for metaphysics to linger long over propaedeutic studies. Craving knowledge, not merely provisional and subjective knowledge of ethical concepts, such as that which had satisfied Socrates, but knowledge of the causes and laws of the universe, such as that which the physicists had sought, he asked himself what was necessary that the ' right opinion ' which Socrates had obtained by abstraction from particular instances might be converted into 'knowledge' properly so called. In this way Plato was led to assume for every Socratic universal a corresponding unity, eternal, immutable, suprasensual, to be the cause of those particulars which are called by the common name.

On this assumption the Socratic definition or statement of the 'what ' of the universal, being obtained by the inspection of particulars, in some sort represented the unity, form, or 'idea 'from which they derived their characteristics, and in so far was valuable; but, in as much as the inspection of the particulars was partial and imperfect, the Socratic definition was only a partial and imperfect representation of the eternal, immutable, suprasensual, idea. How, then, was the imperfect representation of the idea to be converted into a perfect representation' To this question Plato's answer was constant revision of the provisional definitions which imperfectly represented the ideas he hoped to bring them into such shapes that they should culminate in the definition of the supreme principle, the Good, from which the ideas themselves derive their being.
If in this way we could pass from uncertified general notions, reflections of ideas, to the Good, so as to be able to say, not only that the Good causes the ideas to be what they are, but also that the Good causes the ideas to be what we conceive them, we might infer, he thought, that our definitions, hitherto provisional, are adequate representations of real existences. But the Platonism of this period had another ingredient. It has been seen that the Eleatic Zeno had rested his denial of plurality upon certain supposed difficulties of predication, and that they continued to perplex Antisthenes as well as perhaps Euclides and others of Plato's contemporaries.

These difficulties must be disposed of, if the new philosophy was to hold its ground; and accordingly, to the fundamental assertion of the existence of eternal immutable ideas, the objects of knowledge, Plato added two subordinate propositions, namely, (1) the idea is immanent in the particular and (2) there is an idea wherever a plurality of particulars is called by the same name.  Of these propositions the one was intended to explain the attribution of various and even inconsistent epithets to the same particular at the same time, whilst the other was necessary to make this explanation available in the case of common terms other than the Socratic universals. Such was the Platonism of the Republic and the Phaedo, a provisional ontology, with a scheme of scientific research, which, as Plato honestly confessed, was no more than an unrealized aspiration. It was the non Socratic element which made the weakness of this, the earlier, theory of ideas.

Plato soon saw that the hypothesis of the idea's immanence in particulars entailed the sacrifice of its unity, whilst as a theory of predication that hypothesis was insufficient, because applicable to particulars only, not to the ideas themselves. But with clearer views about relations and negations the paradox of Zeno ceased to perplex; and with the consequent withdrawal of the two supplementary articles the development of the fundamental assumption of ideas, eternal, immutable, suprasensual, might be attempted afresh. In the more definite theory which Plato now propounded the idea was no longer a Socratic universal perfected and hypostalized, but rather the perfect type of a natural kind, to which type its imperfect members were related by imitation, whilst this relation was metaphysically explained by means of a thoroughgoing idealism. Thus, whereas in the earlier theory of ideas the ethical universals of Socrates had been held to have' a first claim to hypostatization in the world of ideas, they are now peremptorily excluded, whilst the idealism which reconciles plurality and unity gives an entirely new'significance to so much of the Socratic element as is still retained.

The growth of the metaphysical system necessarily influenced Plato's ethical doctrines; but here his final position is less remote from that of Socrates. Content, in the purely Socratic period to elaborate and to record ethical definitions Plato as such as Socrates himself might have propounded, as soon as the theory of ideas offered itself to his imagination, looked to it for the foundation of ethics as of all other sciences. Though in the earlier ages the individual and the state sounded utilitarian morality of the Socratic sort was useful, nay valuable, the morality of the future should, he thought, rest upon the knowledge of the Good. Such is the teaching of the Republic, ,But with the revision of the metaphysical system came a complete change in the view which Plato took of ethics and its prospects.

Whilst in the previous period it had ranked as the first of sciences, it was now no longer a science; because, though Good absolute still occupied the first place, Good relative and all its various forms; justice, temperance, courage, wisdom - not being ideas, were incapable of being 'known.' Hence it is that the ethical teaching of the later dialogues bears an intelligible, though perhaps unexpected, resemblance to the simple practical teaching of the un-philosophical Socrates.

Yet throughout these revolutions of doctrine Plato was ever true to the Socratic theory of education. His manner indeed changed; for whereas in the earlier dialogues the characteristics of the master are studiously and skilfully preserved, in the later dialogues Socrates first becomes metaphysical, then ceases to be protagonist, and at last disappears from the scene. But in the later dialogues, as in the earlier, Plato's aim is the aim which Socrates in his conversation never lost sight of, namely, the dialectical improvement of the learner.