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Socrates Know Thyself
What is philosophy? Philosophy is the study of knowledge, as well as the study of the most fundamental questions of human existence and reality. A philosopher, therefore, is a lover of wisdom. There have been many philosophers, but Socrates stands out from this intelligent group. Socrates is the first great philosopher of the western world. He helped define philosophy and provided a strong base for this branch of studying and questioning. Socrates is an important person in history because he was the first great philosopher of the western world and thus contributed much to ancient society and his ideas have been passed down and still stand today. First, Socrates relations with family shows us his dedication to the pursuit of truth. Socrates was born in 469 B.C. in Athens, Greece. He died there, by hemlock poisoning in 399 B.C. He was the heir of a wealthy Athenian sculptor and used his financial independence as an opportunity to invent the practice of philosophical dialogue. Since he wrote nothing down, the information we have comes from writers such as Aristophanes, Xenophon, and Plato s dialogues. He served as a soldier in the Peloponnesian War as a hoplite in the military. He even saved the life of Alcibiades in battle. After the war, he dedicated much of his life to discussion in the agora, or town square. Consequently, he neglected his family and children. His wife, Xanthippe, was reported to have a bad temper. This marriage may have been his second. His three sons were Lamprocles, the oldest; Menexenus, the youngest; and Sophroniscus, named after Socrates father. Although men were supposed to provide for their families, Socrates hate of money brought his family into poverty. Dedication like this shows that Socrates main concern in life was the search for truth and helping others in their search. Secondly, Socrates classification in life also contributes to the knowledge of his background and shows how he did not let others' opinions of him drag him down. Socrates was often compared by Athenian citizens to the sophists. The sophists were individuals who were gifted at persuasive argument and useful knowledge, who were high in demand. They would share their skills and knowledge for a fee. Socrates, however, resented being called a sophist. He criticized their teachings, saying they boasted of their wisdom, and this made him many enemies. Socrates, unlike the sophists, opted for a free exchange of ideas and found it his obligation to share important things with all citizens so all could benefit. He did, however, accept food as a gift for discussion. His physical appearance also helps one to see how many things Socrates had going against him. He was a bald man with a round face. He had deep-set staring eyes, and a broad and flowery nose. Socrates was quite the chubby man and always wore the same rumpled tunic. His appearance and position in life show how others opinions did not keep Socrates from what he loved best, the pursuit of knowledge and truth. Thirdly, his religious and personal spiritual beliefs show his ideas of life. First, Socrates followed monotheism, the belief in one God. He also hoped in an afterlife and that death would not destroy him. He also had a belief in of a divine presence within himself. He called it a daimon, and it would warn him if he was doing something inappropriate and would remain silent if he pursued the good. He implies that daimons are the children of divine and human parents (demigods), and are then, halfway between mortal and divine. This daimon was beneficial to him since his childhood. These spiritual beliefs demonstrate the ideas and thoughts of Socrates and add to his renown as the first great western philosopher. Next, Socrates arguments on Athenian government made him a political agitator, demonstrating his merit as a great philosopher and thinker. He did not agree with the Athenian democracy and made this opinion well known. He would often discuss government with rich young men who loved his satirical analysis of the government. He believed in a form of aristocracy. Instead of the rich ruling, he believed that the wise should rule. It is compared to the doctoral profession-one would not want a doctor who is inexperienced and has no information on the subject, just as one would not want a government official who has no knowledge about his position, or government in general. His arguments about government show his feelings of wisdom being most important in one's life.
Also, Socrates dictum may be the most important aspect of his philosophy passed down to thinkers today. His dictum was Gnothi seauton," or know thyself. Through Socrates life, this is a reoccurring topic of discussion. Socrates believed in nonconformity, and trusting yourself, rather than just following what others say or believe. He felt his obligation was to make people think for themselves and prove that conceptions are not always correct. He encouraged children to formulate their own opinions, rather then just taking their parents . He felt that free thought was a right and a necessity. He believed that ignorance is not bliss, and therefore results in evil. The acquiring of wisdom leads to right living. This teaching still stands today and is taught to modern philosophy students and shows his importance and impact on today. Another subject Socrates debated was virtues and morality. A positive statement that Socrates made was a definition of virtue (arete ): virtue is knowledge. This means that if one knows what is good, one will always do what is good. Therefore, if one does wrong, then they do not really know what good is. This justifies Socrates question moral positions, for if their ideas are wrong, they cannot be trusted to do the right thing. He also debated morality and ethics, living a good life. He felt that one should build morality without religious beliefs, that the two should not intertwine. He also felt that there was a necessity of doing what one thinks is right even in the face of opposition. These topics for debate have become part of philosophical discussion today, showing that Socrates indeed left his mark on history. Socrates actions, events, and tendencies also prove himself as a great philosopher. First, Socrates wrote nothing down. This was because he felt that knowledge was a living, interactive thing. He had a method of questioning people on the positions they asserted and working them through questions into a contradiction, thus proving that their original assertion was wrong. This method of cross-examination is known as elenchus, which gave rise to dialectic, the idea that truth needs to be pursued by modifying one s position through questioning and conflict with opposing ideas. This idea of truth being pursued and not discovered characterizes Socratic thought and the world view today. Socrates, also, was very humble in the fact that he was heard to have said, One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing. This shows that he knows that the quest for knowledge is an ongoing process. Also, at the oracle at Delphi, he was pronounced the wisest Greek. He questioned more than he answered, forcing people to think. He also believed in having nothing in excess. These ideas and happenings in Socrates life show how he lived what he taught and how his ideas are even taught an practiced in today s modern world. Socrates death also shows his dedication to his cause. When he was 70, Socrates was tried for teaching heresy and corrupting the minds of Athenian youths. He was allowed to make the decision to stop teaching or to be put to death. He chose death over halting teaching. He felt that his conscience would make him teach. He was put into jail and awaiting his sentence, when a friend bribed a guard to let him free, but Socrates would not leave. He felt that it was his duty as an Athenian citizen to follow through with his sentencing. He was given the drink of hemlock, and he gladly drank the poisoning commenting, Be of good cheer and say that you are burying my body only. This devotion shown demonstrates his thought that one must do as you please, as long as it is within the law, showing that he was not a hypocrite, but a great thinker who stood up for his beliefs. Socrates was a great man in history because of his many contributions to philosophy and ethics, which still stand today. He effected the lives of many people and was greatly influential in the lives of other important people, such as Plato, Euclid, and Xenophon. He left lasting marks on today s society and was the first great western philosopher. Socrates, for many numerous reasons, is an important figure in history.
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