Socrates was a Greek philosopher, born in Athens in 469 B.C., whose beliefs were a great influence on philosophy. He started his early life as an apprentice for his father, a sculptor, and practiced it for several years, prior to giving nearly all of his time to intellectual pursuits. Socrates, himself, wrote nothing, and our knowledge of his ideas is reliant on the writings of Xenophon, Aristophanes, and most of all, Plato.
His relentless dedication to philosophy profoundly affected his contemporaries, and, because of what we have learned through Plato, on resultant philosophy. Plato’s interpretation of Socrates, however, is partially his own formation. However, it is feasible to determine certain ideas that are truly from Socrates. He searched for definitions of words, wondering, “What is justice?” and, “What is courage?” for example. Without them, he believed, true wisdom would not be achievable. He had his own formula of questions and answers to grasp the definitions.
Socrates wondered if goodness, like the sophists thought, would be learned. He felt that there was a connection between goodness and knowledge of what is good, and so, he thought that anyone who achieved that knowledge could not purposely act badly. All of Socrates’ intellectual study was precisely for attaining happiness in life by living the right way.
Not surprisingly, Socrates’ ideas made him quite unpopular with other townspeople. He made the conclusion that intellect embodied the knowledge of one’s own ignorance and believed that others simply were not aware of their own. What we now refer to as the “Socratic method” of philosophical questioning included questioning people on their affirmed positions and helping them to question themselves to the point of outright contradictions, which would prove each one’s own ignorance. The Socratic method gave birth to dialectic, the belief that truth must be approached by changing one’s position by questioning and exposing them to contrary beliefs.
One thing that Socrates affirmed to have knowledge of was “the art of love.” He connected this concept with that of the “love of wisdom,” or philosophy. He never straight out declared to be wise, he just claimed to understand the way a lover of wisdom must go to aspire to it.
Although he claimed extreme loyalty to Athens, Socrates’ obligation to the truth and the quest of virtue conflicted with the current policies and society of the city. His offenses were that he was a moral and social critic and tried to weaken the common concept of “might makes right” there at the time. he was found guilty of corrupting Athens’ youth, and his sentence was to drink a poisonous mix.
Plato and Xenophon both claimed that Socrates would have had a chance to escape by fleeing from Athens after his followers bribed the prison guards. Although, he chose not to do so because he believed it would show he had a fear of death, which he believed no philosopher has and that even if he chose to leave, his thought teachings would not fare better in a different country. He also may have subjected himself to being accused of crimes by the citizens and proven guilty by a jury. This would have caused him to break “contract” with the state, and thus go against Socratic principle.