Socrates was one of the renowned ancient philosophers. Although he was the pivotal figure to the birth of modern day philosophy, he had no writings of his own. Details about Socrates is mainly derived from other ancient authors and from his two students that are Plato and Xenophon. This paper is investigating Socratess biography and his contributions to the western civilization.
Socrates was born in Athens around 469 BC in the month of Thargelion in the century known as the Golden Age of Athens. Socrates father was Sophroniscus, and his mother was Phaenarete. His father worked as a sculptor and stone mason while his mother was a midwife. Socrates at his young age became close friends to Crito who had a lot of wealth at the time. Crito offered to pay for Socrates education, in the process Socrates moved out of stone mason workshop to pursue education as a student of Archelaus who was a physicist. Anaxagoras had earlier on trained Archelaus.
Despite the fact that Socrates was a favorite student of Archelaus, Socrates gave up pre-Socrates philosophies. Socrates started having an interest in Parmenides teaching, and teaching of other two women referred to as Aspasia, Pericles second wife, who taught Socrates rhetoric. The other lady who Socrates claims that she instructed him in love on whether she was a spirit or human being. Her name was Diotima of Mantineia. There is little evidence of what Socrates did to making a living, although some sources reveal that as a young man, he got some job on stone-work of the drapes figures at Acropolis which was a public project commissioned by Pericles. Also, Socrates worked as a hoplite in the Athenian military. Socrates was married to Xanthippe. They had three children. Xanthippe, Socrates wife, did not have an interest in philosophy as her husband. Xenophon describes Socratess wife as the hardest of all the women to get, a character that makes Socrates claim that if he can be able to endure her, then he can be able to deal with humankind which his life is all about. Xanthippe shred character is more evident when she argues with her husband in public when he is about to be executed. Execution of Socrates took place in 499 B.C with the charge of not believing in gods of the state as well as trusting in his divinities, impious teachings to the youth.
Socrates philosophical career was an accumulation of many activities. His typical day started with morning trips to the places where many people could meet for morning exercise or gymnasia. After morning exercise he moved to Agora which was the commercial and political center in the region. Most of the evenings Socrates joined his students and friends at parties in various places where an intellectual conversation was the primary form of the nights entertainment. Any place Socrates could visit people were eager to listen to him, although most of his wealthier friends and students wanted to offer him gifts, he used to turn down most of the offers, especially when the gift is expensive. Socrates career was to question for wisdom. His longtime friend, Chaerephon who was the leader Democratic Party of Athens made a visit to Delphic Oracle in pursuit to know whether there was anybody else wiser than Socrates, Oracle response to Chaerephon that there was none became a motivation to Socrates to seek for wisdom as his full-time job the whole of his life.
Socrates taught many people different philosophical ideas that influenced the modern day activities. Plato and Xenophon are some of the Socrates students who left extended information on Socrates, and also they revolutionized various forms of theories in use today. Xenophon was a military man, who describes Socrates as a witty person in share common sense to other citizens to create a better society. Plato was a great philosopher and a writer; he based most of his arguments on Socrates teaching.
Socrates spent most of his working hours on asking questions regarding ethical issues in society. He used this question to expose hypocrisy, conceit and different levels of ignorance among the Athenians. Socrates was famous among the youth although most people did not like Socrates ideas on morality. Aristotle one of the most famous Platos student tried to explain the thoughts of Socrates from Plato's teaching on Socrates because Aristotle had no chance to meet Socrates. Aristotle argues that Socrates put a lot of emphasis on ethical issues in a universal manner, with universal definitions of thoughts. Socrates insists on knowledge as a virtue and people who know all the definitions ought to behave in a virtues way.
The Peloponnesian war remains as a landmark on Socrates life. A lot of destruction took place during this war, period (431-404 B.C.E ). The struggle was between the rival Sparta and the Greek city of Athens. Political differences, as well as economic rivalry, were the main catalysts of the war. Socrates was involved directly in open battle in 432 B. C near Potidaea region, Thucydides was the leader during this period, who the government later made him go into exile after the Athens lost the battle at Amphipolis where Socrates also participated in 424 B. C. Socrates ended his military service at Delium at his mid forties. The whole time Socrates served in the army, he was loyal to his duties. Bravery and Endurance even during harsh conditions made his colleagues give him credit. Socrates saved his wounded student Alcibiades during one of the battlefields.
Socrates opposed illegality and injustice as a private citizen; although earlier he did not like participating in public politics as most of his friend in the oligarchic party and Democratic Party, he could not avoid it. In 415 he fought the rights of Sicilians by opposing their expeditions. The majority elected Athens, government. Socrates became one chance senate president in Athens. During this period the Athenian senate made a resolve to try all the naval commanders for not burying the dead after defeating Arginusae, this war was one of the bloodiest in the history of Athenians, it took place around 406 B.C. The Senate agreed it was illegal to classify them together, but allow the commanders to prepare their defense by the mere fact the popular assembly could not act as a court; also, it did not have the constitutional right to condemn the commanders to death. Socrates did not support the illegality, and only six commanders had to face execution. The public was happy with the Socrates idea on illegality.
Socrates made a significant contribution in advocating for the form of the government in Platos Republic which mainly applied Spartan and not an Athenian structure of government. Socrates vehement support for democracy was proved to the Athens that he was uncooperative with the tyrant. Ambitious men and women were always in pursuit of Socrates to get better skills and knowledge regarding politics and acts of debates in which Socrates was the main reference stock.
Socrates method of breaking a problem into a series of questions still applies in the formulation of hypothesis in scientific methods. This process helps the researcher to get the answers to his or her quest in an easier way. Socrates could use this method on many occasions especially question relating to goodness and justice.
Socrates made contributions to the various thoughts of ethics in use today. He tried to push ethical systems based on the human reasoning capability other than the doctrinal teachings based on theology. Socrates argues that when people can tell their innate abilities and make choices as per their knowledge, they tend to be happier than when following pre-determined codes of conduct. The more one can accommodate knowledge and able to apply it accordingly the more that person gets true happiness. Modern day philosophy on ethics applies this same idea to develop better and more accommodating theories on the human happiness.
In conclusion, Socrates life was influential in many aspects. His thoughts and ideas are currently in use in different schools of philosophy, ranging from ethics, epistemology, and politics. These thoughts gave different shapes to currents studies. He took part in battlefields as well as educating citizens on their rights and his outstanding students like Plato. Many people still admire Socrates life, his passion for open discussion and moral courage to stick to his beliefs regardless of the consequences.
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Taylor, Alfred Edward. "Plato's Biography of Socrates." British academy, 1917.
Vlastos, Gregory. Socrates, ironist and moral philosopher. Vol. 50. Cornell University Press, 1991.
Hughes, Bettany. The hemlock cup: Socrates, Athens and the search for the good life. Random House, 2011.
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