The Life and Legacy of Socrates - The Father of Western Philosophy - Seeker's Thoughts

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The Life and Legacy of Socrates - The Father of Western Philosophy

Socrates has long been revered by philosophers from various schools. Hegel described him as a midwife helping an interlocutor give birth to ideas.

Aristotle, born 15 years after Socrates died, learned primarily of him through Plato's dialogues depicting Socrates' methods and themes; these references he attributes directly to Socrates himself.

The Birth of Socrates

Socrates was born to an Athenian family in 469 BCE. He lived most of his life there except for one period as an army officer with the Athenian fleet on Hellespont. Socrates made such an impressionful mark on philosophy that its practitioners now refer to what came before Socrates as pre-Socratics while all later thinkers as post-Socratics. He became most well-known for his Socratic method involving questioning an interlocutor before showing logical inconsistencies within their answers through something known as an elenchus process.

Socratic philosophy was distinguished from Presocratics by its focus on investigating human nature and society; this marked its difference. Socrates also set philosophy back on track by making its purpose more focused, moving away from mere speculation on nature toward examination of soul. He is widely credited with changing philosophy's focus from speculation on nature to an examination of soul.

While ancient Greeks admired physical beauty, Socrates was unattractive - an aspect that is highlighted in his writings and often discussed. Many accounts describe him as having exophthalmic eyes (bulging eyeballs) and having a short nose; furthermore he was known to prefer spending his conversations alone.

As a result, his reputation spread that he was immoral and corrupt despite only refusing to worship gods that Athenians revered. Alcibiades' efforts at creating an oligarchy only deepened suspicion over him further; in addition, refusing to leave Athens for Sparta raised further suspicion.

Socrates defends himself in the Apology by asserting that, unlike sophists, he does not teach anything himself and therefore cannot be guilty of impiety. Furthermore, he states that virtue knowledge should come before money considerations; so as Socrates asserts in the Apology, life without self-examination should only end in death; hence it would not be wiser or worthwhile pursuing happiness without thorough self-analysis.

The Trial

The Trial of Socrates was one of the most iconic events in ancient Greek history. He is accused of disbelief in God recognized by society and introducing new divinities; also of corrupting youth to believe they were wiser than their parents and corrupting youth into thinking themselves wiser than them. Socrates was ultimately sentenced to die by hemlock poison, which causes slow and painful paralysis; many scholars believe Socrates consciously selected this method in order to make his death as meaningful and instructive as possible.

Socrates was arrested after the conclusion of the Peloponnesian War, when Sparta emerged victorious over Athens. Even during this acrimonious time, Socrates stood as an advocate of self-criticism which would become integral to Western philosophy.

Plato and Xenophon, Socrates' most influential students, provide much of the information about his Trial. Plato's Socrates was an individual of great integrity who held firm to his convictions, serving as an example for other philosophers to follow in not relenting or backing down from any position or position taken against him. Engaging opponents in lively dialogue to expose ignorance was his mission rather than offering arguments himself; his method became known as Socratic dialogue, shaping philosophical discourse ever since.

At his Trial, Socrates was accused of political disloyalty due to his close associations with members of the junta that had overthrown democracy. According to traditional wisdom, this impiety charge may have been used as a diversionary tactic and political animus was really the true motivation for his trial.

Socrates was unwavering in his refusal to appease jurors during his defence, rejecting offers of money and pledges of good behavior, as well as rejecting an offer by one of his followers to take his place and plead for a reduced sentence in exchange for taking over Socrates' role as prisoner. Believing that un-examined life was meaningless, Socrates chose death to show his conviction that philosophical inquiry is the only activity truly worth engaging in.

The Death of Socrates

Socrates died at age 70 in 399 BCE from drinking hemlock poison. After being found guilty of impiety and corrupting youth, Socrates' trial, character, and philosophy have had an immense effect on Western philosophers ever since. His life was marked by simplicity while simultaneously questioning popular opinions in Athens; his philosophy focused around dialogue that promoted clarity through questioning oneself, leading him to understand that an unexamined life wasn't worth living and the use of dialectical conversations designed to bring clarity while acknowledging inconsistencies within ourselves in thinking.

He spent his final years roaming the streets of Athens to engage those that the elite of his time would not have bothered with, from workers and common citizens alike. Socrates was an expert at making complex ideas seem accessible and approachable; his students flourished under his tutelage; while the grand speeches he delivered at the conclusion of his philosophical career served to demonstrate its genuineness to a skeptical world.

Socrates never published anything written down; rather he used reason and logic to inspire people to inquire further into issues they faced and explore their understandings further. He pioneered an approach which used logic and reasoning to uncover truths and uncover deficiencies in thinking - an approach which has since been followed by many philosophers.

While Socrates died a natural death, his execution was politically-driven and caused widespread outrage in Athens. Plato noted how Socrates did not flee or weep when learning of his execution but instead took up a cup of hemlock as another chance for dialogue before accepting death in peace.

David's The Death of Socrates contains several historical inaccuracies, most notably when depicting Socrates himself at younger than his true age and depicting Socrates with more attendees in attendance than were present during his death. Furthermore, David added Xanthippe - Socrates's wife - into the scene indicating his wish to create a more complete portrait of his work and its effect.


Socrates was known for spending much of his life conversing with ordinary citizens in public settings and on the street corners, serving as a philosopher who advocated for those not part of an elite. His aim was not only to spread knowledge but also develop character; virtue was deemed the key to happiness according to Socrates.

Socrates was a witty, ironic, and eloquent speaker who displayed insightful thought processes that cut deeply. His influence can still be felt today as many refer to those who came before as pre-Socratics while those that followed later are known as post-Socratics.

Hegel saw Socrates as an individual who helped return philosophy to its rightful course. According to Hegel, Socrates' skepticism elevated the world into reflective consciousness and, thus making it an object for philosophical inquiry. Hegel termed this process of questioning something as "productive negation", as it revealed its positive aspects.

Socrates' central idea was that true knowledge can only come from self-examination, an idea he elaborated through dialectic: questioning to discover inconsistencies between beliefs held by his interlocutors, as well as emphasizing philosophical discussion as an effective method for becoming virtuous.

Socrates' legacy remains strong in later antiquity, particularly within Islamic and Italian Renaissance traditions. His influence can still be felt today among thinkers like Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Socrates was of lower class descent; yet his philosophical views became widely popular during his lifetime and remain highly revered today. Socrates is also considered influential by several Greek writers including Plato.

Plato was Socrates' most esteemed student and one of its principal disciples in terms of propagating his philosophy. His works include Euthyphro, Apology Crito and Alcibiades I/II.

Xenophon also wrote several influential Socratic texts, such as Memorabilia 1.2.1 and Oeconomicus 11.3. In Oeconomicus 11.3, Socrates asserts that true wealth does not lie in having possessions but rather being free from want; for him personally this meant restricting his needs only as necessary for survival - thus being considered rich.

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