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SOCRATES (469-399 BCE)


Bust of Socrates

A. The Problem of the Historical Socrates: Basic Sources

  • Xenophon (c.431-c.352)
  • Plato (427-347BC)
  • Aristotle (384-322 BC)
  • Aristophanes (c.447-c.388 BC)

B. Life, Character and Mission

1. Life
2. General Character
3. Divine Mission

  • Delphic oracle
  • Cross-examination (elenchus) of “the wise”: politicians, poets, and artisans
  • Socratic irony

C. Philosophical Practice and Significance

1. Philosophical Practice

a) Development of the anthropological, ethical turn in philosophy initiated by the Sophists; confusion with Sophists

b) Socratic method:

  • Dialectical cross-examination (elenchus)
  • Induction (epagōgē) and universal definition (eidos)
  • Socratic ignorance and irony
  • Maieutic: intellectual midwifery

c) Ethical theory:

  • Essentialism
  • Self-knowledge and ‘care for the soul’
  • Socratic intellectualism: virtue is knowledge
  • The good distinguished from the useful

2. Philosophical Significance

  • Socratic essentialism
  • Logical method of investigation: dialectic, induction, and definition
  • The philosophical art of living: unity of principle and practice
  • Know thyself: universality and uniqueness
  • Philosophical martyrdom