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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 BCE)
  • Plato (427-347BCE)
  • Aristotle (384-322 BCE)
  • Aristophanes (c.447-c.388 BCE)

B. Life, Character and Mission

1. Life
2. General Character
3. Divine Mission

  • Proclamation of the Delphic oracle: Socrates is wisest among men
  • Cross-examination (Greek: elenchus) of “the wise”: politicians, poets, and artisans
  • Socratic irony and ignorance

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 (Greek: elenchus)
  • Induction (Greek: epagōgē) and universal definition (Greek: eidos)
  • Socratic ignorance and irony
  • Maieutic: intellectual midwifery

c) Ethical theory:

  • Essentialism
  • Self-knowledge and ‘care for the soul’
  • Socratic intellectualism: virtue (Greek: aretę) is knowledge
  • The good (Greek: to agathon) distinguished from the useful or instrumental

2. Philosophical Significance

  • Socratic essentialism
  • Logical method of investigation: dialectic, induction, and definition
  • The philosophical art of living: unity of principle and practice
  • Know yourself (Greek: gnothi seauton): universality and uniqueness
  • Philosophical martyrdom