Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A(Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D
Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India
Socrates was a Greek philosopher, who is often considered to be the father of Western philosophy, and a key figure in the development of Western civilisation.Toward the end of the fifth century B.C. a man was needed to bring order into the intellectual and moral chaos of the age, to Life of sift the true from the false, the essential from the accidental, to set men right and to help them to see things in their right relations,—a peacemaker who might hold the balance even between the ultra-conservatives and the ultraliberals. The man appeared in Socrates, one of the greatest figures in the history of thought, the intellectual father of a line of philosophers whose ideas and ideals dominated Western civilization for two thousand years, and continue to influence speculation to this day.
Socrates was born in Athens, 469 B.C., the son of poor parents, his father being a sculptor, his mother a midwife. How he acquired an education, we do not know, but his love of knowledge evidently created opportunities in the cultured city for intellectual growth. He took up the occupation of his father, but soon felt ” a divine vocation to examine himself by questioning other men.” In personal appearance Socrates was not prepossessing. He was short, stocky, and stout, blear-eyed and snub-nosed; he had a largemouth and thick lips, and was careless in his dress, clumsy and uncouth, resembling in his physical make-up a Satyr, for which reason Alcibiades, in Plato’s Symposium, likened him to the busts of Silenus. But all these peculiarities were forgotten when he began to speak, so great were his personal charm and the effect of his brilliant conversation
Socrates exemplified in his conduct the virtues which he taught: he was a man of remarkable self-control, magnanimous, noble, frugal, and capable of great endurance ; and his wants were few. He gave ample proof, during his life of seventy years, of physical and moral courage, in war and in the performance of his political duties. His bearing at his trial furnishes an impressive picture of moral dignity, firmness and consistency; he did what he thought was right, without fear or favour, and died as beautifully as he had lived, with charity for all and malice toward none; condemned by his own people, on a false charge of atheism and of corrupting the youth, to drink the poison hemlock (399 B.C). His respect for authority and his loyalty to the State he proved by obeying the laws himself ” and insisting that others obey them. When, after his condemnation, friends arranged a plan of escape, he refused to profit by it, o# the ground that he had enjoyed the benefits of the laws during his whole life and could not, in his old age, prove disloyal to his benefactors.
It was mentioned that Socrates turned down the pleas of Crito to attempt an escape from prison. Once he took the poison, he was asked to walk around until his legs felt numb. After a while, Socrates couldn’t feel his legs and few moments later the numbness reached his heart. His last words to Crito were, “Crito, we owe a rooster to Asclepius. Please, don’t forget to pay the debt.”
The philosopher Socrates remains, as he was in his lifetime (469–399 B.C.E.), an enigma, an inscrutable individual who, despite having written nothing, is considered one of the handful of philosophers who forever changed how philosophy itself was to be conceived.
Socrates tells Theaetetus that his mother Phaenarete was a midwife (149a) and that he himself is an intellectual midwife. Whereas the craft of midwifery (150b-151d) brings on labor pains or relieves them in order to help a woman deliver a child, Socrates does not watch over the body but over the soul, and helps his interlocutor give birth to an idea. He then applies the elenchus to test whether or not the intellectual offspring is a phantom or a fertile truth. Socrates stresses that both he and actual midwives are barren, and cannot give birth to their own offspring. In spite of his own emptiness of ideas, Socrates claims to be skilled at bringing forth the ideas of others and examining them.
Socrates often explains that his role is that of a *philosophical midwife*, not to tell people what the truth is, but rather to help them get out the truths that are already inside them. For example, in Theaetetus, Socrates tells the title character: “Well, my art of midwifery is in most respects like theirs; but differs, in that I attend men and not women; and look after their souls when they are in labour, and not after their bodies: and the triumph of my art is in thoroughly examining whether the thought which the mind of the young man brings forth is a false idol or a noble and true birth.”
Socrates left no actual writing so impressions of Socrates have come primarily from the writings of his student, Plato. There are also other contributions from Xenophon and a contemporary playwright – Aristophanes.
The chief concern of Socrates was to meet the challenge of Sophistry, which, in undermining knowledge, threatened the foundations of morality and the State. He looked upon philosophical reflection as the most timely and practical of tasks, for if skepticism was to be the last word of the age, there would be little hope of escaping the nihilistic conclusions of the fashionable views of life. He saw clearly that the prevailing ethical and political fallacies sprang from a total misconception of the meaning of truth, and that the problem of knowledge was the key to the entire situation. It was in this conviction, and with an optimistic faith in, the power of human reason to meet the practical difficulties of his times, that he entered upon his mission. The aim which he set himself was not to construct a system of philosophy, but to arouse in men the love of truth and virtue, to help them to think right in order that they might live right. His purpose was practical rather than speculative; he was interested in the correct method of acquiring knowledge more than in a theory of such a method, or methodology. He did not offer a theory at all, but practiced a method, lived it, and, by his example, taught others to follow it.
The Sophists say there is no truth, we cannot know; men differ, opinion is set against opinion, and one is as good as another. This, says Socrates, is a mistake. There is diversity of thought, true; but it is our duty to discover whether, in the clash of opinions, there may not be agreement, some common ground on which all can stand, some principle to which all can subscribe. To evolve such universal judgments was the purpose of the Socratic method, which our philosopher employed in his discussions, and which is an ingenious form of cross-examination.
He pretended not to know any more about the subject under discussion than the other participants; indeed, he often acted as though he knew less (the Socratic irony). Yet they soon felt that he was master of the situation, that he was making them contradict themselves, and all the while deftly guiding their thought into his own channels. ” You are accustomed to ask most of your questions when you know very well how they stand,” so one of his listeners complained. Before one’s very eyes, the confused and erroneous notions of the disputants shape themselves into form, growing clear and distinct, and finally stand out like beautiful statues.
This the Sophists failed to understand, and Socrates sets them right. He shared with them, however, the belief in the futility of physical and metaphysical speculations. ” Indeed, in contrast to others, he set his face against all discussions of such high matters as the nature of the universe; how the ‘ cosmos,’ as the savants phrase it, came into being; or by what forces the celestial phenomena arise. To trouble one’s brain about such matters was, he argued, to play the fool. ‘
His interests were practical, and he did not see what was to come of such speculations. ” The student of human learning,” he said ”expects to make something of his studies for the benefit of himself or others, as he likes. Do these explorers into the divine operations hope that when they have discovered by what forces the various phenomena occur, they will create winds and waters at will and fruitful seasons? “Will they manipulate these and the like to suit their needs? ” ” He himself never wearied of discussing human topics. What is piety? what is impiety? What is the beautiful? what the ugly? What the noble? what the base? What is meant by just and unjust? What by sobriety and madness, what by courage and cowardice? What is a State? What is a statesman? What is a ruler over men? What is a ruling character? and other like problems, the knowledge of which, as he put it, conferred a patent of nobility on the possessor, whereas those who lacked the knowledge might deservedly be stigmatized as slaves. ‘ Socrates ‘s faith in knowledge, in clear and reasoned thinking, is strong,—so strong that he sees in it the cure of all our ills. He applies his method to all human problems, particularly to the field of morality, and seeks to find a rational basis for conduct.
Socrates seemed to have a higher opinion of women than most of his companions had, speaking of “men and women,” “priests and priestesses,” and naming foreign women as his teachers: Socrates claimed to have learned rhetoric from Aspasia of Miletus, the lover of Pericles and to have learned erotics from the priestess Diotima of Mantinea Socrates was unconventional in a related respect.
Socrates never asked people to be wise, instead to follow the path of a lover of wisdom. He very often compared himself as a true matchmaker, but distinguished himself from a panderer. Even though he never stated himself as a teacher, he usually led his respondent to a clearer conception of wisdom. He claimed his role as a midwife, who is barren of theories but knows how to give birth to other’s theories and to determine their worthiness.
“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”This awareness of one’s own absence of knowledge is what is known as Socratic ignorance, Socrates explains that he was not aware of any wisdom he had, and so set out to find someone who had wisdom in order to demonstrate that the oracle was mistaken. He first went to the politicians but found them lacking wisdom. He next visited the poets and found that, though they spoke in beautiful verses, they did so through divine inspiration, not because they had wisdom of any kind. Finally, Socrates found that the craftsmen had knowledge of their own craft, but that they subsequently believed themselves to know much more than they actually did. Socrates concluded that he was better off than his fellow citizens because, while they thought they knew something and did not, he was aware of his own ignorance.
It is worth nothing that Socrates does not claim here that he knows nothing. He claims that he is aware of his ignorance and that whatever it is that he does know is worthless.
The Unexamined Life
Socrates tells the jury who sentenced him to death, that he could never keep silent, because “the unexamined life is not worth living for human beings” . The purpose of the examined life is to reflect upon our everyday motivations and values and to subsequently inquire into what real worth, if any, they have. If they have no value or indeed are even harmful, it is upon us to pursue those things that are truly valuable.
Socrates famously declares that no one errs or makes mistakes knowingly . This is Socrates’ intellectualism. When a person does what is wrong, their failure to do what is right is an intellectual error, or due to their own ignorance about what is right. If the person knew what was right, he would have done it. Hence, it is not possible for someone simultaneously know what is right and do what is wrong. If someone does what is wrong, they do so because they do not know what is right, and if they claim they have known what was right at the time when they committed the wrong, they are mistaken, for had they truly known what was right, they would have done it. Socrates therefore denies the possibility of akrasia, or weakness of the will. No one errs willingly
Socrates repeatedly stresses that a human being must care for his soul more than anything else. Socrates found that his fellow citizens cared more for wealth, reputation, and their bodies while neglecting their souls He believed that his mission from the god was to examine his fellow citizens and persuade them that the most important good for a human being was the health of the soul. Wealth, he insisted, does not bring about human excellence or virtue, but virtue makes wealth and everything else good for human beings .
Socrates believes that his mission of caring for souls extends to the entirety of the city of Athens. He argues that the god gave him to the city as a gift and that his mission is to help improve the city. He thus attempts to show that he is not guilty of impiety precisely because everything he does is in response to the oracle and at the service of the god. Socrates characterizes himself as a gadfly and the city as a sluggish horse in need of stirring up .
Some of his sayings related to education are:
‘Education is like a festival of life, because, it includes within it, many shows, theatrical performances and musical sounds of the soul’
‘The best profession that a person can exercise is the one he (or she) knows very well, after the necessary learning and study’.
‘There is only one good thing, right knowledge, and one bad thing, not knowing (Greek ‘amatheia’)’.
‘Education comprises the festive activities of the soul, as it includes many games, events and activities that support and improve our souls’.
Socrates engaged in questioning of his students in an unending search for truth. He sought to get to the foundations of his students’ and colleagues’ views by asking continual questions until a contradiction was exposed, thus proving the fallacy of the initial assumption.
The concept of virtue
Socrates has a number of strong convictions about what makes for an ethical life, though he cannot articulate precisely why these convictions are true. He believes for instance that it is never just to harm anyone, whether friend or enemy, he offer a systematic account of the nature of justice that could demonstrate why this is true. Because of his insistence on repeated inquiry, Socrates has refined his convictions such that he can both hold particular views about justice while maintaining that he does not know the complete nature of justice.
Socrates considers that all of the virtues—justice, wisdom, courage, piety, and so forth—are one. He provides a number of arguments for this thesis. For example, while it is typical to think that one can be wise without being temperate, Socrates rejects this possibility on the grounds that wisdom and temperance both have the same opposite: folly. Were they truly distinct, they would each have their own opposites. As it stands, the identity of their opposites indicates that one cannot possess wisdom without temperance and vice versa.
Virtue is a form of knowledge .Things like beauty, strength, and health benefit human beings, but can also harm them if they are not accompanied by knowledge or wisdom. If virtue is to be beneficial it must be knowledge, since all the qualities of the soul are in themselves neither beneficial not harmful, but are only beneficial when accompanied by wisdom and harmful when accompanied by folly.
Socrates’ emphasis on human nature , and argue that the call to live examined lives follows from our nature as human beings. We are naturally directed by pleasure and pain. We are drawn to power, wealth and reputation, the sorts of values to which Athenians were drawn as well. Socrates’ call to live examined lives is not necessarily an insistence to reject all such motivations and inclinations but rather an injunction to appraise their true worth for the human soul. One of the premises of the argument just mentioned is that human beings only desire the good. When a person does something for the sake of something else, it is always the thing for the sake of which he is acting that he wants. All bad things or intermediate things are done not for themselves but for the sake of something else that is good. When a tyrant puts someone to death, for instance, he does this because he thinks it is beneficial in some way. Hence his action is directed towards the good because this is what he truly wants.
Socrates believes that, if something is more shameful, it surpasses in either badness or pain or both. Since committing an injustice is not more painful than suffering one, committing an injustice cannot surpass in pain or both pain and badness. Committing an injustice surpasses suffering an injustice in badness; differently stated, committing an injustice is worse than suffering one. Therefore, given the choice between the two, we should choose to suffer rather than commit an injustice. Socratic emphasis on the care of the soul. Committing an injustice corrupts one’s soul, and therefore committing injustice is the worst thing a person can do to himself .
Virtue could be identical to happiness——or virtue could be instrumental for happiness, knowledge of the good guides the soul toward happiness . Socrates suggests that the virtuous person, acting in accordance with wisdom, attains happiness, the happiest person has no badness in his soul.
He also said that virtue cannot be taught as successful military fathers couldn’t produce sons of their own qualities. According to him, moral excellence was a divine legacy than parental nurturing. The above mentioned saying only shows his wisdom as he was aware of his own ignorance. Socrates claimed to have the knowledge of “art of love”, which he connected in the light of philosophy. . According to Socrates, the best way to live a happier life was to focus on self-development than the pursuit of material wealth.. His teachings always show that humans possess certain virtues and these virtues are important qualities that a person should have. He stressed that virtues are the most valuable possessions of human beings and life should be spent in the search of goodness.
Socrates endeavors to understand the meaning of morality, to discover a rational principle of right and wrong, a criterion by which to measure it. The question uppermost in his mind is: How shall I order my life? “What is the rational way of living? How ought a reasoning being, a human being, to act? The Sophists cannot be right in saying that man is the measure of all things in the sense that whatever pleases me, the particular me, is right for me; that there is no universal good.
There must be more to the matter than that; there must be some principle, or standard, or good, which all rational creatures recognize and accept when they come to think the problem out. What is the good, what is the good for the sake of which all else is good, the highest good? Knowledge is the highest good, so Socrates answers. Right thinking is essential to right action. In order to steer a ship or rule a State, a man must have knowledge of the construction and function of the ship, or of the nature and purpose of the State. Similarly, unless a man knows what virtue is, unless he knows the meaning of self-control and courage and justice and piety and their opposites, he cannot be virtuous; but, knowing what virtue is, he will be virtuous. ” No man is voluntarily bad or involuntarily good.” ” No man voluntarily pursues evil or that which he thinks to be evil. To prefer evil to good is not in human nature ; and when a man is compelled to choose between two evils, no one will choose the greater when he may have the less.” The objection is raised that ” we see the better and approve of it and pursue the evil.” Socrates would have denied that we can truly know the good and not choose it. With him knowledge of right and wrong was not a mere theoretical opinion, but a firm practical conviction, a matter not only of’ the intellect, but of the will. Besides, virtue is to a man’s interest. The tendency of all honorable and useful actions is to make life painless and pleasant, hence the honorable work is the useful and good. Virtue and true happiness are identical; no one can be happy who is not temperate and brave and wise and just. ” I do nothing, ” says Socrates in the Apology, ” but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or properties, but first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue comes money and every other good of man, public as well as private.” And the last words which he speaks at his trial are these: ” Still I have a favor to ask of them [my condemners and accusers]. When my sons are grown up, I would ask you, oh my friends, to punish them; and I would have you trouble them as I have troubled you if they seem to care about riches or about anything, more than about virtue; or if they pretend to be something when they are really nothing,—then reprove them, as I have reproved you, for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and thinking that they are something when they are really nothing. And if you do this, both I and my sons will have received justice at your hands. ‘
Socrates, as we have already pointed out, did not construct a system of metaphysics nor did he offer a theory of knowledge or of conduct. It remained for his pupils to build upon the foundations laid by the master.
The radical thinkers, as we saw, looked upon the ethical ideas and practices of their times as mere conventions; after all, might makes right. The conservatives regarded them as self-evident : rules of conduct are not things about which one can reason; they have to be obeyed.
Socrates foremost contribution to the Western intellectual process was his Socratic method, which he used on various occasions to examine the concepts like justice and goodness. It involves solving a problem by breaking it into a series of questions. The answers of them usually brought forward the answer that the seeker required. The formulation of hypothesis in today’s scientific method was derived from this approach
Socrates is best known for his association with the Socratic method of question and answer, his claim that he was ignorant (or aware of his own absence of knowledge), and his claim that the unexamined life is not worth living, for human beings. Unlike other philosophers of his time and ours, Socrates never wrote anything down but was committed to living simply and to interrogating the everyday views and popular opinions of those in his home city of Athens.
As famous as the Socratic themes are, the Socratic method is equally famous. Socrates conducted his philosophical activity by means of question an answer, and we typically associate with him a method called the elenchus. At the same time, Plato’s Socrates calls himself a midwife—who has no ideas of his own but helps give birth to the ideas of others—and proceeds dialectically—defined either as asking questions, embracing the practice of collection and division, or proceeding from hypotheses to first principles.
Socrates sought to teach through a path of self-enquiry. He did not claim to have the answers; he would merely ask questions to his students, forcing them to think for themselves and question their own dogmas and beliefs. Socrates was usually to be found in the marketplace and other public areas, conversing with a variety of different people—young and old, male and female, slave and free, rich and poor—that is, with virtually anyone he could persuade to join with him in his question-and-answer mode of probing serious matters. Socrates’s lifework consisted in the examination of people’s lives, his own and others’, because “the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being,” as he says at his trial . Socrates pursued this task single-mindedly, questioning people about what matters most, e.g., courage, love, reverence, moderation, and the state of their souls generally. He did this regardless of whether his respondents wanted to be questioned or resisted him; and Athenian youths imitated Socrates’s questioning style, much to the annoyance of some of their elders.
A typical Socratic methodology is a cross-examination of a particular position, proposition, or definition, in which Socrates tests what his interlocutor says and refutes it. There is, however, great debate amongst scholars regarding not only what is being refuted but also whether or not the methodology can prove anything. There are questions, in other words, about the topic of the methodology and its purpose or goal.
Aristotle related four concrete points about Socrates. The first is that Socrates asked questions without supplying an answer of his own, because he claimed to know nothing .The picture of Socrates here is consistent with that of Plato’s Apology. Second, Aristotle claims that Socrates never asked questions about nature, but concerned himself only with ethical questions. Aristotle thus attributes to Socrates both the method and topics we find in Plato’s Socratic dialogues.
Third, Aristotle claims that Socrates is the first to have employed epagōgē, a word typically rendered in English as “induction.” Socrates was fond or arguing via the use of analogy.
The fourth and final claim Aristotle makes about Socrates itself has two parts. First, Socrates was the first to ask the question, what is it? For example, if someone were to suggest to Socrates that our children should grow up to be courageous, he would ask, what is courage? That is, what is the universal definition or nature that holds for all examples of courage? Second, as distinguished from Plato, Socrates did not separate universals from their particular instantiations.
Socrates developed a method of questioning designed to expose weaknesses in the interrogated (sometimes referred to as the maieutic method, in which the questioner acts as a midwife, helping to give birth to others’ thoughts). He believed circumspect use of language and endless self-questioning are crucial in the quest for wisdom. Teacher of Plato, world-sage in outlook, he saw philosophy as a way of life, the highest calling of a select few. For him the highest good is knowledge. He wrote nothing but dramatically influenced the course of intellectual history.
It was his custom to engage in converse with all sorts and conditions of men and women, on the streets, in the market-place, in the gymnasia, discussing the most diverse topics: war, politics, marriage, friendship, love, housekeeping, the arts and trades, poetry, religion, science, and, particularly, moral matters. Nothing human was foreign to him. Life with all its interests became the subject of his inquiries, and only the physical side of the world left him cold; he declared that he could learn nothing from trees and stones. He was subtle and keen, quick to discover the fallacies in an argument and skillful in steering the conversation to the very heart of the matter. Though kindly and gentle in disposition, and brimming over with good humor, he delighted in exposing the quacks and humbugs of his time and pricking their empty bubbles with his wit.
In order to reach the truth, so his thought ran, we must not trust every chance opinion that enters our heads. Confused, vague, and empty thoughts fill our minds; we have a lot of undigested opinions which we have never examined, a lot of prejudices which we have accepted on faith, and of which we do not understand the meaning; we make a lot of arbitrary assertions for which we have no warrant. In fact, we have no knowledge at all, no convictions; we have built our intellectual house on sand; the whole edifice will tumble to pieces upon the slightest attack. It is our business to clear up our ideas, to understand the real meaning of terms, to define correctly the notions we employ, to know exactly what we are talking about. Then, too, we should have reasons for our views; prove our assertions,—think, not guess,—put our theories to the test, verify them by the facts, and modify and correct them in accordance with the facts.
In discussing a subject, Socrates generally sets out from the popular and hastily formed opinions of his company. These he tests by means of illustrations taken from everyday life, showing, wherever possible and necessary that they are not well-founded, and that they are in need of modification and correction. He helps those taking part in the dialogue to form the correct opinion, by suggesting instances of all kinds, and does not rest content until the truth has developed step by step.
A well-known example will make this clear. By skillful questioning Socrates gets a young man named Euthydemus to confess his ambition to become a great politician and statesman. Socrates suggests to him that, in that case, he must, naturally, hope to be a just man himself. The young man thinks he is that already. We go on with the story as it is told by Xenophon.
” But, says Socrates, there must be certain acts which are the proper products of justice, as of other functions or skills. No doubt. Then of course you can tell us what those acts and products are? Of course I can, and the products of injustice as well. Very good; then suppose we write down in two opposite columns what acts are products of justice and what of injustice. I agree, says Euthydemus. Well now, what of falsehood? In which column shall we put it? Why, of course in the unjust column. And cheating? In the same column. And stealing? In it too. And enslaving? Yes. Not one of these can go to the just column? Why, that would be an unheard-of thing. Well but, says Socrates, suppose a general has to deal with some enemy of his country that has done it great wrong; if he conquer and enslave this enemy, is that wrong? Certainly not. If he carries off the enemy’s goods or cheats him in his strategy, what about these acts? Oh, of course they are quite right. But I thought you were talking about deceiving or ill-treating friends. Then in some cases we shall have to put these very same acts in both columns?
I suppose so. Well, now, suppose we confine ourselves to friends. Imagine a general with an army under him discouraged and disorganized. Suppose he tells them that reserves are coming up, and by cheating them into this belief, he saves them from their discouragement, and enables them to win a victory. What about this cheating of one’s friends? Why, I suppose we shall have to put this too on the just side. Or suppose a lad needs medicine, but refuses to take it, and his father cheats him into the belief that it is something nice, and getting him to take it, saves his life; what about that cheat? That will have to go to the just side too. Or suppose you find a friend in desperate frenzy, and steal his sword from him for fear he should kill himself; what do you say to that theft? That will have to go there too. But I thought you said there must be no cheating of friends ? Well, I must take it all back, if you please. Very good. But now there is another point I should like to ask you. Whether do you think the man more unjust who is a voluntary violator of justice, or he who is an involuntary violator of it? Upon my word, Socrates, I no longer have any confidence in my answers. For the whole thing has turned out to be exactly the contrary of what I previously imagined.”
In this way, by a process of induction, Socrates evolves definitions. With the help of examples, a provisional definition is formed; this is tested by other examples, and broadened or narrowed to meet the requirements until a satisfactory result has been reached. What Bacon would call negative instances play an important role in the process, that is, cases which contradict the provisional definition offered? The aim is always to discover the essential characteristics of the subject to be defined, to reach clear and distinct notions, or concepts.
At other times, Socrates tests the statements made, by going back at once to first principles, by criticising them in the light of correct definitions. Here the method is deductive. You say, for example, that this man is a better citizen than that one. Your assertion, however, is a mere subjective opinion, having no value whatever unless you can give reasons for it. You should know what a good citizen you should define your terms. Knowledge, then, is possible, after all. We can attain truth if we pursue the proper method, if we define our terms correctly, if we go back to first principles. Knowledge is concerned with the general and typical, not with the particular and accidental.