Socrates

(469-399 BCE)

Socrates

Socrates bust in the Louvre, Paris

Socrates was a Classical Greek philosopher, born in Athens, the son of a stonemason.

Socrates left no writings, but we know of his teachings through the writings of his pupil Plato, who presented many of his works in the form of Dialogues in which Socrates was the main speaker, though it is probable that many of the ideas that are put into his mouth are those of Plato.

Information on his life is mainly in the ApologyCrito and Phaedo.

Socrates is also mentioned in works of his contemporary Xenophon, and was satirised as a sophist in plays of Aristophanes.

The ‘Socratic Method’ was to get people to say what they thought and then to question them to reveal inconsistencies. Earlier philosophy is termed ‘Pre-Socratic’. He increased the emphasis on ethics and the ‘considered life’.

He proved to be too successful in getting young men to think for themselves, so that they started to dispute with their elders. He was charged by the elders with leading youth astray, and sentenced to die, by drinking hemlock. He is often thought of as a martyr of rationalism.

His relationship with his wife Xanthippe was stormy, and he is represented as snub-nosed and with a paunch. He fought as a hoplite in the Peloponnesian war.

There are busts of Socrates on Leicester Secular Hall and in the British Museum, London.

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