(Athens, 470 BC – id., 399 BC) Greek philosopher. Despite the fact that he did not leave any written work and there are few ideas that can be safely attributed to him, Socrates is a leading figure of ancient thought, to the point of being called pre- Socratic philosophers before him. Breaking with the previous predominant orientations, his reflection focused on the human being, particularly on ethics, and his ideas passed to the two great pillars on which the history of Western philosophy rests: Plato, who was his direct disciple, and Aristotle , who was in turn Plato.
Few things are known with certainty about the biography of Socrates. He was the son of a midwife, Faenarete, and a sculptor, Sophroniscus, related to Aristides the Just . In his youth he followed his father’s trade and received a good education; it is possible that he was a disciple of Anaxagoras , and also that he knew the doctrines of the Eleatic philosophers ( Xenophanes , Parmenides , Zeno ) and the school of Pythagoras .
Although he did not participate directly in politics, he fulfilled his civic duties in an exemplary manner. He served as an infantryman in the battles of Samos (440), Potidaea (432), Delio (424) and Amphipolis (422), episodes of the Peloponnesian wars in which he showed extraordinary resistance, bravery and serenity. He was the teacher and friend of Alcibiades , a soldier and politician who would gain prominence in Athenian public life after the death of Pericles ; at the battle of Potidaea, Socrates saved the life of Alcibiades, who repaid his debt by saving Socrates at the battle of Dellius.
With the assets left to him by his father when he died, he was able to live modestly and austerely, without financial concerns that prevented him from dedicating himself to philosophizing. It is certain that Socrates married, at a somewhat advanced age, Xanthippe, who bore him two daughters and a son. A certain tradition has perpetuated the topic of the contemptuous wife before the activity of the husband and prone to behave in a brutal and coarse way. As for his appearance, Socrates is always described as a stocky man, with a protruding belly, bulging eyes and thick lips, in the same way that he is also attributed a disheveled appearance.
Most of what is known about Socrates comes from three of his contemporaries: the historian Xenophon, the playwright Aristophanes, and the philosopher Plato. Xenophon portrayed Socrates as a sage absorbed in the idea of identifying knowledge and virtue, but with a personality in which some somewhat vulgar traits were not lacking. Aristophanes made him the object of his satires in a comedy, The Clouds (423), where he is caricatured as a deceitful artist of speech and is identified with the other representatives of the sophistry, which emerged in the heat of the consolidation of democracy in the century of Pericles. These two testimonies nuance the image of Socrates offered by Plato in his Dialogues, in which he appears as the main figure, an image that is sometimes excessively idealized, even when it is considered to be possibly the fairest.
Apparently, and for a good part of his life, Socrates would have wandered around the squares, markets, arenas and gymnasiums of Athens, where he would take on young aristocrats or ordinary people (merchants, peasants or artisans) as interlocutors to hold long conversations. conversations, often resembling lengthy interrogations. This behavior corresponded, however, to the essence of his teaching system, maieutics .
Socrates himself compared such a method with the midwife’s office that his mother exercised: it was about leading an interlocutor to illuminate the truth, to discover it for himself as already lodged in his soul, through a dialogue in which the philosopher he proposed a series of questions and opposed his objections to the answers received, so that in the end it would be possible to recognize if the initial opinions of his interlocutor were a deceptive appearance or true knowledge.
In his philosophical conversations, at least as reflected in Plato ‘s Dialogues , Socrates follows, in effect, a series of precise guidelines that make up the so-called Socratic dialogue . He often begins the conversation by praising the wisdom of his interlocutor and presenting himself as ignorant: such pretense is the so-called Socratic irony , which presides over the first part of the dialogue. In it, Socrates proposed a question (for example, what is virtue?) and praised the interlocutor’s response, but then opposed his objections to the answers received with successive questions or counterexamples, plunging his interlocutor into confusion, who ended up acknowledging that he knew nothing about the matter.
Such an achievement was an essential point: something cannot be taught to someone who already thinks he knows it. The first step to reach wisdom is to know that nothing is known, or, in other words, to become aware of our ignorance. Once his own ignorance was admitted, the maieutics proper began: through dialogue, with new questions and reasoning, Socrates was leading his interlocutors to the discovery (or birth) of a precise answer to the question posed, in such a subtle way that the truth seemed to come from within him, like a discovery of his own.
By dispensing with the cosmological preoccupations that had occupied his predecessors since the time of Thales of Miletus , Socrates marked a fundamental turn in the history of Greek philosophy, inaugurating the so-called anthropological period. The moral issue of knowledge of the good was at the center of Socrates’ teachings. As has been seen, the first step to attaining knowledge consisted in accepting one’s own ignorance, and in the field of his ethical reflections, knowledge played a fundamental role. Socrates thinks that man cannot do good if he does not know it, that is, if he does not have the concept of it and the criteria that allow it to be discerned.
The human being aspires to happiness, and towards it directs his actions. Only virtuous conduct, on the other hand, brings happiness. And among all the virtues, the most important is wisdom, which includes the rest. He who possesses wisdom possesses all the virtues because, according to Socrates, no one does evil knowingly: if, for example, someone deceives his neighbor, it is because, in his ignorance, he does not realize that deception is evil. . The wise man knows that honesty is a good thing, because the benefits it brings him (trust, reputation, esteem, honour) are far superior to those that deception can bring him (riches, power, a convenient marriage).
The ignorant do not realize this: if they knew, they would cultivate honesty and not deceit. Consequently, the wise man is necessarily virtuous (because knowing what is good and practicing it is, for Socrates, the same thing), and the ignorant man is necessarily vicious. From this conception it is necessary to emphasize that virtue is not something innate that arises spontaneously in certain men, while others lack it. Quite the contrary: since wisdom contains the other virtues, virtue can be learned; through understanding we can attain wisdom, and with it virtue.
Thus, wisdom, virtue and happiness are inseparable. Knowing the good leads us to observe virtuous conduct, and virtuous conduct leads to happiness. Happiness does not lie in pleasure (Socratic ethics is not hedonistic), unless something much higher is considered as pleasure: the intimate peace and satisfaction that a virtuous life produces. In the words of Socrates quoted by Xenophon, no pleasure exceeds that of “feeling transformed into a better one and contributing to the betterment of one’s friends.” The virtuous life leads to balance and human perfection, to inner freedom and autonomy with respect to what enslaves us, and through it peace of the soul is achieved, the undisturbed intimate joy, the inner satisfaction that brings us closer to the divine.
However, in Plato’s Dialogues it is difficult to distinguish which part of what is exposed corresponds to the historical Socrates and which already belongs to the philosophy of his disciple. Socrates did not leave written doctrine, nor was he absent from Athens (except to serve as a soldier), contrary to the custom of not a few philosophers of the time, and especially the sophists. If, as it seems, the aforementioned ethical ideas belong to Socrates himself, his philosophy is situated at the antipodes of the skepticism and moral relativism of the sophists ( Protagoras , Gorgias ), despite which, and because of his dialectical skill, he was able to be considered in his time as one of them, as reflected in the aforementioned comedy of Aristophanes.
With his behavior, Socrates earned enemies who, in the context of instability in which Athens found itself after the Peloponnesian wars, ended up considering that his friendship was dangerous for aristocrats such as his disciples Alcibiades or Critias; officially accused of impiety and corrupting youth, he was sentenced to drink hemlock after, in his defense, he had shown the inconsistency of the charges against him. According to Plato in the Apologyleft by his teacher, Socrates could have avoided the sentence, thanks to the friends he still had, but he preferred to abide by it and die, because as a citizen he felt obliged to comply with the law of the city, although in some cases, like his, was unfair; worse would have been the absence of law. The serenity and greatness of spirit that he demonstrated in his last moments are vividly narrated in the last pages of the Phaedo .
-Well I am certainly wiser than this man. It is only too likely that neither of us has any knowledge to boast of; but he thinks that he knows something which he does not know, whereas I am quite conscious of my ignorance. At any rate it seems that I am wiser than he is to this small extent, that I do not think that I know what I do not know.
-The beginning of wisdom is a definition of terms.
-What a lot of things there are a man can do without.
-I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.
-Slanderers do not hurt me because they do not hit me.
-I was afraid that by observing objects with my eyes and trying to comprehend them with each of my other senses I might blind my soul altogether.
-He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.
-If a man is proud of his wealth, he should not be praised until it is known how he employs it.
-Where there is reverence there is fear, but there is not reverence everywhere that there is fear, because fear presumably has a wider extension than reverence.
-They are not only idle who do nothing, but they are idle also who might be better employed.
-Our prayers should be for blessings in general, for God knows best what is good for us.
-I only wish that ordinary people had an unlimited capacity for doing harm; then they might have an unlimited power for doing good.
-How many are the things I can do without!
-I was really too honest a man to be a politician and live.
-Ordinary people seem not to realize that those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death.
-See one promontory, one mountain, one sea, one river and see all.
-A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true.
-By all means marry. If you get a good wife you will become happy, and if you get a bad one you will become a philosopher.
-When desire, having rejected reason and overpowered judgment which leads to right, is set in the direction of the pleasure which beauty can inspire, and when again under the influence of its kindred desires it is moved with violent motion towards the beauty of corporeal forms, it acquires a surname from this very violent motion, and is called love.
-I pray Thee, O God, that I may be beautiful within.
-Nature has given us two ears, two eyes, and but one tongue-to the end that we should hear and see more than we speak.
-In childhood be modest, in youth temperate, in adulthood just, and in old age prudent.
-The end of life is to be like God, and the soul following God will be like Him.
-We are in fact convinced that if we are ever to have pure knowledge of anything, we must get rid of the body and contemplate things by themselves with the soul by itself. It seems, to judge from the argument, that the wisdom which we desire and upon which we profess to have set our hearts will be attainable only when we are dead and not in our lifetime.
-Nothing is to be preferred before justice.
-Let him that would move the world, first move himself.
-The comic and the tragic lie inseparably close, like light and shadow.
-I am not an Athenian, nor a Greek, but a citizen of the world.
-Call no man unhappy until he is married.
-Happiness is unrepentant pleasure.
-Wars and revolutions and battles are due simply and solely to the body and its desires. All wars are undertaken for the acquisition of wealth; and the reason why we have to acquire wealth is the body, because we are slaves in its service.
-No man undertakes a trade he has not learned, even the meanest; yet everyone thinks himself sufficiently qualified for the hardest of all trades, that of government.
-The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.
-The nearest way to glory is to strive to be what you wish to be thought to be.
-Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm and constant.
-Worthless people love only to eat and drink; people of worth eat and drink only to live.
-Once made equal to man, woman becomes his superior.
-Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?
-Fame is the perfume of heroic deeds.
-The envious person grows lean with the fatness of their neighbor.
-An education obtained with money is worse than no education at all.
-Whom do I call educated? First, those who manage well the circumstances they encounter day by day. Next, those who are decent and honorable in their intercourse with all men, bearing easily and good naturedly what is offensive in others and being as agreeable and reasonable to their associates as is humanly possible to be… those who hold their pleasures always under control and are not ultimately overcome by their misfortunes… those who are not spoiled by their successes, who do not desert their true selves but hold their ground steadfastly as wise and sober — minded men.
-False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.
-The fewer our wants the more we resemble the Gods.
-Life contains but two tragedies. One is not to get your heart’s desire; the other is to get it.
-Whenever, therefore, people are deceived and form opinions wide of the truth, it is clear that the error has slid into their minds through the medium of certain resemblances to that truth.
-If I tell you that I would be disobeying the god and on that account it is impossible for me to keep quiet, you won’t be persuaded by me, taking it that I am ionizing. And if I tell you that it is the greatest good for a human being to have discussions every day about virtue and the other things you hear me talking about, examining myself and others, and that the unexamined life is not livable for a human being, you will be even less persuaded.
-The hour of departure has arrived and we go our ways; I to die, and you to live. Which is better? Only God knows.
-To fear death, my friends, is only to think ourselves wise, without being wise: for it is to think that we know what we do not know. For anything that men can tell, death may be the greatest good that can happen to them: but they fear it as if they knew quite well that it was the greatest of evils. And what is this but that shameful ignorance of thinking that we know what we do not know?
-Think not those faithful who praise all thy words and actions, but those who kindly reprove thy faults.
-Give me beauty in the inward soul; may the outward and the inward man be at one.
-He is rich who is content with the least; for contentment is the wealth of nature.
-Remember, no human condition is ever permanent. Then you will not be overjoyed in good fortune nor too scornful in misfortune.
-Beauty is a short-lived tyranny.
-The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.
-There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.
-Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
-Every action has its pleasures and its price.
-Remember what is unbecoming to do is also unbecoming to speak of.
-Be as you wish to seem.
-Do not do to others what angers you if done to you by others.
-Bad men live that they may eat and drink, whereas good men eat and drink that they may live.
-I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing.
-Are you not ashamed of heaping up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and caring so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul?
-Remember that there is nothing stable in human affairs; therefore avoid undue elation in prosperity, or undue depression in adversity.
-We cannot live better than in seeking to become better.
-Smart people learn from everything and everyone, average people from their experiences, stupid people already have all the answers.
-Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.
-The shortest and surest way to live with honor in the world, is to be in reality what we would appear to be; and if we observe, we shall find, that all human virtues increase and strengthen themselves by the practice of them.
-No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.
-I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.
-If you don’t get what you want, you suffer; if you get what you don’t want, you suffer; even when you get exactly what you want, you still suffer because you can’t hold on to it forever. Your mind is your predicament. It wants to be free of change. Free of pain, free of the obligations of life and death. But change is law and no amount of pretending will alter that reality.
-There are two kinds of disease of the soul, vice and ignorance.
-Sometimes you put walls up not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down.
-Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.
-The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.
-Having the fewest wants, I am nearest to the gods.
-The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.
-Falling down is not a failure. Failure comes when you stay where you have fallen.
-Prefer knowledge to wealth, for the one is transitory, the other perpetual.
-Get not your friends by bare compliments, but by giving them sensible tokens of your love.
-All wars are fought for the acquisition of wealth.
-Thou shouldst eat to live; not live to eat.
-If you want to be a good saddler, saddle the worst horse; for if you can tame one, you can tame all.
-One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him.
-Be the kind of person that you want people to think you are.
-The greatest way to live with honour in this world is to be what we pretend to be.
-If all our misfortunes were laid in one common heap whence everyone must take an equal portion, most people would be content to take their own and depart.
-We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.
-Children nowadays are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannise their teachers.
-The greatest blessing granted to mankind come by way of madness, which is a divine gift.
-The years wrinkle our skin, but lack of enthusiasm wrinkles our soul.
-The highest realms of thought are impossible to reach without first attaining an understanding of compassion.
-The easiest and noblest way is not to be crushing others, but to be improving yourselves.”
-When you want wisdom and insight as badly as you want to breathe, it is then you shall have it.
-To move the world we must move ourselves.
-Through your rags I see your vanity.