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SOCRATES THE PHILOSOPHER
Socrates is a noteworthy and important historical figure as a philosopher, because of his and his pupils’ influence on the development of the philosophical world. His teachings, famous arguments, and ideas began the outgrowth of all later western philosophies.
Born in 469 BC just outside of Athens, Socrates was brought up properly, and thoroughly educated. He was raised as most Athenians; developing both physical and mental strengths. Socrates then went on to learn from Archelaus the philosopher. Here he studied astronomy, mathematics, and was introduced to philosophy, which was a new concept at the time. Archelaus taught of explanations for the world with a scientific approach. Socrates, however, turned away from this idea and created his own. He decided that instead of trying to understand the universe, a person should try to understand himself. To express his philosophy, Socrates spent his days in the marketplace of Athens, telling people of his ideas. His voice was heard, and he was soon declared to be the wisest of all men.
Socrates’ was skilled in the art of arguing. He developed a method by which he would win every debate. His favorite hobby was going to the marketplace and debating philosophical issues with other men in front of an audience. The result of these debates was that Socrates embarrassed the wise men in front of the crowd. This caused many to dislike him.
After being named the wisest man, Socrates attempted to prove that this was not true. He debated with many men in the streets. These debates are some of his most famous argument methods. He started the discussion by stating that he knew nothing. As a result of the debate, he was able to prove that although his opponents claimed that they were wise, they knew nothing either. Socrates concluded that he really was the wisest man because unlike the others, he knew that he knew nothing.
Socrates had many ideas and philosophies concerning issues other than the knowledge of oneself. These included explanations of the universe, the belief in god, and life’s goals. Other, earlier philosophers, had many different interpretation for the makeup of the world. Some believed that it was made out of numbers, others thought that it was made of a single substance, or many different substances, while still conflicting philosophers theorized that everything was formed out of atoms, and even illusions. Socrates had his own, different ideas. He believed that the world was made of forms that are not within the reach of our senses, but only of our thoughts. This means, for example, that when we think of characteristics such as roundness, we only picture ideas of it like a ball or a wheel. Therefore, he assumed that we only understand specific things that participate in our lives.
In his search for the inner truth of oneself, Socrates theorized the explanation to the question of what the goals of life are. He concluded that everyone tries to find the meaning of happiness and goodness in their existence. This is the purpose of life. However, true happiness comes in many forms and is disguised in a way that people spend their lives looking for goodness, but finding only the evil in which it is concealed. The only way to discover true happiness, goodness, and the right way, is to fully understand oneself.
Socrates did not believe in the Greek gods or religion. He had his personal view of god. Socrates felt that there must be some form of divine power because everyone seemed to believe in some kind of god and religion. He also believed in a sort of immortality. He hypothesized that there was an afterlife. His explanation for it was that people who had achieved goodness in their lives knew where they were going afterwards, and that evil people tried to ignore the fact that immortality existed. He preached that the soul was a person’s true being, and that our goodness in life reflected on the goodness of our souls. According to Socrates, each individual should try to make his soul as moral as possible so that it can be like god, which will allow the achievement of an afterlife.
Debating in the marketplace of Athens was not Socrates’ only daily activity. He also taught his philosophies to a group of students in a small classroom. These students were much like disciples. They respected and followed in the philosophies of their teacher. Socrates’ most famous pupil, Plato, went on to become a great philosopher like his mentor.
Socrates lived through and fought in the Peloponnesian War. After Athens’ defeat, the democracy was replaced by a tyranny. This did not bother Socrates much because his belief in government was a rather simple and apathetic one. He thought that no matter what kind of government subsists; it should be followed solely because a form of law and order must exist in a society to control it.
One of the tyranny’s leaders was a former pupil of Socrates and hated his teacher. He tried to make life harder for Socrates by banning the teaching of philosophy in the streets. Socrates ignored him. In response to this, the tyrant tried to kill Socrates; but the tyranny was overthrown right on time to prevent this. A new democratic government came into power, the leader of which, Anytus, also hated Socrates because his son, who was the philosopher’s pupil, turned away from the family’s business to become a philosopher. Anytus had Socrates arrested on charges of corrupting Athens’ young and turning them away from Paganism, the Greek religion involving a belief in many gods. Anytus announced the death penalty as a punishment for this crime. It was obviously an outrageous sentence for a crime that was not even committed. Socrates was brought before a jury and instead of using his debating skills to defend himself, he did nothing in his own defense because he was convinced that the entire trial was a joke. The jury voted on the death penalty. Now Socrates had a chance to appeal to the court. He was entitled to suggest forms of
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