Socrates came from a poor family. His father was a sculptor, and his mother was a midwife. His first public performances were conducted during the era of Pericles, before the beginning of the Peloponnesian War. Socrates was the first Athenian philosopher. As a citizen of Athens, he took part in the Peloponnesian War. However, it should be pointed out that his fate was unusual and extraordinary. This philosopher might be considered one of the most mysterious phenomena of Ancient Greece. Socrates did not leave any writing notes, and all the researches are based mainly on the testimony of his faithful follower Plato. Even the Socrates’ speech from the Athenian court came to people, as Plato’s treatise “Apology of Socrates”.
In ordinary life, Socrates differed a lot from his contemporaries. He had no concerns about daily bread, public recognition, or material achievements. One could notice him in various parts of Athens, speaking with people. With the help of his conversations, Socrates tried to understand himself and to convey his viewpoints to others.
Socrates became famous as debater, philosopher, and educator. He was the first Athenian philosopher, who devoted all his time to philosophical discussions with young people, philosophers, and artists. He was one of the founders of the philosophical dialectics. Socrates was dissatisfied with the Ancient Greek natural philosophy, and turned to the analysis of human consciousness and thought. Socrates was accused of being hostile to democracy; however, it should be pointed out that he criticized all forms of government: monarchy, tyranny, aristocracy, plutocracy, and democracy, in case of their violation of the justice.
Socrates began the new turn in philosophy, by examining the nature and the world, from the viewpoint of human rights. At that time, natural philosophers struggled to resolve the problem: “what are the nature and the ultimate reality of things?” Socrates realized that natural philosophy is indifferent to a man, and modified his basic philosophical questioning: “what are the nature and the main content of a human being?” Socrates emphasized ethics, but not physics. He thought that the philosophy of a man should get a key position in philosophical studies. Socrates laid an emphasis that a man is a wise knower. The philosopher considered that human soul distinguishes a man from other creatures. According to him, a soul is a man’s ability that helps him to recognize, to develop the mental ability, to be honest, moral, and virtuous. The soul’s potential is realized through knowledge. He thought that the human body does not prevail over the soul, as the soul uses the body as its instrument. Socrates was engaged in bodily and spiritual exercises. According to him, when the person develops his/her virtues, he/she reaches harmony of the soul, and even physical violence cannot destroy it. This is the essence of happiness. Researcher Soccio in his book “Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy” (2010) states:
“Socrates’ entire teaching mission centered on his conviction that we are our souls. That is, the “real person” is not the body, but the psyche. Perhaps, the most important passage in the “Apology” concerns description of himself as a kind of “physician of the soul”. In Socrates’ sense, “seeking my own welfare” means “seeking the welfare of my soul” (111).
The years of Socrates life coincide with the period of cosmological theories’ proliferation. The Sophistic movement was extremely popular at that time. Socrates was one of the most ardent critics of Sophists. Sophists taught Greeks the eloquence and ability to argue. One should take into account, that, the ability to speak and persuade, was vital at that period of time. Sophists taught this art; however, their main drawback was that they were not interested in the truth. Sophists used logical techniques in order to show their truth. Typical characteristics of the Sophistic movement:
· Critical attitude towards the environment;
· Desire to check everything on practice;
· Rejection of the traditional foundation;
· Denial of old traditions, habits, and rules;
· Effort to prove the state convention and law;
· Perception and morality as a subject for criticism;
· Subjectivity in the estimates and judgments.
A number of researchers state that Socrates was the part of the Sophistic movement; however, it should be stated that he criticized it. One should take into account that Sophists considered that truth could be found only inside a man and Socrates thought that the fundamental feature of a man is his mind that can give the obligatory knowledge. However, this knowledge might be perceived through considerable effort. “Socrates believed that people with questioning minds could not be swayed by sophistic eloquence or delude themselves into thinking that they knew something when they really did not” (Perry et.al., 79).
Socrates was close to Pythagoras in his philosophical considerations. As well as the latter, Socrates was concerned about the fate of Greece. Socrates teaching might be considered crucial for the Greek nation. Socrates neglected various cosmological theories and wanted Athenians to evaluate their spiritual and moral baggage. “Know yourself” was the motto inscribed on the temple of Apollo at Delphi, and it was the methodological installation of Socrates’ teaching. This philosopher tried to turn the human mind from the contemplation of space to self-assessment of internal nature.
Socrates used several methods while conducting his studies. One of them was a question-answer method. This method was also used by other philosophers. For instance, sophists liked disputes; however, they were interested in the very process, rather in the arguments. Socrates never reached the idle chatter, as his aim was finding the gist. In contrast to natural philosophers, Socrates asked questions about the human mind, morality, purpose of human life, politics, and aesthetics. Socrates, in fact, was the first philosopher, who turned to the essence of a man. He tried to figure out the good and evil, justice and the law, beautiful and ugly. In other words, he tried to find the answers to questions that were not specific to the philosophical world.
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Another method, used by Socrates, was maieutic. It is a special form of conversation, in which the ability to conduct a dialogue, meant the ability to ask leading questions.
Socrates also used the method of irony in his studies. He asked ironic questions, and attracted the interlocutor by his “ignorance”. It might be pointed out that Socrates’ irony served as a dialectical trap. Socrates’ irony seemed to come from the mysterious demonic force, which put the philosopher over the people, no matter how smart and talented they were. The key to his inner excellence lied in his invulnerability. Confidence and solidity of a man were always felt in his confusing speeches. Socrates’ internal validity was based on his beliefs about the possibility of rational comprehension, and understanding the essence of life.
It is vital that while testing people’s wisdom, Socrates did not claim himself to be wise. He thought that if a man smugly believes that he knows everything, then such a person is inappropriate for the philosophy. Socrates used to say: “I know that I do not know anything”. This expression reveals the philosopher’s creed, “I do not know anything”. Researcher Peterson has a very interesting opinion on this issue. In his book “Socrates and Philosophy in the Dialogues of Plato” (2011) he points out:
“He decided that his not supposing that he knows what he doesn’t know is a small bit of wisdom. That may seem an odd thing for Socrates to count as wisdom. Wisdom – a kind of knowledge – should have some definite content. Not to suppose something does not seem a grasp of some specific content. Socrates clearly implies, however, that he has the knowledge whose content is: that he doesn’t know the biggest things. The implication is clear because his saying that he is conscious that he knows almost nothing comes close to saying, “I know that “know almost nothing”. If we grant that the proposition that one knows almost nothing is itself almost nothing, Socrates is in no danger of contradiction” (42).
In conclusion, it should be stated that Socrates was one of the most famous personalities in the world’s philosophy. A man and his soul were the subjects of his investigation. Most of his time Socrates devoted to conversations with people and as a result, he mastered his knowledge and was able to communicate his philosophic viewpoints. Unfortunately, he has not left any written works, for that reason, people got to know about his personality from the works of his follower Plato. He used to be the ardent critic of the Sophistic movement and the opponent of the Ancient Greek natural philosophy. He thought that philosophical studies should research the internal world of a human being. Socrates turned philosophy into a new, unknown direction, and started emphasizing not physics, but moral and spiritual baggage of a man.