20th century depiction of Socrates

(c 470 BC - 399 BC)

Greek Philosoher of Ethics


The Life of Socrates

Socrates was a philosopher who specialised in the study of Ethics. His ideas influenced Plato (his pupil) who, in turn, taught Aristotle, the teacher of Alexander The Great. He is considered as one of the most important figures in Western Philosophy.

He was born in either 469 and 470 BC, the son of a sculptor, Sophroniscus and a midwife, Phaenarete. He served as a soldier in the wars between Athens and Sparta and later involved himself with Athenian politics before working as a stone mason. Socrates was married (to Xanthippe) and had three sons.

After his father's death, an inheritance meant that Socrates did not have to work. He spent much of the rest of his life discussing and debating with the young people of Athens about truth, morality and virtue, arguing that you could devise an ethical system of morality without the need of a deity or deities. He gathered disciples and followers but never took payment for his teaching. Socrates inspired great loyalty among his pupils.

Socrates encouraged critical analysis of ideas and issues and the questioning of assumptions and commonly held beliefs. He taught that accepting our own ignorance was an important step in understanding and acquiring knowledge. One commonly used tool that he devised is called The Socratic Method where a series of questions is asked to encourage a fundamental insight into the topic being debated. This is considered the forerunner of the Scientific Method of observation, hypothesis, experiment and theory.

His influence on the young and his political dabblings made him enemies and he was tried in Athens, accused of corrupting the young and blasphemy. He was convicted and sentenced to death. Socrates was offered the chance to escape from prison by his friends who offered to bribe the guards. Socrates refused declaring that he had lived by the laws of Athens and had enjoyed the city's protection as a citizen and so should take the punishment decreed by the legal system. Another reason for not escaping was that Socrates believed a true philosopher should not fear death.

He died, an old man surrounded by his friends and followers, by drinking hemlock, a poison, in 399 BC.

The Death of Socrates
The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David

Socrates left to written legacy so most of what we know about his life and ideas comes from writers contemporary to him like Xenophon and his pupil, Plato.

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Books From and

KryssTal Related Pages

Inventions from the period that includes this period of Greek culture.

These are words found in English from Greek, the language of Socrates.

External Socrates Links

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The life and work of Socrates.

From the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.