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Socrates was born around 469-470 BCE.
He is famous for introducing a way of learning that engaged the students in a dialogue- the question would be put on the table- and thru rigorous debate- you would come to an understanding thru the process of questioning.
This is referred to as the Socratic Method.
Socrates came on the scene during the famous Spartan wars.
The other day I watched the movie 300- which depicts the battle between the city state of Athens against the city/state of Sparta.
As you know- the Athenians suffered a great defeat at the hands of the Spartans.
The Spartans were outmanned by the Athenians- but their motto was ‘come back with your shields- or on them’.
They were a true warrior nation- trained to fight from their youth- and this defeat sent the people of Athens into a time of disillusionment.
They questioned the power of their gods- and a sort of malaise fell over Athens after the defeat.
This was when Socrates entered the fray- when the people had many questions about life.
He was called the Gadfly of Athens- a title that would also be given to the 19th century Danish father of existentialism- Soren Kierkegaard.
They were called Gadfly’s- because they were like flies that would pester you- and elicit a response.
The leadership of Athens saw Socrates as one that was stirring up the youth of his day- and creating discontent among the populace.
He rejected the many god’s of the day- but did have a belief in a single deity- he- like the Christians 4 centuries later- would be accused of atheism- because of his rejection of multiple god’s.
He was sentenced to death in 399 BCE- and his form of execution was drinking Hemlock.
His most famous student- Plato- spoke with him before his death.
Many were surprised at how willingly Socrates faced his demise- and this willingness had a great impact on those who witnessed it.
Socrates never wrote anything- but most of what we do know about him comes from the writing of others- most notably from Plato’s Dialogues.
Plato wrote down what Socrates taught- In his writings we see Socrates engaging in this method with various people- thus the name of Plato’s works- Dialogues.
There is a debate about how much of what was written about him was actually true- Plato did add his own ideas into these debates- and the controversy about this is so strong that we actually have a name for it- the ‘Socratic Problem’.
During the time of the disillusionment of the Athenians- there were a group of philosophers known as the Sophists.
The word comes from Sophia- meaning wisdom.
Philosophy itself means The Love of Wisdom.
In our day the words Sophomore- Sophistry and Sophisticated are derived from this root word.
The Sophists were the original Pragmatists.
Pragmatism is a form of belief that says ‘do what works- regardless of the ethical implications’.
We will get to Pragmatism at the end of this whole series on Philosophy.
But for now- we see the division between what Socrates taught- and the Sophists.
Socrates did indeed teach a form of Ethics- which contrasted with the Sophists.
He said that the pursuit of virtue was better than the pursuit of wealth- much like the words of Jesus ‘what does it profit a man if he gain the world- and lose his soul’.
His most famous saying is ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’. [Some sites see here https://corpusoutreach.weebly.com/most-recent-posts/philosophy-44352426 ]
He emphasized the importance of mind over body- which inspired Plato’s philosophy of dividing reality into 2 separate realms- the world of senses and the world of ideas.
Socrates actually challenged the Democratic process- he believed it better for the wise men- the Philosopher Kings- to run the show.
Athens did have a form of Democracy at the time- and because of the rise of the Sophists- and the