One of the most important Greek philosophers to ever live was Socrates. Born around 470 B.C.E., Socrates is credited with developing Western methods of philosophy and logic.
There are only a few sources that tell the story of Socrates life and teachings.
The main sources of information about Socrates life comes from his former students Plato and Xenophon as well as the Greek play writer Aristophanes.
Socrates was not born into a noble family in Greece. His father Sophroniscus was a sculptor and stone mason, while his mother Phaenarete was a midwife.
As a child Socrates received a basic Greek education which included grammar, music and gymnastics.
He followed in his father’s footsteps as a stone mason as well as sculptor. After working as a stone mason and sculptor for many years, Socrates began to teach his Western philosophies to students like Plato and Xenophon.
Socrates’s family life
Socrates married a woman named Xanthippe and together they had three sons named Lamprocles, Menexenus as well as Sophroniscus.
Socrates did not spend much time with his three sons. He preferred to spend time with his students and his sons received a basic Greek education as children.
During their time together, Xanthippe was not happy about their financial status.
There are questions about how Socrates supported his family after he started teaching. Plato explained that Socrates never asked for money from his students.
But Xenophon and Aristophanes say Socrates collected payments from all of his students.
Life as a citizen soldier
Socrates was part of the Athenian Army. Males in ancient Greece between the ages of 18 and 60 were required to be a citizen soldier.
Socrates served as an infantry soldier known as a hoplite. Hoplites wore armor like a face mask, a shield and carried a long spear or pike. Socrates was a brave hoplite during the Peloponnesian War.
During three campaigns he fought with courage. While fighting, Socrates is credited with saving the life of a well-known Athenian general named Alcibiades.
Life as a teacher and philosopher
The streets of Athens were Socrates’s classroom. Socrates is credited with inventing the Socratic Method.
His Socratic Method challenged students to think through a problem by asking and solving questions through reasoning.
Sometimes the answers led to more questions. Answering more questions gave his students a better understanding of the problem or subject.
Socrates taught different ideas as a teacher. He believed the mind was more important than the human body. Socrates explained an ethical system based on human reasoning and not religion.
He noted in his teachings that the desire for happiness was the main motivator for people. Socrates taught his students the importance of self-reason in finding fairness and happiness.
He believed happiness was not gained from material possessions but rather by living a moral life.
Socrates taught his students that philosophy should lead towards the better well-being of society as a whole.
He reasoned that a perfect government was neither a democracy nor led by a tyrant.
Socrates felt the best form of government was led by people who held the most reasoning ability, virtue and knowledge of themselves.
Unfortunately for Socrates his teaching would lead to his death.
Socrates trial and death
Besides Plato and Xenophon as students, Socrates taught his philosophies to Critias.
When Athens was defeated by the Spartans in the Peloponnesian War, Critias was one of the Thirty Tyrants which took over power in Athens.
Eventually the citizen soldiers of Athens would regain power over the Thirty Tyrants and form a democracy.
The newly formed democracy believed Socrates teachings and philosophies created traitors like Critias. In 399 B.C.E., Socrates was placed on trial by the new democracy.
He faced charges of corrupting the youth and failing to acknowledge the gods of the city.
At his trial, Socrates was convicted and sentenced to death. Under Athenian law convicted people could offer a substitute punishment during sentencing.
Most criminals chose to be exiled. Socrates’s solution for punishment was to have the city honor him and pay him for his teachings.
The jury sentenced him to death and he was forced to drink a poisonous potion containing hemlock.
Socrates influenced numerous Greek philosophers including Aristotle and Plato. His most important contribution was developing the Socratic Method.
He was instrumental in developing ethical standards. His contributions have made a founding father of Western philosophy.
Facts about Socrates
- Socrates received a basic Greek education of grammar, music and gymnastics as a child.
- He worked as a stonemason and sculptor before becoming a teacher.
- Socrates was a courageous hoplite during the Peloponnesian War.
- He is considered to be the one of the fathers of Western philosophy.
- Socrates invented the Socratic Method of reasoning.
- He taught students that neither democracy nor a tyrant was the best form of government.
- Socrates believed a moral life was more important than material possessions.
- He did not receive payment from most students.
- Socrates taught important Greek philosophers like Plato.
- He was sentenced to death for corrupting the youth of Athens.
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