An essay on Socrates and his conception of philosophy
Done by Arsen Sogoyan , year 1, group 1
Teacher: Krister Sairsingh
It is no wonder when we are asked about philosophy, Socrates is the name that comes to mind first. He was one of the greatest thinkers of the ancient times whose style of questioning and reasoning even nowadays amazes people (me, for instance).
When Socrates was young he attended lessons of Archelaus and got interested in the theories of the early Presocratics. Socrates is even said to have met one of them - Parmenides. They say that the two had a serious talk. The elder philosopher, Parmenides, thought that our world is nothing but an illusion, the true reality is eternal God that stays unchanged forever. In that case what is the sense of engaging in exploring our world, its laws and miracles if it doesn't exist? This problem raised by Parmenides happened to be the reason why Socrates had an 'antiscientific' perspective and turned the whole philosophy away from reality.
It is a great pity for the humankind that science was not developing properly for centuries after Socrates.
While Presocratics asked questions of the type: what does the world consist of? - and gave various controversial answers, Socrates reformed the aim of a philosopher: "Learn yourself", thus setting an image of a true philosopher observing the man and his inner world but not the organization of the world. Here in my opinion lies the main difference between the Presocratic thought and the views of Socrates. Another interesting point is that the famous method of philosophical talks - dialectics - probably originates from Parmenides because Socrates himself was exposed to the similar way of questioning as he did when he had a talk with Parmenides.Ã¯Â¿Â½
Socrates was an outstanding philosopher who could state his own point of view, that is why the democratic elite of Athens (who disliked Socrates for his criticism of democracy) blamed him for impiety and corrupting the youth and in the year 399 BC the thinker was arrested.
Just before the process in court Socrates meets Euthyphro, a well-known theologian, at the porch of the court. The two great men have a wonderful talk, carefully narrated to us by Plato. The discussion is about piety. And here two points of view meet: one of the crowd, and one of Socrates, the wisest person on Earth as oracle of Delphi had announced. Socrates asks his opponent to give a universal definition of piety that could be used as a benchmark for people wishing to do virtuous things. The main question of the dialogue that Socrates asks is the question that puzzled Euthyphro the most: Do the gods approve an action because it is pious, or is it pious because it is approved? Socrates proves that the first option is correct which implies that Euthyphro was mistaken in his views. Finally, the discussion comes to where it had began initially and the question of piety remains unsolved.
While Socrates was in prison his friends and true disciples visited him. One of these sad meetings was recorded by Plato and it is his famous dialogue "Crito". In that dialogue Socrates skillfully objects to Crito who tries to persuade his old friend to escape from prosecution. In that dialogue Socrates states that every respectful citizen has to obey the laws however strict and unfair they are. Here is the imaginary question that the laws may ask Socrates: "Well, then, since you were brought into the world and nurtured and educated by us, can you deny in the first place that you are our child and slave, as your fathers were before you?" Ã¯Â¿Â½ Therefore, the main point of the dialogue is the Socrates' attitude towards state and his laws that are considered more important than a single citizen and his preferences.
Probably the most famous dialogue involving Socrates is the "Apology" - the defensive speech given out by Socrates at the court in response to the accusations. In this speech Socrates tries to oppose the judges by justifying his own actions but I think that Socrates underestimated the seriousness of the process and turned his speech of defense into another dialogue where he can 'sting' the opponent continuously with his witty conclusions. Socrates said that even if he died the memory about him would live for next generations but those who had blamed Socrates would be punished. The biggest consideration of Socrates is not to escape and save his life but to talk to others about moral excellence - virtue.
The true justice for Socrates is the notion of what is good that helps a man, that is useful for him. It is the notion that ensures happiness and prosperity. According to Socrates, the virtue can be achieved only by noble citizens, hence the strong distinction between classes in his philosophy. Socrates preferred aristocracy to other classes, therefore his philosophy reflected the ideology of that class.
The main virtues according to Socrates are reason, spirit and passion that can be received only by studying the world and yourself. Socrates did this himself, that is why we can call him an ideal philosopher. Socrates was a "great aspiring soul", he forgot about his personal life and concentrated on the service of truth.Ã¯Â¿Â½ That is why he led his life with almost no possessions at all thus getting rid of anything that could interrupt him from his intellectual search.
Aristotle, another famous philosopher of the ancient Greece, had sometimes a different view on the subjects discussed by Socrates and Plato. His works are not as religious as the Plato's. But being a Plato's disciple, Aristotle soon discovered several flaws in the works of his teacher that is why the two great thinkers had quite a cold relationship.
Aristotle believed that the aim of the mankind is happiness, which can be achieved by using all the best qualities of ourselves. "Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a particular way...you become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions" - he says. Aristotle developed a theory according to which every virtuous deed is the middle point between two extremes, excess and deficiency. "Never too much" is the main statement of this theory. If you do something right, this action is the mean, according to Aristotle. The examples of such virtues are: courage, temperance, generosity, being friendly and magnanimity.Ã¯Â¿Â½
Socrates, as well as his follower Plato, found a close connection between virtue and knowledge but Aristotle saw the virtue as the activity of the soul.
In my opinion the two philosophers made a step forward in the development of the world but at the same time there was a huge step back because it is for their errors that the development of science almost stopped at that time. And whatever they thought, it is happiness that can be called the chief virtue and at that point the two thinkers agree, but view it from another perspective.
Kemerling, G. (2001). Aristotle: Ethics. [Web document]: http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/2s.htm#virtue [Available]: 06/12/05
Plato. Crito. [translated into English]
Russel, B. (1993). History of Western Philosophy. Moscow: MIF.
Sairsingh, K. (2005). Lectures.
Ã¯Â¿Â½ Bertrand Russell, "History of Western Philosophy", Chapter XI
Ã¯Â¿Â½ Plato, "Crito"
Ã¯Â¿Â½ Ã¯Â¿Â½ HYPERLINK "http://mief.hse.ru/icom/index.php?s=905fd8fce029b02d8697b63b073167cb&act=Profile&MID=374" Ã¯Â¿Â½ KristerÃ¯Â¿Â½ Sairsingh, the lecture on Socrates
Ã¯Â¿Â½ Kemberling, "Aristotle: Ethics"