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Related to Socrates: Socratic method, Plato


(sŏk`rətēz), 469–399 B.C., Greek philosopher of Athens. Famous for his view of philosophy as a pursuit proper and necessary to all intelligent men, he is one of the great examples of a man who lived by his principles even though they ultimately cost him his life. Knowledge of the man and his teachings comes indirectly from certain dialogues of his disciple PlatoPlato
, 427?–347 B.C., Greek philosopher. Plato's teachings have been among the most influential in the history of Western civilization. Life

After pursuing the liberal studies of his day, he became in 407 B.C. a pupil and friend of Socrates. From about 388 B.
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 and from the Memorabilia of XenophonXenophon
, c.430 B.C.–c.355 B.C., Greek historian, b. Athens. He was one of the well-to-do young disciples of Socrates before leaving Athens to join the Greek force (the Ten Thousand) that was in the service of Cyrus the Younger of Persia.
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. In spite of conflicting interpretations of his teachings, the accounts of these two writers are largely supplementary.


Socrates was the son of Sophroniscus, a sculptor. It is said that in early life he practiced his father's art. In middle life he married Xanthippe, who is legendary as a shrew, although the stories have little basis in ascertainable fact. It is not certain who were Socrates's teachers in philosophy, but he seems to have been acquainted with the doctrines of ParmenidesParmenides
, b. c.515 B.C., Greek philosopher of Elea, leading figure of the Eleatic school. Parmenides' great contribution to philosophy was the method of reasoned proof for assertions.
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, HeraclitusHeraclitus
, c.535–c.475 B.C., Greek philosopher of Ephesus, of noble birth. According to Heraclitus, there was no permanent reality except the reality of change; permanence was an illusion of the senses.
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, AnaxagorasAnaxagoras
, c.500–428 B.C., Greek philosopher of Clazomenae. He is credited with having transferred the seat of philosophy to Athens. He was closely associated with many famous Athenians and is thought to have been the teacher of Socrates.
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, and the atomists. He was widely known for his intellectual powers even before he was 40, when, according to Plato's report of Socrates's speech in the Apology, the oracle at DelphiDelphi
, locality in Phocis, Greece, near the foot of the south slope of Mt. Parnassós, c.6 mi (10 km) northeast of the port of Cirrha. It was the seat of the Delphic oracle, the most famous and most powerful of ancient Greece.
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 pronounced him the wisest man in Greece. In that speech Socrates maintained that he was puzzled by this acclaim until he discovered that, while others professed knowledge without realizing their ignorance, he at least was aware of his own ignorance.

Socrates became convinced that his calling was to search for wisdom about right conduct by which he might guide the intellectual and moral improvement of the Athenians. Neglecting his own affairs, he spent his time discussing virtue, justice, and piety wherever his fellow citizens congregated. Some felt that he also neglected public duty, for he never sought public office, although he was famous for his courage in the military campaigns in which he served. In his self-appointed task as gadfly to the Athenians, Socrates made numerous enemies.

, c.448 B.C.–c.388 B.C., Greek playwright, Athenian comic poet, greatest of the ancient writers of comedy. His plays, the only full extant samples of the Greek Old Comedy, mix political, social, and literary satire.
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 burlesqued Socrates in his play The Clouds and attributed to him some of the faults of the Sophists (professional teachers of rhetoric). Although Socrates in fact baited the Sophists, his other critics seem to have held a view similar to that of Aristophanes. In 399 B.C. he was brought to trial for corrupting youth and for religious heresies. Obscure political issues surrounded the trial, but it seems that Socrates was tried also for being the friend and teacher of AlcibiadesAlcibiades
, c.450–404 B.C., Athenian statesman and general. Of the family of Alcmaeonidae, he was a ward of Pericles and was for many years a devoted attendant of Socrates. He turned to politics after the Peace of Nicias (421 B.C.
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 and CritiasCritias
, c.460–403 B.C., Athenian political leader and writer. A relative of Plato, he was an aristocrat and had early training in philosophy with Socrates and wrote poems and tragedies.
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, both of whom had betrayed Athens. The trial and death of Socrates, who was given poison hemlock to drink, are described with great dramatic power in the Apology, the Crito, and the Phaedo of Plato.


Socrates's contributions to philosophy were a new method of approaching knowledge, a conception of the soul as the seat both of normal waking consciousness and of moral character, and a sense of the universe as purposively mind-ordered. His method, called dialecticdialectic
[Gr.,= art of conversation], in philosophy, term originally applied to the method of philosophizing by means of question and answer employed by certain ancient philosophers, notably Socrates.
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, consisted in examining statements by pursuing their implications, on the assumption that if a statement were true it could not lead to false consequences. The method may have been suggested by Zeno of EleaZeno of Elea
, c.490–c.430 B.C., Greek philosopher of the Eleatic school. He undertook to support in his only known work, fragments of which are extant, the doctrine of Parmenides by demonstrating that motion and multiplicity are logically impossible.
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, but Socrates refined it and applied it to ethical problems.

His doctrine of the soul led him to the belief that all virtues converge into one, which is the good, or knowledge of one's true self and purposes through the course of a lifetime. Knowledge in turn depends on the nature or essence of things as they really are, for the underlying forms of things are more real than their experienced exemplifications. This conception leads to a teleological view of the world that all the forms participate in and lead to the highest form, the form of the good. Plato later elaborated this doctrine as central to his own philosophy. Socrates's view is often described as holding virtue and knowledge to be identical, so that no man knowingly does wrong. Since virtue is identical with knowledge, it can be taught, but not as a professional specialty as the Sophists had pretended to teach it. However, Socrates himself gave no final answer to how virtue can be learned.


See N. Gulley, The Philosophy of Socrates (1968); G. X. Santas, Socrates (1982); L. E. Navia, Socrates: The Man and His Philosophy (1989); T. C. Brickhouse and N. D. Smith, Socrates on Trial (1989); B. Hughes, The Hemlock Cup (2011); P. Johnson, Socrates (2011).


(470-399 BC) Greek philosopher known mainly from his appearance in PLATO's Dialogues, who was executed in Athens for refusing to recant when accused of corrupting the young. Socrates appears to have been concerned mainly with ETHICS, which he concluded should not be a matter of custom or habit, but based on rational, deductive inquiry. Socrates’ method of instruction – the Socratic method - was to initiate a series of questions and answers, designed to lead those involved to a reexamination of their fundamental beliefs.



Born 470/469 B.C., in Athens; died there 399 B.C. Ancient Greek philosopher. Son of a sculptor.

Socrates taught in the streets and public squares, combating the ideas of the Sophists and educating youth. He died by drinking hemlock after having been condemned to death for, in the words of the official sentence, introducing new divine powers and corrupting the youth in the new spirit. Socrates left no writings, and the main sources of information about his life and teachings are the writings of his students Xenophon and Plato; he is the main character in most of Plato’s dialogues.

Socrates was one of the founders of philosophic dialectics, in which truth is sought through conversation—the posing of certain questions and the systematic search for answers. K. Marx called Socrates the “embodiment of philosophy” and “philosophy personified” (see K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 1, p. 99, and Iz rannikh proizv., 1956, p. 199). Not satisfied with ancient natural philosophy, Socrates turned to the analysis of human consciousness and thought. According to Aristotle, Socrates tended to objective idealism, but he was still far from hypostatiz-ing general concepts as independent essences.

Aristotle attributed to Socrates an inductive theory that posits a transition from unstable reality to general concepts and a theory of the definition of concepts that made it possible for the first time to inquire into the essence of any given object; this can be compared with the characterization of Socrates in the early Platonic dialogues. The acknowledgment of the effect of generic essences on surrounding reality was transformed by Socrates into a theory of general and universal reason or a theory of various divinities of reason. In spite of Xenophon’s assertions, Socrates’ teachings had little in common with popular religion, even though Socrates did not reject the latter. Socrates’ teachings on providence marked a decisive break with naive polytheism and took the form of philosophic teleology.

Socrates’ main ethical thesis stated that virtue is knowledge (wisdom) and that the individual who knows what good is necessarily acts virtuously; those acting in an evil fashion either have no knowledge of virtue or perform evil acts to bring about the final triumph of virtue. According to Socrates, there can be no contradiction between reason and wisdom.

Socrates was the target of unfounded accusations that he was inimical to democracy. In reality, he criticized all forms of government, including monarchy, tyranny, aristocracy, plutocracy, and democracy, if these forms of government violated justice. Socrates was considered in later times to be an ideal personification of wisdom.


Xenophon. Sokraticheskiesoch. Moscow-Leningrad, 1935.
Plato. Soch., vols. 1–3. Moscow, 1968–72.
Trubetskoi, S. Sobr. soch., vol. 3. Moscow, 1910. Pages 398–461.
Giliarov, A. Istochniki o sofistakh: Platon kak istoricheskii svidetel’, parti. Kiev, 1891.
Gomperz, T. Grecheskie mysliteli, vol. 2, pp. 32–88. St. Petersburg, 1913. (Translated from German.)
Zhebelev, S. A. Sokrat. Berlin, 1923.
Serezhnikov, V. Sokrat. Moscow, 1937.
Losev, A. F. Istoriia antichnoi estetiki: Sofisty, Sokrat, Platon. Moscow, 1969.
Maier, H. Sokrates. Tubingen, 1913.
Ritter, C. Sokrates. Tubingen, 1931.
Meunier, M. La Légende de Socrate. Paris, 1965.


Socrates (469–399 B.c.) Athenian

philosopher, propagated dialectic method of approaching knowledge. [Gk. Hist.: NCE, 2553]


(469–399 B.C.) Greek philosopher; tutor of Plato. [Gk. Hist.: NCE, 2553]


(469–399 B.C.) wise and respected teacher adept at developing latent ideas. [Gk. Hist.: EB, 16: 1001–1005]
See: Wisdom


?470--399 bc, Athenian philosopher, whose beliefs are known only through the writings of his pupils Plato and Xenophon. He taught that virtue was based on knowledge, which was attained by a dialectical process that took into account many aspects of a stated hypothesis. He was indicted for impiety and corruption of youth (399) and was condemned to death. He refused to flee and died by drinking hemlock
References in classic literature ?
The Apology of Plato is not the report of what Socrates said, but an elaborate composition, quite as much so in fact as one of the Dialogues.
The statements of the Memorabilia respecting the trial and death of Socrates agree generally with Plato; but they have lost the flavour of Socratic irony in the narrative of Xenophon.
The days of Socrates are drawing to a close; the fatal ship has been seen off Sunium, as he is informed by his aged friend and contemporary Crito, who visits him before the dawn has broken; he himself has been warned in a dream that on the third day he must depart.
Now if Socrates exists, it is not necessary that one should be true and the other false, for when he is not yet able to acquire the power of vision, both are false, as also if Socrates is altogether non-existent.
In an early dialogue of Plato's, the Protagoras, Socrates asks Protagoras why it is not as easy to find teachers of virtue as it is to find teachers of swordsmanship, riding, or any other art.
Soon we came upon a row of open graves, cut in the solid rock--(for a while one of them served Socrates for a prison)--we passed around the shoulder of the hill, and the citadel, in all its ruined magnificence, burst upon us
When Socrates, in Charmides, tells us that the soul is cured of its maladies by certain incantations, and that these incantations are beautiful reasons, from which temperance is generated in souls; when Plato calls the world an animal; and Timaeus affirms that the plants also are animals; or affirms a man to be a heavenly tree, growing with his root, which is his head, upward; and, as George Chapman, following him, writes,--
Socrates replies that he does not as yet know what virtue is, and has never known anyone who did.
The sciences of logic and psychology, which have supplied so many instruments of thought to after-ages, are based upon the analyses of Socrates and Plato.
She might indeed be called a lover of men, as Socrates was a lover of mankind, preferring one to another for corporeal, as he for mental qualifications; but never carrying this preference so far as to cause any perturbation in the philosophical serenity of her temper.
Socrates-Plato" might be used to mean "Socrates precedes Plato"; "PlaSocrates-to" might be used to mean "Plato was born before Socrates and died after him"; and so on.
And therefore, if they want to depict, not God, but a revolutionist or a sage, let them take from history a Socrates, a Franklin, a Charlotte Corday, but not Christ.