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Socrates (sŏkˈrətēz), 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 Plato and from the Memorabilia of Xenophon. 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 Parmenides, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, 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 Delphi 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.

Aristophanes 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 Alcibiades and Critias, 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 dialectic, 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 Elea, 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).

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(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.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

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
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


?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
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Em contraposição aos sofistas, Sócrates suspeitava que as importantes decisões tomadas na Assembléia estavam adquirindo um caminho tortuoso, baseado menos no conhecimento verdadeiro e mais na habilidade retórica de alguns poucos indivíduos.
No tempo de Sócrates, entretanto, mudam as condições de sociabilidade, e surge a exigência de uma técnica do pensar em comum, cujo objeto é a verdade.