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Socrates

Socrates was the first of the three great Athenian philosophers (the other two arePlato and Aristotle). Socrates was born in Athens in 469 BC, so he lived through the time  the Athenian Empire,  He was not from a rich family. His father was probably a stone-carver, and Socrates also worked in stone, especially as a not-very-goodsculptor. Socrates' mother was a midwife. When the Peloponnesian War began, Socrates fought bravely for Athens. We do not have any surviving pictures of Socrates that were made while he was alive, or by anyone who ever saw him, but he is supposed to have been ugly. 

But when Socrates was in his forties or so, he began to feel an urge to think about the world around him, and try to answer some difficult questions. He asked, "What is wisdom?" and "What is beauty?" and "What is the right thing to do?" He knew that these questions were hard to answer, and he thought it would be better to have a lot of people discuss the answers together, so that they might come up with more ideas. So he began to go around Athens asking people he met these questions, "What is wisdom?" , "What is piety?", and so forth. Sometimes the people just said they were busy, but sometimes they would try to answer him. Then Socrates would try to teach them to think better by asking them more questions which showed them the problems in their logic. Often this made people angry. Sometimes they even tried to beat him up.


Socrates soon had a group of young men who listened to him and learned from him how to think. Platowas one of these young men. Socrates never charged them any money. But in 399 BC, some of the Athenians got mad at Socrates for what he was teaching the young men. They charged him in court with impiety (not respecting the gods) and corrupting the youth (teaching young men bad things). People thought he was against democracy, and he probably was - he thought thesmartest people should make the decisions for everyone. The Athenians couldn't charge him with being against democracy, because they had promised not to take revenge on anyone after the Peloponnesian War. So they had to use these vague religious charges instead.

Socrates had a big trial in front of an Athenian jury. He was convicted of these charges and sentenced to death, and he died soon afterwards, when the guards gave him a cup of hemlock (a poisonous plant) to drink.

Socrates never wrote down any of his ideas while he was alive. But after he died, his student, Plato, did write down some of what Socrates had said.

There was a strong religious side to Socrates's character and thought which constantly revealed itself in spite of his penchant for exposing the ridiculous conclusions to which uncritical acceptance of the ancient myths might lead. His words and actions in the Apology, Crito, Phaedo, and Symposium reveal a deep reverence for Athenian religious customs and a sincere regard for divinity. Indeed, it was a divine voice which Socrates claimed to hear within himself on important occasions in his life. It was not a voice which gave him positive instructions, but instead warned him when he was about to go astray. 

He believed in the existence of absolutes.  Beauty, justice, truth. But that they are corrupted by the use of the body, which is his argument for the existence of a soul.

from the Phaedo.

    "Then is this how it is for us, Simmias?

If there exists what we are always repeating,
beauty and goodness and every such essence,
and we refer all things from the senses to this,
our being already existing before discovering them,
and we compare these with that,
necessarily, this just as these also exists,
and thus our soul also exists before we were born;
and if these do not exist,
would the argument thus be saying otherwise?
Then is it so, and is it equally necessary these things exist
and our souls also did before we were born,
and if these do not, neither do they?"


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