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The Philosophy of Socrates: a Lover of Wisdom

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The Philosophy of Socrates: A Lover of Wisdom
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The lessons of life that are delivered by Socrates act as a basis for Western philosophy. Plato, the writer of The Apology, significantly respects Socrates and his dialogues act as a framework for our understanding in the passages. Our only record of his life comes from his associates, as Socrates never documented his opinions. A clear expression of Socrates’ philosophy is represented in The Apology. The purpose of this paper is to establish a clear demonstration of Socrates’ philosophy using The Apology as reference, and also explain my personal view on philosophy. In the first section of this paper, the famous statement from Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living”, will be connected when explaining three principle components of his philosophy: Irony, Method and Ethos. The second section of this paper will reveal my personal view on philosophy. Rahut’s claim on philosophy being the study of “open questions” will be supported by examples and descriptions. In the case that a question cannot be accurately answered or proven with our existing knowledge, I demonstrate that it should be classified as an ‘open question’.
Throughout section 17-18 of The Apology, Socratic irony is apparent. He clearly presents himself as a man whom is delivering words of truth. Although, while Socrates states that he is not a clever speaker, it shows that he actually is clever. By doing this, he is engaging some very effective use of his language. After Socrates has proven to degrade his rivals, he changes his tone of conversation back to ordinary. The way that Socrates turns his rivals against themselves is the distinctive type of irony that he effectively practices, and is also very good at utilizing.

Improvising is a category of speech that is claimed to be used by Socrates as the reading in this section continues. Ironically, this use of improvising is found to be coming from Plato’s writing skills opposed from Socrates words, as we know that this conversation was restored by Plato. Similar words can be altered to assist diverse purposes, and the flexibility in his writing is substantial to this irony. A notable example in The Apology is seen when Socrates explains that he is not ashamed of his lifestyle which brings him to an end; “a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong - acting the part of a good man or of a bad” (Plato, 516). This quote brings up the notable belief from Socrates “the unexamined life is not worth living”. In the mentioned quote, Socrates explains that right and wrong can regulate the value of a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ man. He categorizes the choice between good and bad as more important than the choice between life and death. This directly indicates his philosophy on the importance of choice. A ‘bad’ man is considered to have an invaluable life, henceforth, not worth living. Socratic irony demonstrates the examination that Socrates has put forth in his lifetime, making his life worth living for his personal ethics.
Another key principle in Socrates philosophy is the Socratic Method. The Socratic Method principally deals with a method of teaching from question and answer. The Method is able to give knowledge without having taught anything new. Socrates teaches using this method to provoke truths in his students. The Socratic Method can be used in a way to make someone seem imprecise. This is done by getting the opponent to approve of the phrasing that actually

contradicts their opposing statement. The purpose of this focuses on disproving the statements of others. The Socratic Method was a common practice as Socrates understands that knowledge was the acknowledgment of one’s ignorance. Questions are asked to the opponent, resulting in their confusion once they realize that they have fallen into a verbal trap, which was logically calculated. Socratic Method can be seen in The Apology when Socrates explains his “divine mission” to the jury. Throughout this explanation, Socrates questions the several ranks of occupations in society. The Socratic Method is relieved in order to prove that his opponents are incorrect when they claim “Socrates is committing an injustice...he makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger and teaches others to follow his example” (Plato, 507). Socrates tries to show the jury that he is innocent and did not try to corrupt the young minds. Socrates wants to expose the residents of Athens to philosophical facts, and also demonstrate what his criticizers are really trying to do. When Socrates values the examined life, he also values critical thinking. The statements that are brought up from the questioning of the Socratic Method can convey the inner beliefs, which can then be examined. Sometimes, finding the true meaning of ones underlying beliefs can be difficult, so the Socratic Method is beneficial in that perspective. Having a person think for themself, rather than being influenced, is a very healthy practice in philosophical development. In Socrates perception, once examination on a personal belief system has been performed, life can retain its value. Ethos is a Greek word and can be compared to ethics; a representation of one’s image. Socrates is depicted as an extensive man of ethical opinion throughout The Apology. Socrates

engages in pursuing the truth, and does not restrain from examining others and himself. It is a very important practice in his philosophy to examine himself and others, as he believes the unexamined life is not worth living. He realizes that he would have to die for his beliefs, but has a strong belief system and maintains that image. Socrates contributed significantly to philosophy when he introduced ethical questions. His method of thought is informed by ethical principles. Socrates is strict on believing that one will never commit evil acts intentionally. When the court sentences Socrates to death, he states; “neither in court nor in war ought I or anyone else to do anything and everything to contrive and escape from death….” “no gentleman, the difficult is not to escape death, I think, but to escape wickedness – that is much more difficult, for that runs faster than death” (Plato, 528). While in a state of fear, Socrates is still able to speak truths. This shows that he is a true parrhesiast. The ethical convictions of Socrates can be noted in the quote above. It follows his beliefs that no one should be stopped from examining their own life, and connects the phrase, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Socrates does not fear his death, because he knows that there are much greater things to fear, such as greed and wickedness. Also, because he believes that death could be one of two things; a dreamless sleep, or a migration of the soul. A dreamless sleep should not be feared, as we would be most content. In the case that the soul migrates to another plane, then one can continue to examine and question, and therefore philosophy will continue. This puts Socrates mind at rest, and raises his confidence in his belief system, because his love for philosophy can continue to be explored if something is to come after death.

The next section of this paper aims toward providing a clear demonstration of my personal philosophy. Further, I show that that philosophy is a thought process to arrive at when there are no absolute facts to solve a problem. Philosophy centers on answering general problems that deal with various topics, such as our existence, our values, and the mind. Generally, there are quantitative and qualitative question that can be asked. One may ask the question: “How does a computer work”. Scientists can then answer the question providing facts about how hardware preforms, facts on electricity and other components which logically fall into place. But if one asks the question “what is the meaning of life”, there can be no factual statements that can answer without raising similar questions in themselves. This notion leads to a famous statement from Rahut, who claims that philosophy is the study of “open questions”. This statement is true for various reasons. An open question is a situation in discussion where different ideas or opinions are possible, but remain officially undecided as there is no evidence to claim otherwise. A quantitative question such as “two plus two” would not be considered a philosophical question, as there is undoubtedly a definite answer. This is the concept that separates philosophy from other forms. Considering that circumstance, Rahut’s claim on philosophy is indeed true. In a different perspective, philosophy deals with “open questions” because if there is any certainty in a philosophical inquiry, then it would not be considered a philosophical problem. This is because philosophy has principles of reasoning.
There are many open questions in philosophy that are still unanswered, but ones that are most tough to answer deal with the mind directly. I argue that the toughest philosophical

question is “prove to me that you are not figments of my imagination”. This statement comes from a Solipsist. This is the philosophical idea that it is only sure that one’s mind exists. Anything being experienced is only content to one existing mind – yours. The statement is seemingly impossible to reject, mainly because anything that one would have to say can be argued to be an imaginative event. One may say that this philosophy is hard to believe, as there is much pain that comes along in life, and it would be seemingly foolish to let this pain take part. A Solipsist would say that pain is a necessary occurrence in life in order to understand and appreciate pleasure. This appears to be irrational, but it is easily relatable. An example statement would be “Why would one choose to work out? The process is painful and doesn’t pay out equivalently”. One who has worked out would know that there is no explanation for the pleasure felt afterwards when the pain is no longer being experienced. In other cases, a Solipsist would say that we possibly have limited control of our imagination, much like we have limited control of our dreams when we sleep. These kinds of indefinite questions are the backbone in understanding the magnitude of philosophy. Philosophy is an important practice in everyone’s life. It is a human instinct to seek answers to anticipated questions, as humans naturally desire to know. By asking general philosophical and scientific questions, people develop an understanding for others and themselves. These desired answers to the universal questions are what make us human. Philosophy is inescapable throughout one’s life. Even people who consider philosophical questioning not worth their time are conveying an importance in their own life – which is a philosophy in itself. In order to clarify ones belief system, they ought to accept philosophy as being part of their life.

Philosophy directs a way of life that is constructed on reason. Throughout this paper, Socrates philosophy in reference to The Apology has been clearly demonstrated and related while examining the three principle components: Irony, Method and Ethos. Plato’s dramatic representation of a man who is prepared to die for his beliefs, instead of going against them, makes Socrates a role model for philosophers. The way in which people choose between convenience and commitment to their beliefs determines whether they are worthy to call their lives philosophical. Socrates is an example of a philosopher who did not keep his negative beliefs to himself, and got into trouble for that reason. Aside, studying philosophy improves intellectual capacities which are essential in humanity, much greater than the knowledge necessary for any profession. A worthy education in philosophy enlightens the capability to contribute sensibly and intelligently in social life.


Plato, William Henry Denham Rouse & Matthew S. Santirocco. (2008). Great Dialogues of Plato: Complete Text of The Republic, The Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Ion, Meno, Symposium. London, England: Penguin.

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