Ancient Philosophers: The Philosophy of Socrates, His Life


Classic Philosophers: The Great Thinkers of the Western World

ANCIENT PHILOSOPHERS: THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE ANCIENT WORLD

by Jonathan Dolhenty, Ph.D.


I. The Philosophy of Socrates: Live of Socrates


Socrates was born in 470 or 469 B.C.E., in Athens, the son of Sophroniscus, a sculptor, and Phaenarete, a midwife. He first learned his father’s art, but later dedicated himself to meditation and to philosophic teaching without recompense, notwithstanding his poverty. Conscious of his vocation, which he considered to be a divine mission, he did not allow himself to be distracted by domestic preoccupations and political interests. He married an Athenian woman, Xanthippe, to whom legend attributes many strange whims. Certainly, Xanthippe was not an ideal wife, but it must be admitted that neither was Socrates an ideal husband; he forgot his domestic duties out of his extreme interest in philosophy.

Socrates

Socrates did not take an active part in politics, although as a youth he had been a soldier and had saved the life of the youth Alcibiades in the battle of Mantinea. He believed that it would be better to serve his country by offering himself as an example of a most perfect man, obedient to its laws, even to the point of sacrifice, and by preparing a wise youth in opposition to that egotistic and power-crazed youth which the Sophists had turned loose upon the nation.

But Socrates’ critical and ironic attitude and the consequent education imparted by him gave rise to a general malcontent and to popular hostility and personal enmities against him, notwithstanding his probity. Socrates appears as the head of an intellectual aristocracy, opposed to the popular tyranny and even to certain reactionary elements. This hostile state of mind toward Socrates crystallized and took juridical form in the accusation formulated against him by Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon: of corrupting youth, denying the national gods, and introducing new ones in their stead.

Socrates disdained to defend himself and thus made concessions to the vanity of the judges to the point of humiliating himself before them and more or less excusing his actions. He had, before the eyes of his spirit, not an empirical acquittal for his terrestrial life but, rather, the eternal judgment of reason for immortality. He preferred death. Declared guilty by a small majority, he stood with indomitable spirit before the tribunal, and was condemned to death.

Socrates was obliged to remain in prison for a month before execution. (A law prohibited the carrying out of capital punishment during the absence of the sacred ship sent yearly to Delos.) Socrates’ disciple Crito came to him and proposed flight to his master. Socrates refused, however, declaring that he did not wish to fail at any cost in obedience to his country’s laws.

He passed his time preparing himself for death by spiritual converse with his disciples. Famous above all was his dialogue on the immortality of the soul, which must have taken place shortly before his death and which is recounted with incomparable art by Plato in the Phaedo. Socrates’ last words to his disciples, after quietly taking the deadly draught of hemlock, were: “I owe a cock to Aesculapius.” Aesculapius, the god of medicine, had delivered him from the evil of life with the gift of death. It was the year 399 B.C.E., the seventy-first of Socrates’ life.


The late Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty was the Founder and President of The Center for Applied Philosophy and the Radical Academy, and is Honorary Philosophy Editor at The Moral Liberal. The Moral Liberal has adopted these projects beginning with a republishing and preserving of all of Dr. Dolhenty’s work. “Classic Philosophers: The Great Thinkers of the Western World” was designed and organized by Jonathan Dolhenty, Ph.D. Copyright ©1992 -2011 The Radical Academy. Copyright renewed in © 2011 -2013 The Radical Academy (a project of The Moral Liberal).


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