Socrates  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Trial of Socrates

Socrates (circa 470399 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher who is widely credited for laying the foundation for Western philosophy, and is held as its most influential practitioner. The most important source of information concerning Socrates is Plato. Plato's dialogues portray Socrates as a teacher who denies having disciples, as a man of reason who obeys a divine voice in his head, and a pious man who is executed for the state's own expediency. Socrates disparages the pleasures of the senses, yet is excited by beauty; he is devoted to the education of the citizens of Athens, yet indifferent to his own sons.

The trial and execution of Socrates was the climax of his career and the central event of the dialogues of Plato. According to Plato, both were unnecessary. Socrates admits in court that he could have avoided the trial by abandoning philosophy and going home to mind his own business. After his conviction, he could have avoided the death penalty by escaping with the help of his friends. The reason for his cooperation with the state's mandate forms a valuable philosophical insight in its own right, and is best articulated by the dialogues themselves, especially in his dialogue with Crito.

Contents

Biography

The Socratic problem

Forming an accurate picture of the historical Socrates and his philosophical viewpoints is problematic. This issue is known as the Socratic problem.

Socrates did not write philosophical texts. The knowledge of the man, his life, and his philosophy is based on writings by his students and contemporaries. Foremost among them is Plato; however, works by Xenophon, Aristotle, and Aristophanes also provide important insights. The difficulty of finding the “real” Socrates arises because these works are often philosophical or dramatic texts rather than straightforward histories. Aside from Thucydides (who makes no mention of Socrates or philosophers in general) and Xenophon, there are in fact no straightforward histories contemporary with Socrates that dealt with his own time and place. A corollary of this is that sources that do mention Socrates do not necessarily claim to be historically accurate, and are often partisan (those who prosecuted and convicted Socrates have left no testament). Historians therefore face the challenge of reconciling the various texts that come from these men to create an accurate and consistent account of Socrates' life and work. The result of such an effort is not necessarily realistic, merely consistent.

Plato is frequently viewed as the most informative source about Socrates' life and philosophy. At the same time, however, many scholars believe that in some works Plato, being a literary artist, pushed his avowedly brightened-up version of "Socrates" far beyond anything the historical Socrates was likely to have done or said; and that Xenophon, being a historian, is a more reliable witness to the historical Socrates. Parsing which Socrates—the "real" one, or Plato's own mouthpiece—Plato is using at any given point is a matter of much debate.

However, it is also clear from other writings, and historical artifacts that Socrates was not simply a character, or invention, of Plato. The testimony of Xenophon and Aristotle, alongside some of Aristophanes' work (especially The Clouds), can be usefully engaged in fleshing out our perception of Socrates beyond Plato's work.


In the visual arts

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Socrates" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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