I’m in a philosophical frame of mind these days. So for the rest of 2016, my posts will highlight famous philosophical quotes and the philosophers who said them. This month (September), the focus will be on some of the greatest ancient Greek philosophers whose influence and thinking have transcended the passage of time.
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
– Socrates, (469—399 BCE), classical Greek philosopher
Socrates was considered the father of Western logic and philosophy. He espoused an ethical system based on human reason, rather than theological doctrine. According to Socrates, the more we come to know ourselves, the greater will be our ability to reason and make choices that lead to true happiness. His quest for knowledge focused on one simple idea: how to live a good and virtuous life. We know him through the writings of the students he mentored, the most famous of whom was Plato. It was Plato who later taught Aristotle, who then went on to tutor Alexander the Great.
He taught his students by asking them questions, with the objective of getting them to think for themselves. This became known as “the Socratic Method” which, in today’s world, is a method of teaching most often used by law and medical professors in universities and colleges across the globe.
“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think”
Socrates refused to acknowledge class distinction or in other words, the “proper behavior” at the time. He spoke and mingled with women, servants and slaves just as easily as with nobility and scholars. This refusal to conform to social proprieties angered the so-called important men of the time. Socrates was subsequently arrested for impiety. His accusers (Meletus the poet, Lycon the orator, and Anytus the tanner) charged him with “denying the gods recognized by the state and introducing new divinities” and “corrupting the young.” These accusations were considered (by those who favored Socrates) as being personally and politically motivated.
Socrates was sentenced to death by hemlock poisoning in 399 BCE. He died in his Athenian prison cell, surrounded by his friends. Socrates himself never wrote down any of his teachings. He focused on action, not words. His teachings and philosophy were later interpreted and written by his students, men like Plato who later went on to form their own philosophical schools.
“To find yourself, think for yourself.”
The Trial and Death of Socrates, by Plato
The Republic, by Plato