The Philosophy of Socrates

April 17, 2012


Socrates : the founder of Western Philosophy

Often considered as the father of the Western philosophy, Socrates is as famous as unknown, but he remains an enigmatic character because he leftus  no writings. The greek philosopher has been described by its detractors (Aristophanes) painting him as a ridiculous or dangerous sophist, or by his enthusiastic followers (Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle).

Plato, who received his teaching, usually expressed himself his doctrine through Socrates’mouth, and make him a major playmaker of most of his dialogues. Among Plato’s dialogues, the Apology, the Crito and Phaedo gives us information about his life and death. Note that at the end of the Symposium, Alcibiades, between the physical ugliness of Socrates and in his moral beauty, compared him to the grotesque statue of a Silenus.

Born in Athens, an event which will bring up his philosophical vocation: Pythia, oracle of Delphi, who told a friend that he was the wisest of men, Socrates, first incredulous, would clarify the meaning of these words and began a life of surveys of the Athenians, for discover what lay its superiority. “All I know is that I know nothing, while others think they know what they do not know.” But this bothered lucid intellectual conformism of many, and if the endless discussions Socrates passionately interested young people, they are soon to worry about the rich, who accused him of impiety and corruption of youth. He was finally sentenced to death after a trial in which he will deploy in vain for the arguments of his defense (Apology).

Socrates and Sophists

The philosophy of Socrates is first in one sense a response to Anaxagoras, who claimed that man is intelligent because he has hands. In fact the superiority of the human being is to look smart in his soul, which governs the body and participates in the divine. Hence a number of requirements. If man indeed has a soul of divine origin (as opposed to established beliefs, Socrates argues that the gods do not suffer from human passions), we understand the need for greater awareness and the requirement of “Know thyself own “formula inscribed on the pediment of the temple of Delphi. On the other hand, body control is reinforced by the belief in the immortality of the soul (cf. Plato’s Phaedo). Add the example of courage and serenity that gives us Socrates himself before drinking the hemlock: it compares the swan which at the time of death, sings, not of pain but of joy and hope.

Socrates’ Philosophy as a comprehensive philosophy

But the true dignity of the soul proceeds from the science, which is its authentic heritage. A science that does not, as now, the phenomena of the outside world: Socrates takes the same stance against the theorists of nature that have no sense of humanity – and, moreover, against the sophists who do not, conversely, the meaning of science. By combining the acceptable principles of physics and sophisticated – the scientific form of the first and the concern of human affairs in the second – it is the wisdom or moral science that is central to his approach. Renouncing to understand the universe, the mind must descend himself to clear the truths that lie dormant within him to the state of potentialities (Platonic theory of reminiscence), and it will be well able to master the knowledge without submitting to external things (as shown in Descartes and Kant). Rejecting that which emanates from the senses and passions of individual science will focus on human nature in what is universal, in a word about the concepts, which Socrates is the true discoverer. By induction, we arrive in this way to identify species and to express them by definitions: thus Socrates – preparing the Platonic theory of Ideas he tries to define such courage (Laches) or the friendship (Lysis), or the art of living that leads to the happiness (according to ancient tradition, the good is happiness) depends on the science of the soul which, thwarting the ability of the sophists, unmasks the blindness of men, too often preoccupied with useless things (wealth, reputation, etc.). and losing interest in the essential thing is to say the truth which carries their soul. This science begins with a work of purification (already proposed by the Orphic and Pythagorean), which is to put off the views received, it then highlights various qualities (temperance, justice, etc..) Which will turn into virtues if the we use it properly. In fact, the exact knowledge of the property (which is also the benefit) triggers an irresistible tendency to completion, necessarily leads to virtue: “No one is voluntarily wicked,” except through ignorance. The method excludes any extra-intellectual revelation – the Socratic demon is deterrence, not of creation – and follows the dialectic. Through its two stages, irony and midwifery or midwifery minds, the dialectic allows Socrates to identify – in a climate of friendship – the points of agreement between partners, that is to say truths universally acknowledged as the requirement of reason.

Founder of moral philosophy and the first theorist of intellectualism (which earned him the hostility of Nietzsche), an apostle of freedom of decision and self-reflection, Socrates served as an example to the whole philosophical tradition.