When we think about some of the most influential and remembered people of the Greek and Roman Empires, most would imagine the likes of Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great, or an individual with confidence, poise and sophistication.
Socrates was the absolute opposite of that. He was obese, unhygienic, and not well put together. He was the inverse of his time’s ideals and obsessions. This makes his rise as one of the most influential of his time, and the pioneer of modern philosophy rather impressive. However, how society views him today is far different to his time, unfortunately.
Many of the word’s most incredible thinkers and scientists, from Ada Lovelace to Marcus Aurelius to Descartes all had ideas from which the world of their time shunned, ignored, and mocked. Socrates was one of them, being sent to execution after being accused of ‘corrupting the minds of youth’ in Greece.
Socrates represented a new era for philosophy, because he was the first to follow original thinking rather than common wisdom. He was the first to introduce inductive reasoning, which uses sets of critical questions to validate one’s premises and conclusions on which those are based off of. Much of what Socrates spoke about thousands of years ago still form the study of law today.
It’s truly hard to summarize the words of such an incredible man in an article, so I’ll be focusing on understanding the Socratic Method. It aims to teach by asking question after question, in an attempt to expose any contradictions in students thoughts and ideas, with the aim of guiding them to solid conclusions. So let’s dive in! 🚀
The teaching of Socrates can be summarized by the words question everything. Socrates lived his life questioning every assumption or piece of wisdom people around him believed as the truth. For humans, this is often hard to accomplish, because we innately want to fit in with a tribe.
In asking questions and doubting everything, we distinguish ourselves from set believes. However, Socrates believed, that by doing this and embracing knowledge that went against your own worldview, one would achieve happiness.
But what is happiness? 🤔 Socrates believed that we can only try to achieve happiness through gaining wisdom and knowledge. He defined this as wisdom of virtue, where happiness isn’t defined by external items, but instead how we use them.
A wise man with money, according to Socrates, will use it the right way, taking into account one’s self-virtue and self-actualization, whereas an ignorant man will be wasteful. By gaining knowledge and learning to question common perception, Socrates believed we could choose to live a better life.
Because Socrates believed in the power behind questioning everything and searching for knowledge, he believed one thing: that he knows nothing. As Socrates accepts the limitations of his knowledge, but most others don’t, Socrates appears to be wiser. From here came the classic quote most recognize Socrates for, “I know that I know nothing”.
The Socratic Method
The Socratic Method focuses on understanding the premises behind how one derives a conclusion, and breaking down the assumptions they made. Through this, one can teach students their contradictions, and guide them to forming solid conclusions.
This method went on to form the basis for inductive reasoning. It’s incredibly strong at building critical thinking skills, and help people understand concepts deeply. A Socratic questioner should be intentional about the following steps:
- Keep the discussion focused. Make sure to listen and avoid interrupting!
- Empathize! People rarely try to be inquisitive about someone’s thought process or opinions beyond a ‘traditional’ setting like a classroom or debate-room, so remember this when you ask questions.
- Slow the Conversation, be sure to pause and reflect on things!
- Avoid making logical fallacies: These are when arguments are built on incorrect premises and attacking people advancing the argument (the person responding). You might have seen these in many political campaigns and debates. This is known as ad hominem.
The Socratic Method is so awesome 🔥. It can be applied to any situation in which you want to understand the reasoning behind a stance or opinion, or even to validate your own conclusions. Beyond this, it also teaches the skill of asking intentional questions, which derive answers which help you understand a person’s frameworks, ideas and viewpoints.
While this may be awesome, you can imagined how it worked out for Socrates and his likability. While his intentions were not bad, it ticked off many people to see him walk around and question nearly everyone in Athens. When he began to question enforcing religion, that was the last straw; he was put on trial for corrupting the youth.
But what makes this tale truly interesting is that Socrates did not aim to defend himself. Despite his strong proficiencies in debating, his objective was not to win the case.
Many philosophers have aimed to ask why he chose to do so, but many have said he did so because he chose not to fear death. Why would he do such a thing? ❓
One possible reason was that he believed in the fact that philosophy is training for death. Since, from a philosophical perspective, death is unknown, and no one on Earth has experienced it before, it is therefore illogical to fear something one doesn’t understand. Another potential reason was that Socrates saw the definition of a fulfilled life as one where you followed your own will, rather than society’s. According to Plato, Socrates’ disciple and the philosopher who wrote all of the modern world’s understanding of him, Socrates chose to lose his trial as a way to value his morals and beliefs in non-conformity over his reputation.
And therefore, Socrates died, drinking from a glass of poison, surrounded by his closest companions. A short ending for a man who changed the landscape of philosophy.
Thanks for taking the time to read through my thoughts on Socrates! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to chat with me on Twitter. Or if you would like to learn about any new content I put out, subscribe to my monthly newsletter to see new projects, conferences I go to, and articles I put out!