• Jason Pfaff

Contemplating Socrates

PHI 200

Paper 1

Villa Maria College

March, 2010

(revisions October 2017)

Contemplating Socrates

Socrates, otherwise known as Socrates, is the most famous philosopher of all, born in 369 B.C.

in Athens, Greece to a stonemason and a midwife. It is said that he stayed in Athens his whole life,

except for three campaigns serving in the army, then moving on to work for the government of Athens

for some time. He was married and had three children, but most personal and professional information

about Socrates can not be proven. This is because Socrates did not write anything down to be saved

or recorded. Most of what we know about Socrates is similar to how we know about Jesus, it was passed

on by other people. In this case, Socrates’ student Plato, is his most famous student that wrote a lot

of what Socrates said. Plato was not his only student. Socrates had many students and disciples, and

some people loved him while others hated him. He would give lectures in public, with the intention of

educating people about how they ought to live. Aside from his moral aptitude, he also had a knack for

embarrassing people, including important politicians and famous teachers. This may be why he was later

extremely unpopular among many, and eventually sentenced to death. (About Phi, Wik)

Socrates studied Cosmology when he was young, but lost interest in most of natural science, or

anything to do with the mysteries of the Universe. He adopted a singleness of purpose by studying that

in which was only of utmost importance to him. He mostly concerned with right here and now, figuring

out how to live a happy life, and rigorously examining the choices one makes. It sounds simple enough,

but even today many people do not even actually challenge their own belief systems, or understand

the power of their ability to make choices. Further, he was considered “dead serious” about his

questioning, and he became to believe that his works for the world were more important than his own


It is apparent Socrates cared a great deal for the human race, and as most classify him a martyr, there

is no doubt that he was a very dedicated individual- not only to his philosophical ideals, but to serving

the world whole heartedly. The fact that he did not write anything down suggests that he likely believed

in living in the moment and lived most of his life that way. He loved working with his students, and many

of them were highly inspired and productive, but some were harder to deal with and challenged him

with all of their might. Plato, however, intended to reconstruct what Socrates had in his mind, and spent

a great deal of time and energy expanding his work. Plato also created “The Academy”, an institution for

mathematical, cosmological, and philosophical investigation where the most gifted philosophers of the

day attended, including Aristotle. However there is little evidence of who may have been Socrates’

teachers or mentors, and Socrates himself always said he was ignorant, but that admitting ignorance

was the first step towards wisdom. Socrates was also considered conservative, despite the radical image

that a lot of people associate with him. Most of his opponents back in the day were the “liberals” of

society, however today, it is mostly liberals that support his works. (About Phi)

Socrates works were mostly in the moment, or captured and reinvented by other philosophers.

Aside from his capacity and expansion of Irony itself, his most implemented theories were

The Four Basic Principles:

1. The unexamined life is not worth living.

2. There really are valid principles of thought and action that must be followed if we are to live good lives.

3. The truth lies within each of us, not in the stars, or in tradition, or in religious books, or in the opinions of the masses.

4. Although no one can teach anyone else about the fundamental principles of right action and clear thinking, some people-call them teachers, philosophers, gadflies- can ask questions that prod men and women to begin the task of self-examination.”

It is no wonder that though this sort of thinking was not only audacious and ground-breaking,

and certain people or organizations would get upset with the absence of theological direction

and personal empowerment in his teachings. However, his unpopularity accumulated the more he

pushed peoples buttons or embarrassed them with his skills. Another major contribution to philosophy

by Socrates was the Socratic Method, a process of questions and answers technically designed for the

art of arguing. Socrates used this technique primarily to “deflate inflated egos”. He liked to prove that

“things are not always as they seem.”

Socrates, being the most famous philosopher of all time, must have been special if his works are still

effecting us 2500 years later. Many modern philosophers still use his works for grounds to their

discoveries, and many further expand on his ideas to resolve their conclusions. Socrates as a martyr

philosopher, was much like Jesus Christ in the sense that he was devoted to teaching in public, acquired

devoted disciples, taught new and intriguing things to people, and was then sentenced to death by the

government. In his case, he did not call himself the Messiah, but he challenged the system up until his

death. However, Jesus was just about half as old as Socrates when he was murdered, perhaps the

world had seen the best of what Socrates had to offer.

Among his growing unpopularity, the government considered him a threat to political stability,

and to the youth of society who were more impressionable by his questionable teachings. “Socrates

persistent questioning of established doctrines and received opinions really was a threat, not only to

government, but also to the lifestyle of the families who ruled Athens. “The problem with “truths”

and morals, is once a person accepts the concepts as absolute, there is no going back to a place of

ignorance to those concepts. Perhaps the rulers of Athens were having much too good a time to

adopt such moral capacity, and if they could remove the origin, perhaps they thought they could

return to “bliss” per say. When the government put Socrates on trial, he could have accepted

their offer of exile to save his life, but he chose to defend himself “without excuses or apologies”.

Insisting he was innocent, he represented himself and stuck to his beliefs. He was 70 years old

when they put him in prison with a death sentence, he died soon after by drinking the poison given

to him. At his trial he said, “His death only confirmed what his life had already proved, that for him, the

relentless examination of every human action and belief was more important than survival itself.”

(About Phi, Answers)

What I get from Socrates is a sense of challenging everything, and I tend to appreciate that.

As I look at my own life, I can see that it was not until I was a teenager and really started condescending

things, that I started really feeling alive. I was also fortunate to grow up under the guidance of a very

intelligent older sister, who was very familiar with challenging belief systems and such. But, as I studied

Socrates more I realized he was more conservative than I originally perceived him. But he definitely

pushed the boundaries and pushed himself out of his comfort zone. I appreciate that he seemingly lived

in the moment and did not waste time or energy trying to preserve his works, but maybe this is because

he knew his students were doing it for him? It is very hard for the Ego to let creative flow only exist in

the moment, without wanting to trap it in some way for a later gain.

My favorite quote by Socrates is “Instead of wasting your energy fighting the old, create the new”. This statement seems a good ground rule for maximum creativity and productivity- and a warning not to fall prey to all of the b.s. in the world, rather-focus on what you are trying to accomplish. If at some point someone believes it is their responsibility to stop others from doing what they are doing, it can become extremely depressing and draining. Why not just use your freedom and create what it is you want the world to be like, and live by example? There are too many people, and

they will do what they do, its impossible to stop them. I am not against activism or wanting a better

world, but I believe in choosing the most intelligent method of living, and of making a difference.

If I focus my energy on what I think others are doing wrong, I am giving them my power and attention,

which is probably feeding them rather than stopping them. But there is a place for everyone, maybe it

is some peoples purpose to live like that. I believe no one has a right to tell others what their

responsibility in life is, or what they should be doing. People that tend to focus on what other people are

doing wrong tend to try and pull others into their belief systems, its rather scary actually. Conspiracy

theorists sometimes believe it is their duty to spread the truth, and then spread their fear-based

(usually) nonsensical spiel and make others feel like they must buy into it, or they will be in trouble of

some sort, usually religion is tied in. Then, there are the “Christians” with the fear-based pamphlets

with scary art designs pertaining to hell or something. I have never seen more destructive patterns of

thinking like this than with some right-wing Christian fundamentalists. As a person who has searched for

truth and clarity in my life, I can honestly say that, those movements are extremely fear-based and very

far from what I think God would want us believing or doing. People of that nature tend to simply blame

someone else or something outside of them. It makes great sense to me to spend my energy creating

the outcomes that I want, reaching goals, and changing myself. It is true that when you change yourself,

your perceptions change too. I fully believe in personal responsibility, similarly to Socrates in his Four

basic principles: “although no one can teach anyone else about the fundamental principles of right

action and clear thinking, some people-call them teachers, philosophers, gadflies- can ask questions that

prod men and women to begin the task of self-examination.”

Works Cited

Wolf, Robert Paul. “About Philosophy”. Tenth Edition. Pearson Prentice Hall, USA.

Wikipedia. “Socrates”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socrates.

Answers.com. “Socrates”. http://www.answers.com/topic/socrates.

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