Socrates is one of the most important and famous figures in western philosophy. Although there is little that exists of his actual teaching on its own, it is now known through the dialogues of his student Plato, which have become some of the most famous and influential pieces of philosophy ever produced. They represent Socrates as both a teacher, a philosopher and, occasionally, as a political rebel and a criminal. These dialogues deal with subjects that range from politics, art and the nature of the human soul. The basic ideas presented in these dialogues continue to influence many aspects of western thought and have provided some of the most important ways This paper will begin by giving an outline of Socrates’ life and will then go on to discuss the key parts of his philosophy.
Socrates lived in Athens but he was born Alopeke. First of all he worked as a stonemason which involved carving and other projects. After this, he joined the military in order to fight in the Peoloponnesian war, something that proved to be influential for his philosophy. Following his military service, Socrates lived in Athens were he became known as a philosopher and a teacher. Unfortunately during this time he also became known as a trouble maker and someone who criticised the State that he was a part of. Because of this he was convicted of corrupting the youth of Athens, and, as a result, was forced to kill himself by drinking hemlock. Several of Plato’s dialogues feature Socrates’ trial and his death. Throughout these, he is presented as being noble and brave, and being able to be a philosopher up until the point of his death.
Although it is difficult to understand exactly how much of Socrates’ philosophy is present in Plato’s dialogues and how much these dialogues simply present Plato’s thoughts, it is possible to understand some key ideas that we can assume to be Socrates’. One of the most important of these is what is called the ‘Socratic method.’ This refers to a process of philosophical argument. This process of argument does not simply assume that one should have another opinion that one uses to argue against someone. It does not stage two arguments in conflict with each other. Instead of this, the Socratic method involves turning the other person’s arguments against themselves.
In this way, Socrates is able to show the way in which a person is wrong or in which they cannot be as certain of their knowledge as they believe themselves to be. Socrates will often do this by encouraging the person that he wants to argue with to make point or a definite statement and then ask them questions about exactly why they hold this position. By asking these questions in the right way, the method inspires doubt in the person that Socrates wishes to argue with and in this way it shows the weakness of their position. On almost no occasions, however, does Socrates state his own opinion or claim that he knows better. Rather, he means to perform simply a criticism on people who believe wrongly.
In conclusion, Socrates was hugely important as both a historical figure and as a character in Plato’s philosophy. His own life was a mixture of manual labour, military service and teaching and his thought can be characterised by the use of the Socratic method. This is best understood to be a method of argument that does not attempt to directly attack an opinion with another opinion, but that seeks to expose holes in someone’s thinking with directly suggesting an alternative.