Socrates was a great philosopher who lived in Greece. Socrates was the first of, “the great trio of ancient Greece – Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle,” (Encyclopedia Britannica, volume 27). Socrates was born in Athens, Greece in about 470 BC. His father was Sophroniscus, a sculptor, and his mother was Phaenarete. Socrates followed in his father’s footsteps for a while as a sculptor. He designed a statue group of the three graces, which stood at the entrance to the Acropolis until the second century AD. Socrates had a fairly bad appearance.
He was stout and not very tall, with prominent eyes, a snub nose, broad nostrils, and a wide mouth (Moulton, Ancient Greece and Rome). Socrates was married late in life to Xanthippe. He had three sons Lamprocles, Sophroniscus, and Menexenus. During the Peloponesian war against Sparta, Socrates bravely served as a hoplite (a heavily armed infantry soldier). He fought in the battles of Potidaea (432-430 BC) where he saved the life of Alcibiades, the battle of Delium (424 BC), and the battle of Amphipolis (422 BC). Socrates liked to argue and debate anything with anyone.
He spent most of his time in public places, like the marketplace, arguing with anyone that listened. He enjoyed life immensely and achieved social popularity because of his ready wit and a keen sense of humor that was completely devoid of satire or cynicism (Encarta Encyclopedia 1999). Socrates did not write any books nor did he establish any schools of philosophy. He criticized Athenian education and the teaching ways of the Sophists. Sophists taught things by having the students memorize facts. Socrates thought that if a student asked questions then they would learn better.
Socrates did not want to be called a Sophist; instead he was called a philosopher. The basis of his teaching was the concepts of justice, love, and virtue. He believed that no person is willingly bad and that virtue is knowledge and those who know the right will act rightly. This type of thinking was called the Socratic method. One of Socrates pupils was Plato, who in turn taught Aristotle. Through the writings of these philosophers, Socrates profoundly affected the entire subsequent course of Western speculative thought (Encarta 99).
Socrates also taught Anisthenes, who founded the Cynic school of philosophy, and Aristippus who founded the Cyrenaic school of hedonism. Socrates criticized democracy. He thought that it wasn’t smart to elect unskilled people as rulers. “After all, we do not elect doctors or ship pilots – why should we elect rulers? ” he said. Socrates drew crowds when he mocked the government. Through his teaching and actions he made many enemies in the government. Socrates was arrested in 399 BC for impiety.
At his trial the prosecutor Meletus said he was neglecting the gods of the state and introducing new ones (this was because Socrates believed in a mystical inner voice called the daemonion), and corrupting the morals of the young, leading them away from the principals of democracy. Socrates was convicted by a vote of 280 to 220, and Meletus asked for the death penalty, and the jury concurred by a small margin. Socrates, according to Athenian legal practice, was supposed to make a counter-proposition, which he did only for form’s sake.
He suggested a fine of one mina but raised it to thirty because his friends told him to. This further angered the jury, which voted to sentence him to death by an even wider margin. The customary procedure of execution was to drink a poison made from the bark of the hemlock tree. This was supposed to be done within 24 hours but there was an unexpected delay of a month. During his prison stay his friends frequently visited Socrates. One friend, Crito, proposed an escape plan, but Socrates refused. He decided that the verdict had been given fairly and he would go through with the sentence.
Socrates drank the hemlock and died in 399 BC. Socrates still influences the way we think today. Socrates thought that to be really happy, people had to find perfection in their souls, and the better that their souls were then the happier they were. He also thought that people should think about what they think about and why. Many of his philosophies form the basis for how we learn and teach. The Socratic method, for example, is often used to teach law school classes by asking questions instead of having the students memorize facts.