One can only learn about the life and work of Socrates – one of the greatest philosophers of ancient Greece – from the works of his contemporaries and students, primarily Plato, because Socrates himself did not leave written sources behind him. Plato also met Socrates eight years before the death of the latter, when Socrates was already over sixty, and this meeting made a revolution in the soul of the future famous philosopher. Plato also wrote the Apology of Socrates, from which one can learn about some aspects of Socratic philosophy.
“The Apology of Socrates” is the justifying speech of Socrates, delivered by him at the Athenian court in 399 BC, after the accusers heard the speeches. It should be noted that this is an artistic reproduction of Plato’s speech, and from the point of view of artistry, it deserves appreciation. The composition includes:
1. Speech after the charge preceding the sentence. In it, Socrates criticizes the former and new accusers for slander and gives himself a general characteristic. He says that he is not afraid of death, but is afraid only of cowardice and shame; what will always be engaged in philosophy; that killing him would be terrible for the judges, because after the death of Socrates there is hardly a person who will force them to strive for truth. The philosopher also says that the inner voice prevents him from taking part in public affairs that are full of injustice.
He claims that he didn’t teach anyone, but didn’t interfere with asking questions and answering them – this was entrusted to God by Socrates, and there are no witnesses who would claim that Socrates spoke evil and corrupt.
2. Speech of Socrates after a general accusation. He is surprised that the accusation is supported by a small majority of votes, and says that the judges do not believe him and therefore will not understand him.
3. Speech of Socrates after the death sentence. Those who voted for the death penalty, says Socrates, have done evil to themselves, for they will all be blamed, and he will be considered a sage. Socrates lacks shamelessness and audacity to humiliate himself before judges who do not understand him. In this case, Socrates recognizes death as a blessing, and if it is, as they say, the transition to Hades, then it is an acquisition: he will find fair judges there and become immortal.
In conclusion, Socrates says he is going to die, and his accusers will continue to live. But it is not clear what is better and what is worse.
Sometimes Plato in his work, apparently in an effort to show Socrates in the most favorable light, makes logical mistakes: the simple denial of a fact cited by him / was not engaged in natural philosophy / is not yet evidence of his absence. He admits a very formal reasoning: “If I am an atheist, I did not introduce new deities” and vice versa.
In Apology, Socrates says that he was not involved in public affairs, and at the same time he claims that he fought and will fight injustice, that his philosophy is a struggle for the public good and for the foundations of the state. In addition, the original and acute question-answer method of Socrates’ philosophy is practically not presented, with the exception of places where Socrates mentally, as it were, enters into a conversation with Melet. The tone of the hero-Socrates is rather self-confident, which, according to other contemporaries, was not peculiar to him at all.
So, with all the controversy of the most powerful written source telling the descendants about the most wonderful philosopher of antiquity, Apology gives us an idea, albeit not a complete one, of Socrates’ philosophy and its methods. Who was this strange man who did not write a single book, and yet remained in the centuries as one of the brightest personalities of ancient Greece?
Socrates was an original person in everyday life, an eccentric in philosophy, his behavior was not always usual. He came from a simple and poor family – he was the son of a stonecutter and therefore did not receive in his childhood and youth refined education and upbringing, which was obligatory for young men from aristocratic families.
Externally, the philosopher was a bald, squat, with a subsequently famous bump on his forehead. The nose was flattened, his lips were thick, his eyes were bulging, and he dressed almost worse than the slaves did not change his attire, depending on the weather. Specialties he did not have, than he earned a living, is unknown.
True, he had been in military campaigns three times, like many fellow citizens, visited the National Assembly, but regularly did nothing in public or state affairs. However, he was a very popular man among the people, and therefore in 404 BC the government of the Thirty Tyrants even wanted to attract him to their side, but Socrates dodged such “honorable” trust.
In fact, his only occupation was to ask questions. A special pleasure for Socrates was a conversation with a complacent man, who was completely entangled in his tricky questions, losing all his arrogance. Socrates, by the way, portrayed himself as a simpleton, he attributed his own failures to his opponent, gently and good-naturedly chuckling at his interlocutor.
I must say that this method – question-answer was new in modern Socrates philosophy. With it, you can easily break the philistine ideas about the world and its structure. Of course, the question-answer dialogue form was also used by other philosophers. So, the sophists also loved arguing, but rather as a process, a dispute for the sake of a dispute, a dispute of the sophists eventually became an end in itself. Socrates never reached idle talk and lack of principle.
In contrast to the natural philosophers, the questions asked by Socrates, concerned mainly not nature, not sciences and not gods, but were about human consciousness, soul, morality and the purpose of human life, politics and aesthetics. Socrates is essentially the first to address man and his essence. He tried to find out what is good and evil, justice and law, beautiful and ugly – that is, find answers to questions that relate not only to the philosophical worldview, but also to aesthetics: science on the fusion of philosophy, art and art history.
Plato in Socrates’s Apology cites the following teacher’s opinions: a girl can be beautiful, but what is beautiful in itself? After all, a horse can be beautiful, so what is beauty in general? To solve this question, it is not enough to consider one horse or one girl, and studying many horses and girls is not enough. This is how the inductive – definitive method of searching for truth appeared. Induction is another method of Socratic philosophy, which makes it possible to examine the subject from different angles, with a scientist of diverse opinions and processes.
Aristotle subsequently believed that Socrates was looking for formulations of general concepts based on the study of certain things that can be summarized under these concepts. He proceeded from the fact that a philistine often replaces a concept with a representation or characteristic of a separate well-known thing. And after Socrates’ explanations from his interlocutors, clear concepts became vague, requiring further clarification. Philistine views were broken into pieces by Socrates.
Socrates used another method — maeutics, that is, a form of conversation in which the ability to conduct a dialogue meant the ability to ask leading questions.
Another method of Socrates was irony. She, like the magical effect of Socratic speeches, was noted by many contemporaries. Socrates asked questions in an ironic form and fascinated the interlocutor with his “ignorance”. Of course, such an ironic and hidden-mocking approach was not to everyone’s liking.
It is necessary to say a few words about the time in which Socrates lived. Modern Athenian democracy lost its simple, harsh and beautiful ideals, which were in the first half of the 5th century BC. They were forgotten in pursuit of profits, new territories and slaves. At this time, Athens lived in robber wars, democracy degenerated. Socrates, in the midst of the people, conducted conversations, and his seemingly simple questions puzzled supporters of the demagogic regime: the aristocrats considered him a commoner who allows himself a lot, and the Democrats were afraid of his biting exposure.
However, Socrates was too popular. His endless disputes were tolerated for the time being, but in 399 BC The “democratic” authorities judged the philosopher and pronounced a glaring judicial sentence — the first death sentence in Athens for abstract ideological differences. Socrates, however, was given the opportunity to secretly escape from prison, go into exile, but he remained faithful to his worldview and drank the cooked bowl with hemlock. His last request before his death was a request for a sacrifice to the god of healing Asclepius. Such a sacrifice was made in the event of a successful recovery. And here Socrates was ironic: by recovery, he understood going into another life.
Above has been said about the methods of Socrates. Another famous one is the Socratic dialectic. Socrates’ philosophy was aimed at finding a positive truth. Interest in man by Socrates and the sophists was a common feature, unlike natural philosophers interested in nature and the sciences. But sophistry was just beautiful oratory, Socrates, in an effort to reach the positive truth, was in no hurry with its statement and wording. Dialectics in its positive sense, in its constant search for objective truth, distinguished Socrates’ philosophy from natural philosophy and sophistry.
It is much easier to understand, as Socrates taught, than to determine what he taught. As already mentioned, even in Apology, aspects of Socratic philosophy are practically not represented. But some problems can still be identified.
One of the problems worrying the ancient philosophers was the problem of religion. Socrates at the trial was charged with introducing new deities and corrupting youth. On the other hand, Socrates was not an atheist, nor was he a pious defender of existing pantheism.
Of course, one cannot believe Aristophanes, who in the comedy “Clouds” brought Socrates as a fan of new deities – Clouds. Socrates remained a rationalist, a dialectician who was not afraid to reason, if not about the traditional gods, then about the higher forces that expediently control man. The principle of supreme justice, human and universal, had no name for Socrates. But the discourse about him was accepted by his contemporaries as the discourse about a new god, not anthropomorphic and nameless. Such a non-mythological, uncultured deity was a wilderness for Athenian contemporaries.
State and society also occupied Socrates, although he avoided any public and state activities. Socrates did not sympathize with the state system that existed in Greece, the society with its mores and customs of the dying polis. The time was strange: a century did not pass from the flourishing of society to decline. At the beginning of the century Athens represented the young policy of slave-owning democracy, the winner of Persia. In the middle of the century, the “golden age” of Athenian democracy began, which lasted only a few decades.
And in the second half of the century the tragic Peloponnesian War occurred, the old ideals were destroyed, Sparta betrayed Athens and entered into an alliance with Persia, in 404 BC. an oligarchic coup takes place, democracy in Athens is formally restored, but in the second half of the 4th century BC Greece inevitably becomes a miserable province that has lost its independence. Feeling the failure of both aristocrats and democrats, seeing violations of the law of justice on both sides, Socrates could not take sides with either of the classes and avoided both social and political sympathies and antipathies.
The ancient Chinese said: “God forbid you be born in an era of change.” But it was precisely such transitional periods that created geniuses. Socrates was one of the first. He entered ancient philosophy and literature as a genius interlocutor, an astute arguer and dialectician, an eternal student who drew knowledge even from people with little gifts and little education, an ironic but good-natured wit, an amateur of truth, with innocent questions exposed the truth and arrogance.
This man has become the intersection of many ideological tendencies. It is to Socrates that we owe the appearance of Plato the philosopher. Plato, in turn, became the ancestor of Platonism, the teacher of Aristotle, and from these strong roots grew many philosophical branches: stoicism, hedonism and epicureanism, pythagoreanism, skepticism, neo-platonism, which led to the emergence of modern philosophy. Certainly, without Socrates, modern philosophy would not have become what it is.