We will discuss the life and work of Socrates as an example of what it means to be a true philosopher.  We shall take up a discussion of "Socrates Defense" often called Plato's "Apology".  We get a glimpse of Socrates life as a whole from this dialogue.  You might call it a looking backward.  Socrates has been accused of worshiping false gods and of corrupting the youth of Athens.  These are trumped up charges leveled by embarrassed "know-it- alls" discredited in very public debates with Socrates. They want these embarrassments to stop and have brought Socrates before a tribunal to defend himself against these charges. The punishment..... death.

Socrates gives us that wonderful admonition " the unexamined life is not worth living."

For more about Socrates turn to Plato.

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Beginning of the Apology or Socrates Defense.

How you, O Athenians, have been affected by my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that they almost made me forget who I was — so persuasively did they speak; and yet they have hardly uttered a word of truth. But of the many falsehoods told by them, there was one which quite amazed me; — I mean when they said that you should be upon your guard and not allow yourselves to be deceived by the force of my eloquence. To say this, when they were certain to be detected as soon as I opened my lips and proved myself to be anything but a great speaker, did indeed appear to me most shameless — unless by the force of eloquence they mean the force of truth; for is such is their meaning, I admit that I am eloquent. But in how different a way from theirs! Well, as I was saying, they have scarcely spoken the truth at all; but from me you shall hear the whole truth: not, however, delivered after their manner in a set oration duly ornamented with words and phrases. No, by heaven! but I shall use the words and arguments which occur to me at the moment; for I am confident in the justice of my cause (Or, I am certain that I am right in taking this course.): at my time of life I ought not to be appearing before you, O men of Athens, in the character of a juvenile orator — let no one expect it of me. And I must beg of you to grant me a favour:— If I defend myself in my accustomed manner, and you hear me using the words which I have been in the habit of using in the agora, at the tables of the money-changers, or anywhere else, I would ask you not to be surprised, and not to interrupt me on this account. For I am more than seventy years of age, and appearing now for the first time in a court of law, I am quite a stranger to the language of the place; and therefore I would have you regard me as if I were really a stranger, whom you would excuse if he spoke in his native tongue, and after the fashion of his country:— Am I making an unfair request of you? Never mind the manner, which may or may not be good; but think only of the truth of my words, and give heed to that: let the speaker speak truly and the judge decide justly.

It is interesting that they are so afraid of his eloquence.  I suppose that is what happens when you win all your arguments as persuasively as Socrates.  His accusers are convinced that they are right despite sound evidence to the contrary.  This problem has a modern ring to it.

Well said.  No one likes to be told they are wrong and this is especially true when they build their lives and concept of self on those beliefs.  Growth requires an open mind a mind that is not afraid to challenge its own beliefs; I think Theosophy and the way it denies dogma and set beliefs is ground breaking here.  Socrates would have gotten along quite well here on the Nexus!!

Do we know very much about Socrates other than through Plato?

Quotes by Socrates

"I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.”

"Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Socrates would have made, or perhaps was, a great psychotherapist.  The quote, "I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think, " would be great for the first sentence, of the first paragraph of a book on mental health counseling.  Socrates had always been one of my heroes, he is so cool!!

Do you have a favorite quote of his you could share?

2 More from the Apology or Socrates Defense

Well, then, I must make my defence, and endeavour to clear away in a short time, a slander which has lasted a long time. May I succeed, if to succeed be for my good and yours, or likely to avail me in my cause! The task is not an easy one; I quite understand the nature of it. And so leaving the event with God, in obedience to the law I will now make my defence.
I will begin at the beginning, and ask what is the accusation which has given rise to the slander of me, and in fact has encouraged Meletus to proof this charge against me. Well, what do the slanderers say? They shall be my prosecutors, and I will sum up their words in an affidavit: ‘Socrates is an evil-doer, and a curious person, who searches into things under the earth and in heaven, and he makes the worse appear the better cause; and he teaches the aforesaid doctrines to others.’ Such is the nature of the accusation: it is just what you have yourselves seen in the comedy of Aristophanes (Aristoph., Clouds.), who has introduced a man whom he calls Socrates, going about and saying that he walks in air, and talking a deal of nonsense concerning matters of which I do not pretend to know either much or little — not that I mean to speak disparagingly of any one who is a student of natural philosophy. I should be very sorry if Meletus could bring so grave a charge against me. But the simple truth is, O Athenians, that I have nothing to do with physical speculations. Very many of those here present are witnesses to the truth of this, and to them I appeal. Speak then, you who have heard me, and tell your neighbours whether any of you have ever known me hold forth in few words or in many upon such matters . . . You hear their answer. And from what they say of this part of the charge you will be able to judge of the truth of the rest.

From Socrates:

To fear death, my friends, is only to think ourselves wise, without being wise: for it is to think that we know what we do not know. For anything that men can tell, death may be the greatest good that can happen to them: but they fear it as if they knew quite well that it was the greatest of evils. And what is this but that shameful ignorance of thinking that we know what we do not know?

From Socrates:

Well I am certainly wiser than this man. It is only too likely that neither of us has any knowledge to boast of; but he thinks that he knows something which he does not know, whereas I am quite conscious of my ignorance. At any rate it seems that I am wiser than he is to this small extent, that I do not think that I know what I do not know.

Why does Socrates make such a strong case for admitting his ignorance?

It seems that Socrates is alluding here to the idea that the lower mind/manas by itself is incapable to pierce through the veil of illusion (duality) as it is primarily dependent on external sensory input. It needs at least the light of higher manas and even better of buddhi-manas to lift that veil and therefore look within. The lower manas could be educated in walking the antaskaranic path for which the mystery schools were to provide. Unfortunately that institution had even in Plato's time already become to a large extend corrupted. It is by penetrating into the depths of the archetypal world that the human soul eventually becomes educated and liberated from the thraldom of the senses, something for which both Socrates (as a noetic midwife) and Plato (through his writings) tried to provide. The first thing that needs to be done by the human soul is to become acquainted with first principles as a basis for thought and action in concomitance with leading a life of virtue.

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Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on September 12, 2014 at 11:45am

Do you think that through Socrates's insistence upon clarifying the problem of double ignorance (thinking we know when we do not) he was alluding to the limitations of the lower mind or was he showing us how pride blocks real philosophical inquiry??

Wait, wait, call on me!!  I know the answer..... probably both!

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 13, 2014 at 3:47am

Perhaps it's a simple as saying that our minds are often full of unexamined and untested opinions and beliefs.  These are the things we think "we know", but which often turn out on analysis to contain many inherent contradictions and gaps. Socrates was ingenious at bringing these to light in his conversations with others.  He would regularly find some unwary person who would claim to know what is "Justice" or "Virtue" or "Beauty", for example.  However, on examination of his beliefs and the exposure of the contradictions by Socrates that same individual would have to admit he did not know after all.

"The unexamined life is not worth living." is possibly the most recognised quote of Socrates from 'The Apology.'

It's worth noting that in Socrates' early dialogues the end result was often two people 'not knowing' - albeit that common wrong assumptions were brought to light - with no real answer to the topic under discussion.  In the later dialogues, Socrates is shown by Plato as providing answers (i.e. 'knowing') to the complex problems of life and metaphysical questions.

Permalink Reply by barbaram on September 13, 2014 at 11:06am

"It's worth noting that in Socrates' early dialogues the end result was often two people 'not knowing' - albeit that common wrong assumptions were brought to light - with no real answer to the topic under discussion.  In the later dialogues, Socrates is shown by Plato as providing answers (i.e. 'knowing') to the complex problems of life and metaphysical questions."

Hi Peter,

Do you know why this is so?  I assume it was intentional.

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 13, 2014 at 11:45am

Barbara - It seems that Socrates left no written record of his own so all that we know of his dialogues comes down to us through his students, of which Plato is the most well known and the major recorder of Socrates words.  

However, there is the ongoing question as to what extent Socrates words are always his own and to what extent the character of Socrates is used by Plato for his own teachings.  That leaves open the possibility that the early dialogues more closely represent the historical Socrates and the later dialogues represent Plato's teachings given out through the character of Socrates.  

Interestingly, even Plato's theory of forms which we find in the later dialogues  comes under severe criticism in Plato's own work, "Parmenides" wherein Socrates finds himself and the theory of Forms under fire by the famous Monist, Parmenides, whose philosophy in some ways is similar to that of the Non-dualism of Advaita Vedanta. Parmenides argued that all perception is illusory and that the ultimate reality is an undifferentiated, unchanging UNITY.  Further, that the TRUTH can only be apprehended through pure reason, which the advaitee might well regard as similar to Jnana yoga.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on September 15, 2014 at 5:49pm

Plato, through the voice of Socrates, seems to be encouraging us to become thinkers and examiners.  "Great Sifter, is the name of the Heart Doctrine." the Voice says.  Perhaps this is why the early dialogues are so insistent on leaving things unsettled.  Plato does not want to do our thinking for us.

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on September 12, 2014 at 11:32pm

More from the Apology or Socrates Defense

As little foundation is there for the report that I am a teacher, and take money; this accusation has no more truth in it than the other. Although, if a man were really able to instruct mankind, to receive money for giving instruction would, in my opinion, be an honour to him. There is Gorgias of Leontium, and Prodicus of Ceos, and Hippias of Elis, who go the round of the cities, and are able to persuade the young men to leave their own citizens by whom they might be taught for nothing, and come to them whom they not only pay, but are thankful if they may be allowed to pay them. There is at this time a Parian philosopher residing in Athens, of whom I have heard; and I came to hear of him in this way:— I came across a man who has spent a world of money on the Sophists, Callias, the son of Hipponicus, and knowing that he had sons, I asked him: ‘Callias,’ I said, ‘if your two sons were foals or calves, there would be no difficulty in finding some one to put over them; we should hire a trainer of horses, or a farmer probably, who would improve and perfect them in their own proper virtue and excellence; but as they are human beings, whom are you thinking of placing over them? Is there any one who understands human and political virtue? You must have thought about the matter, for you have sons; is there any one?’ ‘There is,’ he said. ‘Who is he?’ said I; ‘and of what country? and what does he charge?’ ‘Evenus the Parian,’ he replied; ‘he is the man, and his charge is five minae.’ Happy is Evenus, I said to myself, if he really has this wisdom, and teaches at such a moderate charge. Had I the same, I should have been very proud and conceited; but the truth is that I have no knowledge of the kind.

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on September 17, 2014 at 12:08am

From the Defense of Socrates:

I dare say, Athenians, that some one among you will reply, ‘Yes, Socrates, but what is the origin of these accusations which are brought against you; there must have been something strange which you have been doing? All these rumours and this talk about you would never have arisen if you had been like other men: tell us, then, what is the cause of them, for we should be sorry to judge hastily of you.’ Now I regard this as a fair challenge, and I will endeavour to explain to you the reason why I am called wise and have such an evil fame. Please to attend then. And although some of you may think that I am joking, I declare that I will tell you the entire truth. Men of Athens, this reputation of mine has come of a certain sort of wisdom which I possess. If you ask me what kind of wisdom, I reply, wisdom such as may perhaps be attained by man, for to that extent I am inclined to believe that I am wise; whereas the persons of whom I was speaking have a superhuman wisdom which I may fail to describe, because I have it not myself; and he who says that I have, speaks falsely, and is taking away my character. And here, O men of Athens, I must beg you not to interrupt me, even if I seem to say something extravagant. For the word which I will speak is not mine. I will refer you to a witness who is worthy of credit; that witness shall be the God of Delphi — he will tell you about my wisdom, if I have any, and of what sort it is. You must have known Chaerephon; he was early a friend of mine, and also a friend of yours, for he shared in the recent exile of the people, and returned with you. Well, Chaerephon, as you know, was very impetuous in all his doings, and he went to Delphi and boldly asked the oracle to tell him whether — as I was saying, I must beg you not to interrupt — he asked the oracle to tell him whether anyone was wiser than I was, and the Pythian prophetess answered, that there was no man wiser. Chaerephon is dead himself; but his brother, who is in court, will confirm the truth of what I am saying.

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on September 21, 2014 at 12:19am

From the Defense of Socrates:

Why do I mention this? Because I am going to explain to you why I have such an evil name. When I heard the answer, I said to myself, What can the god mean? and what is the interpretation of his riddle? for I know that I have no wisdom, small or great. What then can he mean when he says that I am the wisest of men? And yet he is a god, and cannot lie; that would be against his nature. After long consideration, I thought of a method of trying the question. I reflected that if I could only find a man wiser than myself, then I might go to the god with a refutation in my hand. I should say to him, ‘Here is a man who is wiser than I am; but you said that I was the wisest.’ Accordingly I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom, and observed him — his name I need not mention; he was a politician whom I selected for examination — and the result was as follows: When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and still wiser by himself; and thereupon I tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me. So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is — for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows; I neither know nor think that I know. In this latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him. Then I went to another who had still higher pretensions to wisdom, and my conclusion was exactly the same. Whereupon I made another enemy of him, and of many others besides him.

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on September 30, 2014 at 2:44pm

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”


― Socrates

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on September 30, 2014 at 2:45pm

“To find yourself, think for yourself.”

― Socrates