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Socrates as an Iconic Figure in Philosophy

Socrates is an iconic figure in thought history that set the vector of flowing of the whole Western tradition. He was born around 470 B.C. and died in 399 B.C. by Athenian court order because he was blamed for many sins, mainly baseless. Despite the fact that he was concerned “by the well-being of others, and quite especially of his fellow citizens.” (Slings 144). He had a profound influence on Plato, thanks to the works of whom humanity knows about this thinker. Plato was a teacher of Aristotle, and it is known that they are the most affluent philosophers in history. However, the roots of their appearing one can be in the unique figure of Socrates. He differs from the philosophers who came before him and those who came after him. He is an ethic-centered thinker, despite Natural Philosophers that were before, so he is closer to the modern human, thinking more of how to behave in this world. Socrates became a model for philosophy, and, essentially, he is the father of Western philosophy.

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To emphasize the uniqueness of Socrates’ figure, one can find out that he accents his attention on humans than on the essence of Nature. Seven Sages, or Seven Wise Men of Ancient Greece, thought about Nature and its primary substance. For example, Thales of Miletus set water as the first principle of existence, a primordial matter of which everything is made. They did not think much about the human position in the world as Socrates did. They were more interested in how this world works, overlooking a person’s moral issues. Socrates is not one of them, and he started a new tradition; he began to investigate principles of proper behavior as a tool to achieve happiness and well-being. Wolfsdorf supports this point of view, underlining that “ethics was central to Socrates’ philosophy” (Wolfsdorf 170). Therefore, his figure is revolutionary because he changed the main object of meditation and posed other more pragmatic questions.

Socrates did not find his school in spite of most philosophers that came before and after him. There could be many reasons for it, but, in any case, the following ones are some of the most significant. First of all, his method of thinking and getting to the heart of things differs from others. That is called the Socratic method, which is about eliminating hypotheses in some questions during argumentative dialogue (maieutics). It demands the work of critical thinking and casting doubt on every seemingly obvious thing, but schools found some axioms and dogmas. Secondly, creating a school implies its creator got to some sort of truth and is ready to show others a way there. However, it is not Socrates’s style, for his quotation is very well known: “I neither know nor think I know” (Jowett, Plato 5). Therefore, everyone can see that this Greek sage teaches critical thinking by his example, which did not allow him to found his own system and school.

Also, there is another unique Socrates feature that sets him apart from other philosophers: he never wrote anything. He always reflected orally, and his thoughts are known only thanks to his students or followers, primarily Plato. However, they are no historical records and more Plato’s interpretation of his figure (Magrini 15). Socrates’ habit of only talking is in line with the intellectual principles mentioned before. To write means having some solid, unchangeable ideas to be written on paper, and it contradicts Socrates’ position. He believes there is nothing to know, for it is impossible, and everyone must understand it, emphasizing his attention more on ethical issues. What is justice and how to be just, what is godliness and how to be pious? Behavioral question “how” is not departed from the ontological question “what.” That is why Socrates never wrote anything; his philosophical system is personalized by him and is embodied in his direct behavior in everyday life.

In the end, it is safe to say that Socrates is a unique and iconic figure in the history of human thought. He stands out from the others visibly, at the same time, has an enormous influence on everyone, mainly through his student and follower, Plato. Socrates differs from Natural Philosophers, ancient Seven Sages, or Seven Wise Men, who concentrated on ontological questions and sought primordial matter. He differs from his predecessors and those who were after him because he did not establish any school and did not write anything. His uniqueness lies in the fact that he personalizes his philosophy in everyday life, orienting on ethical and moral questions on issues of how to behave and not to suffer. He singled out the individual human soul and his position, problems, and destiny. He definitely changed the course of human thought and really intensified it, the influence of which everyone can see even today. Therefore, Socrates became the role model for philosophy’s way that nobody could imagine without him.

Works Cited

Magrini, James M. Plato’s Socrates, Philosophy and Education. Springer International Publishing, 2017.

Jowett, Benjamin, and Plato. Six Great Dialogues: Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Phaedrus, Symposium, The Republic. Dover Publications, 2007.

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Slings, S.R.. Plato’s Apology of Socrates: A Literary and Philosophical Study with a Running Commentary. Edited and Completed from the Papers of the Late E. de Strycker, S.J.. Brill, 2018.

Wolfsdorf, David Conan. Early Greek Ethics. Oxford University Press, 2020.

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