Garth Kemerling's insightful discussion of Socrates contains many links to concepts and people.

Who Was Socrates?
Michael S. Russo provides a clear commentary to Socrates' life and ideas.

The Apology
The mind altering depiction of the trial of Socrates. really, this work changed the world and if you read it well it will change you too.

The Apology: Study Questions
To think about and look for when reading the original text.

The Delphic Oracle
Socrates make important references to the oracle. learn about this remarkable aspect of history from Scientific American magazine.

Dr. J's Illustrated Apology
A detailed analysis of the trial of Socrates.

Socrates and The Apology
Lecture notes by Janice Siegel


Socrates II

Socratic Ignorance: It is important to note that Socrates himself did not claim to know better than others. In the above listed dialogues he frequently emphases that he is ignorant of the answer. The importance of this helps to draw the line between dogma and genuine philosophy. It is one thing to state one's opinion of how things are and should be. Powerful institutions such as religions and political systems are built upon such dogmas and the demands that others abide by them. Socrates, on the other hand, started from a position of ignorance and sought the truth. In the end, he has no dogmatic program for us to follow, just a method for seeking the truth for ourselves, without any guarantee that we will find it. Philosophy as practiced by Socrates is an open system.

In Apology by Plato, Socrates explains why he follows his philosophical path, even to his death [note: "apology" implies not admission of guilt but an intention to give justification for some action or position]. The ancient Greeks had a sacred temple in Delphi. In the temple was a woman who was said to be possessed by the gods and able to get answers from them. Chaerephon traveled to Delphi to ask the Oracle; "Who is the wisest of men?" The answer came back that "No one is wiser than Socrates." Socrates explains to the court;

When I heard the answer, I said to myself, What can the god mean? and what is the interpretation of this riddle? for I know that I have no wisdom, small or great. What 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 a long consideration, I at last 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 to 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 wiser still by himself; and I went and 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 philosophical pretensions, and my conclusion was exactly the same. I made another enemy of him, and of many others besides him....therefore I asked myself on behalf of the oracle, whether I would like to be as I was, neither having their knowledge nor their ignorance, or like them in both; and I made answer to myself and the oracle that I was better off as I was.

In this excerpt we find a key to the Socrates and the philosophical tradition that he gave birth to. When he finds that the experts are just as ignorant about what things really are, he reasons; "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." Socrates concludes that it is better to have honest ignorance than self-deceptive ignorance. Socrates may not know the ultimate answers to the questions he raises, but he knows himself. It is this self-knowledge and integrity that constitutes the wisdom of Socrates. The open invitation is for all of us to ask ourselves how much we truly know of what we claim.

Next - learn more about the ideas of Socratic Philosophy.




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