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Socrates Quotes: The Life and Teachings of a Great Philosopher Through His Sayings

Updated on September 28, 2017
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Who Is Socrates?

Socrates ( Greek: Σωκράτης [sɔːkrátɛːs], Sōkrátēs) was a classical Greek (Athenian) philosopher ( for many historians the greatest one) and the primary source of Western thought. He was born circa 470 BC, in Athens, Greece at the municipality of Alopeke and belonged to the tribe Antiochis. Socrates was the son of Sophroniscus, an Athenian stone mason and sculptor, and Phaenarete, a midwife. He followed his father's profession, but soon, he gave it up, to deal exclusively with philosophy.

Not much is known about the education he has followed. He is most likely to be educated like all young people of his time, but showing a personal preference for the works of Archelaus and Anaxagoras that influenced him particularly in his way of thinking. Probably much of his wisdom came from his self-education.

As a man and as a philosopher, he is truly an exceptional and unique personality that has been the subject of many discussions, since his life, his teaching and the way he finally died it is indeed a phenomenon.

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A Teacher of Love

He was an honest, law-abiding and moral character. He respected the laws and institutions and loved his homeland. In fact, he was a man of calm but firm will, brave and decisive. He fought courageously in three campaigns of the Peloponnesian War, where he showed boldness, self-denial, and resistance to hardship. His life was actually the better proof of what a moral and righteous character was. He did not hesitate to oppose the tyrants to support the right, even when they threatened him with his life. He says in his apology: "So then, not with the words, but in fact I proved again, to myself to speak more clearly, that I was not interested in death at all. All I care about is that I do not want to commit something unfair or unethical."

He regularly wore the same worn-out tunic and walked barefoot on markets, gymnasiums, and streets, beginning endless philosophical and political discussions. He faced everything with humor, and always he was giving simple but repellent answers. Although his appearance was not the best, he had a keen spirit and a charismatic personality that gripped the crowd around him. Calm and sweet-talker, he transferred a strange charm to those who were near him and could hear him for hours captivated by his aura.

The Socratic Method

His way of thinking was mainly centered on the everyday problems of life. He loved people, and he liked to come in contact with their difficulties and their needs. He often spoke of morality, goodness, justice, bravery, and their opposite. He told young people, especially children of the wealthy, not to pay attention to the material goods and not to care about possessions, rather than self-improvement. He believed that by using logical methods, a man could find a solution to what he cared about and the most essential of all, to find the real truth.

The beginning of the Socratic thought was the skepticism: “One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing.” (In Ancient Greek, this is pronounced: An itha, oti outhen itha). It is based on the idea that everyone should humbly recognize his true ignorance so that he can start without distraction the inner journey to Knowledge. The assumption that no one is all-knowing leads to goodness and virtue. Leads to loyalty and respect. Socrates considered those merits as wisdom. He, therefore, believed that if man succeeded in knowing himself, he would find the moral rules that would govern him, since, through self-knowledge; everyone becomes virtuous and understands the nature of things at their real depth. For Socrates, good is everything we do with knowledge, while for the evil said that no one is sinning because he wants it but only by recklessness, foolishness, and ignorance. As a founder of moral science and Socratic dialectics, he promoted the improvement of human instincts with a central core of teaching and shaping the personality of young people. This was what he attempted because he believed that virtue is something that can be taught since knowledge and practice are directly connected.

He created a genius method, the dialogue that was called "midwifery." That method based on the logic that the midwife helps not the baby but the childbirth. He made every questioner find by himself the answer he was looking for, through a proper dialogue with the appropriate questions, because he believed that everyone has all the answers already inside him. So the interlocutor, instead of getting ready any answer, he extracted it by his own, through the proper questions. That was the “birth" of the answer that was existing inside interlocutor!

Another excellent method of Socrates was the "irony" method. In this case, Socrates pretended ignorance of the subject of his interlocutor. He earned the speaker, and after letting him develop his theory, supposed to enlighten Socrates, he forced the "expert," through intricate and intelligent questions, to admit his ignorance. He used to praise the interlocutor so that in the end he could see the real lack of knowledge.

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The False Accusations and the Execution

Although Socrates was known to all as a decent and wise citizen, the great philosopher had enemies that were disturbed by his charismatic personality, and the fact that he was teaching people to think. He was trying to awaken people's consciousness to understand reality and to learn how to resist the corruption being attempted by those who had the power and governed. This was considered the most threatening. The fact that he was teaching the people to use their mind and that he was extremely capable of condemning everything that was wrong. Thus, the governors of Athens with false accusations and demagogues managed to condemn to death an innocent and virtuous man, just as happened several years later, in another region, but for much of the same reasons with the story of Jesus!

If someone reads his apology, he will understand who Socrates was. I am giving just, as a small sample, his last words in this apology: “The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways; I go to die, and you to live. Which is better? Only God knows.”

Socrates' Prison

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Before Socrates’ execution, his friends and students offered to bribe the guards and rescue him so he could flee into exile. He declined, stating he wasn't afraid of death. He would accept his sentence with calm and dignity, remaining faithful to the rules of the state and the court's decision, thus showing that he still honors and respects the laws. He did not see death as the end. Apart from this, however, with his self-sacrifice he wanted to prove to be faithful to the beliefs and principles that he was teaching all of his life, thus resisting intolerance and superstition. He died by hemlock poisoning in 399 BC.

David - The Death of Socrates

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Socrates’ Teachings Through His Sayings

So let's do a brief study at some of Socrates’ most important sayings, which can help each one of us in our struggle for self-improvement.

“The only good is knowledge, and the only evil is ignorance.”

“Know thyself.”

“The one who wants to change the world must first change himself.”

“Prefer knowledge to wealth, for the one is transitory, the other perpetual.”

“Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings so that you shall come easily by what others have labored hard for.”

“There are two kinds of disease of the soul, vice, and ignorance.”

“Anitus and Mellitus [the prosecutors in his trial] can kill me but not hurt me.”

“Education, just like a fertile land, brings all the right.”

“The one who most resembles God is the one who does not depend on anything.”

Socrates believes that every good comes from knowing ourselves because this knowledge brings us back into contact with our divine origin. This experience leads us to a higher level, from which we see all fellow human beings and all creatures with respect and love since we understand that through God we are all One. This has as a direct result, we change in a way that we cannot hurt anyone, or do anything unethical, but instead, we act with kindness, courtesy, and admiration in the world. And this is the real happiness! When you can show only love and not hate, just serve and not ask to serve you, only to offer without waiting for a return, then you are truly free and happy. Nothing can hurt you. Not even death, since it simply becomes a passage to another superior and divine level. Therefore, nothing is more important than the search for this knowledge, because its lack is the source of every evil and difficulty in our lives.

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


“Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.”


“Wonder is the beginning of knowledge.”


“If you don’t get what you want, you suffer; if you get what you don’t want, you suffer; even when you get exactly what you want, you still suffer because you can’t hold on to it forever. Your mind is your predicament. It wants to be free of change. Free of pain, free of the obligations of life and death. But change is law and no amount of pretending will alter that reality.”


“Understanding a question is half the answer.”


“Whom do I call educated? First, those who manage well the circumstances they encounter day by day. Next, those who are decent and honorable in their intercourse with all men, bearing easily and good naturedly what is offensive in others and being as agreeable and reasonable to their associates as is humanly possible to be… those who hold their pleasures always under control and are not ultimately overcome by their misfortunes… those who are not spoiled by their successes, who do not desert their true selves but hold their ground steadfastly as wise and sober — minded men.”


“When you want wisdom and insight as badly as you want to breathe, it is then you shall have it.”


Knowing that God lives in each of us, he was aware that we all have inside of us all the answers, all the knowledge that can liberate us. But the world of matter and the passions of the body have cut us off from this inner source. So what we need to do is try to restore our connection to this source. This, according to Socrates, can be done by educating ourselves to be free from the material pleasures and bonds that make up our bodies with their laziness. By practicing on morality and kindness. By looking for the truth in us. That's why he never tried to teach but helped every man find his own answers, so everyone to become the teacher of himself.

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“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

How difficult is this fight of self-knowledge? So very difficult! All of us have felt it. Unfortunately, most of us very soon abandon the effort and are lost in the sufferings of this world. We become captives of fear, evil, immorality, indifference, passions, condemnation, selfishness and we miss the miracle of life. We learn to live in the dark and to fear the light that is our very nature! That is why Socrates says that we need to understand our fellow man, to show compassion for his struggle and the load he carries in his personal battles.

“Be nicer than necessary to everyone you meet. Everyone is fighting some kind of battle.”

We all need the help and love of our brothers. As much as we deny it, we always seek it, even in the strangest ways.

“Sometimes you put walls up not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down.”

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That is why Socrates urges us always to be tolerant and good-natured, and never to act or to do injustice. Even towards those who have done us an injustice. He does not accept any excuse for this.

“If a donkey kicks you, it makes no sense to kick him too.”

“It is better to be wronged than to commit injustice.”

“Nothing is to be preferred before justice.”

“Do not do to others what angers you if done to you by others.”

“Be as you wish to seem.”

“One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him.”

“Be the kind of person that you want people to think you are.”

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Socrates tells us that we have to enjoy every moment and everything we have, as little as they are. Not to compromise with them, but because only if we are grateful for what we have been given, we will be able to get rid of the bitterness that binds us and look for the highest.

“He who is not thankful for what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”


“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”


“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”


“Remember, no human condition is ever permanent. Then you will not be overjoyed in good fortune nor too scornful in misfortune.”

He asks us to get out of apathy and act for our sake by offering the world the best we can and looking for our inner self, within God as he mentions it. Not to be afraid of the difficulties. We will fall many times. But if we stand up again and continue with patience, we will eventually find Knowledge, we will experience unity, and we will lose all separation that fools us and steals our happiness.

“Our prayers should be for blessings in general, for God knows best what is good for us.”


“Nature has given us two ears, two eyes, and but one tongue-to the end that we should hear and see more than we speak.”


“Every action has its pleasures and its price.”


“Falling is not a failure. Failure comes when you stay where you have fallen.

It may have been many centuries since the killing of Socrates, but his legacies and his contribution to the evolution of our thought and the values of our culture have remained so far. His teachings are continually verified, since each one of us is looking to find his real self every day, to discover the truth and to create his ethos, character, and principles. Every day some people stand up to the injustices of this world, having only the shield of honesty and the iron will they need to oppose them. And every day there is also a Socrates out there who is sentenced to death and he also drinks his hemlock. The attempt to write this article is for him and for all those who hide a Socrates in them.

And I will close this article with my favorite saying.

“I am not an Athenian, nor a Greek, but a citizen of the world.”

Always so up-to-date! Thank you, teacher!

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Comments

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    • Sean Dragon profile imageAUTHOR

      Ioannis Arvanitis 

      12 months ago from Greece, Almyros

      A great soul that was seeking the Light. My first teacher when I was a young boy. I owe him a great piece of what I am today.

      Thank you, my brother.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      12 months ago from london

      Nice! Inspirational! Socrates was a great soul who most certainly contributed a great deal and influenced thought both West and East. A fine piece of writing!

    • Sean Dragon profile imageAUTHOR

      Ioannis Arvanitis 

      13 months ago from Greece, Almyros

      Thank you, my friend, Basarien and for your wise comment. I consider Socrates as my teacher. I am proud to be Greek like he was, but as he said I am a citizen of the world, and I love all the nations. At the same time, I feel shame for us, Greek people, who drove a man like him to his injustice death. And we did it again, many times, to other great people.

    • Besarien profile image

      Besarien 

      13 months ago

      Be as you wish to seem is such perfect advice and is one of my favorite quotes. The idea is both simple and expansive- subversive and self-empowering. It is odd to realize how much of what we think, how we perceive our world today, how much of the way we all go about making sense of all the chaos- we owe to Socrates and his teachings. Beautiful hub, Ioannis!

    • Sean Dragon profile imageAUTHOR

      Ioannis Arvanitis 

      14 months ago from Greece, Almyros

      My friend, you said to my heart, much more than you think. Thank you very much because I put a piece of my soul in this article.

    • cheaptrick profile image

      cheaptrick 

      14 months ago from the bridge of sighs

      What a superb effort...I wish I had something profound to say but no such luck...thank you so much for this...

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