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Socratic Philosophy

Updated on August 21, 2014


Perhaps the greatest philosophical personality in history was Socrates. Unlike the Sophists, Socrates refused to accept payment for his teachings, maintaining that he had no positive knowledge to offer, except the awareness of the need for more knowledge. Despite his humble self-opinion, it was through Socrates that Greek philosophy attained its highest level. His avowed purpose was "to fulfill the philosopher's mission of searching into myself and other men".

The Socratic Method

Socrates was not a systematic philosopher and was content to teach mainly by informal discussion, using the Socratic method of feigning ignorance and asking questions of people so as to expose their own lack of real knowledge.

After a proposition had been stated, the philosopher asked a series of questions designed to test and refine the proposition by examining its consequences and discovering whether it was consistent with the known facts. The philosopher's task, Socrates believed, was to provoke people into thinking for themselves, rather than to teach them anything they did not already know.

Socrates taught that every person has full knowledge of ultimate truth contained within his soul and needs only to be spurred to conscious reflection in order to become aware of it. In Plato's dialogue Meno Socrates guides an untutored slave to the formulation of Pythagorean theorem, thus demonstrating that such knowledge is innate in the soul, rather than learned form experience.

Socrates described the soul not in terms of mysticism but as "that in virtue of which we are called wise or foolish, good or bad". In other words, Socrates considered the soul to be a combination of an individual's intelligence and character.

It seems that Socrates had studied the speculations of the Ionians and the Atomists about the nature of the world, but had been disappointed by them and so had turned to the study of man himself.

In this concern with moral questions Socrates is, in a sense, a descendant of the Sophists. Moreover he makes use of the dialectic method of the Sophists, though with him this method is always used in the service of the truth. The Socratic Method assumes a trust in reason and objective truth and emphasizes that one must, in acquiring knowledge, begin by being humble before reality.

His contribution to the history of thought was not a systematic doctrine but a method of thinking and a way of life. He stressed the need for analytical examination of the grounds of one's beliefs, for clear definitions of basic concepts, and for a rational and critical approach to ethical problems. Socrates left no writings as records of his thought, but his teachings were preserved for later generations in the dialogues of his famous pupil Plato.

References & Resources

Who is your favorite Philosopher?

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      My favourite philosopher is not a philosopher but a spiritual master. He is Yogananda, famous author of the book 'Authobiography of a Yogi'.In my opinion, all philosphers as spirtualists first and foremost. They had great depth of knowledge, knows the unknowable, and their approach is highly rational because of a high level of critical thinking.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      bryan makiling

    • squidoopets profile image

      Darcie French 

      6 years ago from Abbotsford, BC

      Yep, Socrates is my favorite too. Wayne Dyer is like a modern day Socrates.

    • ae dc profile image

      ae dc 

      6 years ago

      I don't know but i've always admired Socrates. His Socratic Method is one of the best teaching methods.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I like Edgar Allan Poe, who might have been considered a philosopher today (albeit an eccentric one, a la Schopenhauer) had he profited from a longer life to further flesh out his ideas about the "imp of the perverse." The following quotation from the story of that name hints at the anti-rational themes that he would likely have pursued in such a hypothetically longer writing career: "Having thus fathomed, to his satisfaction, the intentions of Jehovah, out of these intentions he built his innumerable systems of mind.... It would have been wiser, it would have been safer, to classify (if classify we must) upon the basis of what man usually or occasionally did, and was always occasionally doing, rather than upon the basis of what we took it for granted the Deity intended him to do. "

    • dc64 lm profile image

      dc64 lm 

      6 years ago

      I don't really have a favorite philosopher. I admire anyone who thinks deeply on things and inspires others to do the same. Socrates, however, was a great philosopher, and I can only imagine what a conversation with him must have been like.

    • waldenthreenet profile image


      7 years ago

      read and experience. yes, yes ! thanks.

    • Paul Ward profile image


      7 years ago from Liverpool, England

      A slight cheat: Angel Blessed for this and the others in the set.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Philosophers have always challenged me. If I had to pick I would select either Jiddu Krishnamurti or Ayn Rand. To boil this down to gravy "I know that I know Nothing" but I have a high degree of confidence that I would select one of them

    • whiteskyline lm profile image

      whiteskyline lm 

      7 years ago

      I don't know of too many actual philosophers. Were Ralph Waldo Emerson considered to be one, then he is my favorite. I also love Einstein's philosophical thoughts.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I too believe full knowledge of the ultimate truth is contained within one's "soul." ...Socrates is one of my favorite.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      "Know thyself". I think this came from Socrates as well. Simply said but hard to define. My favorite philosopher is Confucius.


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