Contribution of Moral Thinkers : Socrates

Socrates was the first systematic moral thinker, who led an exemplary life spending most of his time in philosophical discussion. He himself did not write anything. Instead he questioned people on philosophical issues, especially about the nature of the good life. He was charged with not respecting the gods, and with corrupting the young minds; and was sentenced to death by drinking hemlock. He was teacher of Plato and whatever knowledge we have about Socrates is based on Plato’s dialogues.

Life Profile of Socrates

Socrates lived in an era which is called Golden Age of Athens. In 480BC, Greeks had defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, and this was followed by a period of peace and prosperity, and incredible artistic and cultural achievements. Socrates was born in 470BC. During his early life, he followed his father’s profession and became a sculptor. He married and had three sons, though he was hardly an ideal husband or father. He used to be preoccupied with his search for wisdom and often neglected the family. Socrates was hardly an ideal husband or father; he was so preoccupied with his search for wisdom that he often neglected his family, and not concerned with supporting them.

Socrates was first a student of Anaxagoras, an elderly philosopher of Greece. Initially he studied cosmology but later abandoned it for ethics. He believed that his mission was to help people of Athens recognize their moral ignorance. However, his constant ignorance did not please everyone. While he developed a following among youth, he also incurred wrath of the wealthy and powerful.

In 399 BC, he was put on trial for atheism {not believing the gods of Athens} and corrupting the youth of the city by teaching them to question everything. He was held guilty of these charges and condemned him to death by drinking of hemlock.

Though his execution was delayed for a month and he had ample time to escape, he did not do so because it would be contrary to his principles.

Contribution of Socrates to Ethics

Human Realm

Before Socrates, philosophy was primarily focussed on questions of metaphysics, religion or science. Socrates was the first person who gave a practical and political focus to the philosophy and ethics. He asserted that Human realm was the proper focus of philosophical inquiry.

Dialogue

For investigation into defining the virtues and ethical behaviour, Socrates believed that the best way was “dialogue”  that is – meaningful conversations with people on ideas like justice, righteousness and virtue. This method of long conversations is called “dialectic” {also known as Socratic Method} and it replaced the solitary contemplation. It was the dialogue which influenced the students and youth of Athens and formed the basis of modern philosophy, science, ethics, social theory and other fields.

Virtue

Socrates equated knowledge with virtue, which ultimately leads to ethical conduct. As per him, only life worth living was one that was rigorously examined. He looked for principles and actions that were worth living by, creating an ethical base upon which decisions should be made. Socrates firmly believed that knowledge and understanding of virtue, or “the good,” was sufficient for someone to be happy. To him, knowledge of the good was almost akin to an enlightened state. He believed that no person could willingly choose to do something harmful or negative if they were fully aware of the value of life.

Inquiry

Socrates was put on trial and found guilty of “corrupting the youth” of Athens by asking them to question authority. Socrates believed deeply that people should inquire and ask questions, even about – or perhaps especially about – those things that everyone takes for granted. He did not believe that judging an action based on life and death was virtuous. Instead, Socrates taught that decisions should be made based on what was right or wrong, or good or bad, standards you can achieve through discussion and moral guidance. His belief in the process of inquiry was so strong and pure that it got him killed by being forced to drink hemlock.

Aspects of Socratic Method

Socratic Method refers to the cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions. The Key components of Socratic Method are as follows:

  • Socratic Method uses questions to examine the values, principles, and beliefs of students, so its dialectic method.
  • Socratic Method focuses on moral education, on how one ought to live.

How Socratic Method (of teaching) can be used to inculcate value ethics?

Socratic Method can be used to inculcate value ethics among children and young via education. The method was among earliest documented instances of learning through inquiry and today’s Inquiry Based Learning traces its origin from it.

Socratic Inquiry is essentially not teaching in traditional or conventional way. In fact, it does not need a teacher but a leader. The leader of Socratic Inquiry is not the peddler of knowledge, filling the minds of his students with rote learning, facts and truths. There are no lectures either and no rote memorization. It is a shared dialogue between the leader and the students in which both are responsible for pushing the dialogue forward through questioning. The “teacher,” or leader of the dialogue, asks probing questions in an effort to expose the values and beliefs which frame and support the thoughts and statements of the participants in the inquiry. The students ask questions as well, both of the teacher and each other. The inquiry progresses interactively, and the teacher is as much a participant as a guide of the discussion. Further, this inquiry is open-ended and there is no pre-determined argument or terminus to which the teacher attempts to lead the students.

Important Quotes ascribed to Socrates

Below are some of the important quotes of Socrates which might be useful in answer writing in your examination. Please try to link them with the Socratic Method discussed above and understand their explicit and implicit meanings.

  1. Understanding a question is half an answer.
  2. Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
  3. There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.”
  4. I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.
  5. Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
  6. Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.”
  7. By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.”
  8. He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”
  9. “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.”
  10. Sometimes you put walls up not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down.”
  11. Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”
  12. To find yourself, think for yourself.”
  13. The unexamined life is not worth living.”
  14. Know thyself.”
  15. Let him who would move the world first move himself.”
  16. The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”
  17. The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
  18. I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.”
  19. Prefer knowledge to wealth, for the one is transitory, the other perpetual.”
  20. The mind is everything; what you think you become.”
  21. True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.”
  22. “He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature.”
  23. To be is to do
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