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Victoria Wohl

Socrates '2011, Inc. or its Licensors. Please see copyright information at the end of this document. Socrates Life Although Socrates (SOK-rah-teez) is one of the most influential philosophers of the Western world, little is known of his life or thoughts, because he left no written work. What is known about Socrates stems from the writings of those who knew him, with only the works of Aristophanes, Plato, and Xenophon surviving. In Aristophanes’ play Nephelai (423 b.c.e.; The Clouds, 1708), Socrates is comedically depicted as adhering to a natural philosophy that has the effect of undermining human conventions such as the family. Alternatively, in Plato’s corpus, Socrates’ primary concern is not the natural world but the human world and human ideas such as justice. According to Plato, Socrates’ quest for truth generally leaves the moral convictions of his interlocutors intact, if not improved. In all portrayals, Socrates questions accepted beliefs and pretensions to knowledge. The Socratic method of teaching was to let someone state a thesis and then draw out, through a series of questions, the underlying consequences and contradictions of that position, leading to a deeper analysis of the problem. In 400 b.c.e., Socrates was indicted for impiety and for corrupting young Athenians. He stood trial in 399 b.c.e. and was sentenced to death by drinking hemlock. Socrates (Library of Congress) Socrates 1 Influence Socrates’ influence led Plato, Antisthenes, Euclides, and Phaedon to become philosophers and start schools of their own. His method of teaching (as exhibited in many of Plato’s dialogues), by posing a series of questions, the inevitable answers to which logically lead the answerer toward the truth, is still referred to as the “Socratic method.” Socrates continues to exemplify the virtues of the examined life. Further Reading: Colaiaco, James A. Socrates Against Athens: Philosophy on Trial. New York: Routledge, 2001. Intended to be used alongside Plato’s Apology and Crito. Provides historical and cultural context to the trial. Gottlieb, Anthony. Socrates. New York: Routledge, 1999. Short introductory volume places the philosopher and his ideas in historical perspective. An explanation of Socrates’ basic concepts of thought is accompanied by biographical details. Guthrie, W. K. C. Socrates. Part 2 in The Fifth-Century Enlightenment. Vol. 1 in A History of Greek Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1972. Part of the author’s monumental, thorough, and scholarly treatment of Greek life, character, and philosophy. May, Hope. On Socrates. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2000. Aims to assist students in understanding Socrates’ philosophy and thinking so that they can more fully engage in useful, intelligent class dialogue and improve their understanding of the dialogues. Plato. The Last Days of Socrates. Translated by Hugh Tredennick. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. The translator provides an introduction and notes, but this work is mainly a rendering into English of four of Plato’s Socratic dialogues, including Socrates’ speech at his trial, his conversation in prison, and his last conversations and death. Ranasinghe, Nalin. The Soul of Socrates. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000. Traces Plato’s struggle, in his Dialogues, to understand and convey the presence of Socrates. Claims that the dialogues reflect Plato’s awe and frustration before his teacher. Rudebusche, George. Socrates, Pleasure, and Value. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Addresses whether Socrates believed pleasurable activities to be virtuous activities. Santas, Gerasimos X. Socrates: Philosophy in Plato’s Early Dialogues. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982. A contribution to the Arguments of the Philosophers series, this volume emphasizes the logical reconstruction of the arguments of Socrates and sometimes uses formal logical symbolism. The book focuses on the Socratic method and Socrates’ views on ethics. Smith, Nicholas D., and Paul B. Woodruff, eds. Reason and Religion in Socratic Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Examines Socratic pedagogy to ascertain why Plato portrays Socrates as a failure in his attempts to purge his fellow citizens of their unfounded beliefs. Stone, I. F. The Trial of Socrates. New York: Anchor Books, 1989. Stone attempts to get behind the scenes at the trial of Socrates. He aims to show that political motivations, largely stemming from Socrates’ negative attitude toward democracy and his friendships with those who supported a contrary regime, were powerfully at work in the trial, even though they were not openly acknowledged. Influence 2 Strathern, Paul. Socrates in Ninety Minutes. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1999. A concise account of Socrates’ life and ideas, including selections from his observations, a list of suggested readings, and chronologies that place Socrates within his own age and in the broader histor
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