Socrates (469–399 B.C.), along with Plato (428–347 B.C.) and Aristotle (384–322 B.C.), is one of three ancient Greek thinkers credited with originating Western philosophy. The creator of the Socratic method, Socrates urged his followers to engage in discussions in which they used logic (the use of reason in thought processes) to probe a specific topic. Before his time, philosophers known as pre-Socratics had speculated but not applied reason in their discussions. The Socratic method was a series of seemingly simple questions designed to elicit a rational response. It was an important development and the forerunner to the discipline called logic.
The intelligent and charismatic Socrates was known for his quest of wisdom and moral standards. Walking the streets of Athens barefooted, he struck up conversations with interested passersby. Socrates challenged Athenians to consider many questions, such as the nature of virtue. For Socrates, being virtuous meant knowing intellectually what is good for human beings and thus acting appropriately. He believed that the psyche (inner self), not appetites or passion, should guide life. Socrates is also famous for asserting that the more questions he asked, the more he would learn, and to him life is not worth living if one does not seek the meaning of human existence.
Socrates himself did not write down his ideas, but his students took notes on the discussions he had with them. Plato, in particular, wrote down his conversations with Socrates in a number of works, such as Apology and Phaedo. However, Socrates's questions and beliefs troubled political officials in Athens. When these leaders took control of the Greek government, they put Socrates on trial for corrupting young people with his controversial ideas and for not worshipping Athenian gods. Socrates was found guilty and sentenced to death by drinking poison, probably hemlock.
Further Information: "Greece." Exploring Ancient World Cultures. [Online] Available http://eawc.evansville.edu/grpage.htm, November 7, 2000; Nardo, Don. The Trial of Socrates. New York: Lucent, 1996; Weate, Jeremy. A Young Person's Guide to Philosophy. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1998, pp. 12-13, 49; Ziniewicz, Gordon. Shadows on the Wall: Philosophy East and West. [Online] Available http://www.fred.net/tzaka/shadows.html, November 7, 2000.