E. Zeller (essay date 1868)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Sources and Characteristics of the Philosophy of Socrates," in Socrates and The Socratic Schools, translated by E. Zeller and Oswald J. Reichel, Longmans, Green and Co., 1868, pp. 82-149.

[In the following essay, Zeller discusses the questions surrounding the validity of Xenophon and Plato as Socratic sources and identifies Socrates's quest for "true knowledge" as the heart of the philosopher's intellectual and moral theories.]

There is considerable difficulty in arriving at an accurate view of the philosophy of Socrates, owing to the discrepancies in the accounts of the original authorities. Socrates himself committed nothing to writing,1 and there...

(The entire section is 4432 words.)

Ralph Waldo Emerson (essay date 1882?)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Character of Socrates," in Two Unpublished Essays, Lamson, Wolffe & Co., 1895, pp. 1-39.

[In the following excerpt, Emerson discusses the "uncommon and admirable" character of Socrates and acknowledges the debt owed by "modern improvement" to the wisdom of Socrates. Emerson explores the moral background of Socrates's age and discusses Socrates's moral philosophy, noting that the philosopher sought to reform the "abuses of morals and virtue which had become a national calamity." Because the date of composition of this essay is not known, Ernerson's death date has been used to date the essay.]

Guide my way

(The entire section is 4737 words.)

R. M. Wenley (essay date 1889)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Socrates and Christ" in Socrates and Christ: A Study in the Philosophy of Religion, William Blackwood and Sons, 1889, pp. 236-64.

[Here, Wenley contrasts Socrates with Christ, stating that while there exist "points of external contact" between the two men which "render comparison by no means unreasonable," they nevertheless had little in common in terms of "inner spirit."]

The "great solicitude" sometimes "shown by popular Christianity to establish a radical difference between Jesus and a teacher like Socrates,"1 is a misapplication of effort. The contrast stands in need of no further emphasis than that which history has so plainly given it....

(The entire section is 8099 words.)

J. T. Forbes (essay date 1905)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Teaching of Socrates: The Prosaic and Ideal Interpretations; The Criteria," in Socrates, T. & T. Clark, 1905, pp. 101-50.

[In the following excerpt, Forbes studies the controversy over the Socratic sources, examining the versions of Socrates presented by Xenophon and Plato and identifying the possible biases of each author. Forbes concludes that through the use of Aristotle's comments on Socrates, "the artistic verisimilitude of the Xenophontic and Platonic portraits," and the analysis of the development of Socrates's philosophy, a consistent view of Socrates can be attained.]

The question of authorities for the teaching of Socrates meets us at the...

(The entire section is 3540 words.)

R. Nicol Cross (essay date 1914)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "His Teaching: Treatment of Enemies," in Socrates: The Man and His Mission, Books for Libraries Press, 1914, pp. 142-94.

[In the following essay, Cross points out that Socrates was known for his teaching that "in no circumstances is it just to injure anyone," including one's enemies. This concept, states Cross, contrasted sharply with popular sentiment at the time. Below, Cross identifies an incident in which Socrates appears to be saying that injuring one's enemies is acceptable. After exploring the apparent contradiction, Cross concludes that "we may take it as certain that Socrates practised, and practically certain that before his death he taught, the doctrine … that 'neither...

(The entire section is 3043 words.)

William Ellery Leonard (essay date 1915)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Thinker," in Socrates: Master of Life, The Open Court Publishing Co., 1915, pp. 62-118.

[In this excerpt, Leonard explores the relationship between Socrates's philosophy and personal morality. The philosopher's goal, Leonard claims, was to reform human conduct.]


Every exposition of Greek thought, from the most pedantic to the most popular, has been divided into the two chapters, "Before Socrates," "After Socrates"; between which has stood a third, devoted to Socrates himself. Though he published no book in prose or verse, no philosophic hexameters on nature, no dialectic treatise on the Absolute, no criticism on ethics,...

(The entire section is 8156 words.)

Leonard Nelson (lecture date 1922)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Socratic Method," in Socratic Method and Critical Philosophy: Selected Essays, translated by Thomas K. Brown III, Yale University Press, 1949, pp. 1-40.

[In the following essay, originally delivered as a lecture in 1922, Nelson discusses the Socratic method, defining it as "the art of teaching not philosophy but philosophizing, the art not of teaching about philosophers but of making philosophers of the students." Nelson goes on to offer examples of how the method works in practice and notes some difficulties of applying the Socratic method.]

As a faithful disciple of Socrates and of his great successor Plato, I find it rather difficult to justify my...

(The entire section is 14752 words.)

A. K. Rogers (essay date 1925)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Ethics of Socrates," in The Philosophical Review, Vol. XXXVI, No. 200, March, 1925, pp. 117-43.

[After reviewing the arguments for and against Xenophon and Plato as accurate sources of Socratic philosophy, Rogers argues that Plato provides sufficient evidence that Socrates's teaching focused on the proposition that "virtue is knowledge." Rogers then examines the meaning and significance of this statement.]

The beginnings of ethics as a branch of human science it has been customary to trace to Socrates; and while any point of departure is bound to be arbitrary to some extent, since written history does not record a time when men showed no tendency whatever...

(The entire section is 10525 words.)

Homer H. Dubs (essay date 1927)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Socratic Problem," in The Philosophical Review, Vol. XXXVI, No. 214, July 1927, pp. 287-306.

[In the following essay, Dubs argues that, contrary to "the view commonly held," Plato's account of the character and philosophy of Socrates is "substantially correct." He concludes that, at the very least, Plato did not deliberately distort the historical Socrates's character or opinions.]

The purpose of this paper is to present some considerations in support of the thesis that Plato's account of the character and philosophic opinions of Socrates is substantially correct, as against the view commonly held.

The usual interpretation of Socrates is...

(The entire section is 7568 words.)

John A. Scott (lecture date 1928)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Socrates and Christ," in Socrates and Christ: A Lecture Given at Northwestern University, Northwestern University, 1928, pp. 5-52.

[In the following essay, originally delivered as a lecture, Scott reviews Socrates's life and philosophic thought in order to demonstrate the influence of Socrates on Christianity. He argues that Socrates rejected the Olympic gods and thus left his followers searching for "a god of purity and a god of justice ", and he suggests that Christianity was successfully established in Greece due to this legacy.]

During September of 480 B.C. in the waters between the Island of Salamis and the harbor of Athens the great fleet of the...

(The entire section is 10898 words.)

J. B. Bury (essay date 1935)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Life and Death of Socrates," in The Cambridge Ancient History, edited by J. B. Bury, S. A. Cook, and F. E. Adcock, Cambridge University Press, 1935, pp. 386-97.

[Below, Bury briefly surveys the life of Socrates as presented in the dialogues and Apology of Plato, highlighting some of the philosopher's most significant philosophical views in the process.]

The book of Xenophon on the life and teaching of Socrates, known as the Memorabilia, would, if it stood alone, give us little idea of what Socrates was like, and no idea of the secret of his greatness. Xenophon belonged (probably for a very short time) to the Socratic circle, but he...

(The entire section is 5614 words.)

A. E. Taylor (essay date 1951)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Thought of Socrates," in Socrates, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 138-83.

[In the following essay, Taylor asserts that Socrates significantly influenced the development of European thought by creating the concept of the soul "which has ever since dominated European thinking." Taylor differentiates between the "psyche" as described by Homer and the Orphic and Pythagorean traditions before Socrates, and goes on to examine the Socratic mission of caring for the soul in order to perfect it. Taylor then surveys and interprets Socrates's moral teachings, his theory of knowledge, and his scientific method.]

What is the real significance of Socrates in the history of...

(The entire section is 10081 words.)

Norman Gulley (essay date 1968)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Good," in The Philosophy of Socrates, Macmillan, 1968, pp. 165-204.

[In the following essay, Gulley explains that Socrates's teachings emphasize that "knowledge of the good is a necessary and sufficient condition of being good and of doing what is good," but that they do not explicitly state what "the good" is. Gulley examines the Socratic works of Plato, and Xenophon, as well as some references in Aristotle, in order to deduce a consistent understanding of "the good."]

A. Introduction

Socrates' method of analysis assumes that it is possible to determine with certainty what the good is. His moral paradoxes, with...

(The entire section is 15974 words.)

W. K. C. Guthrie (essay date 1969)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Philosophical Significance," in A History of Greek Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 1969, pp. 417-88.

[In the following excerpt, Guthrie assesses the contribution of Socrates to the field of philosophy, arguing that Socrates's work marked a shift in philosophic thought from contemplation of the nature of the universe to contemplation of the problems of human life.]

'Philosophia de Caelo Devocata'

For the Greeks themselves the name of Socrates formed a watershed in the history of their philosophy. The reason they give for this is that he turned men's eyes from the speculations about the nature of the physical world which...

(The entire section is 20862 words.)

A. D. Woozley (essay date 1971)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Socrates on Disobeying the Law," in The Philosophy of Socrates: A Collection of Critical Essays, University of Notre Dame Press, 1971, pp. 299-318.

[Here, Woozley studies the apparent discrepancy between (1) Socrates's statement at his trial that if he were discharged on the condition that he give up philosophy, he would disobey the order, and (2) Socrates's insistence after the trial, when prompted by a follower to escape, that he must obey the law.]


Socrates is commonly characterised, and indeed on occasion characterised himself (or is so represented by Plato), as a negative thinker: one who provoked a member of his circle to...

(The entire section is 7309 words.)

James Haden (essay date 1979)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "On Socrates, with Reference to Gregory Vlastos," in The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, December, 1979, pp. 371-89.

[Below, Haden refers to an essay by Gregory Vlastos in which Vlastos maintains that Plato's Socrates is highly reflective of the historical Socrates. Haden argues that as Plato's Socrates has "exercised the decisive influence down through the centuries," it is valuable, whether or not one agrees with Vlastos, to examine Vlastos's conclusions and test them for their "adequacy." Haden goes on to fault Vlastos for measuring Socrates "by a New Testament model."]


In his essay "The Paradox of Socrates,"1...

(The entire section is 8029 words.)

Gregory Viastos (lecture date 1986)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Socrates's Rejection of Retaliation," in Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher, Cornell University Press, 1991, pp. 179-99.

[In the following excerpt from a lecture originally delivered in 1986, Vlastos describes the aspects of ancient Greek morality related to retaliation and the concept that harming one's enemy or social inferior is acceptable. He traces Greek attitudes toward enemies through ancient mythology and literature in order to demonstrate the significance of Socrates's view that we should never do an injustice, specifically in retaliation for an injustice done to us. Vlastos goes on to delineate and discuss the five Socratic principles related to injustice.]...

(The entire section is 9783 words.)

Nickolas Pappas (essay date 1989)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Socrates's Charitable Treatment of Poetry," in Philosophy and Literature, Vol. 13, No. 2, October, 1989, pp. 248-61.

[In the following essay, Pappas examines Socrates's interpretation of poetry and its relation to his philosophical positions.]

Of course this title seems wrong. If anything is certain about Socrates' treatment of poetry in Plato's dialogues, it is that he never gives a poem a chance to explain itself. He dismisses poems altogether on the basis of their suspect moral content (Republic II and III), or their representational form (Republic X), or their dramatic structure (Laws 719); he calls poets ignorant (Apology, Ion)...

(The entire section is 4693 words.)

Luis E. Navia (essay date 1993)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Socratic Problem," in The Socratic Presence, Garland Publishing, Inc., 1993, pp. 1-19.

[In the following essay, Navia offers an overview of the Socratic problem and suggests ways in which the apparent discrepancies between the various Socratic sources may be reconciled.]

There are two facts about Socrates that can be affirmed without hesitation: that his influence on the development of Western culture in general and philosophy in particular has been extraordinary, and that his historical presence remains a baffling phenomenon. The first of these two facts does not need to be particularly emphasized, for it is widely acknowledged, even by those who are...

(The entire section is 7853 words.)

Alfonso Gomez-Lobo (essay date 1994)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Is There a Socratic Moral Philosophy?," in The Foundations of Socratic Ethics, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1994, pp. 3-44.

[Here, Gomez-Lobo contends that Socrates's own admission of ignorance does not undermine what has long been recognized as the philosopher's significant contribution to the field of ethics. Gomez-Lobo concludes that by disavowing moral knowledge, Socrates does not refer to a complete lack of knowledge, but rather asserts his willingness to constantly reexamine his beliefs.]

Socrates, as he appears in the Platonic dialogues, is a living paradox. He has become impoverished, but he nevertheless interacts with rich aristocrats such as...

(The entire section is 9171 words.)