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The Most Philosophical of Philosophers
Socrates (470-399 BCE), an Athenian philosopher, was a man of extraordinary philosophical achievements. He is the first recorded Greek philosopher who had insights about ethics. Known as the wisest man in Athens, he is the first man to be aware of his ignorance. He developed the Socratic Method, a persuasive technique used to convince people that they have extremely limited knowledge. He warned others with his political comments on the risks of democracy. Many of his ideas contributed to schools of thought that flourished long after his death. These achievements laid the foundation of Western philosophy.
The Most Ethical of the Ethical Who Examines Life
One of the greatest achievements of Socrates is being the first known person to raise questions about ethics. Unlike the pre-Socratics, Socrates thought that the philosophy about our own lives is much more important than studying nature. He came up with the idea of human good. In this idea, he said the human soul is our most precious possession, which leads to a happy life. When a person harms another person, his soul would be damaged. The only way we could protect our souls is by doing good, and this applies to everyone.
The legacy of this achievement is that a happy life, which once was believed to be achievable merely with a generous sacrifice to gods, is now the fruit of good choices. Thus, the harmony of society could be achieved if everyone practices this human good.
The Wisest of the Wise Who Knows Nothing
Another achievement of Socrates is that he is believed to be the wisest man of his time. In fact, this claim came out of the mouth of the Oracle of Delphi. Socrates believed he was the wisest because he was the only one who was aware of the fact that he knew so little. To Socrates, the only evil is ignorance and the consciousness of one’s ignorance is a kind of knowledge.
Socrates’ ideas about knowledge and wisdom are so rare among even philosophers, and this is why it is such an achievement. Ignorance is destined to lead to disaster. Today, in a world where ignorance has led to climate change, racism, terrorism and global pandemic, this knowledge and wisdom of Socrates is more relevant than ever.
The Method of all Methods That Makes One Think
Another great achievement of Socrates is the Socratic Method. Socrates was not only aware of his own ignorance, but he also strove to free all Athenians from this ignorance by letting them think. The art of the Socratic Method begins with Socrates pretending to know nothing and asking a series of questions, which break a larger idea into smaller pieces that can be analysed and compared with a person’s original hypothesis. Often, the process would prove the person to be unknowledgeable and also takes that person one step further from falsehood.
The Socratic method has led to critical discussions, and even the scientific method we use today was influenced by it. Today, it still plays a key part in education and philosophy as it prods followers to examine their own lives and the societies they live in to recognise what is right or wrong.
The Most Political of the Political Who Is a Gadfly
Another of Socrates’ key achievements is linked to his ideas about democracy and politics. He believed that democracy could only be an effective system of government when voters are educated, which often is not the case. He argued that democracy would lead to tyranny and demagoguery, which Athens had experienced. Instead, he said that the supreme leader of a country should be a philosopher king who is wise and can make good decisions, and only then would society become more successful and people would have better wellbeing. By saying so, he became the gadfly of Athens, and his death sentence was decided as a result.
This key teaching from Socrates still applies today. In the current world, which is suffering from symptoms of democracy gone wrong, we should really start thinking like Socrates. This achievement has shaped and will continue to shape human society.
The Most Inspirational of the Inspirational Who Claimed Never Taught
Last but not least, another achievement of Socrates is that he inspired schools of thought that thrived for more than 2500 years and numerous gadflies in history.
Almost all schools of Western thought claim Socrates as their father. His direct students or his pupil’s pupils include Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, Arristipus and Epicurus. Plato used a lot of Socrates’ insights to create ideas about the perfect ideal world. Plato’s student, Aristotle inspired huge scientific achievements of today, such as taxonomy. Gadflies like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. have rocked the history of humanity.
These philosophers and gadflies have different or even clashing ideas, but they have one thing in common -- they all questioned their lives and the world around them. This aspect of Western philosophy is Socrates’ incomparable achievement.
Socrates, an ancient genius, founded Western philosophy. He started humanity’s investigation of ethics, gave insight on what wisdom truly is, developed a method of critical thinking, paved the way for political improvements and bridged the gap between pre-Socratics and later thinkers. His ideas, which are the engines of the train towards a happy life and a harmonious society, should always serve as our guide.