What Made Socrates Think About Becoming A Philosopher?


Socrates (469-399BC) may have had his head in the clouds, and was portrayed in Aristophanes’ comedy as entertaining ideas ranging from the scientifically absurd (“How do you measure a flea’s jump?”) to the socially subversive (“I can teach anyone to win any argument, even if they’re in the wrong”).

This picture is at odds with the main sources of biographical data on Socrates, the writings of his pupils Plato and Xenophon. Both the latter treat him with great respect as a moral questioner and guide, but they say almost nothing of Socrates’ earlier activities.

In fact our first description of Socrates, dating to his thirties, show him as a man of action. He served in a military campaign in northern Greece in 432BC, and during a brutal battle he saved the life of his beloved young friend Alcibiades. Subsequently he never left Athens, and spent his time trying to get his fellow Athenians to examine their own lives and thoughts.

We might speculate that Socrates had toyed with science and politics in his youth, until a life-and-death experience in battle turned him to devoting the remainder of his life to the search for wisdom and truth.

As he wrote nothing himself, our strongest image of Socrates as a philosopher comes from the dialogues of his devoted pupil Plato, whose own pupil Aristotle was tutor of Alexander, prince of Macedon.

See other: Which Greek Legends Were Really True?

3 thoughts on “What Made Socrates Think About Becoming A Philosopher?

  1. There are many options available to you since he is such an oft-written about philosopher. How about “Socrates”, Christopher Taylor (Oxford, 1999), or “Essays on the Philosophy of Socrates”, ed. by Hugh H. Benson (Oxford, 1992).

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