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Did Socrates Shape Our World?

By Edited Sep 30, 2015 3 1

"True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us." - Socrates

   Socrates was a famous, perhaps the most famous, ancient Greek philosopher of Athens during the Golden Age in 5th century B.C.E..

   Socrates was known for his controversial questioning of Athenians on their beliefs and their knowledge. During this time, Athens was under threat of war against Sparta, and also people were concerned with the Sophists. Though Socrates was thought of as knowledgeable, he was certain he was not a Sophist. As well, Socrates was perhaps most well known for his study on ethics, which is revolves around human values, ideals, and morals. Socrates spent a lot of his time in conversation with the people of Athens, but wrote down nothing. We are able to study him today because of others like one of Socrates followers: Plato.

death of socrates

    In his constant questioning and discussion with others, he rarely gave answers, indirectly forcing people to come up with their own ideas and conclusions using their own knowledge. Though, this often made people annoyed because Socrates’s questioning of  their assumed knowledge made them feel embarrassed.This method of questioning others for answers rather than giving them is known as the Socratic method. Today, it is used by teachers in their classrooms as a way of teaching students. Also very interests in ethics, his views contrasted very differently from the Sophists of Athens, making him a subject of anger as young men would listen to him and then try to teach the ideas of non traditional Athenian ways to their families. 

   Were Socrates ideas long standing to shape the world we live in today? On a small scale, yes, but most people today would not really know who Socrates was and what he did. Since he did not write anything down, students like Plato did and interpreted what he said. Socrates ideas were taken by Plato, and later other philosophers like Aristotle, and later by others up until today. Even though most of his ideas were used by others and not directly credited to himself, they have shaped the way we think and our culture.

   By Socrates philosophy on morals and ethics as well as well known forms of teaching still used today, Socrates has shaped our ways of thinking and our culture today.

   Though he was not a man of wealth, Socrates contributions to Athens therefore came in the form of ideas and conversation. He believed that knowledge was an attainable goal, and therefore thought that there were a lot of wrong and useless ideas in one’s mind which must be cleared in order to reach knowledgeable conclusions. By assuming the person he was conversing with already has said assumed knowledge, he questioned them in order for that person to bring in to the surface.

   He had often been compared to a midwife, in which midwives helped deliver a baby from a pregnant woman. In Socrates case, he did this with men in the form of delivering ideas. This method of questioning for knowledge is known as the Socratic method. A commonly used term, many teachers and professors today use it in classrooms as a way of teaching their students, and you can often see it being used in movies and televisions shows. Here we see that just how by which Socrates went about his life was a model for educational practices that are used today in Western culture.

   Another major focus aside from conversing with Athenians was his interest in the philosophy of ethics. Socrates believed that living a good life was all about self-knowledge and good morals, not necessarily personal interests, as those aspects of life should come second. Since he taught, through dialogue, that knowledge can be learned and acquired, that virtue can be too, which is about high moral standards, integrity, goodness, and being a good human being. Also, he equated good morals with true happiness. When someone dedicates their life to being good and learning new things, they will then receive happiness in return, which is what all should strive for. These ideas are commonly seen in Western culture.

   In our culture today,  we associate being a caring, humble, knowledgeable, and overall good morals with being a good person but these ideals sometimes get blurred with personal interest and gain. Although we all know that these values are basic foundations for achieving overall happiness and satisfaction, we also live in a world where money and power are seen as the most desired. This could be seen as a paradox, as most all people know what is right and wrong or good and bad, yet they do “bad” things unknowingly  in hopes of something good. A lot of the time, it is a lack of knowledge which drives us to do these things, and it is the ignorance which gives us this lack of knowledge. Perhaps the missing piece of information people lack is that if we do dedicate most of our time to achieving knowledge and good moral values, that our personal interests that most people put a higher value on will come shortly after.

   To simplify further, you could even describe these ideas in the cliche phrase, “work hard now, have fun later”. Though many people would not attribute these ideas to Socrates directly, many philosophers have interpreted his ideas which have influenced our culture today. In short, Socrates has indirectly shaped western culture ideas through the texts and shared ideas of many others.


   To conclude, Socrates cause quite a controversy in his time in Athens. Many Athenians did not like the way he went about Athens, always questioning other people's ideas and challenging their assumed knowledge. He made them have to think, as in dig deep inside themselves to find the answer Socrates was trying to get out of them. His study of ethics suggested that through the journey to find true knowledge and wisdom and to become a good person by achieving high moral standards, that one will be successful in finding true long lasting happiness. With this acquired happiness by good ideals and values, one can then begin to explore personal interests and wants.

    Many of Socrates ideas are widely used today. We all believe that we know what is good and what is wrong, but sometimes unknowingly we do “bad” things wishing for a good outcome, also known as a Socratic paradox. Also, a more commonly used term today by educators is the Socratic method. Socrates was well known for his constant questions that Athenians found annoying and frustrating, but in the end he was merely trying to help them find the answers on their own. Today, teachers use this method to teach students. This also gives people the skill to think outside the box and more independently.

    Though Socrates did not directly influence us, since he never wrote anything down, other philosophers like Plato and Aristotle have taken and interpreted his ideas which have influenced many other thinkers which have ultimately shaped western culture and thought.  







Aug 18, 2014 6:55pm
Socrates is my hero--seriously. I don't know if he had as much influence on our world as suggested, but it's an intriguing thought. Socratic thought, dialectical philosophy, is rare. I've studied it and live by it, personally, but I haven't encountered too many folks who grasp it or utilize it in their daily life.

Good write-up and thank you for sharing it.
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