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Socrates Truth “Man Does Not Know All”

Socrates in certainly one the most famous philosophers and his theories and quotes are known even nowadays. He is best known for the words: “Know thyself”. In Greek culture the most highly valued virtue was – arête, this word means “being the best one can be” or “getting close to the highest human potential”. As the necessary element for reaching this potential Socrates named knowledge. He also stated that no knowledge at all was more important than knowledge of oneself. Socrates was not actually a radical skeptic. To the notion of arête Socrates added his own definition – “virtue of knowledge”. He explained it very simply, if a person knows a lot about good or even only good things, then he will do only good. If somebody does something wrong, then he is not aware of what the good is. “This, for Socrates, justifies tearing down people’s moral positions, for if they have the wrong ideas about virtue, morality, love, or any other ethical idea, they can’t be trusted to do the right thing” (3). The main ideas of Socrates touched the matters of truth and wisdom.

The family of Socrates was rather poor, his was born around 470 bce. His father was a stonemason and his mother was a midwife. From the early years he paid a lot of attention to classics and learning the issues of wisdom. He spent a lot of time at the local markets where he was looking at things which he was not really going to buy and liked being called a “gadfly” – one who was constantly challenging and inspiring men to think:

“You, my friend…are you not ashamed…to care so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all?” (2).

Socrates believed that in order to gain freedom and independence a person had to go through eukrateia, i.e. self- mastery. He was usually asking a lot of questions to a person trying to reveal to this person the extent of contradiction of his own ideas and beliefs. He stated that people were to know themselves to pursue the truth. He himself used to say that the only thing he knows is that he knows nothing at all.

His population could not stay in its height for a long time as nobody in reality wants to reveal his ignorance in public and even less liked it the leaders of Athens. As a result Socrates was brought to trial with accusations of “corrupting the youth of Athens” and “not believing in gods of city but of new gods.”

He had the chance to refuse from his beliefs and avoid this trial but his decision was different, he decided to remain true to his ideas. When he refused to compromise truth even for the sake of his own life he is know to have said another famous phrase: “A good man cannot be harmed either in life or in death.”

The thoughts of Socrates were never written down by the author and we won’t be able to find any published versions of his views. One of his best students Plato wrote a lot about the philosopher and thanks to it the world is aware of his ideas. Plato called his teacher “ideal philosopher” and told about him with the help of his famous dialogues The Apology, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo. But researches have some doubts concerning the accuracy and absolute precision of the facts and ideas presented by Plato from the name of Socrates as Plato had a kind of other concerns in his mind.

The most precise of the writing of Plato about Socrates is considered to be The Apology. The word “apology” was derived from the Greek word “defense-speech”, now it has a different meaning. Plato was telling about the trial of Socrates in 399 BC. Plato didn’t simply justify the life of the philosopher, he tried to present his most important philosophical ideas, like for example the necessity to do what a person thinks is right even if all the outer forces are against him and the idea of pursuing the knowledge no matter of opposition.

There is an assumption that Socrates didn’t write anything purposely, as he considered knowledge to be a living and interactive thing. We already mentioned that the main method of Socrates was to ask questions in order to lead people to some contradictions in their ideas, this method was called elenchus, which means something like “cross-examination”. This method served later as the basis for dialectic.

Most Athenians considered Socrates to be a Sophist, in reality he was only to some extent close to their thinking. For example he was as well as the Sophists little interested in physical and metaphysical issues, but ethics and good life were his primer concerns.

With the help of his theory of Value Socrates tried to answer the questions about the goals of education. He stated that there are different kinds of knowledge, and most people are aware of some trivial things, the craftsman knows a lot about his craft, but this knowledge has some value only for him. And a really important knowledge according to Socrates was the knowledge “how to live good or even best”. He found this question really difficult and thought that many people ignored the issues of morals and ethics.

He never told his ideas, he asked questions to students giving them the chance to discover the subjects themselves. To him the goals of education were to know what you can and to know what you do not know.

Socrates developed the separate theory of knowledge as well, where he separated two kind of knowledge: ordinary (of very specific information). If a person has this kind of knowledge he can not be considered wise. The other kind – the higher knowledge – he called definitional knowledge. He himself was interested in defining words and concepts, and his stated that this type of knowledge was a priority to philosophical discussion.

Socrates also tried to connect the notion of belief with the notion of knowledge. “To define belief, according to Socrates, was to use naturalistic explanations for phenomena traditionally explained in terms of Divine Agency. His belief in the wisdom and goodness of gods is derived from human logic and his natural skepticism.” (3). According to his ideas all evils and lie come from the lack of knowledge about good, or even ignorance of goodness and truth, which certainly prevents a person from becoming a wise and honest being.

It was already mentioned that Socrates considered education not simply a mental discipline. “It is also about devotion to virtue and consideration for others which, when practiced in the affairs of daily life, enables a progressively maturing vision of the highest reality.” (4).

For really devoted “lovers of wisdom” the main goal according to Socrates was to gain the superior kind of knowledge, which should be developed with the principles of wisdom justice and care for other people. But he never actually gave any concrete definition of knowledge, just some hints and allusions. But being at the end of his life already, Plato formulated a kind of definition: “This knowledge is not something that can be put into words like other sciences; but after long companionship with it, as between teacher and pupil in joint pursuit of the subject, suddenly, like light flashing forth when a fire is kindled, it is born in the soul and straightway nourishes itself.” (4).

Overall, nowadays, looking from other perspective we could certainly state that the famous phrase of Socrates about knowing only one thing – that he knows nothing, was a kind of exaggeration, but if to read in his words not the upper meaning, but instead an appeal to all people to do everything to develop themselves both mentally and morally, we could still agree that this statement has no time and no place, it is common for all people and all times of human being existing, as there is nobody in reality who is able to know everything about everything, there are always a lot of things that are new to a person, no matter what a great specialist he is in this or that sphere.

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