The Biography of Socrates
The most interesting and influential philosopher of all time was Socrates, whose dedication to careful reasoning transformed the entire enterprise. Since he sought genuine knowledge rather than mere victory over an opponent, he familiarized himself with the rhetoric and dialectics of the Sophists, the speculations of the Lonian philosophers, and the general culture of Periclean Athens. Socrates employed the same logical tricks developed by the Sophists to a new purpose, the pursuit of truth. Thus, his willingness to call everything into question and his determination to accept nothing less than an adequate account of the nature of things make him the first clear exponent of critical philosophy.
Although he was well known during his own time for his conversational skills and public teaching, Socrates wrote nothing, so we are dependent upon his students, like Kenophon and Plato, for any detailed knowledge of his methods and results. Plato was also a philosopher who often injected his own theories into the dialogues he presented to the world as discussions between Socrates and other famous figures of the day. Nevertheless, it is usually assumed that at least the early dialogues of Plato provide a fairly accurate representation of Socrates himself.
Socrates profoundly affected Western philosophy through his influence on Plato. Born in Athens in 469 BC to the son of Sophroniscus, a sculptor, and Phaenarete, a midwife, Socrates received the regular elementary education in literature, music, and other areas of the arts. Initially, Socrates followed the craft of his father; according to a former tradition, he executed a statue group of the three Graces, which stood at the entrance to the Acropolis until the 2nd century AD. In the Peloponnesian War with Sparta he served as an infantryman with conspicuous bravery at the battles of Potidaea in 432-430BC, Delium in 424BC, and Amphipolis in 422BC.
Socrates believed in the superiority of argument over writing and therefore spent the greater part of his adult life in the marketplace and public places of Athens, engaging in dialogue and argument with anyone who would listen or who would submit to interrogation. Even though Socrates was unattractive and short in stature he was extremely hardy and self-controlled. He enjoyed life immensely and achieved social popularity because of his ready wit and a keen sense of humor that was completely devoid of satire or cynicism.
Socrates attitude toward politics was obedient, but generally steered clear of politics, restrained by what he believed to be divine warning. He believed that he had received a call to pursue philosophy and could serve his country best by devoting himself to teaching, and by persuading the Athenians to engage in self-examination and in tending to their souls. He didn't write any books and established no regular...