Socrates (c. 469-399 BC)

Background, Beliefs and Teachings

Socrates was born in Athens. He was the son of poor parents. His father was a sculptor and his mother was a midwife. He fought in the Peloponnesian War, as a soldier in the army. After he retired from the army he devoted his time to what he called "divine command". He spent much of his time and energy in the pursuit of wisdom. He went about this by engaging in conversation with all sorts of men and women. They would discuss a wide range of subjects such as love, politics, war, friendship, poetry, religion, science, government and moral issues.

People were charmed by his wit, good humor, and his kindly disposition. His special concern however, was moral conduct. Socrates rejected the popular conceptions of the Greek gods and their relation to human beings. He believed that a divine providence had to do with the creation of the world. Furthermore, he thought that the purpose toward which this divine providence was directed was the achievement of the good life by human beings. He believed that man was more than just a physical organism; he felt that man's body was a dwelling place of the soul and what happened to the soul was more important than what happened to the body. He made this statement that expresses his moral philosophy: "Virtue is knowledge." He believed that the chief cause of the evil that men do was ignorance concerning the good life. He believed that through the proper development of the mind in its pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness that the goal and purpose of human life can be achieved. He regarded popular opinion as ignorant. He was very critical of the democratic form of government. He felt that people who are called upon to govern the state ought to possess both intellectual and moral qualifications.

Trial and Execution

Socrates had a tendency to point out the shortcomings of certain officials who were, according to him, unprepared for their duties. He usually received harsh resentment from the officials he had offended. This was the case when Socrates pointed out the shortcomings in Mellitus, a member of the governing council. In 399 B.C, Mellitus and his fellow aristocrats, Anytus and Lycan, launched accusations at him. They accused him of being a menace to society. They said that he was corrupting the minds of the young and that he rejected the gods of Athens. Mellitus also accused Socrates of being an atheist and said that his teachings would eventually bring about the collapse of public morality. At the trial, Socrates defended himself and his manner of living and presented sufficient evidence to show that the accusations brought against him were without adequate foundations. However, when the jury voted, the majority voted against him. Socrates was sentenced to death, by a poisonous plant extract known as hemlock.

Students whom he taught and inspired

There are no written records of Socrates' work. However, through his students who later turned into his peers, we have some works related to him. Aristophanes wrote. Xenophon wrote Memorabilia. However, we receive the most information from the works of Plato. Socrates was the chief character in many of his most famous dialogues. Plato's fame rests on his dialogues which are all preserved. They are usually divided in three periods, early, middle, and late. The early dialogues establish the figure of Socrates, portrayed as endlessly questioning, shattering the false claims of his contemporaries.

I always wonder what Socrates will think if he has access to Google & Facebook.


Early life

Main article: Early life of Plato

Birth and family

The exact place and time of Plato's birth are not known, but it is certain that he belonged to an aristocratic and influential family. Based on ancient sources, most modern scholars believe that he was born in Athens or Aegina[b] between 429 and 423 BC.[a] His father was Ariston. According to a disputed tradition, reported by Diogenes Laertius, Ariston traced his descent from the king of Athens, Codrus, and the king of Messenia, Melanthus.[6] Plato's mother was Perictione, whose family boasted of a relationship with the famous Athenian lawmaker and lyric poet Solon.[7] Perictione was sister of Charmides and niece of Critias, both prominent figures of the Thirty Tyrants, the brief oligarchic regime, which followed on the collapse of Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War (404–403 BC).[8] Besides Plato himself, Ariston and Perictione had three other children; these were two sons, Adeimantus and Glaucon, and a daughter Potone, the mother of Speusippus (the nephew and successor of Plato as head of his philosophical Academy).[8] According to the Republic, Adeimantus and Glaucon were older than Plato.[9] Nevertheless, in his Memorabilia, Xenophon presents Glaucon as younger than Plato.[10]

The traditional date of Plato's birth (428/427) is based on a dubious interpretation of Diogenes Laertius, who says, "When [Socrates] was gone, [Plato] joined Cratylus the Heracleitean and Hermogenes, who philosophized in the manner of Parmenides. Then, at twenty-eight, Hermodorus says, [Plato] went to Euclides in Megara." As Debra Nails argues, "The text itself gives no reason to infer that Plato left immediately for Megara and implies the very opposite."[11] In his Seventh Letter Plato notes that his coming of age coincided with the taking of power by the Thirty, remarking, "But a youth under the age of twenty made himself a laughingstock if he attempted to enter the political arena." Thus Nails dates Plato's birth to 424/423.[12]

According to some accounts, Ariston tried to force his attentions on Perictione, but failed in his purpose; then the god Apollo appeared to him in a vision, and as a result, Ariston left Perictione unmolested.[13] Another legend related that, when Plato was an infant, bees settled on his lips while he was sleeping: an augury of the sweetness of style in which he would discourse philosophy.[14]

Ariston appears to have died in Plato's childhood, although the precise dating of his death is difficult.[15] Perictione then married Pyrilampes, her mother's brother,[16] who had served many times as an ambassador to the Persian court and was a friend of Pericles, the leader of the democratic faction in Athens.[17] Pyrilampes had a son from a previous marriage, Demus, who was famous for his beauty.[18] Perictione gave birth to Pyrilampes' second son, Antiphon, the half-brother of Plato, who appears in Parmenides.[19]

In contrast to his reticence about himself, Plato often introduced his distinguished relatives into his dialogues, or referred to them with some precision: Charmides has a dialogue named after him; Critias speaks in both Charmides and Protagoras; and Adeimantus and Glaucon take prominent parts in the Republic.[20] These and other references suggest a considerable amount of family pride and enable us to reconstruct Plato's family tree. According to Burnet, "the opening scene of the Charmides is a glorification of the whole [family] connection ... Plato's dialogues are not only a memorial to Socrates, but also the happier days of his own family."[21]


According to Diogenes Laërtius, the philosopher was named Aristocles after his grandfather, but his wrestling coach, Ariston of Argos, dubbed him "Platon", meaning "broad," on account of his robust figure.[22] According to the sources mentioned by Diogenes (all dating from the Alexandrian period), Plato derived his name from the breadth (platytês) of his eloquence, or else because he was very wide (platýs) across the forehead.[23] In the 21st century some scholars[citation needed] disputed Diogenes, and argued that the legend about his name being Aristocles originated in the Hellenistic age.[c]


Apuleius informs us that Speusippus praised Plato's quickness of mind and modesty as a boy, and the "first fruits of his youth infused with hard work and love of study".[24] Plato must have been instructed in grammar, music, and gymnastics by the most distinguished teachers of his time.[25] Dicaearchus went so far as to say that Plato wrestled at the Isthmian games.[26] Plato had also attended courses of philosophy; before meeting Socrates, he first became acquainted with Cratylus (a disciple of Heraclitus, a prominent pre-Socratic Greek philosopher) and the Heraclitean doctrines.[27]

Plato and Socrates

Plato and Socrates in a medieval depiction

The precise relationship between Plato and Socrates remains an area of contention among scholars. Plato makes it clear in his Apology of Socrates, that he was a devoted young follower. In that dialogue, Socrates is presented as mentioning Plato by name as one of those youths close enough to him to have been corrupted, if he were in fact guilty of corrupting the youth, and questioning why their fathers and brothers did not step forward to testify against him if he was indeed guilty of such a crime (33d-34a). Later, Plato is mentioned along with Crito, Critobolus, and Apollodorus as offering to pay a fine of 30 minas on Socrates' behalf, in lieu of the death penalty proposed by Meletus (38b). In the Phaedo, the title character lists those who were in attendance at the prison on Socrates' last day, explaining Plato's absence by saying, "Plato was ill" (Phaedo 59b).

Plato never speaks in his own voice in his dialogues. In the Second Letter, it says, "no writing of Plato exists or ever will exist, but those now said to be his are those of a Socrates become beautiful and new" (341c); if the Letter is Plato's, the final qualification seems to call into question the dialogues' historical fidelity. In any case, Xenophon and Aristophanes seem to present a somewhat different portrait of Socrates than Plato paints. Some have called attention to the problem of taking Plato's Socrates to be his mouthpiece, given Socrates' reputation for irony and the dramatic nature of the dialogue form[28]

Aristotle attributes a different doctrine with respect to the ideas to Plato and Socrates (Metaphysics 987b1–11). Putting it in a nutshell, Aristotle merely suggests that his idea of forms can be discovered through investigation of the natural world, unlike Plato's Forms that exist beyond and outside the ordinary range of human understanding.

Later life

Plato may have traveled in Italy, Sicily, Egypt and Cyrene.[29] Said to have returned to Athens at the age of forty, Plato founded one of the earliest known organized schools in Western Civilization on a plot of land in the Grove of Hecademus or Academus.[30] The Academy was "a large enclosure of ground that was once the property of a citizen at Athens named Academus (some, however, say that it received its name from an ancient hero).[31] The Academy operated until it was destroyed by Lucius Cornelius Sulla in 84 BC. Neoplatonists revived the Academy in the early 5th century, and it operated until AD 529, when it was closed by Justinian I of Byzantium, who saw it as a threat to the propagation of Christianity. Many intellectuals were schooled in the Academy, the most prominent one being Aristotle.[32]

Throughout his later life, Plato became entangled with the politics of the city of Syracuse. According to Diogenes Laertius, Plato initially visited Syracuse while it was under the rule of Dionysus.[33] During this first trip Dionysus's brother-in-law, Dion of Syracuse, became one of Plato's disciples, but the tyrant himself turned against Plato. Plato was sold into slavery and almost faced death in Cyrene, a city at war with Athens, before an admirer bought Plato's freedom and sent him home. After Dionysius's death, according to Plato's Seventh Letter, Dion requested Plato return to Syracuse to tutor Dionysus II and guide him to become a philosopher king. Dionysius II seemed to accept Plato's teachings, but he became suspicious of Dion, his uncle. Dionysus expelled Dion and kept Plato against his will. Eventually Plato left Syracuse. Dion would return to overthrow Dionysus and ruled Syracuse for a short time before being usurped by Calippus, a fellow disciple of Plato.


A variety of sources have given accounts of Plato's death. One story, based on a mutilated manuscript,[34] suggests Plato died in his bed, whilst a young Thracian girl played the flute to him.[35] Another tradition suggests Plato died at a wedding feast. The account is based on Diogenes Laertius's reference to an account by Hermippus, a third century Alexandrian.[36] According to Tertullian, Plato simply died in his sleep



Aristotle, whose name means "the best purpose,"[4] was born in Stageira, Chalcidice, in 384 BC, about 55 km (34 mi) east of modern-day Thessaloniki.[5] His father Nicomachus was the personal physician to King Amyntas of Macedon. Aristotle was trained and educated as a member of the aristocracy. At about the age of eighteen, he went to Athens to continue his education at Plato's Academy. Aristotle remained at the academy for nearly twenty years before quitting Athens in 348/47 BC. The traditional story about his departure reports that he was disappointed with the direction the academy took after control passed to Plato's nephew Speusippus upon his death, although it is possible that he feared anti-Macedonian sentiments and left before Plato had died.[6] He then traveled with Xenocrates to the court of his friend Hermias of Atarneus in Asia Minor. While in Asia, Aristotle traveled with Theophrastus to the island of Lesbos, where together they researched the botany and zoology of the island. Aristotle married Hermias's adoptive daughter (or niece) Pythias. She bore him a daughter, whom they named Pythias. Soon after Hermias' death, Aristotle was invited by Philip II of Macedon to become the tutor to his son Alexander the Great in 343 BC.[7]

Early Islamic portrayal of Aristotle

Aristotle was appointed as the head of the royal academy of Macedon. During that time he gave lessons not only to Alexander, but also to two other future kings: Ptolemy and Cassander. In his Politics, Aristotle states that only one thing could justify monarchy, and that was if the virtue of the king and his family were greater than the virtue of the rest of the citizens put together.[8] Tactfully, he included the young prince and his father in that category. Aristotle encouraged Alexander toward eastern conquest, and his attitude towards Persia was unabashedly ethnocentric. In one famous example, he counsels Alexander to be 'a leader to the Greeks and a despot to the barbarians, to look after the former as after friends and relatives, and to deal with the latter as with beasts or plants'.[9]

By 335 BC he had returned to Athens, establishing his own school there known as the Lyceum. Aristotle conducted courses at the school for the next twelve years. While in Athens, his wife Pythias died and Aristotle became involved with Herpyllis of Stageira, who bore him a son whom he named after his father, Nicomachus. According to the Suda, he also had an eromenos, Palaephatus of Abydus.[10]

It is during this period in Athens from 335 to 323 BC when Aristotle is believed to have composed many of his works.[7] Aristotle wrote many dialogues, only fragments of which survived. The works that have survived are in treatise form and were not, for the most part, intended for widespread publication, as they are generally thought to be lecture aids for his students. His most important treatises include Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, De Anima (On the Soul) and Poetics.

Aristotle not only studied almost every subject possible at the time, but made significant contributions to most of them. In physical science, Aristotle studied anatomy, astronomy, embryology, geography, geology, meteorology, physics and zoology. In philosophy, he wrote on aesthetics, ethics, government, metaphysics, politics, economics, psychology, rhetoric and theology. He also studied education, foreign customs, literature and poetry. His combined works constitute a virtual encyclopedia of Greek knowledge. It has been suggested that Aristotle was probably the last person to know everything there was to be known in his own time.[11]

Near the end of Alexander's life, Alexander began to suspect plots against himself, and threatened Aristotle in letters. Aristotle had made no secret of his contempt for Alexander's pretense of divinity, and the king had executed Aristotle's grandnephew Callisthenes as a traitor. A widespread tradition in antiquity suspected Aristotle of playing a role in Alexander's death, but there is little evidence for this.[12]

Upon Alexander's death, anti-Macedonian sentiment in Athens once again flared. Eurymedon the hierophant denounced Aristotle for not holding the gods in honor. Aristotle fled the city to his mother's family estate in Chalcis, explaining, "I will not allow the Athenians to sin twice against philosophy,"[13][14] a reference to Athens's prior trial and execution of Socrates. He died in Euboea of natural causes within the year (in 322 BC). Aristotle named chief executor his student Antipater and left a will in which he asked to be buried next to his wife.[15]




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