Socrates Biography

Socrates was a Greek philosopher, best known for helping form the foundation of Western philosophy. He was born in 469 BCE in Athens.

Unlike other famous Greek philosophers, Socrates didn't write down his thoughts and ideas. He preferred to speak to his followers. Two of students wrote about Socrates. In many of Plato's dialogues, Socrates is a major figure taking part in philosophical discussions. Xenophon wrote about the events in Socrates' life. We also learn about Socrates from the Greek playwright Aristophanes.

Socrates' family was not wealthy, so he likely didn’t have a formal education.

As a male citizen of Athens, Socrates was required to fight during the Peloponnesian War between the city-states of Athens and Sparta. He served as a foot soldier in several battles and was noted for his courage and valor.

Socrates focused on ethics and how people should behave rather than on the physical world. He said that happiness came from leading a moral life rather than from material possessions. He encouraged people to pursue justice and goodness rather than wealth and power. His ideas were radical at the time. Young men and scholars in Athens gathered around Socrates to discuss ethics and current political issues. Socrates didn't charge his students fees.

Socrates did not give answers to questions. Instead he posed questions and discussed possible answers. Socrates would say, "I know that I know nothing." This logical process of using questions and answers to explore a subject is known as the Socratic Method and is used today in universities and law schools. He once said that "the unexamined life is not worth living."

After Athens lost to Sparta in the Peloponnesian War, a group of men called the Thirty Tyrants came to power. One of them was a student of Socrates. Athens soon revolted and replaced the Thirty Tyrants with a democracy.

Because Socrates had spoken out against democracy and one of his students was a leader in the Thirty Tyrants, he was declared a traitor. Instead of trying to escape Athens to avoid a death sentence, Socrates chose to stay and face his accusers. At trial, he was convicted by a jury for "corrupting the youth" and "failing to acknowledge the gods of the city." He was sentenced to death by drinking poison in 399 BCE.

Source: Socrates Biography
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