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 A Dictionary of English Philosophical Terms  Francis Garden


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Introductory Paragraph

Early Ionic Natural Philosophers

The Pythagoreans

The Eleatics


Later Natural Philosophers

General Character of the First Period in the History of Greek Philosophy

The Sophist


The Followers of Socrates

The Lesser Socratics

Plato. Life. Works

Plato. Philosophy

The Disciples of Plato

The Old Academy

Aristotle: Life and works

Aristotle: Theory of Knowledge

Aristotle: Metaphysics

Aristotle: Physics

Aristotle: Psychology

Aristotle: Practical Philosophy

Aristotle: Rhetoric and Poetic

Aristotle: Sources

Aristotle: Unity of Plato and Aristotle

Aristotle: result

The Peripatetic School

Three Leading Post-Aristotelian Schools

The Stoics and Stoicism

The Epicureans and Epicureanism

The Sceptics

The Common Ground of the Stoics, Epicureans, and Sceptics

Philosophy in Rome: Eclecticism

The Later Peripatetics

The Later Academics

The Later Stoics

General Character of the Second Period

Standpoint and Schools of the Third and Latest Period of Greek Philosophy

Jewish-Alexandrian School


The Eclectic Platonist

Neo-Platonism. Plotinus

Neo-Platonism. Porphyry. Jamblichus

Neo-Platonism. Proclus




B. C. BURT (1852-1915) - Table of contents                        




§ 8 - Socrates (1)

The Sophists and Socrates

The philosophical successor of the Sophists, though a contemporary of the earliest and chief ones, is Socrates. Like them, he maintained a sceptical attitude towards the physical speculations of the early nature-philosophers, and was driven, in part at least, by the unsatisfactoriness of those speculations, to the almost exclusive contemplation of human nature. But to him "man" in the Protagorean dictum meant man not merely in his individual, but also and primarily in his universal, nature, man the thinker and the natural participator in the life of his fellow-men. For the showy rhetoric and false dialectic of the Sophists he sought to substitute scientific method, adequate to fact and universal truth; and for their doctrine of external pleasure and utility, the idea of inherent justice and happiness. Like the Sophists, he questioned existing beliefs and institutions —theological, ethical, political— but he sought to discover and preserve their universal element, or truth.


 As to his external methods, neither love of publicity or popular favor, nor ostentation of learning or skill in words, nor any desire to reap pecuniary reward, had any part in them. In a word, he sought the "simple truth": in the spirit of the truth he sought the truth first of all, in its own proper form, universality and accessibility to all intelligence. What Hegel calls the principle of subjectivity was, as introduced and employed by the Sophists, largely an empty form; Socrates gave to it a definite, full, and enduring content. 

Special Sources of Information regarding Socrates

Socrates wrote no philosophical treatise. What is known of him and his teachings has been learned chiefly from the writings of Xenophon, Plato, and Aristotle. Owing to the discrepancies between the presentations of Xenophon and of Plato, there arises a question as to which of the two affords the better view of Socrates and his philosophizing. Xenophon's superiority, so far as he possesses any, is due to his evident historical intent. It has been urged, however, that he wrote largely as an apologist, that he lacked the speculative insight necessary for the appreciation at its full value of the Socratic philosophizing, and that he has pictured Socrates regarded as a pattern of manhood, rather than Socrates the speculative inquirer. Plato's presentation, on the other hand, though undoubtedly an idealization, is, in the earlier dialogues, sufficiently faithful to external fact, and probably represents, more truly than the Xenophontic, the spirit, method, and tendency, if not the outward doctrines and circumstances, of the Socratic philosophizing: the student who is especially interested in the continuity and development of Greek philosophy will, no doubt, derive, as regards Socrates, more satisfaction from Plato than from Xenophon, for the simple reason that Plato's mature views were shaped with reference to the whole course of Greek thought preceding him, being or containing, therefore, the development of Socratic as well as other earlier doctrines.

Life of Socrates

Socrates was born near Athens, about the year 469 B.C., his parents being Sophroniscus, a sculptor, and Phænarete, a midwife. Of his early years nothing is known, save that he must have received the usual education in gymnastics, poetry, and music. He was sell-instructed in geometry and astronomy; and doubtless heard the lectures of some of the Sophists, with whom, in all probability, he frequently measured dialectical swords. It is conjectured that with some regular instruction or other assistance from others, he made a special study of the theories of the Pythagoreans, the Eleatics, Heraclitus, and Anaxagoras. If he really did so, he undoubtedly formed original opinions of them, and regarded much in them as problematical and futile. It is sometimes said that he followed for a while his father's occupation, and that a work of his, "representing the Graces attired, was standing at the entrance to the Acropolis" as late as 150 A.D. Not long after he was thirty years of age he entered upon what he regarded as a divine calling, that of a seeker of wisdom and searcher of men. He professed to know only his own ignorance; to be, not a teacher, but an intellectual "midwife". In this vocation he spent most of the remaining forty years of his life; but instead of traveling extensively, as did most of his predecessors in philosophy, and of affecting a learned cosmopolitanism, as did some of the Sophists, he remained continuously at Athens, with the exception of three or four intervals when he was absent on a holiday trip or with the army. His astonishing indifference to hardship while in military service, his bravery, his self-forgetfulness, his sagacity, and, withal, his periods of rapt meditation, are forever memorable. Public office he cared less for than did any philosopher who had lived before him, and accepted it only once, and then not till near the close of his life and only from a sense of duty. Once when in office, and again when merely a private citizen, he defied tyranny by refusing to violate at its bidding the law of the state. Standing aloof from participation in political affairs, he held firmly and, as he declared, patriotically, to his calling; and in the pursuit of this he might be found in the gymnasium, the market-place, the workshop, conversing with boys, men, and women, of all sorts and conditions, putting to them keen questions, and quickening the pulse of moral and intellectual life. He was concerned almost as little about his own family affairs as about affairs of state; and if Xanthippe was really the scolding wife that tradition represents her to have been, she certainly had occasion for so being. Socrates was, in fact, so absorbed in his calling that he neglected to exercise common prudence not only for his family, but for himself. It was food and raiment to him to probe the conceit and foolish ignorance of men, to search their consciences and expand their shrivelled individualities; in short, to awaken them to the life of true self-consciousness. In doing this he made them, now his friends and helpers, now his bitter enemies, but always, frequently in spite of themselves, his enlightened pupils. It was no part of his business or purpose to fill the ears of men with a specious wisdom, and to send them away self-complacent and ready to appear wise for a price; it was not primarily his business or purpose to inform those with whom he conversed, but to render them thoughtful, critical, and, if need were, even sceptical. He became an object of ridicule and hatred to the lovers of the old ways and times, and was, by the poet Aristophanes, in his comedy of The Clouds, satirized as a Sophist and a charlatan of the worst description. At last, certain of the "conservatives," exasperated at seeing themselves and their favorite institutions exposed to the light of truth by Socrates and by others whom he had stimulated to think, formally charged him with discarding the national gods, introducing new gods, and corrupting the youths of Athens. His defense was bold and sharply critical, and he was (though by only a small majority) condemned to be, according to law, imprisoned, heavily fined, or banished; and when he refused, somewhat haughtily indeed, to acknowledge any guilt, and claimed, on the contrary, that he ought to be publicly entertained in the Prytaneum, or City Home, as a benefactor to the state, he was by a majority of eighty votes adjudged worthy of death. He went to prison, and, after a delay of thirty days, during which, partly, as it would seem, from pride, but mostly from the spirit and habit of obedience to regularly constituted authority, he scornfully refused a proffered opportunity of escape, he suffered the penalty by drinking hemlock (399 B.C.). The moral sublimity of his last hours appears from Plato's dialogue Phædo.

The Personality of Socrates and its Relation to the Subsequent History of Philosophy

Of the personality of Socrates, which seems to have satisfied Greek notions of completeness and symmetry of character in every item but one, namely, as regards harmony between exterior appearances and interior reality (for Socrates was not handsome in aspect), it is necessary to say only so much here as will direct attention to three aspects of it that appear to bear special relation to his doctrines, to have particularly influenced his contemporaries, presenting to his followers (according to their various capacities) ideals of mental and moral excellence, and exemplifications of various portions of his doctrines, and thus to have determined in large measure the subsequent course of philosophy in its history. It is, probably, to the character quite as much as to the teaching of Socrates that we must look for the source of the explanation of the effects of the Socratic philosophizing, and hence of the influence of Socrates in the history of philosophy. In the first place, then, may be noticed his critical insight and analytic faculty, which enabled him to understand at a glance and expose plainly to view, if need were, the inward condition of those about him. It was the pure genius of inquiry and discovery directed, not to external things, but to the things of the mind and conscience. This appears in almost all the reported conversations of Socrates with his contemporaries; and there is evidence of it in the fact that Socrates made possible, or it may almost be said, discovered two such intellects as Plato and Aristotle, not to mention, individually, at this point, certain acute minds among the so-called Lesser Socratics, of whom we shall have to speak hereafter. In the second place, we notice his moral vigor and equipoise, the balance of strong emotions and animal faculties under the rule of a superb will. Socrates, generally and on principle, practised self-restraint, was even abstemious; and, on the other hand, he at times far outdid his fellows in convivial indulgence, but without losing self-control. Socrates, the abstemious, was the ideal of one class of philosophers; Socrates, the easy master of self, the ideal of another. In the third place, and finally, there was his "dæmon," or warning voice, and the ever-present consciousness of the supernatural. Of the real nature of this it is difficult to form a satisfactory opinion. Socrates himself did not identify it with reason or with conscience, he did not attribute to it a scientific character or importance. Nor, on the other hand, does he seem to have viewed it as a familiar spirit, an attendant personality. It was to him, rather, an inner oracle, which, instead of giving him a standard of truth or rule of life, warned and restrained him on particular occasions (2). To the general mission of his life it seems to have been related only in so far as it gave increased vitality to the idea or feeling of subjectivity or close relation to an inner reality. Especially did it hold him aloof from public affairs, thus contravening the whole spirit of Greek life; and it helped to add internal significance to what had hitherto been too much a matter of external observance, namely, piety and the religious life. In the eyes of those about him he was by it rendered more sacred and more authoritative as a teacher; they felt that in their converse with him they held communion with a seer and a man of God (3).

Philosophy of Socrates

Coming now to the Socratic philosophy, or, more correctly speaking, since Socrates framed no system, —the Socratic philosophizing,— we have to notice its spirit, its method, its content, or doctrines, and its general character and result.
Spirit of the Socratic Philosophizing. —Regarding the spirit of the Socratic philosophizing, it is to be remarked, in the first place, that it was, as has been already stated, in an important sense and a marked degree, sceptical. He freely criticised prevailing beliefs, customs, and institutions. He discredited the early physical speculation on the ground that it was unprofitable, and even impious (4). He encouraged the study of geometry and astronomy, for example, only in so far as they served the most utilitarian ends. He discredited the "wisdom" of the Sophists without always putting forward palpable and positive doctrines in its stead. He discredited, if we may say so, himself, asserting that he knew only that he knew nothing. He made no pretension to being a teacher at all, not to say a teacher of philosophy (5). It was, indeed, not without apparent reason that he was considered by some of his contemporaries as a Sophist, or even worse than a Sophist. Superficially regarded, at least, Socrates was one of the most pronounced negativists of his age. And if we look below the surface for what was positive in him, we shall find it, not in the positing of an άρχή of all existence, but in his affirmation of the necessity and all-sufficingness of self-Knowledge for the practical purposes of human life, in his love of true manhood, and in his assumption that the essence, or, rather, essences of things, can be expressed in a definition valid for all human intelligences. The position of Socrates was equivocal; he knew that he did not know (6), and yet he felt that he had a deeper sense of reality than any other man of his age. And this brings us to a second element in the spirit of the Socratic philosophizing, namely, the profound irony that pervades much of it. This is not that playful and sarcastic irony that appears immediately on the surface and belongs rather to the external manner and method of Socrates; that habit of pretending to be ignorant in order the better to draw out or put to confusion a pupil or disputant. It was, the rather, a certain equivocality of speech begotten of the consciousness of the possession of superior insight and of the existence of a gulf between himself and his hearers. It was the irony of his situation, and did not proceed from humor or whim. When he professed ignorance, though, from one point of view he spoke the literal truth, for he had a deeper insight than he could give adequate and scientific utterance to, —he seemed to be giving the lie in words to the well-known effects of his manner and teaching, his well-known power over men's minds. This was sometimes perplexing and exasperating to his associates, and more than anything else, perhaps, was the cause of his death. Thirdly: This irony was softened in a measure by a large geniality (proceeding from bodily and spiritual health) —by what, in its superficial aspect, has been termed by Hegel and others after him "Attic urbanity" (7), but seems to be nothing more nor less than love of true self-hood, regard for essential human nature. If, indeed, the leading idea of the teaching of Socrates is, as we shall see, the prime importance of self-knowledge, a large element in its spirit is self-love or the love of the true self, very like what in recent years has been termed the "enthusiasm of humanity". The Greeks, generally, were lovers and admirers not of humanity in general, but of Greek humanity; Socrates was broader in his insights and sympathies than his fellows were.


 But, finally, the principal element in the spirit of the Socratic philosophizing was a love of the truth, —a love rooted in a profound sense of reality and a pretty clear insight into the fundamental form of truth. This was, no doubt, qualified by his attitude toward the existing philosophy of nature and his predilection for man; and Socrates was, consequently, not a philosopher in the fullest sense of the term; he was an ethical inquirer. But within the sphere of human interests he never for long nor in any essential regard turned aside from the search for truth for its own sake.

The Socratic Method

As to the method of the Socratic philosophizing, we must observe that it was not grounded upon the conception of any fully conceived principle of all existence, and that, on the other hand, it was not mere subjective groping after the "truth". It was not merely a logical mode of procedure but was also pedagogical. It was a method of bringing into consciousness, by any and every true psychological expedient, clearly and effectively, true conceptions. Such being the case, it is chiefly a necessity of exposition merely that warrants the separation here of the spirit and the method of this philosophizing. Logically regarded, the Socratic method was a compound of simple induction and definition —"two improvements in science which one might justly ascribe to Socrates" (8)— and reasoning upon the principle of analogy. Socrates, Xenophon tells us (9), was always stimulating his companions to inquire into the essence or nature of things, and to class them properly. He did not, however, frame a systematic theory of logical (or pedagogical) processes or method. But, again, the Socratic "method" was a process, the outcome of which depended upon insight, sympathy, tact, quite as much as upon logic. It was an ethical conference, the presiding spirit of which was the love of the truth, intellectual and moral. Informal conversation was the natural outward aspect of it, both on account of the state of the Greek mind and Greek society and on account of the character of the truth (chiefly ethical) that was the subject of the Socratic inquiries. Crude individualism had begun to prevail; interchange of opinion was necessary and natural; the Greeks were a social, talkative people; the raw material for ethical science or edification had to be gathered and wrought up by dialogue (whence "dialectic"). And, we may observe in passing, the truth that was in Grecian life must have been brought to life and made effective in the Socratic conferences, for at them were present some of the very flower of that life: Euripides, Xenophon, Pericles the Younger, Critias, Alcibiades, Phædo, Chærephon, Plato, Euclid, and others, most of whom came to Socrates "not," to quote Xenophon, "that they might become public speakers in the assembly or the courts (10), but that they might become noble and good, capable of discharging properly their duties to their families, their servants, their relatives, their friends, the state, and their fellow-countrymen"(11). Some of them, as Plato and Euclid, came, no doubt, for intellectual training also —to understand and catch, if possible, that wonderful mastery of conceptions which made Socrates the king of dialectic. Now, in these conferences with fresh, earnest, active minds —and some not fresh, active, and earnest— Socrates delighted to practise what he was pleased to call his maieutic or obstetric art, —his art of bringing ideas or conceptions to the birth, for he saw that the minds of the Grecian youths were in labor. In the practice of this art he assumed that truth is native to the mind, —not to be poured into it, but, the rather, to be drawn out of it (12). Now, sometimes, he feigned, the ideas that he by his art brought to the birth were not "worth keeping and rearing," and must be "exposed" in real Spartan fashion, the only important consequence of the "birth" being increased self-knowledge on the part of those who had been relieved of the ideas with which their minds had been pregnant. Sometimes, however, the ideas were sound and vigorous, and, if well cared for, might be reared into something worth the trouble of rearing them. The Socratic dialectic —for, as has been intimated, the dialogue became dialectic— was, accordingly, twofold, destructive and constructive. On the whole it was, perhaps, more frequently the former than the latter, with a net result, however, of what was positive and enduring; as the one fact, Plato, man and philosopher, is sufficient to prove (13). And if we look more closely into the nature and effect of the Socratic dialectic, we find that the majority of those who were, willingly or unwillingly to themselves, subjected to it were, in the beginning, unripe for the perception of the naked truth: they could not appreciate logical distinctions, pure and simple, nor could they understand fact. They were filled with false sentiments and opinions; some of them were stuffed with the learning of the Sophists and were full of conceit. Before they could be brought to the perception and appreciation of positive and constructive truth they must be relieved of their ignorance, false sentiment, and conceit. They must be encouraged in their right opinions and their keen appetite for knowledge. These services Socrates could perform for them thoroughly and well. The young man who was confident that he was just, and understood what justice was, lost confidence in himself and his ideas of justice, after being compelled to contradict himself several times within a few breaths; and he simply desired to know himself and how to make himself capable of understanding what he had in vain long labored to understand. Such is a case, reported by Xenophon (14), of the use of destructive dialectic and its effect. In dialectic of this sort a false general statement was overthrown by being shown to be inconsistent with an admitted general truth or well-known particular facts. In the opposite process, the constructive dialectic, some truth or right opinion held by the learner was confirmed, or some new truth was brought to light; induction, definition, and reasoning by analogy constituting the logical elements of the process. On the whole, the most valuable result of the Socratic dialectic was the begetting, in those who took part in the conferences, of the spirit of Socrates himself, —modesty, the habit of circumspection, a sense of the differences in things, an intelligent love of the truth and of wholeness or integrity of mind and character; what, in short, may be termed the philosophic spirit.

The Doctrines of Socrates; their General Character

The doctrines of Socrates, it has already been intimated, were chiefly ethical in content. Whatever there may have been —and doubtless there was much— in what we have termed the Socratic conferences, to suggest to a mind like that of Plato, or of Euclid, who was afterwards a leader of one of the Socratic schools, a science of the soul (psychology), or of ultimate being (ontology), the fact is that the old and popular maxim which Socrates adopted as the expression of the leading thought of his teaching, γνώθι σεαυτόν, "Know thyself," was given by him an application principally practical, or ethical (and in a rather narrow sense): Man should know himself —in order to be good and do the good. Though he assumed that truth was native to the mind and that human knowledge is at bottom self-knowledge, he did not make the nature of the mind or soul as such a subject of scientific investigation, nor did he wholly or in part identify self-knowledge with the knowledge of absolute intelligence or reality. To judge from the Charmides, one of the earliest and doubtless one of the most purely Socratic of Plato's dialogues, Socrates was sceptical in regard to the possibility of constructing a science of absolute knowledge or being, it being impossible for him to separate in thought the form of knowledge from the content.

Physical Philosophy of Socrates

But Socrates did not abstain entirely from speculation concerning things not human. For though he hesitated on the threshold of the science of ultimate intelligence and reality, and cast aside as futile and impious the early nature-philosophy, he was not without a theory of nature. In his youth he was, according to a representation in one of the dialogues of Plato (15), always agitating himself with questions relating to the mechanical causes and constituents of things. Anaxagoras, though not completely satisfactory to him, had helped him to get beyond mechanical to final causes, in which alone he found complete satisfaction. Whether Plato's representation be perfectly authentic or not, we find, as we turn the pages of Xenophon, that a favorite theme with Socrates is the beautiful and wise adaptation and order in nature, showing the care of the gods or providence (for polytheistic and monotheistic points of view are blended in the accounts) for the human family. The Socratic interpretation of nature is, however, not a philosophical deduction. It does, indeed, subordinate nature to the idea of the Good, but the mechanistic conception exists side by side with, and practically prevails over, the teleological and organic: nature, though held to be animated by a soul, is conceived as a wise contrivance, for man's benefit chiefly, rather than as a living self-realizing organism (16) in which man holds a superior place because of his superior power of assimilating and synthetizing the "elements" of reality. This latter conception of nature we shall have occasion to examine when we reach Aristotle. The Socratic theory, which is theological (in not the largest sense) rather than philosophical, is the beginning, historically speaking, of what is commonly termed Natural Theology.

Ethical Philosophy of Socrates

Relations between Knowledge and Virtue

Coming now to the doctrines that are most characteristically Socratic (17), we find the first and most important to be this: All virtue is knowledge. Knowledge here means, according to the express testimony of Aristotle (18), as well as the whole tenor of the Socratic discussions everywhere, (not mere "prudence" or practical insight, but) science, correct definition. The man of virtue is not he who performs his duties to self and the state, half-reflectively, but he who possesses, and consciously realizes in act, the exact conception of each of his relations to self and the state. Socrates meant that scientific knowledge is not only a condition to virtue, but the sole condition; and, conversely, that vice is simply ignorance: to do wrong wittingly is better than to do right ignorantly (19). Character and deliberate choice, consequently, were not regarded by Socrates as elements of virtue. He did not admit that there was any merit or virtue in the overcoming of evil inclinations by force of character or will. Given knowledge, thought he, and there follows, necessarily and immediately, virtue. "Now the rest of the world are of the opinion that knowledge is a principle not of strength or of rule, or of command; their notion is that a man may have knowledge, and yet that the knowledge which is in him may be mastered by anger, or pleasure, or pain, or love, or perhaps favor, —just as if knowledge were a slave and might be dragged about anyhow. Now, is that your view? Or do you think that knowledge is a noble and commanding thing, which cannot be overcome, and will not allow a man, if he only knows the difference of good and evil, to do anything contrary to knowledge, but that wisdom will have strength to help him (20)?

General Consequences of the Unity of Knowledge and Virtue

From the unity of virtue and knowledge it follows that the virtues are not many, merely, but one also. They are related to each other, not as the "parts of the face" but "as the parts of gold," which are like one another, and like the whole of which they are parts. One implies the rest; there is a necessary relation between them through knowledge (21). Possessing a common essence, they possess a power of giving rise one to another: the man who, in one relation is temperate, will in another be just, or holy, or courageous, as the case may require. From the unity of virtue and knowledge, it follows, also, that the virtues can be taught. They are not, as the Sophists thought, so many particular knacks, or little arts, that can be caught and practised by instinct: they are the offspring of conception, scientific apprehension. Hence the importance, constantly emphasized by Socrates, of comprehending in every instance the exact nature of what is required to be done, and of a right training of the mind to the forming of conceptions, i.e., scientific education.

Classification of the Virtues

But, now, what virtues are there? and of what are they the knowledge? To these questions Socrates gives no scientific answer. Virtue is for him the knowledge of the Good, and the Good is not the realization of a universal and absolute end, but of the true conceptions or ends of individual objects or acts. The Good, in other words, is the useful. Upon being asked by one of his disciples if he knew anything good, Socrates replied, "Do you ask, Aristippus, if I know anything good for a fever (22)? The Socratic ethics is unscientific, and, in consequence, utilitarian and eudæmonistic. Notwithstanding the abstract and radical character of its first principle —All virtue is knowledge— it remains, for lack of development of that principle, nearly on the level of mere custom and utility. The principal virtues are assumed to be temperance, friendship, courage, right, citizenship, (which, in its highest form, is) justice, piety; the root and sum of them all being wisdom.


Temperance, the fundamental (though not the crowning) virtue, is the keeping of the bodily impulses in subjection to the desires of the mind. "I consider it," says Socrates, "as a mark of perfection in the gods that they want nothing; he, therefore, approaches nearest the divine nature who wants the fewest things". This must be construed, however, not as an argument for asceticism, but for self-control merely. "To continue master of himself in the midst of the allurements of the senses by the unruffled dignity of his own inner life —that was the aim," says Zeller, "which his moderation proposed to itself." Without temperance, thought Socrates, men can be nothing in themselves or to their fellows; the good general, the good guardian, the good neighbor, the good herdsman, the good slave, is temperate (23).


Of friendship and love, Socrates, as we learn from both Xenophon and Plato, made much. Although, he said, the majority of mankind are more diligent in acquiring houses, lands, slaves, flocks, and household goods than in gaining friends, the firm and virtuous friend is the most valuable of all possessions. But the Socratic theory of friendship is not rose-colored: friends are good because they are useful. True friendship, however, can exist only between the intelligent, virtuous, and disinterested. Socrates adopted the common Greek notion that the end of conjugal love was the begetting of a numerous and healthy progeny. The force of the Socratic doctrines of friendship must have been enhanced for his associates by his spirit and manner in conversation; he would "frequently assume the character and language of a lover" (24) for the purpose of winning the confidence of others and getting them enamored of the truth. It is the doctrine of Socrates set forth in the light of his spirit that Plato has presented in his Symposium, where Socrates is discoursing in an inspired manner on spiritual love. In the Socratic conception of friendship and love, there was, it seems, an element not usually present in me Greek conception, namely, that of the duty of love to enemies as well as to friends (25).

Right Citizenship and Justice

Socrates never allowed to escape him any opportunity, on the one hand, to encourage those whom he thought competent, to engage in the active service of the state, and, on the other, to discourage those who were incompetent and over-ambitious. Charmides, who was competent, he urged to acquaint himself with his own powers and to lose no occasion for exerting them in his country's service (26); but Euthydemus he checked, in the following satiric manner: "I never learned anything, O men of Athens," he feigns Euthydemus as saying, "from any one. On hearing that certain persons were skilled in speaking and in the conduct of practical affairs, I never sought to associate myself with them; nor did I ever seek an instructor among those competent to give instruction. On the contrary, I have persistently avoided not only seeking instruction but even seeming to do so. Nevertheless, I propose to offer such advice as may happen to occur to me (27)". Socrates then likens him to a man who should complacently announce that he never thought of making a study of medicine and had never received any instruction in it, and yet should solicit others to offer themselves as subjects for him to experiment upon. Socrates was, doubtless, one of the most ardent, one of the wisest, of all the apostles of political education and intelligent citizenship the world has ever seen. The highest privilege, the most commanding duty, the noblest function of the individual man are, he declared, those connected with citizenship in an intelligent, well-ordered state, —a state in which "not the possession of power nor the fortune of the lot, nor popular election, but knowledge alone, . . . confers a claim to rule (28). If he did not seek a conspicuous part in the affairs of state (29), that was because he saw the imperative need of checking ignorant ambition and demagoguism by steadfastly doing what he could to make knowledge and virtue prevail. As a subject, though he saw fit to criticise existing institutions and rulers, and to encourage independence of judgment everywhere, he rendered strict obedience (30); as one of the governors, he was perfect in firmness and fidelity. Socrates was, in short, both in theory and practice, one of the comparatively few completely sane and whole-minded among men, —men who are able to preserve the balance between what is and what "ought" to be; he was a just man in the larger, Greek sense of the term. And, in the Greek view, justice, in which right citizenship culminates, is the crowning virtue, the virtue that harmonizes individual independence with friendship, the relation of the individual to himself with his relation to others.


The days of Socrates, if ever those of any man were, were "bound each to each; if not by a "natural piety" in exactly the Wordsworthian sense (31) yet by a piety as pure, deep, and simple, —as natural—, as that, and more distinctively human. Though he discarded physical speculation as barren and impious, he believed that the order of the world was cognizable by the power of moral insight. He held that human wisdom, the knowledge that conduces most to human welfare, was but an image of the divine wisdom that ruled the world. He enjoined piety for the double reason that it was due to the gods (God) because of their (His) care for men, and because of the wisdom apparent in the order of the world, and that to the pious alone are communicated some of the divine secrets that may not be penetrated into by the unaided mind of man. He enjoined the customary sacrifices merely as symbols of a pure heart, and his prayer was simply that the gods would give him those things that were good. In his belief and teaching the Supreme Being was invisible, all-wise, all-powerful, all-good, exercising dominion over the world as the mind does over the body (32).


Wisdom, which was sometimes enumerated among the particular virtues by Greek teachers of ethics, was, as we have seen, regarded by Socrates as the root and the substance of all the virtues. "Socrates would often say that justice and every other virtue is wisdom (33)". This is, indeed, just what he meant by the dictum, All virtue is knowledge. And by knowledge he undoubtedly meant self-knowledge especially, —a clear, correct conception, on the part of the individual, of his own powers and limitations as well as of his divine nature. As we have already seen, Socrates constantly strove to cause those with whom he conversed to "examine into the nature of things and class them properly," i.e., to form the habit of framing correct conceptions, and he held it to be of the highest moment that they should apply the art of framing conceptions to the getting of a knowledge of themselves. Wisdom, then, was to Socrates the science of human nature; and since the end of this science is virtue, wisdom is simply ethical or moral science. Socrates did not construct such a science, but pointed the way to it. Further, Socrates, as we know, held that the scientific knowledge of self was sufficient to constitute virtue: he who knows how he ought to serve the gods is pious; he who knows the laws that men ought to observe is just (34): "justice and every other virtue is wisdom": true conceptions rightly apprehended have an inherent and necessary power to make men good.


To the Socratic doctrine of the Good may be appended, as in some sort a corollary, his doctrine of Beauty. The term beauty is scarcely more with Socrates than another name for what is also called goodness. Beautiful is whatever is adapted to the purpose for which it was intended, i.e., whatever realizes its conception; a dung-cart is beautiful if so made that it answers its purpose (35). The work of the true painter or sculptor —the artist— is not a medley of individually beautiful elements having no connection with each other for thought; it is the embodiment of a conception (36).

General Result

The general character of the Socratic philosophizing may be stated as follows: Socrates was by natural temperament, by deliberate choice, and by circumstances given the task of introducing the problem of self-Knowledge and of instituting a tendency which should result in the substitution for the (to a large extent) unscientific and unfruitful speculations of the early Greek philosophers about nature, and for the superficial subjectivism and humanism of the Sophists, scientific —or at least definite— and fruitful conceptions about man, and, later, about universal reason and nature. "All beyond him lies in the region of unsophisticated use and wont, or prescriptive ethics, like that of the Chinese or other Oriental civilizations; on the hither side, the chief interest is the ever-widening influence of the individual consciousness of moral necessity, the long and gradual discipline of mankind into independent responsible wills, endowed with "rights of conscience". In the ante-Socratic principle the individual takes the impulse from without —from auspices or auguries— nothing being undertaken without them. Individual conscience and personal decision date from the epoch of Socrates, and their growth from that time is the progress of the world's history (37). Socrates instituted the science of man; he did so by instituting in the world's consciousness true manhood. And it is very largely as a personal force that he holds his place, a very high one, in the history of the world's abstract thought. Hence, we may repeat in conclusion, the necessity of presenting, in any account of the philosophy of Socrates, so much, relatively, that is personal and concrete in connection with what, in agreement with the nature of the subject, must be impersonal and abstract.


(1) See especially Zeller's Socrates and the Socratic Schools (trans. from Zeller's Die Geschichte der Philos. der Griechen).

(2) Xenophon's Memorabilia, Bk. I. ch. 1.; Bk. IV. ch. 8.

(3) On Socrates's personality, see particularly, Xenophon's Memorabilia (especially at the end) and Plato's Symposium. Schwegler's account is brief, comprehensive, and very forcible. See his Handbook of the History of Philosophy (Stirling's trans.), pp. 39, 41.

(4) Xenophon's Memorabilia, Bk. I. ch. 1 and Bk. IV. ch. 7.

(5) Ibid., Bk. I. ch. 2.

(6) Plato's Apology, p. 21.

(7) Hegel's Geschichte der Philosophie, Vol. II. p. 50.

(8) Aristotle's Metaphysics, Bk. XIII. ch. 4.

(9) Memorabilia, Bk. IV. ch. 5.

(10) See above, § 7, p. 39.

(11) Memorabilia, Bk. I. ch. 2.

(12) See Plato's Meno, pp. 81—83.

(13) If Critias and Alcibiades turned out badly we are obliged to assume that it was hardly in them to do otherwise, whoever had been their master.

(14) Memorabilia, Bk. IV. ch. 2. Perhaps the happiest example of the Socratic dialectic, destructive and constructive, is given in the Meno of Plato.

(15) See the Phædro, pp. 97, 98, 99.

(16) See especially Memorabilia, Bk. I. ch. 4, and Bk. IV. ch. 3.

(17) Aristotle's Metaphysics, Bk. I. ch. 6.

(18) See Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. III. ch. 8; Bk. VI. ch. 2.

(19) Xenophon's Memorabilia, Bk. III. ch. 9; Bk. IV. ch. 6.

(20) Plato's Protagoras, p. 352 (Jowett's translation).

(21) Protagoras, pp. 349, 360.

(22) Memorabilia, Bk. III. ch. 8.

(23) Memorabilia, Bk. I. ch. 5.

(24) Ibid., Bk. IV. ch. 1; Bk. 2. ch. 6, 28.

(25) Plato's Crito, p. 49.

(26) Memorabilia, Bk. III. ch. 7.

(27) Ibid., Bk. IV. ch. 2.

(28) Zeller's Socrates and the Socratic Schools, ch. 7

(29) Memorabilia, Bk. IV. ch. 1.

(30) Ibid., Bk. IV. ch. 4.

(31) See, for example, Wordsworth's stanza beginning—

"My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky".

(32) Memorabilia, Bk. I. chs. 4 and 8.

(33) Ibid., Bk. III. ch. 9.

(34) Memorabilia Bk. IV. ch. 6.

(35) Ibid., Bk. 3. ch. 8.

(36) Ibid., Bk. 3. ch. 10.

(37) "Socrates" (art. by W. T. Harris in Johnson's Cyclopædia).



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