Understanding the importance of Socrates — The Father of Western Philosophy

“The mind is everything; what you think you become”

Over two thousand four hundred years ago, there was a man who would attempt to find out the meaning of life. His methods were so radical that he became famous with people gathering around him to hear his words. He was able to captivate a whole city from soldiers to merchants, with everyone wanting to listen to this man. Cicero summed it up with, “he brought philosophy down from the skies.”

Encyclopedia Britannica

Socrates was arguably the most influential philosopher ever and a Greek legend. To this day he is considered as the “Father of Western Philosophy”, but at the time in his native Athens he was seen as a controversial figure.

Socrates was born 470 BC in a radical and revolutionary era. In the 5th century BC (between 508–507BC) Athens led by Cleisthenes founded democracy. This was seen as an experimental method of ruling which saw many great thinkers arise. One of which was Socrates. Although Socrates was cynical to the type of democracy displayed in Athens, he also did not believe in tyranny. He instead believed governments should be ruled by people who have the greatest knowledge, ability and have a full understanding of themselves.

Under the new democratic system where freedom of speech was allowed, Socrates roamed the street of his Athens for 50 years questioning authority, religion and the meaning of life. However things took a turn for the worse. The city struggled in wars both at home and abroad with the economy crashing and people beginning to starve. The philosopher’s ideas and questioning left the state anger and in 399BC, the first democratic court sentenced Socrates to death. He was accused of corrupting the public and disrespecting the city’s Gods.

The father of western philosophy was the son of a stonemason born around 470BC. He was described from an early ageas weird and odd. He lived in a City which was trialing out true democracy and was trying to figure out how exactly it should work. Socrates fought in wars but where many soldiers would fight without question, he would question. “What is the point of walls, warships and statues if the men who build them are not happy?” He challenged people to think freely and to live life for the things they love.

Socrates believed in the power of knowledge. He was someone who would seek knowledge through all different methods. He spent large amounts of time seeking the meaning of our own lives. A renowned deep thinker, a lover of scepticism, his questions were mainly over the daily issues of human life.

“What makes us happy?

What makes us good?

What is virtue?

What is love?

What is fear?

How should we best live our lives?”

Socrates believed philosophy should achieve actual practical results for the well-being of society. He seeked to create an ethical system that would not be based on religious doctrine but instead on human reason.

He believed that decisions that humans make are based by the desire to be happy and that therefore the wisdom comes from knowing yourself. When a person knows himself, then the person has a greater capacity to make decision that will bring actual happiness. He did not have any writings and everything we know of Socrates comes from mainly his students, Xenophon and Plato.

One of the truly fascinating aspects of Socrates, is his how his philosophy rejected myths that explained the world. He always seeked to find rational and mathematical answers to find solutions to questions about nature with reason and logic. This is truly remarkable considering the era in which he was living in. Questioning myths and religious books even today would spark a lot of backlash so doing so in over 2400 years ago speaks volume of Socrates.

Socrates’ views would continue to live on in the form of major philosophical movements such as Platonism. Plato was a student of Socrates and Plato’s academy would go on to teach Aristotle who would become the advisor to Alexander the Great. His views on life of austerity combined with morality was later adopted into Stoicism. Socrates’ stature in Western Philosophy was reinforced in the Renaissance era as well as the Age of Reason era in Europe. John Locke was just one philosopher who would adopt much of Socrates’ political theory.