“Wisest is he who knows that he does not Know. ” This was one of the statements attributed to Socrates who is regarded as one of mankind’s greatest teachers and the wisest man who ever lived. He was also considered as one of the most enigmatic figures in the history of philosophy. Socrates was a very ugly individual. He was potbellied, had a bulging eyes and a snub nose. He did not write anything down. Everything that we know about him was because of Plato and other philosophers like Xenophon who discussed Socrates in their dialogues.
What is surprising is that he acquired the stature of being one of the most influential person in the history of philosophy without writing a single philosophical article. (The Bluffer’s Guide to Philosophy, p 10) This essay aims to prove that Socrates was indeed the wisest man who has ever lived in this world. In the third subsection, I aim to present my arguments and reasons why I think Socrates is the wisest man who has ever lived. In the fourth subsection, I aim to present the antithesis to my arguments.
In the concluding part, I aim to synthesize all the arguments taking into consideration the antithesis. II. Sophists To understand Socrates however, it is important that a discussion be devoted to the so-called Philosophers during his time. They were known as the Sophists. The Sophists were famous during his time. They were not Athenian citizens but they wandered from city to city to deliver their lectures on philosophy for a fee. Philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle criticized the Sophists for professionalizing the commercializing education. Sophists: The Origin of Western Philosophical Ethics) Socrates was very critical against the Sophists. It is said that Socrates defended philosophy and the society against the Sophists. Michael Curtis, in the Great Political Thinkers: Volume 1, asserted that : “Socrates criticized the Sophists as a group for professing false knowledge, not in the sense of misleading or incorrect information, but in not penetrating sufficiently the significance of the subject they were treating. ”(Curtis 26) One of the leading Sophists was Protagoras.
They theorized that universal principles do not exist and if ever they existed man is not capable of knowing them. The Sophists therefore advocated a philosophy of relativism. Jostein Gaarder in ‘Sophies World’ attributed the statement “Man is the Measure of all things” (Gaarder 49) to Protagoras. He meant that man has no capability of knowing what is good or bad which is universally valid for anyone regardless of place and time. To know whether an act is good or bad will entirely depend on that particular individual.
If an act is good for him, then it is considered good. Thus whether an act is good or bad will have to be considered in relation to man’s needs. (Gaarder 50) III. Socrates as the Wisest Man Socrates should be considered the wisest man because he changed the method of education. Emphasizing the value of education he discussed with his students for free. He did not charge a large sum of money to his students unlike the Sophists who commercialized the education of the youth in Athens by exacting from them fees in exchange for conducting lectures.
He should be regarded as the wisest man in the world because of his method of teaching which is called the Socratic Method. Socrates compared his method to a midwife. Midwifery is defined as the art & practice of attending upon women in childbirth (Midwifery). A midwife does not herself give birth to the child but she merely helps in the child’s delivery. Socrates used the same method. He did not teach students by giving lectures because for him knowledge must come from within. True knowledge according to Socrates is a two-way process. It cannot come from the teacher alone.
Plato in his work Theaetetus discussed the similarity of Socratic method with the art of midwifery, to wit: “Well, my art of midwifery is in most respects like theirs; but differs in that I attend men and not women, and I look after their souls when they are in labor, and not after their bodies, and the triumph of my art is in thoroughly examining whether the thought which the mind of the young man brings forth is a false idol or a noble and true birth. ” (Theaetetus) The Socratic Method consists of two processes. Socrates argued that the first step to acquiring knowledge is to clear the mind of all the biases and prejudices.
There must be a humble acceptance and confession of ignorance. Socrates once said that there is only one thing that I know and that is that I know nothing’ (Gaarder 53). True knowledge will only be acquired after one has accepted his ignorance. The second step will be the maeiutic process. The term came from the Greek word “maieutikos’ wherein Socrates attempted to draw out of the students’ mind the knowledge. Socrates then engaged his students in a debate. Socrates questioned his students the purpose is to get the foundations of the views and opinions of his students until a contradiction in their views is discovered.
Thus, in this process Socrates hoped to destroy the incorrect propositions and assumptions and develop and improve the correct propositions. Socrates should be considered the wisest man who ever lived because he stressed the dangers of ignorance. According to Socrates, ignorance consisted in not knowing that there exists universal principles and that man is capable of knowing them. True knowledge consisted in knowing that universal principles exist. Socrates thus sought to liberate the people from the relativist philosophy of the Sophists. For Socrates, to uphold the Sophists view society will be in chaos.
For who will now determine which act is good or bad for the society. A person can therefore perform any act which he deems right for himself regardless of its effect on other people. In contrast, Socrates argued that there exist universal norms and principles which are valid regardless of place and time. Socrates argued that “Knowledge is Virtue”. He argued that man is inherently good. He will not purposely do evil. If one knows what is good then man will do good. If ever man does evil it is because he does not know any better or because his knowledge is imperfect or inadequate.
Thus, Socrates explains the great problem of evil: evil which is mostly moral evil is due to ignorance or the limitation and imperfection of man’s perfect knowledge. This is affirmed by Garth Kemerling in his essay “Socrates” “Socrates argues here that knowledge and virtue are so closely related that no human agent ever knowingly does will : we all invariably do what we believe to be best. Improper conduct, then, can only be a product of our ignorance rather than a symptom of weakness of the will. (Kemerling) IV. Socrates is not the Wisest Man
If there are people who believe that Socrates was the wisest man some people believe that he is not the wisest man because of his erroneous assumption that knowledge will rid the world of evil. Lack of knowledge is not the only propeller that drives man to do evil. I think Socrates may have failed to consider the power of instinct and passions that are capable of making man commit evil. It cannot be denied that against all wisdom and common sense man still is forced to commit evil. Some people have been gifted with the greatest minds in the world but they still commit crimes and lead immoral lives.
Consider the terrorist attacks our countries have experienced. The attackers instead of using their intelligence to avoid violence are spearheading the attacks against our country. V. Conclusion The philosophy of Socrates was unique for his time. He went against the prevailing tide and told the Athenian people that if they continue to believe the Sophists, Athens was headed for destruction. The objection that man despite its knowledge continuously commits evil is precisely because of the limitation and imperfection of his knowledge.
The terrorists thinking that they have noble cause commit these atrocious acts not knowing that they are committing a grave and serious evil. Socrates taught us all to reexamine ourselves and our deeply cherished belief. He invited us to question every belief, opinion and subject them to scrutiny. Most of the time we get too involved with what we thought we knew where in fact we know nothing about it. It is time for us to free ourselves from our biases and prejudices. Biases and prejudices if left unexamined could shape our lives without us knowing it. They affect how we see the world and how we respond to it.
Liberating ourselves from our own biases and prejudices will help us better understand our lives and our place in this world. Socratic philosophy is in reality an invitation for us to “know ourselves”. It is because of this reason that I think Socrates is the wisest person Socrates inspires us to once more see the world from the eyes of the child. Most of the time we are so used to the world that we begin to accept things as they are. What could be worse than a man lives his life full of biases and prejudices. ‘An unexamined life is not worth living. ’
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