Socrates (470 BC-399 BC)

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Socrates is often considered the first great philosopher of the ancient world. He was born sometime around 470 B.C. in Athens and lived through the Peloponnesian War. During his lifetime Athens went from a position of international supremacy to utter defeat. After serving the polis as a hoplite in the land campaigns against Sparta, he married, had three sons, and entered a long period of philosophical inquiry that involved a persistent and, for some, annoying pursuit of the truths of human nature and politics. Military defeat had made Athenians highly sensitive to criticism, and Socrates' constant questioning of the established order caused him to fall into disfavor with some of the more powerful elements of his society. In 399, Socrates was charged with corrupting the youth of Athens and violating the city's religious practices and condemned to death. Presented with the opportunity to flee the polis, he chose suicide instead. His student Plato recorded a famous account of his death in Phaedo.

Although Socrates never wrote, he influenced later philosophy by his relentless application of closely reasoned questions to the moral and political dogmas of his day. The Socratic dialogue, carried forward by his many students, is an essential part of the Western philosophical tradition.


Works by the Author

The Collected Dialogues of Plato Including the Letters. 2 vols. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.

Works about the Author

Lutz, Mark J. Socrates' Education to Virtue: Learning the Love of the Noble. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

McPherron, Mark L. The Religion of Socrates. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996

Nehamas, Alexander. The Art of Living: Socratic Reflections from Plato to Foucault. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Nichols, Mary P. Socrates and the Political Community: An Ancient Debate. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987.

Plato. The Roots of Political Philosophy: Ten Forgotten Socratic Dialogues Translated, with Interpretive Studies. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987.

Plato. The Last Days of Socrates. London, England, New York: Penguin Books, 1993.

Stone, Isidor F. The Trial of Socrates. New York, Anchor Books, 1989.

Strauss, Leo. Xenophon's Socrates. South Bend, Ind.: St. Augustine Press, 1998.

Taylor, Alfred Edward. Socrates. Boston, Beacon Press, 1951.

West, Thomas G. Plato's Apology of Socrates: An Interpretation. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1979.


The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.

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