Key words: Greek philosopher
Socrates (469-399bc), Greek philosopher, profoundly affected Western philosophy through his influence on Plato. Born in Athens, the son of Sophroniscus, a sculptor, and Phaenarete, a midwife, he received the regular elementary education in literature, music, and gymnastics. Later he familiarized himself with the rhetoric and dialectics of the Sophists, the speculations of the Ionian philosophers, and the general culture of Periclean Athens. Initially, Socrates followed the craft of his father; according to a former tradition, he executed a statue group of the three Graces, which stood at the entrance to the Acropolis until the 2nd century ad.
In the Peloponnesian War with Sparta he served as an infantryman with conspicuous bravery at the battles of Potidaea in 432-430 bc, Delium in 424 bc, and Amphipolis in 422 bc. Socrates believed in the superiority of argument over writing and therefore spent the greater part of his mature life in the marketplace and public places of Athens, engaging in dialogue and argument with anyone who would listen or who would submit to interrogation.
Socrates was reportedly unattractive in appearance and short of stature but was also extremely hardy and self-controlled. He enjoyed life immensely and achieved social popularity because of his ready wit and a keen sense of humor that was completely devoid of satire or cynicism.
Socrates' contribution to philosophy was essentially ethical in character. Belief in a purely objective understanding of such concepts as justice, love, and virtue, and the self-knowledge that he inculcated, were the basis of his teachings. He believed that all vice is the result of ignorance, and that no person is willingly bad; correspondingly, virtue is knowledge, and those who know the right will act rightly.
His logic placed particular emphasis on rational argument and the quest for general definitions, as evidenced in the writings of his younger contemporary and pupil, Plato, and of Plato's pupil, Aristotle. Through the writings of these philosophers, Socrates profoundly affected the entire subsequent course of Western speculative thought.