His main topics discussions were the moral aims and ideals and virtues. His range of knowledge; discussion covered almost the entire life, theoretical as well as practical. He was interested in the physical world. The subjects of his enquiries were the human itself particularly the life of reason.
He gave so many examples of great physical moral courage. This was seen in his performance in war tune. He was kind gentle and had a great sense of humor. He was however, keenly interesting exposing the quacks and humbugs of the surety around him and show them ignorant they were.
This gradually increased the number of his enemies, prediction of the oracle of Delphi that Socrates was the wisest man of Athens caused die growth of so many enemies around him The people around him, gradually started talking against him As the number of his admirers grew so also grew number of his enemies.
Ultimately, a complaint was lodged with the state that Socrates was corrupting the youth and propagating atheism. He was tried in the court and so many others were produced. In this trial the words of Socrates concerning death, virtue are many other important things have become historical.
However, he was conduit to death. In jail, his friends tried to persuade him to escape. He, however, refuse pointed out that everyone must obey the laws of the state even at the cost < death. He was given hemlock which he drank cheerfully and embraced death.
About the words of Socrates, Plato said,
“You will find his words firs of sense, as no others are; next, most divine and containing the finest image virtue, and reaching farthest, in fact reaching to everything which it profits; to study who is to become noble and good.”
Unlike most philosophers, Socrates did not wish to influence others by his views; he did not wish to convince them about the validity and correctness of his views. Rather he wanted that everybody should be his own philosopher, should be critical and think for himself.
He was convinced that every person had in him the germ for rational thought and die aim of philosophy was to bring rational thought to full blossom in everyone. The tendency among philosophers to persuade others to believe that their views are more valid gives rise to schools and controversies in philosophy.
Socrates, on the contrary, did not wish to convert others to his views nor did he wish to propagate a set of philosophical views. He only wanted to draw the attention of others to the crucial significance of philosophy for life and inculcate in them a love for philosophy, that is, intellectual midwifery.
As a midwife delivers a child of a pregnant woman, Socrates wanted to bring to surface the germ of rational thought and critical inquiry. The whole approach of Socrates in philosophy is summed up in two words Dialectical Method.
Knowledge and Virtue:
The paramount interest of Socrates in philosophy was ethical or practical. He wanted that philosophy should enlighten the path of each man’s life. Accordingly, he regarded upright conduct to be of highest value and considered all else subservient to it Virtue, for Socrates, was the sum mum bonus of life.
He however, considered the two to be identical. For him, knowledge is virtue or knowledge of what is good and right in conduct He believed that no one did any wrong knowingly and that wrong action was bred by ignorance.
This doctrine of Socrates is a little difficult to comprehend, because we find numerous examples of bad actions done knowingly. Socrates, as a matter of fact, overstressed reason and failed to appreciate the strength of irrational in man.
“Then if virtue is one of the things in the soul, and if it must necessarily be helpful, it must be wisdom; since quite by themselves all the things about the soul the neither helpful nor harmful, but they become helpful or harmful by the addition of wisdom or senselessness.”
“But if we have ordered all our enquiry well and argued well, virtue is seen as coming neither by nature nor by teaching, but by divine allotment incomprehensibly to those to whom it comes.”
Then from this our reasoning, Menno, virtue is shown as coming to us, whenever it comes, by divine dispensation, but we shall only know the truth about this dearly when, before enquiring in what way virtue comes to mankind, we first try to search out what virtue is in itself.”
Socrates firmly believed that right knowledge is the key to right conduct As a matter of fact he held that no one ever committed any wrong knowingly, that vice vas bred by ignorance about the nature of things rather than from the defect of the will.
For example, ordinarily we attribute selfishness, aggressiveness, irritability etc., to ones self-love and hatred of others. But, according to Socrates, these traits are due only to lack of self-knowledge. Hence, the first dictum of Socrates’ moral theory is ‘know thy-self.
The moral theory of Socrates is pragmatic. According to him, good acts are more important than good principles. The moral principles must be such as are practicable. A moral principle likes ‘treat everybody as an end in him is very lofty but in spite of its loftiness it is of little worth because it is unpredictable.
Again, the injunction that taking interest on loans is sinful is very high-minded but if it were to be put in actual practice our modern society would collapse. Socrates made great effort to define virtue but his real intent was not definition of virtue but to make men virtuous.
The two extremes:
Socrates was opposed to both extreme skeptics and orthodox in matters of moral. According to skeptics there was no objective morality and that all actions were equally worthwhile from one or the other’s viewpoint there was a popular saying among Greeks which reflects this attitude.
“You are being punished not because of the theft you have committed but because you have been caught”
This means that thieving is not blameworthy; and the same is true with other social vices. On the other hand, die orthodox view was that the moral rules had been laid by our fore-fathers and that die change in time and social context did not affect Diem in any manner.
Therefore, morality was a code of fixed and unwavering rules which required no use of reason to be followed; in fact an attempt to use reason in moral was tantamount to tempering with the rules with intent to violate them.
The golden mean:
Socrates tried to steer on a middle course betwixt the above two extremes. He agreed with skeptics that social and persona] context played a role in determining the moral conduct and that there was apparent diversity of opinion regarding what is right But he pointed out that behind the veil of diversity, there was some fundamental unity provided by rational thought.
For example, it is unjust to return a fire arm to a person who is drunk or otherwise mentally disturbed, but if would be quite just to return the fire arm if the loaner is normal. The apparent contradictions in two acts cease to look so if we consider the matter rationally.
Both actions are fundamentally rational, and, therefore, in accordance with die same principle. Regarding the views of orthodoxy Socrates shares their respect and reference that moral rules can be blindly followed. As a matter of fact rationality is, according to Socrates, the very essence of morality and uncritical and blind faith, die breeding grounds of vice. For Socrates a moral man is a virtuous man. The virtue is the sum mum barium of morality: and virtue is nothing but knowledge.
In order to appreciate fully the moral views of Socrates, the following fundamental principles need detailed discussion.
1. Knowledge is the goal of life:
The concern of a moral theory is to define and describe the concept of good or summum bonum. There are various views with regard to the goal of human life. According to some, it is pleasure, and according to others it is happiness.
Still some other philosophers believed that the highest good is to follow the roles of Eiders. But Socrates considered knowledge to be dying Highest Good and therefore the true aim of life.
This was so because he believed that knowledge was a sine qua non of all virtues and that if we knew what is right, we cannot do the wrong. Therefore the knowledge of self and society was the key to moral life. Virtue is nothing else than knowledge.
Socrates used to say that ‘knowledge is virtue’ and he tried to establish the proposition thus: ‘Every man seeks happiness and happiness results from good deeds; In order to do good one must know what is good. That is, one must have the knowledge of the good. Therefore, knowledge is a condition sine qua non of moral conduct
Side by side with knowledge, Socrates gave equal importance to will and desire in moral conduct. But he did not subscribe to the view that there was some antinomy between will and reason that is dichotomy existed between will and reason.
He firmly believed that no one could do any bad knowing it to be bad, nor could anybody do some good unconsciously. Therefore, for him, will was subject to reason and was molded by knowledge. A moral good consisted in knowing what is good and doing it there could be no virtue which was blind and unconscious. Without knowledge there could be no good and no virtue.
Socrates also held an opinion which is contrary to the above and unintelligible to common sense. According, to him, a wrong committed in full knowledge is superior to a wrong committed unwillingly. Normally, we take a lenient view of a bad act which has been done accidently.
For example, a person whose gun fires and kills someone while he is cleaning, it is treated less harshly than a person who kills a man with his gun deliberately. Accordingly hi view of Socrates that known bad was superior to unknown bad would be tantamount to the belief that deliberate killing was preferably to accidental killing.
Socrates’ moral theory, as a whole seems contrary to common sense and it has been subject to both practical and theoretical criticism. In practice we can cite numerous instances of vices indulged in knowingly. Many people drink and eat gluttonously and commit adultery, incest sodomy, knowing them to be unpardonable wrongs. In theory, the belief that reason is subject to will is open to theoretical criticism.
However, the above criticism is considered to be based on a mistake. Socrates’ theory of ‘Knowledge’ is no ordinary one. According to Socrates, a man of knowledge is a man of self control. Therefore, the idea of knowledge, for Socrates, presupposes government of reason over will and desire. Socrates moral theory therefore, is a blend of reason and will in a harmony.
2. Virtue can be taught:
Virtue is concerned with ‘will’ and ‘will’ becomes virtuous by habit and practice. Accordingly we believe that it is not by reason but by repeated performance of good deeds, that we develop virtue. But Socrates held quite an opposite view.
According to him virtue was knowledge and since knowledge was a system and a science, it could be taught. We sometimes give up many bad practices on learning their true nature. But on the other hand, this is also a well known fact that we know better but do worse.
Whether virtue is a matter of practice or matter of knowledge is a difficult question. Some emphasize the former whereas philosophers like Socrates stress the latter. However, as a matter of fact, there are both elements in virtue.
3. Virtue is one:
The traditional Greek moral theory held that there are four virtues: Wisdom, Courage, Temperance and Justice. Socrates, however, believed in a single virtue, that of knowledge. According to him, knowledge was the virtue of virtues and all virtues were progeny of knowledge.
4. Virtue is Bliss:
According To Socrates there can be no happiness without virtue and no happiness is equal to that of virtue. Therefore, virtue, according to him, is bliss.