Life and Times
Drawing by Kana Philip
founded the Western tradition of critical thinking, Born in 470
B.C., son of a stonemason and a midwife, he grew to manhood as
the city of Athens moved into its Golden Age.
youthful study of the new theories of cosmology, Socrates realized
that his unique vocation was to bring philosophy down to earth
by applying logic to the problems and challenges of living. He
devoted his life to dialoguing with his neighbors, usually in
the agora, the vast outdoor marketplace at the foot of the Acropolis
in Athens (on top of which stood the Parthenon, which his father
had worked on).
Socrates is famed for his Socratic Method exploring complex ideas
by asking questions, and continually refining the answers to
meet various objections. Because this method sometimes annoyed
people, he was dubbed The Gadfly -- referring to
the insects that would bite at the hind quarters of farm animals
in the Attic summer, sometimes driving the animals mad.
When Socrates was in his thirties, the fortunes of Athens changed.
Its rival, the militaristic city of Sparta, broke a long-standing
truce and invaded the city's environs. As a result of a siege
of the city, a devastating plague broke out and decimated the
As Athens fortunes declined further, the people grew impatient
with criticism and independent thinking. At the age of 70, in
the year 399 A.D., Socrates was charged by three fellow citizens
of corrupting the minds of the youth, and of worshiping gods
other than those of the city (a reference to his inner
voice of conscience).
Socrates defended himself with a brilliant Apology,
but was judged guilty and sentenced to death by hemlock. The
night before his death, his oldest friend Crito visited him in
his jail cell and begged him to accept his friends plans
for him to escape into exile. Socrates refused, believing that
the right course for him was to accept the verdict and sentence
thus launching the noble tradition of civil disobedience.
The account the trial and of those last days of Socrates are
immortalized in Plato's dialogues Crito, The Apology, and Phaedo.
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