Socrates

classical Greek Athenian philosopher (c. 470 – 399 BC)

Socrates (Σωκράτης; c. 470 BC399 BC) was a classical Greek (Athenian) philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy. Through his portrayal in Plato's dialogues, Socrates has become renowned for his contribution to the field of ethics, and it is this Platonic Socrates who lends his name to the concepts of Socratic irony and the Socratic method, or elenchus. The latter remains a commonly used tool in a wide range of discussions, and is a type of pedagogy in which a series of questions is asked not only to draw individual answers, but also to encourage fundamental insight into the issue at hand.

It would be better for me... that multitudes of men should disagree with me rather than that I, being one, should be out of harmony with myself.
If the entire soul, then, follows without rebellion the part which loves wisdom, the result is that in general each part can carry out its own function—can be just, in other words—and in particular each is able to enjoy pleasures which are its own, the best, and, as far as possible, the truest.
Anyone who holds a true opinion without understanding is like a blind man on the right road.
Each of these private teachers who work for pay ... inculcates nothing else than these opinions of the multitude which they opine when they are assembled and calls this knowledge wisdom.
I only wish that wisdom were the kind of thing that flowed … from the vessel that was full to the one that was empty.
The inexperienced in wisdom and virtue, ever occupied with feasting and such, are carried downward, and there, as is fitting, they wander their whole life long, neither ever looking upward to the truth above them nor rising toward it, nor tasting pure and lasting pleasures. Like cattle, always looking downward with their heads bent toward the ground and the banquet tables, they feed, fatten, and fornicate. In order to increase their possessions they kick and butt with horns and hoofs of steel and kill each other, insatiable as they are.

Quotes

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False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.

Socrates left no writings of his own, thus our awareness of his teachings comes primarily from a few ancient authors who referred to him in their own works (see Socratic problem).

The words of Socrates, as quoted or portrayed in Plato's works, which are the most extensive source available for our present knowledge about his ideas.
  • I only wish that wisdom were the kind of thing that flowed ... from the vessel that was full to the one that was empty.

Gorgias

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  • It would be better for me... that multitudes of men should disagree with me rather than that I, being one, should be out of harmony with myself.
    • Gorgias, 482c

Phaedrus

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  • In every one of us there are two ruling and directing principles, whose guidance we follow wherever they may lead; the one being an innate desire of pleasure; the other, an acquired judgment which aspires after excellence.
  • Oh dear Pan and all the other gods of this place, grant that I may be beautiful inside. Let all my external possessions be in friendly harmony with what is within. May I consider the wise man rich. As for gold, let me have as much as a moderate man could bear and carry with him.
    • Socrates' prayer, Phaedrus, 279

Crito

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  • Has a philosopher like you failed to discover that our country is more to be valued and higher and holier far than mother or father or any ancestor, and more to be regarded in the eyes of the gods and of men of understanding?
  • μηδὲν πρὸ τοῦ δικαίου
    • "Nothing is to be preferred before justice"
    • Crito, 54b3 (as translated by Ralph Waldo Emerson)[1]

Theaetetus

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  • Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.
  • ἐγὼ δὲ οὐδὲν ἐπίσταμαι πλέον πλὴν βραχέος, ὅσον λόγον παρ᾽ ἑτέρου σοφοῦ λαβεῖν καὶ ἀποδέξασθαι μετρίως.
    • I myself know nothing, except just a little, enough to extract an argument from another man who is wise and to receive it fairly.
    • Theaetetus, 161b

Republic

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Main article: The Republic (Plato)
  • Each of these private teachers who work for pay ... inculcates nothing else than these opinions of the multitude which they opine when they are assembled and calls this knowledge wisdom.
  • Anyone who holds a true opinion without understanding is like a blind man on the right road.
  • The inexperienced in wisdom and virtue, ever occupied with feasting and such, are carried downward, and there, as is fitting, they wander their whole life long, neither ever looking upward to the truth above them nor rising toward it, nor tasting pure and lasting pleasures. Like cattle, always looking downward with their heads bent toward the ground and the banquet tables, they feed, fatten, and fornicate. In order to increase their possessions they kick and butt with horns and hoofs of steel and kill each other, insatiable as they are.
  • If the entire soul, then, follows without rebellion the part which loves wisdom, the result is that in general each part can carry out its own function—can be just, in other words—and in particular each is able to enjoy pleasures which are its own, the best, and, as far as possible, the truest. ... When one of the other parts takes control, there are two results: it fails to discover its own proper pleasure, and it compels the other parts to pursue a pleasure which is not their own, and not true.
Plato's account of the trial of Socrates.
Main article: Apology (Plato)
Plato's account of Socrates' death.

Note: Generally, the early works of Plato are considered to be close to the spirit of Socrates, whereas the later works, including Phaedo, may possibly be products of Plato's elaborations.

  • How singular is the thing called pleasure, and how curiously related to pain, which might be thought to be the opposite of it; for they never come to a man together, and yet he who pursues either of them is generally compelled to take the other. They are two, and yet they grow together out of one head or stem.
  • In the course of my life I have often had intimations in dreams "that I should make music." The same dream came to me sometimes in one form, and sometimes in another, but always saying the same or nearly the same words: Make and cultivate music, said the dream. And hitherto I imagined that this was only intended to exhort and encourage me in the study of philosophy, which has always been the pursuit of my life, and is the noblest and best of music.
  • [Why is suicide held not to be right?] There is a doctrine uttered in secret that a man is a prisoner who has no right to open the door to his prison and run away; this is a great mystery which I do not understand. Yet I too, believe that the gods are our guardians, and that we are a possession of theirs. ...And if one of your possessions, an ox or an ass, for example took the liberty of putting himself out of the way when you had given no intimation of your wish that he should die, would you not be angry with him, and would you not punish him if you could? ...Then there may be reason in saying that a man should wait, and not take his own life until God summons him, as he is now summoning me.
  • I am quite ready, Simmias and Cebes, that I ought to be grieved at death, if I were not persuaded that I am going to other gods who are wise and good and to men departed who are better than those whom I leave behind; and therefore I do not grieve as I might have done, for I have good hope that there is yet something remaining for the dead, and, as has been said of old, some far better thing for the good than for the evil.
  • The true disciple of philosophy is likely to be misunderstood by other men; they do not perceive that he is ever pursuing death and dying; and if this is true, why, having had the desire of death all his life long, should he repine at that which he has always been pursuing and desiring?
  • When does the soul obtain truth?—for in attempting to consider anything in company with the body she is obviously deceived. ...Then must not existence be revealed to her in thought, if at all? ...And thought is best when the mind is gathered into herself and none of these things trouble her—neither sounds nor sights nor pain nor any pleasure—when she has as little as possible to do with the body, and has no bodily sense or feeling, but is aspiring after being? ...And in this the philosopher dishonors the body; his soul runs away from the body and desires to be alone and by herself?
  • The body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and is also liable to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after truth: and by filling us so full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies, and idols, and every sort of folly, prevents our ever having, as people say, so much as a thought.
  • Whence come wars, and fighting, and factions? whence but from the body and the lusts of the body? For wars are occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and in service of the body; and in consequence of all these things, the time which ought to be given to philosophy is lost.
  • Either knowledge is not to be attained at all, or if at all, after death. For then, and not til then, the soul will be in herself alone and without the body.
  • In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible concern or interest in the body, and are not saturated with the bodily nature, but remain pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And then the foolishness of the body will be cleared away and we shall be pure and hold converse with othe pure souls, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere; and this is surely the light of truth. For no impure thing is allowed to approach the pure. These are the sort of words, Simmias, which the true lovers of wisdom cannot help saying to one another, and thinking.
  • And now that the hour of departure is appointed to me, this is the hope with which I depart, and not I only, but every man that believes that he has his mind purified.
  • And will he who is a true lover of wisdom, and is persuaded in like manner that only in the world below can he worthily enjoy her, still repine at death? Will he not depart with joy? Surely he will, my friend, if he be a true philosopher. ...And if this be true, he would be very absurd, ...if he were to fear death.
  • And when you see a man who is repining at the approach of death, is not his reluctance a sufficient proof that he is not a lover of wisdom, but a lover of the body, and probably at the same time a lover of either money or power, or both?
  • There is a virtue, Simmias, which is named courage. Is not that a special attribute of the philosopher? ...Again, there is temperance. Is not the calm, and control, and disdain of the passions which even the many call temperance, a quality belonging only to those who despise the body and live in philosophy?
  • ...do not courageous men endure death because they are afraid of yet greater evils? ...Then all but philosophers are courageous only from fear, and because they are afraid; and yet that a man should be courageous from fear, and because he is a coward, is surely a strange thing.
  • And are not the temperate exactly in the same case? They are temperate because they are intemperate—which may seem to be a contradiction, but is nevertheless the sort of thing which happens with this foolish temperance. For there are pleasures which they must have, and are afraid of losing; and therefore they abstain from one class of pleasures because they are overcome by another: and whereas intemperance is defined as "being under the domination of pleasure," they overcome only because they are overcome by pleasure.
  • The exchange of one fear or pleasure or pain for another fear or pleasure or pain, which are measured like coins, the greater with the less, is not the exchange of virtue. O, my dear Simmias, is there not one true coin, for which all things ought to exchange?—and that is wisdom; and only in exchange for this, and in company with this, is anything truly bought or sold, whether courage or temperance or justice. ...in the true exchange, there is a purging away of all these things, and temperance, and justice, and courage, and wisdom herself are a purgation of them.
  • I conceive that the founders of the mysteries had a real meaning and were not mere triflers when they intimated in a figure long ago that he who passes unsanctified and uninitiated into the world below will live in a slough, but that he who arrives there after initiation and purification will dwell with the gods. For "many," as they say in the mysteries, "are the thyrsus bearers, but few are the mystics,"—meaning, as I interpret the words, the true philosophers.
  • If generation were in a straight line only, and there were no compensation or circle in nature, no turn or return into one another, then you know that all things would at last have the same form and pass into the same state, and there would be no more generation of them.
  • I am confident in the belief that there truly is such a thing as living again, and that the living spring from the dead, and that the souls of the dead are in existence, and that the good souls have a better portion than the evil.
  • If the knowledge which we acquired before birth was lost to us at birth, and afterwords by the use of the senses we recovered that which we previously knew, will not that which we call learning be a process of recovering our knowledge, and may not this be rightly termed recollection by us? ...Then, Simmias, our souls must have existed before they were in the form of man—without bodies, and must have had intelligence.
  • We admitted that everything living is born of the dead. For if the soul existed before birth, and in coming to life and being born can be born only from death and dying, must she not after death continue to exist, since she has to be born again?
  • Now the compound or composite may be supposed to be naturally capable of being dissolved in like manner as being compounded; but that which is uncompounded, and that only, must be, if anything is, indissoluble. ...And the uncompounded may be assumed to be the same and unchanging, where the compound is always changing and never the same? ...Is that idea or essence, which in the dialectical process we define as essence of true existence—whether essence of equality, beauty, or anything else: are these essences, I say, liable at times to some degree of change? or are they each of them always what they are, having the same simple, self-existent and unchanging forms, and not admitting of variation at all, or in any way, or at any time?
  • Suppose that there are two sorts of existences, one seen, and the other unseen. ...The seen is the changing, and the unseen is the unchanging. ...And further, is not one part of us body, and the rest of us soul? ...Then the soul is more like to the unseen, and the body to the seen? ...the soul is then dragged by the body into the region of the changeable, and wanders and is confused; the world spins round her, and she is like a drunkard when under their influence?
  • But when returning into herself she [the soul] reflects; then she passes into the realm of purity, and eternity, and immortality, and unchangeableness, which are her kindred, and with them she ever lives, when she is by herself and is not let or hindered; then she ceases from her erring ways, and being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And this state of the soul is called wisdom.
  • The soul is in the very likeness of the divine, and immortal, and intelligible, and uniform, and indissoluble, and unchangeable; and the body is in the very likeness of the human, and mortal, and unintelligible, and multiform, and dissoluble, and changeable.
  • But the soul which has been polluted, and is impure at the time of her departure, and is the companion and servant of the body always, and is in love with and fascinated by the body and by the desires and pleasures of the body, until she is led to believe that the truth exists only in bodily form, which a man may touch and see and taste and use for the purposes of his lusts—the soul, I mean, accustomed to hate and fear and avoid the intellectual principle, which to the bodily eye is dark and invisible, and can be attained only by philosophy—do you suppose that such a soul as this will depart pure and unalloyed?
  • He who is a philosopher or lover of learning, and is entirely pure at departing, is alone permitted to reach the gods. And this is the reason, Simmias and Cebes, why the true votaries of philosophy abstain from all fleshly lusts, and endure and refuse to give themselves up to them—not because they fear poverty or ruin of their families, like the lovers of money, and the world in general; nor like the lovers of power and honor, because they dread the dishonor or disgrace of evil deeds.
  • They who have a care of their souls, and do not merely live in the fashions of the body, say farewell to all this; they will not walk in the ways of the blind: and when philosophy offers them purification and release from evil, they feel that they ought not resist her influence, and to her they incline, and whither she leads they follow her.
  • When the feeling of pleasure or pain in the soul is most intense, all of us naturally suppose that the object of this intense feeling is then plainest and truest; but this is not the case. ...because each pleasure and pain is a sort of nail which nails and rivets the soul to the body, and engrosses her and makes her believe that to be true which the body affirms to be true; and from agreeing with the body and having the same delights she is obliged to have the same habits and ways, and is not likely ever to be pure at her departure to the world below, but is always saturated with the body; so that she soon [after death] sinks into another body and there germinates and grows, and has therefore no part in the communion of the divine and pure and simple.
  • And this, Cebes, is the reason why the true lovers of knowledge are temperate and brave; and not for the reason that the world gives. For not in that way does the soul of a philosopher reason. ...Never fear, Simmias and Cebes, that a soul which has been thus nurtured and has had these pursuits, will at her departure from the body be scattered and blown away by the winds and be nowhere and nothing.
  • Will you not allow that I have as much of the spirit of prophecy in me as the swans? For they, when they perceive that they must die, having sung all their life long, do then sing more than ever, rejoicing in the thought that they are about to go away to the god whose ministers they are.
  • As there are misanthropists, or haters of men, there are also misologists or haters of ideas, and both spring from the same cause, which is ignorance of the world. Misanthropy arises from too great confidence of inexperience; you trust a man and think him altogether true and good and faithful, and then in a little while he turns out to be false and knavish; and then another and another, and when this has happened several times to a man, especially within the circle of his most trusted friends, as he deems them, and he has often quarreled with them, he at last hates all men, and believes that no one has any good in him at all. ...The reason is that a man, having to deal with other men, has no knowledge of them; for if he had knowledge he would have known the true state of the case, that few are the good and few the evil, and that the great majority are in the interval between them.
  • Nothing is more uncommon than a very large or a very small man; and this applies generally to all extremes, whether of great and small, or swift and slow, or fair and foul, or black and white; and whether the instances you select be man or dogs or anything else, few are the extremes,but many are in the mean between them.
  • When a simple man who has no skill in dialectics believes an argument to be true which he afterwards imagines to be false, whether really false or not, and then another and another, he no longer has any faith left, and great disputers, as you know, come to think, at last that they have grown to be the wisest of mankind; for they alone perceive the utter unsoundness and instability of all arguments, or, indeed, of all things, which like the currents in the Euripus, are going up and down in never-ceasing ebb and flow.
  • Let us... be careful of admitting into our souls the notion that there is no truth or health or soundness in any arguments at all; but let us rather say that there is as yet no health in us, and that we must quit ourselves like men and do our best to gain health—you and all other men with a view to the whole of your future life, and I myself with a view to death.
  • The soul, being a harmony, can never utter a note at variance with the tensions and relaxations and vibrations and other affections of the strings out of which she is composed; she can only follow, she cannot lead them? ...And yet do we not now discover the soul to be doing the exact opposite—leading the elements of which she is believed to be composed; almost always opposing and coercing them in all sorts of ways throughout life... threatening and reprimanding the desires, passions, fears, as if talking to a thing which is not herself...
  • You want to have proven to you that the soul is imperishable and immortal, and you think that the philosopher who is confident in death has but a vain and foolish confidence, if he thinks that he will fare better than one who has led another sort of life, in the world below, unless he can prove this; and you say that the strength and divinity of the soul, and of her existence prior to our becoming men, does not necessarily imply her immortality. ...For any man, who is not devoid of natural feeling, has reason to fear, if he has no knowledge or proof of the soul's immortality. That is what I suppose you to say, Cebes, which I designedly repeat, in order that nothing may escape us...
  • When I was young, Cebes, I had a prodigious desire to know the department of philosophy which is called Natural Science; this appeared to me to have lofty aims, as being the science which has to do with the causes of things, and which teaches why a thing is, and is created and destroyed; and I always agitated myself with the consideration of such questions as these... I went on to examine the decay of them, and then to the study of the heaven and earth, and at last I concluded that I was wholly incapable of these inquiries... There was a time when I thought that I understood the meaning of greater and less pretty well... that ten is more than eight, and that two cubits are more than one, because two is twice one. I should be far from imagining... that I knew the cause of any of them, indeed I should, for I cannot satisfy myself that when one is added to one, the one to which the addition is made becomes two... nor can I understand how the division of one is the way to make two; for then a different cause would produce the same effect.
  • Then I heard someone who had a book of Anaxagoras, as he said, out of which he read that the mind was the disposer and cause of all... and I said to myself: If mind is the disposer, mind will dispose all for the best, and put each particular in the best place; and I argued that if anyone desired to find out the cause of the generation or destruction of anything, he must find out what state of being or suffering or doing was best for that thing, and therefore a man had only consider the best for himself and others, and then he would also know the worse, for that the same science comprised both.
  • And I rejoiced to think that I has found in Anaxagoras a teacher of the causes of existence such as I desired, and I imagined that he would tell me first whether the earth is flat or round; and then he would further explain that this position was the best, and I should be satisfied... and not want any other sort of cause. And I thought that I would then go and ask him about the sun and moon and stars, and he would explain to me their comparative swiftness, and their returnings and various states, and how their several affections, active and passive, were all for the best. For I could not imagine that when he spoke of mind as the disposer of them, he would give any other account of their being as they are, except that this was best; and I thought when he had explained to me in detail the cause of each and the cause of all, he would go on to explain to me what was best for me and what was best for all. ...I seized the books and read them as fast as I could in my eagerness to know the better and the worse.
  • How grievously I was disappointed! ...I found my philosopher altogether forsaking mind and any other principle of order, but having recourse to air, and ether, and water, and other eccentricities. I might compare him to a person that began by maintaining generally that mind is the cause of the actions of Socrates, but who, when endeavored to explain the causes of my several actions in detail, went on to show that I sit here because my body is made up of bones and muscles; and the bones he would say, are hard and have ligaments which divide them, and the muscles are elastic, and they cover the bones, which also have a covering or environment of flesh and skin which contains them; and as the bones are lifted at their joints by the contraction or relaxation of the muscles, I am able to bend my limbs, and this is why I am sitting here in a curved posture... and he would have a similar explanation of my talking to you, which he would attribute to sound, and air, and hearing, and he would assign ten thousand other causes of the same sort, forgetting to mention the true cause, which is that Athenians have thought fit to condemn me, and accordingly I have thought it better and more right to remain here and undergo my sentence; for I am inclined to think that these muscles and bones of mine would have gone off to Megara or Boeotia... if they had been guided only by their idea of what was best, and if I had not chosen as the better and nobler part... to undergo any punishment that the State inflicts.
  • It may be said, indeed, that without bones and muscles and the other parts of the body I cannot execute my purposes. But to say that I do as I do because of them, and that this is the way in which the mind acts, and not from the choice of the best, is a very careless and idle mode of speaking. I wonder that they cannot distinguish the cause from the condition, which the many, feeling about in the dark, are always mistaking and misnaming.
  • And thus one man makes a vortex all round and steadies the earth by the heaven; another gives the air as support for the earth, which is sort of a broad trough. Any power which in disposing them as they are disposes them for the best never enters into their minds, not do they imagine that there is any superhuman strength in that; they rather expect to find another Atlas of the world who is stronger and more everlasting and more containing than the good is, and are clearly of the opinion that the obligatory and containing power of the good is as nothing; and yet this is the principle which I would fain learn if anyone would teach me. But as I have failed either to discover myself or to learn of anyone else, the nature of the best, I will exhibit to you, if you like, what I have found to be the second best mode of inquiring into the cause.
  • I thought that as I had failed in the contemplation of true existence, I ought to be careful that I did not lose the eye of my soul; as people may injure their bodily eye by observing and gazing on the sun during an eclipse, unless they take the precaution of looking at the image reflected in the water, or in some similar medium. ...I was afraid that my soul might be blinded altogether if I looked at things with my eyes or tried by the help of my senses to apprehend them. And I thought that I had better had recourse to ideas, and seek in them truth in existence. I dare to say that the simile is not perfect—for I am far from admitting that he who contemplates existence through the medium of ideas, sees them only "through a glass darkly," any more than he who sees them in their working and effects.
  • This was the method which I adopted: I first assumed some principle which I judged to be the strongest, and then I affirmed as true whatever seemed to agree with this, whether relating to the cause or to anything else; and that which disagreed I regarded as untrue. ...I want to show you the nature of that cause which has occupied my thoughts, and I shall have to go back to those familiar words which are in the mouth of everyone, and first of all assume that there is an absolute beauty and goodness and greatness, and the like; grant me this, and I hope to be able to show you the nature of the cause, and to prove the immortality of the soul.
  • If there is anything beautiful other than absolute beauty, that can only be beautiful as far as it partakes of absolute beauty—and this I should say of everything. ...by beauty all things become beautiful. ...by greatness only great things become great and greater and greater, and by smallness the less becomes less.
  • You would say... inexperienced as I am, and ready to start, as the proverb says, at my own shadow, I cannot afford to give up the sure ground of principle. ...and when you are further required to give an explanation of this principle, you would go on to assume a higher principle, and the best of the higher ones, until you found a resting place; but you would not refuse the principle and consequences in your reasoning like the Eristics—at least if you wanted to discover real existence.
  • Not that this confusion signifies to them who never care to think about the matter at all, for they have the wit to be well pleased with themselves, however great the turmoil of their ideas. But you, if you are a philosopher, will, I believe, do as I say.
  • Absolute greatness will never be great and also small, but that greatness in us or in the concrete will never admit the small or admit of even being exceeded; instead of this, one of two things will happen—either the greater will fly and retire before the opposite, which is the less, or the advance of the less will cease to exist; but will not, if allowing or admitting smallness, be changed by that...nor can any other opposite which remains the same ever be or become its own opposite, but either passes away or perishes in the change.
  • [One of the company... said: ...is not this the direct contrary of what we admitted before—that out of the greater came the less and out of the less the greater, and that opposites are simply generated from opposites; whereas now this seems to be utterly denied.] ...then we were speaking of opposites in the concrete, and now of the essential opposite which, as is affirmed, neither in us nor in nature can ever be at variance with itself... these essetial opposites will never, as we maintain, admit of generation into or out of one another.
  • What is that the inherence of which, will render the body alive? [The soul.] ...Then whatever the soul possesses, to that she comes bearing life? ...And is there an opposite to life? [Death.] Then the soul, as she has been acknowledged, will never receive the opposite of what she brings. ...And what do we call the principle which does not admit of death? [The immortal.] And does the soul admit of death? [No.] Then the soul is immortal? [Yes.]
  • If the immortal is also imperishable, the soul when attacked by death cannot perish; for the preceding argument shows that the soul will not admit of death, or even be dead, any more than three or the odd number will admit of the even...
  • If death had only been the end of all, the wicked would have had a good bargain in dying, for they would have been happily quit not only of their body, but of their own evil together with their souls. But now, as the soul plainly appears to be immortal, there is no release or salvation from evil except the attainment of the highest virtue and wisdom. For the soul when on her progress to the world below takes nothing with her but nurture and education...
  • For after death, as they say, the genius of each individual, to whom he belonged in life, leads him to a certain place in which the dead are gathered together for judgment, whence they go into the world below, following the guide who is appointed to conduct them from this world to the other; and when they have there received their due and remained their time, another guide brings them back again after many revolutions of ages.
  • [In the world below...] The wise and orderly soul is conscious of her situation, and follows in the path; but the soul which desires the body, and which... has long been fluttering about the lifeless frame and the world of sight, is after many struggles and many sufferings hardly and with violence carried away by her attendant genius, and when she arrives at the place where the other souls are gathered, if she be impure and have done impure deeds or have been concerned in foul murders or other crimes... from that soul everyone flees and turns away; no one will be her companion, no one her guide, but alone she wanders in extremity of evil until certain times are fulfilled...
  • If any man could arrive at the exterior limit, or take the wings of a bird and fly upward, like a fish who puts his head out and sees the world, he would see a world beyond; and, if the nature of man could sustain this sight, he would acknowledge that this was the place of the true heaven and the true light and the true stars. For this earth, and the stones, and the entire region which surrounds us, are spoilt and corroded...
  • Upon the earth are animals and men, some in a middle region, others dwelling about the air as we dwell about the sea; others in islands which the air flows round, near the continent; and in a word, the air is used by them as the water and the sea are by us, and the ether is to them as the air is to us. Moreover, the temperament of their seasons is such that they have no disease, and live much longer than we do, and have sight and hearing and smell, and all the other senses, in far greater perfection, in the same degree that air is purer than water or the ether than air. Also they have temples and sacred places in which the gods really dwell, and they hear their voices and receive their answers and are conscious of them and hold converse with them, and they see the sun, moon, and stars as they really are, and their other blessedness is of a piece with this.
  • [In the world below...] those who appear to have lived neither well not ill, go to the river Acheron, and mount such conveyances as they can get, and are carried in them to the lake, and there they dwell and are purified of their evil deeds, and suffer the penalty of the wrongs which they have done to others, and are absolved, and receive the rewards of their good deeds according to their deserts. But those who appear to be incurable by reason of the greatness of their crimes—who have committed many and terrible deeds of sacrilege, murders foul and violent, or the like—such are hurled into Tartarus, which is their suitable destiny, and they never come out. Those again who have committed crimes, which, although great, are not unpardonable—who in moment of anger, for example, have done violence to a father or a mother, and have repented for the remainder of their lives, or who have taken the life of another under like extenuating circumstances—these are plunged into Tartarus, the pains of which they are compelled to undergo for a year, but at the end of the year the wave casts them forth—mere homicides by way of Cocytus, patricides and matricides by Pyriphlegethon—and they are borne to the Acherusian Lake, and here they lift up their voices and call upon the victims whom they have slain or wronged, to have pity on them, and to receive them, and to let them come out of the river into the lake. And if they prevail, then they come forth and cease from their troubles; but if not, they are carried back again into Tartarus and from thence into the rivers unceasingly, until they obtain mercy from those whom they have wronged: for this is the sentence inflicted upon them by their judges.
  • Those also who are remarkable for having led holy lives are released from this earthly prison, and go to their pure home which is above, and dwell in the purer earth; and those who have duly purified themselves with philosophy live henceforth altogether without the body, in mansions fairer far than these...
  • I do not mean to affirm that the description which I have given of the soul and her missions is exactly true—a man of sense ought hardly say that. But I do say that, inasmuch as the soul is shown to be immortal, he may venture to think, not improperly or unworthily, that something of this kind is true.
  • Let a man be of good cheer about his soul, who has cast away the pleasures and ornaments of the body as alien to him, and rather hurtful in their effects, and has followed after the pleasures of knowledge in this life; who has adorned the soul in her own proper jewels, which are temperance, and justice, and courage, and nobility, and truth—in these arrayed she is ready to go on her journey to the world below, when her time comes. You, Simmias and Cebes, and all other men, will depart at some time or other. Me already, as the tragic poet would say, the voice of fate calls.
  • [In what way would you have us bury you?] In any way that you like; only you must get hold of me, and take care that I do not walk away from you. ...I cannot make Crito believe that I am the same Socrates who have been talking and conducting the argument; he fancies that I am the other Socrates whom he will soon see, a dead body... And though I have spoken many words in the endeavor to show that when I have drunk the poison I shall leave you and go to the joys of the blessed—these words of mine, with which I comforted you and myself, have had, I perceive, no effect upon Crito. ...you should be my surety to him that I shall not remain, but go away and depart; and then he will suffer less at my death, and not be grieved when he sees my body being burned or buried.
  • I would not have him sorrow at my hard lot, or say at the burial, Thus we lay out Socrates, or, Thus we follow him to the grave or bury him; for false words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil. Be of good cheer then, my good Crito, and say that you are burying my body only, and do with that as is usual, and as you think best.
  • What do you say about making a libation out of this cup to any god? ...I may and I must pray to the gods to prosper my journey from this to that other world—may this, then, which is my prayer, be granted to me. [Then holding the cup to his lips, quite readily and cheerfully he drank off the poison. And hitherto most of us had been able to control their sorrow; but now, when we saw him drinking, and saw too, that he had finished the draft, we could no longer forbear, and in spite of myself my own tears were flowing fast; so that I covered my face and wept over myself, for certainly I was not weeping over him, but at my own calamity at having lost such a companion. Nor was I the first, for Crito, when he found himself unable to restrain his tears, had got up, and moved away, and I followed; and at that moment, Apollodorus, who had been weeping all the time, broke out in a loud cry which made cowards of us all. Socrates alone retained his calmness:] What is this strange outcry? ...I sent away the women mainly in order that they might not offend in this way, for I have heard that a man should die in peace. Be quiet then, and have patience.
  • There is no greater evil one can suffer than to hate reasonable discourse.
  • By means of beauty all beautiful things become beautiful. For this appears to me the safest answer to give both to myself and others; and adhering to this, I think that I shall never fall, but that it is a safe answer both for me and any one else to give — that by means of beauty beautiful things become beautiful.
  • He who has lived as a true philosopher has reason to be of good cheer when he is about to die, and that after death he may hope to receive the greatest good in the other world.
    • Phaedo
  • False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.
    • Phaedo 115e
      • literally: 'For know well', he said, 'o dearest Kriton, that to not speak well is not only sinful by itself, but lets evil intrude into the soul.'(εὖ γὰρ ἴσθι, ἦ δ᾽ ὅς, ὦ ἄριστε Κρίτων, τὸ μὴ καλῶς λέγειν οὐ μόνον εἰς αὐτὸ τοῦτο πλημμελές, ἀλλὰ καὶ κακόν τι ἐμποιεῖ ταῖς ψυχαῖς.)
Last words
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  • Ὦ Κρίτων [...] τῷ Ἀσκληπιῷ ὀφείλομεν ἀλεκτρυόνα. ἀλλὰ ἀπόδοτε καὶ μὴ ἀμελήσητε.
    • Crito, Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Pay it and do not neglect it.
    • Phaedo 118a
Words of Socrates as quoted by Xenophon
  • You will know that the divine is so great and of such a nature that it sees and hears everything at once, is present everywhere, and is concerned with everything.
  • Order and discipline are the most important things in an army, and without them it is impossible to have any other service of the troops than of a confused heap of stones, bricks, timber, and tiles; but when everything is in its due place, as in a building, when the foundations and the covering are made of materials that will not grow rotten, and which no wet can damage, such as are stones and tiles, and when the bricks and timber are employed in their due places in the body of the edifice, they altogether make a house, which we value among our most considerable enjoyments.
  • It is a disgrace to grow old through sheer carelessness before seeing what manner of man you may become by developing your bodily strength and beauty to their highest limit. But you cannot see that, if you are careless; for it will not come of its own accord.
  • If I am to live longer, perhaps I must live out my old age, seeing and hearing less, understanding worse, coming to learn with more difficulty and to be more forgetful, and growing worse than those to whom I was once superior. Indeed, life would be unliveable, even if I did not notice the change. And if I see the change, how could life not be even more wretched and unpleasant?
  • ἆρα, ἔφην, ὦ Ἰσχόμαχε, ἡ ἐρώτησις διδασκαλία ἐστίν; ἄρτι γὰρ δή, ἔφην ἐγώ, καταμανθάνω ᾗ με ἐπηρώτησας ἕκαστα: ἄγων γάρ με δι᾽ ὧν ἐγὼ ἐπίσταμαι, ὅμοια τούτοις ἐπιδεικνὺς ἃ οὐκ ἐνόμιζον ἐπίστασθαι ἀναπείθεις, οἶμαι, ὡς καὶ ταῦτα ἐπίσταμαι.
    • Really, Ischomachus, I am disposed to ask: "Does teaching consist in putting questions?" Indeed, the secret of your system has just this instant dawned upon me. I seem to see the principle in which you put your questions. You lead me through the field of my own knowledge, and then by pointing out analogies to what I know, persuade me that I really know some things which hitherto, as I believed, I had no knowledge of.
    • Oeconomicus (The Economist) XIX.15 (as translated by H. G. Dakyns)
  • It is the example of the rider who wishes to become an expert horseman: "None of your soft-mouthed, docile animals for me," he says; "the horse for me to own must show some spirit" in the belief, no doubt, if he can manage such an animal, it will be easy enough to deal with every other horse besides. And that is just my case. I wish to deal with human beings, to associate with man in general; hence my choice of wife. I know full well, if I can tolerate her spirit, I can with ease attach myself to every human being else.
    • Symposium 17–19 [= 2.10]
Socrates as quoted by Plutarch
  • I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.
    • Note: Compare doctrine of fidelity to Athenian law in Plato's Crito.
  • Bad men live that they may eat and drink, whereas good men eat and drink that they may live.
    • Plutarch Moralia, How the Young Man Should Study Poetry
    • Variant translation: Base men live to eat and drink, and good men eat and drink to live.

Diogenes Laertius

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Socrates as quoted in Diogenes Laertius' Lives of Eminent Philosophers
  • Ηe knew nothing except just the fact of his ignorance.
    • Alternate translation: I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.
    • II.32. Original Greek: εἰδέναι μὲν μηδὲν πλὴν αὐτὸ τοῦτο [εἰδέναι].
  • Often when looking at a mass of things for sale, he would say to himself, "How many things I have no need of!"
    • Variant: How many things I can do without!
  • The man who eats with the greatest appetite has the least need of delicacies.
  • He who drinks with the greatest appetite is the least inclined to look for a draught which is not at hand.
  • Those who want fewest things are nearest to the Gods.
    • Variant: [H]e was nearest to the gods in that he had the fewest wants.
  • There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.
    • Variant: The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.
    • Socrates II: xxxi. Original Greek: ἓν μόνον ἀγαθὸν εἶναι, τὴν ἐπιστήμην, καὶ ἓν μόνον κακόν, τὴν ἀμαθίαν
  • Socrates having heard Plato read the Lysis, said, "O Hercules! what a number of lies the young man has told about me." For he had set down a great many things as sayings of Socrates which he never said.
  • He [Socrates] would say that the rest of the world lived to eat, while he himself ate to live.
    • Socrates II: xxiv. Original Greek: ἔλεγέ τε τοὺς μὲν ἄλλους ἀνθρώπους ζῆν ἵν᾽ ἐσθίοιεν: αὐτὸς δὲ ἐσθίειν ἵνα ζῴη.


  • It is necessary to learn geometry only so far as might enable a man to measure land for the purposes of buying and selling.
  • To begin well is not a trifling thing, but yet not far from a trifling thing.
  • It is a good thing for a man to offer himself cheerfully to the attacks of the comic writers; for then, if they say anything worth hearing, one will be able to mend; and if they do not, then all they say is unimportant.

He also composed a fable, in the style of Aesop, not very artistically, and it begins: Aesop one day did this sage counsel give To the Corinthian magistrates: not to trust The cause of virtue to the people's judgement.

Very often, while arguing and discussing points that arose, he was treated with great violence and beaten, and pulled about, and laughed at and ridiculed by the multitude. But he bore all this with great equanimity. So that once, when he had been kicked and buffeted about, and had borne it all patiently, and someone expressed his surprise, he said:

  • “Suppose an ass had kicked me, would you have had me bring an action against him?”

Euripides gave him a small work of Heraclitus to read, and asked him afterwards what he thought of it, and he replied:

  • “What I have understood is good; and so, I think, what I have not understood is; only the book requires a Delian diver to get at the meaning of it.”

Once, as Pamphila says, in the seventh book of her Commentaries, when Alcibiades offered him a large piece of ground to build a house upon, he said:

  • “But if I wanted shoes, and you had given me a piece of leather to make myself shoes, I should be laughed at if I took it.”

And he was continually repeating these iambics:

  • For silver plate and purple useful are
  • For actors on the stage, but not for men.

Once when he saw Euclid exceedingly anxious about some dialectic arguments, he said to him:

  • “O Euclid, you will acquire a power of managing sophists, but not of governing men.”

For he thought that subtle hairsplitting on those subjects was quite useless

It was a saying of his that riches and high birth had nothing estimable in them, but that on the contrary they were wholly evil. Accordingly, when someone told him that the mother of Antisthenes was a Thracian woman:

  • “Did you suppose that so noble a man must be born of two Athenians?”

Once, when he was asked what was the virtue of a young man, he said:

  • “To avoid excess in everything.”

The question was once put to him by a man whether he would advise him to marry or not? And he replied:

  • “Whichever you do, you will repent it.”

He once invited some rich men to dinner, and when Xanthippe was ashamed of their insufficient appointments, he said:

  • “Be of good cheer; for if our guests are sensible men, they will bear with us; and if they are not, we need not care about them.”

When Aeschines said: “I am a poor man, and have nothing else, but I give you myself;”

  • “Do you not perceive that you are giving me what is of the greatest value?”

He said to someone, who was expressing indignation at being overlooked when the thirty had seized on the supreme power:

  • “Do you, then, repent of not being a tyrant too?”

A man said to him: “The Athenians have condemned you to death.”

  • “And nature has condemned them.”

When his wife said to him: “You die undeservedly.”

  • “Would you, then, have had me deserve death?”

Apollodorus presented him with a handsome robe, that he might expire in it; and he said:

  • “Why was my own dress good enough to live in, and not good enough to die in?”

When a person said to him: “Such an one speaks ill of you;”

  • “To be sure, for he has never learnt to speak well.”

He said once to Xanthippe, who first abused him and then threw water at him:

  • “Did I not say that Xanthippe was thundering now, and would soon rain?”

When Alcibiades said to him: “The abusive temper of Xanthippe is intolerable;”

  • “But I am used to it, just as I should be if I were always hearing the noise of a pulley; and you yourself endure to hear geese cackling.”

To which Alcibiades answered: “Yes, but they bring me eggs and goslings.”

  • “Well, and Xanthippe brings me children.”

Once, she attacked him in the marketplace and tore his cloak off; his friends advised him to keep her off with his hands;

  • “Yes, by Jove, that while we are boxing you may all cry out, ‘Well done, Socrates, well done, Xanthippe.’ ”

He used to say that one ought to live with a restive woman, just as horsemen manage violent-tempered horses;

  • “and as they, when they have once mastered them, are easily able to manage all others; so I, after managing Xanthippe, can easily live with anyone else whatever.”

the philosopher, after Lysias had prepared a defense for him, read it through, and said

  • “It is a very fine speech, Lysias, but is not suitable for me; for it was manifestly the speech of a lawyer, rather than of a philosopher.”

And when Lysias replied: “How is it possible, that if it is a good speech, it should not be suitable to you?” he said:

  • “Just as fine clothes and handsome shoes would not be suitable to me.”

when the judges were making an estimate of what punishment or fine should be inflicted on him, he said that he ought to be fined five and twenty drachmas; but Eubulides says that he admitted that he deserved a fine of one hundred. And when the judges raised an outcry at this proposition, he said:

  • “My real opinion is, that as a return for what has been done by me, I deserve a maintenance in the Prytaneum for the rest of my life.”

So they condemned him to death, by eighty votes more than they had originally found him guilty. And he was put into prison, and a few days afterwards he drank the hemlock, having held many admirable conversations in the meantime, which Plato has recorded in the Phaedo.

They say that Socrates met Xenophon in a narrow lane, and put his stick across it, and prevented him from passing by, asking him where all kinds of necessary things were sold. And when he had answered him, he asked him again where men were made good and virtuous. And as he did not know, he said,

  • “Follow me, then, and learn.”

And from this time forth, Xenophon became a follower of Socrates.

They say that Socrates having heard Plato read the Lysis, said,

  • “O Hercules! what a number of lies the young man has told about me.”

For he had set down a great many things as sayings of Socrates which he never said.


Attributed

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  • Contentment is natural wealth; luxury, artificial poverty.
    • As reported by Charles Simmons in A Laconic Manual and Brief Remarker, containing over a thousand subjects alphabetically and systematically arranged (North Wrentham, Mass. 1852), p. 103. However, the original source of this statement is unknown.
    • Cf. Joseph Addison in The Spectator No. 574 Friday, July 30, 1714, p. 655: In short, content is equivalent to wealth, and luxury to poverty; or, to give the thought a more agreeable turn, "content is natural wealth," says Socrates: to which I shall add, "luxury is artificial poverty.".
  • Socrates: Shall we set down astronomy among the objects of study? Glaucon: I think so, to know something about the seasons, the months and the years is of use for military purposes, as well as for agriculture and for navigation. Socrates: It amuses me to see how afraid you are, lest the common herd of people should accuse you of recommending useless studies.
    • Socrates as quoted by Plato. In Richard Garnett, Léon Vallée, Alois Brandl (eds.), The Universal Anthology: A Collection of the Best Literature (1899), Vol. 4, 111.


Misattributed

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As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.
  • Know thyself.
    • This statement actually predates Socrates, and was used as an Inscription at the Oracle of Delphi. It is a saying traditionally ascribed to one of the "Seven Sages of Greece", notably Solon, but accounts vary as to whom. Socrates himself is reported to have quoted it in Plato's dialogue Alcibiades, where he described it as "the Delphian inscription". According to Diogenes Laërtius, Thales was the one who first stated it.
  • The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.
    • Adapted from a passage in Schools of Hellas, the posthumously published dissertation of Kenneth John Freeman (1907). The original passage was a paraphrase of the complaints directed against young people in ancient times. See the Quote Investigator article.
    • see Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congressional Research Service, Edited by Suzy Platt, 1989, number 195. Last line: "Evidently, the quotation is spurious."
    • See also this Google Answers discussion about the topic.
    • Somewhat similar sentiments are in (lines 961–985) of Aristophanes' The Clouds, a comedic play known for its caricature of Socrates. However, the lines are delivered by the character "Right" or "Just Discourse", not Socrates.
  • Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.
    • No findable citation to Socrates. First appears in this form in the 1990s, such as in the Douglas Bradley article "Lighting a Flame in the Kickapoo Valley", Wisconsin Ideas, UW System, 1994. It appears to be a variant on a statement from Plutarch in On Listening to Lectures: "The correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting — no more — and then it motivates one towards originality and instills the desire for truth." Alternate translation, from the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1927: "For the mind does not require filling like a bottle, but rather, like wood, it only requires kindling to create in it an impulse to think independently and an ardent desire for the truth." Often quoted as, "The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled." Variants of the quote that are correctly attributed to Plutarch but which substitute "education" for "the mind" date back at least as far as the 1960s, as seen in the 1968 book Vision and Image by James Johnson Sweeney, p. 119.
    • Variants with "education" are also sometimes misattributed to William Butler Yeats, as in the 1993 book The Harper Book of Quotations (third edition), p. 138. In the previously-mentioned Vision and Image, the misquote of Plutarch involving "education" (which has exactly the same wording as the quote attributed to Yeats in The Harper Book of Quotations) is immediately preceded by a different quote from Yeats ("Culture does not consist in acquiring opinions but in getting rid of them"), so it's possible this is the source of the confusion—see the snippets here and here.
    • The misattribution may also be related to a statement about Plato's views made by Benjamin Jowett in the introduction to his translation of Plato's Republic (in which all the main ideas were attributed to Socrates, as in all of Plato's works), on p. cci of the third edition (1888): "Education is represented by him, not as the filling of a vessel, but as the turning the eye of the soul towards the light." Jowett seems to be loosely paraphrasing a statement Plato attributes to Socrates in a dialogue with Glaucon, in sections 518b518c of book 7 of The Republic, where Socrates says: "education is not in reality what some people proclaim it to be in their professions. What they aver is that they can put true knowledge into a soul that does not possess it, as if they were inserting vision into blind eyes … But our present argument indicates that the true analogy for this indwelling power in the soul and the instrument whereby each of us apprehends is that of an eye that could not be converted to the light from the darkness except by turning the whole body."
    • Further discussion of the history of this quote can be found in this entry from the "Quote Investigator" website.
  • Prefer knowledge to wealth, for the one is transitory, and the other perpetual.
    • Actually from Isocrates, it can be found on p. 213 of Classical Rhetoric in English, 1650-1800: A Critical Anthology, part of a 1703 translation of a letter Isocrates wrote to his friend Demonicus which begins on p. 210. Earliest source found attributing it to Socrates was an 1875 book called The Best Reading.
  • The really important thing is not to live, but to live well. And to live well meant, along with more enjoyable things in life, to live according to your principles.
    • Presented as a full Socrates quote by various sources like this page, the first sentence of the quote is indeed attributed to Socrates in Plato's dialogue The Apology, but the second sentence is a description of Socrates' beliefs by Robert C. Solomon in his 1989 book Introducing Philosophy: A Text With Integrated Readings, from p. 4 (the comment is in the last paragraph on p. 3 of the 2012 edition which can be rented from archive.org).
  • True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.
    • Sometimes presented as a direct quote, this was actually Manuel J. Smith's own general description of Socrates' teachings in his 1974 book When I Say No, I Feel Guilty, on p. 65 of the 1975 edition.
  • When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.
    • Does not appear attributed to Socrates in any known ancient writings. Earliest source found on google books is p. 123 of John Taylor's 2013 book Chewing The Cud: Alcibiades and Socrates Talk Life, Love and Nietzsche, in an original dialogue written by Taylor. But he may have gotten the line from the internet, where versions of the quote circulated prior to 2013—the earliest appearance located in this article was on a 2006 archive.org snapshot of a personal website.
  • By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you'll become happy; if you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher.
    • Origin unknown. Attributed to Sydney Smith in Speaker's Handbook of Epigrams and Witticisms (1955) by Herbert Prochnow, p. 190. Variant reported in Why Are You Single? (1949) by Hilda Holland, p. 49: «When asked by a young man whether to marry, Socrates is said to have replied: "By all means, marry. If you will get for yourself a good wife, you will be happy forever after; and if by chance you will get a common scold like my Xanthippe—why then you will become a philosopher."» Google books shows another variant from a collection of 1935 issues of The Golden Book Magazine: "Marry by all means. If you get a good wife you will become very happy; if you get a bad one you will become a philosopher—and that is good for every man!" This was probably from the July 1935 issue, since the snippet shows it to the left of a paragraph from a story which includes the phrase "Stumpley, the elder", googling that shows it was part of the 1916 story "Beryl and the Croucher" which was reprinted in that issue.
  • As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.
    • See All I know is that I know nothing on Wikipedia for a detailed account of the origins of this attribution.
    • μοι νυνὶ γέγονεν ἐκ τοῦ διαλόγου μηδὲν εἰδέναι· ὁπότε γὰρ τὸ δίκαιον μὴ οἶδα ὅ ἐστιν, σχολῇ εἴσομαι εἴτε ἀρετή τις οὖσα τυγχάνει εἴτε καὶ οὔ, καὶ πότερον ὁ ἔχων αὐτὸ οὐκ εὐδαίμων ἐστὶν ἢ εὐδαίμων.
      • Hence the result of the discussion, as far as I'm concerned, is that I know nothing, for when I don't know what justice is, I'll hardly know whether it is a kind of virtue or not, or whether a person who has it is happy or unhappy.
      • Republic, 354b-c (conclusion of book I), as translated by M.A. Grube in Republic (Grube Edition) (1992) revised by C.D.C. Reeve, p. 31
    • Confer Apology 21d (see above), Theaetetus 161b (see above) and Meno 80d1-3: "So now I do not know what virtue is; perhaps you knew before you contacted me, but now you are certainly like one who does not know."
    • Confer Cicero, Academica, Book I, section 1: "ipse se nihil scire id unum sciat ("He himself thinks he knows one thing, that he knows nothing"). Often quoted as "scio me nihil scire" or "scio me nescire." A variant is found in von Kues, De visione Dei, XIII, 146 (Werke, Walter de Gruyter, 1967, p. 312): "...et hoc scio solum, quia scio me nescire... [I know alone, that (or because) I know, that I do not know]." In the modern era, the Latin quote was back-translated to Greek as "ἓν οἶδα ὅτι οὐδὲν οἶδα", hèn oîda hóti oudèn oîda).
    • Confer Diogenes Laertius, II.32 (see above)

Quotes about Socrates

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Socrates makes me admit to myself that, even though I myself am deficient in so many regards, I continue to take no care of myself, but occupy myself with the business of the Athenians. ~ Alcibiades
 
Socrates was the chief saint of the Stoics throughout their history… ~ Bertrand Russell
Alphabetized by author
  • If one examines the reasons for the persecution of the best minds of different nations, and compares the reasons for the persecution and banishment of Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, Socrates, Plato, and others, one can observe that in each case the accusations and reasons for banishment were almost identical and unfounded. But in the following centuries full exoneration came, as if there had never been any defamation. It would be correct to conclude that such workers were too exalted for the consciousness of their contemporaries, and the sword of the executioner was ever ready to cut off a head held high. A book should be written about the causes of the persecution of great individuals. By comparing the causes is it possible to trace the evil will. I advise you to write such a book. Let someone do it! Through research it will be possible to discover the inner similarities between the persecutions of Confucius and Seneca.
  • Socrates makes me admit to myself that, even though I myself am deficient in so many regards, I continue to take no care of myself, but occupy myself with the business of the Athenians.
  • This man here is so bizarre, his ways so unusual, that, search as you might, you'll never find anyone else, alive or dead, who's even remotely like him. The best you do is not to compare him to anything human, but liken him, as I do, to Silenus and the satyrs, and the same goes for his ideas and arguments.
  • He who has studied Pythagoras and his speculations on the Monad, which, after having emanated the Duad retires into silence and darkness, and thus creates the Triad can realize whence came the philosophy of the great Samian Sage, and after him that of Socrates and Plato.
    • H.P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled: A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology, Vol. I, Before the Veil, (1877)
  • Socrates had never been initiated, and hence divulged nothing which had ever been imparted to him.
    • H.P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled: A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology, Vol. I, Before the Veil, (1877)
  • Socrates is well known to have sent away several of his disciples to study manticism. The study of magic, or wisdom, included every branch of science, the metaphysical as well as the physical, psychology and physiology in their common and occult phases, and the study of alchemy was universal, for it was both a physical and a spiritual science. Therefore why doubt or wonder that the ancients, who studied nature under its double aspect, achieved discoveries which to our modern physicists, who study but its dead letter, are a closed book?
  • Crantor, another philosopher associated with the earliest days of Plato's Academy, conceived the human soul as formed out of the primary substance of all things, the Monad or One, and the Duad or the Two. Plutarch speaks at length of this philosopher, who like his master believed in souls being distributed in earthly bodies as an exile and punishment. Herakleides, though some critics do not believe him to have strictly adhered to Plato's primal philosophy, taught the same ethics. Zeller presents him to us imparting, like Hicetas and Ecphantus, the Pythagorean doctrine of the diurnal rotation of the earth and the immobility of the fixed stars, but adds that he was ignorant of the annual revolution of the earth around the sun, and of the heliocentric system. But we have good evidence that the latter system was taught in the Mysteries, and that Socrates died for atheism, i.e., for divulging this sacred knowledge.
    • H.P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled: A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology, Vol. I, Before the Veil, (1877)
  • And so, from this day forth, we want all the more to let our thoughts revolve around and hover over Socrates and Christ at all times, openly taking pride that they are more alive for us than all those living today and that we listen to and love them as we do none of the living.
    • Constantin Brunner, in Our Christ : The Revolt of the Mystical Genius (1921), as translated by Graham Harrison and Michael Wex, edited by A. M. Rappaport, p. 188
  • Socrates and Christ speak to us everlastingly of mankind. ... It belongs to the great, to the greatest men to say how things are with mankind, how they stand in its innerness and which way it is going; it belongs to Socrates and Christ. These absolutely extraordinary, eternally alive people penetrate to the groundless depth of human nature and understand the speech of ordinary people, of those who are scarcely alive from one day to the next.
    • Constantin Brunner, in Our Christ : The Revolt of the Mystical Genius (1921), as translated by Graham Harrison and Michael Wex, edited by A. M. Rappaport, p. 189
  • Socrates autem primus philosophiam devocavit e caelo et in urbibus conlocavit et in domus etiam introduxit et coegit de vita et moribus rebusque bonis et malis quaerere.
    • Socrates was the first to call philosophy down from the sky, to place it in cities, to introduce it even into homes, to force it to consider life and customs, good and evil.
    • Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, 5.10 (tr. Thomas Habinek)
  • Socrates was a totally new kind of Greek philosopher. He denied that he had discovered some new wisdom, indeed that he possessed any wisdom at all, and he refused to hand anything down to anyone as his personal ‘truth’, his claim to fame. All that he knew, humbly, was how to reason and reflect, how to improve himself and (if they would follow him in behaving the same way) help others to improve themselves, by doing his best to make his own moral, practical opinions, and his life itself, rest on appropriately tested and examined reasons—not on social authority or the say-so of esteemed poets (or philosophers) or custom or any other kind of intellectual laziness. At the same time, he made this self-improvement and the search for truth in which it consisted a common, joint effort, undertaken in discussion together with similarly committed other persons—even if it sometimes took on a rather combative aspect. The truth, if achieved, would be a truth attained by and for all who would take the trouble to think through on their own the steps leading to it: it could never be a personal'revelation' for which any individual could claim special credit.
    • John M. Cooper, Introduction to Plato's Complete Works (1996)
  • throughout the history of the world, there've been political prisoners. We could even talk about Socrates, who was also a political prisoner.
    • 1972 interview in Conversations with Angela Davis Edited by Sharon Lynette Jones (2021)
  • If Socrates died, then either he died when we was living, or when he was dead. But he couldn't have died when he was living, for he was not dead when he was living. But he couldn't have died when he was dead, for when he was dead he had already died. Therefore, Socrates never died.
  • What then is the chastisement of those who accept it not? To be as they are. Is any discontented with being alone? let him be in solitude. Is any discontented with his parents? let him be a bad son, and lament. Is any discontented with his children? let him be a bad father.—"Throw him into prison!"—What prison?—Where he is already: for he is there against his will; and wherever a man is against his will, that to him is a prison. Thus Socrates was not in prison since he was there with his own consent.
  • It was the first and most striking characteristic of Socrates never to become heated in discourse, never to utter an injurious or insulting word—on the contrary, he persistently bore insult from others and thus put an end to the fray.
    • Epictetus, Golden Sayings of Epictetus #64
  • Seemeth it nothing to you, never to accuse, never to blame either God or Man? to wear ever the same countenance in going forth as in coming in? This was the secret of Socrates: yet he never said that he knew or taught anything... Who amongst you makes this his aim? Were it indeed so, you would gladly endure sickness, hunger, aye, death itself.
  • Socrates it was who truly built piecemeal that theorical man. He did it by his doctrine which was singularly deep in the sense that it went straight out to the end of the initial thought, but his radically false doctrine was that morality is in proportion to knowledge, that the man that does not do good is a man that does not know the good and that the man that knows the good does assuredly do it. Here it is precisely, the theorical man introduced as king of the world! Now nothing is more false than this notion. The opposite is more likely to be true. The man that knows the good does not do it, because he is satisfied with knowing it and that is enough for his conceit and because, knowing the good and knowing that he knows it, he fancies that he is doing it and that he has accomplished and fulfilled his duty. The good is instinctive and passionate; the good is in the action and the action is, we must admit, rarely inspired by the idea and by knowledge. It is frequently, one must admit, the effect of an instinctive and unconscious movement.
    • Emile Faguet, On Reading Nietzsche p. 75
  • Neither one nor the other doth follow, for that both the assertions may be true. The Oracle adjudged Socrates the wi­sest of all men, whose knowledg is limited; Socrates acknowledgeth that he knew nothing in relation to absolute wisdome, which is infinite; and because of infinite, much is the same part as is little, and as is nothing (for to arrive... to the infinite number, it is all one to accumulate thousands, tens, or ciphers,) therefore Socrates well perceived his wisdom to be nothing, in comparison of the infinite knowledg which he wanted. But yet, because there is some knowledg found amongst men, and this not equally shared to all, Socrates might have a greater share thereof than others, and therefore verified the answer of the Oracle.
  • writing should be dangerous: as dangerous as Socrates. There should be no refuge for the writer either in the Ivory Tower or the Social Church.
  • Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle. That principle is of great antiquity; it is as old as Socrates; as old as the writer who said, 'Try all things, hold fast by that which is good'; it is the foundation of the Reformation, which simply illustrated the axiom that every man should be able to give a reason for the faith that is in him, it is the great principle of Descartes; it is the fundamental axiom of modern science.
  • I would trade all of my technology for an afternoon with Socrates.
  • People think the world needs a republic, and they think it needs a new social order, and a new religion, but it never occurs to anyone that what the world really needs, confused as it is by much learning, is a new Socrates.
    • Søren Kierkegaard, in The Sickness unto Death (1849), as translated by Alastair Hannay (1989), p. 124
  • It is exactly as it was in the time of Socrates, according to the accusation brought against him: “Everyone understood how to instruct the young men; there was but one single individual who did not understand it – that was Socrates.” So in our time, “all” are the wise, there is only one single individual here and there who is a fool. So near is the world to having achieved perfection that now “all” are wise; if it were not for the individual cranks and fools the world would be absolutely perfect. Through all this God sits in heaven. No one longs to be away from the noise and clamor of the moment in order to find the stillness in which God dwells. While man admires man, and admires him – because he is just like everyone else, no one longs for the solitude wherein one worships God. No one disdains this cheap intermission from aiming at the highest, by longing for the standard of the eternal! So important has the immediate itself become. It is for this reason that superficial disinterestedness is needed. Oh, that I might in truth present such a disinterested figure!
  • Socrates therefore had something of human wisdom... But many of his actions are not only undeserving of praise, but also most deserving of censure, in which things he most resembled those of his own class. Out of these I will select one which may be judged of by all. Socrates used this well-known proverb:‘That which is above us is nothing to us.’... The same man swore by a dog and a goose... Oh buffoon (as Zeno the Epicurean says), senseless, abandoned, desperate man! If he wished to scoff at religion — madman, if he did this seriously, so as to esteem a most base animal as God! For who can dare to find fault with the superstitions of the Egyptians, when Socrates confirmed them at Athens by his authority? But was it not a mark of consummate vanity, that before his death he asked his friends to sacrifice for him a cock which he had vowed to Aesculapius? He evidently feared lest he should be put upon his trial before Rhadamanthus, the judge, by Aesculapius on account of the vow. I should consider him most mad if he had died under the influence of disease. But since he did this in his sound mind, he who thinks that he was wise is himself of unsound mind.
  • For they say that the Athenians were short of men and, wishing to increase the population, passed a decree permitting a citizen to marry one Athenian woman and have children by another; and that Socrates accordingly did so.
  • The more I read about him, the less I wonder that they poisoned him. If he had treated me as he is said to have treated Protagoras, Hippias, and Gorgias, I could never have forgiven him.
    • Thomas Babington Macaulay, Letter to Thomas Ellis, 29 May 1835, in George Otto Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay (1876)
  • It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.
  • There is nothing more remarkable in the life of Socrates than that he found time in his old age to learn to dance and play on instruments, and thought it was time well spent.
  • Socrates ... has nothing on his lips but draymen, joiners, cobblers and masons. His inductions and comparisons are drawn from the most ordinary and best-known of men's activities; anyone can understand him. Under so common a form we today would never have discerned the nobility and splendour of his astonishing concepts; we who judge any which are not swollen up by erudition to be base and commonplace and who are never aware of riches except when pompously paraded. Our society has been prepared to appreciate nothing but ostentation: nowadays you can fill men up with nothing but wind and then bounce them about like balloons. But this man, Socrates, did not deal with vain notions: his aim was to provide us with matter and precepts which genuinely and intimately serve our lives.
    • Michel de Montaigne, Essays, M. Screech, trans. (1991), Book III, Chapter 12, “Of Physiognomy,” p. 1173
  • Socrates ... is the first philosopher of life [Lebensphilosoph], ... Thinking serves life, while among all previous philosophers life had served thought and knowledge. ... Thus Socratic philosophy is absolutely practical: it is hostile to all knowledge unconnected to ethical implications.
  • We cannot help but see Socrates as the turning-point, the vortex of world history.
  • The wisest of you men is he who has realized, like Socrates, that in respect of wisdom he is really worthless.
    • Plato, in Apology, 23b, as quoted in The last days of Socrates: Euthyphro, The apology: Crito [and] Phaedo (1967), p. 52
  • The accusations of atheism, the introducing of foreign deities, and corrupting of the Athenian youth, which were made against Socrates, afforded ample justification for Plato to conceal the arcane preaching of his doctrines. Doubtless the peculiar diction or 'jargon' of the alchemists was employed for a like purpose. ... The offense of Socrates consisted in unfolding to his disciples the arcane doctrine concerning the gods, which was taught in the Mysteries and was a capital crime. He also was charged by Aristophanes with introducing the new god Dinos into the republic as the demiurgos or artificer, and the lord of the solar universe.... But Socrates had never been initiated, and hence divulged nothing which had ever been imparted to him.
    • H.P. Blavatsky, in Isis Unveiled: A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology, Vol. I, Before the Veil, (1877)
  • The Greek philosopher Socrates (470/469–399 BCE), who was the master, teacher, and inspirer of Plato, as well as the main character in so many of Plato’s seminal dialogues, considered philosophy chiefly as an education to the truth and called it “maieutic,” which literally means “midwifery,” or the art to help a mother to deliver her child.
    In fact, for Socrates philosophy is akin to education and is a process in which a student gives birth to an otherwise forgotten truth with the help of a teacher who acts in the role of obstetrician. It is not surprising that this philosophy valued the way of the dialogue most. In fact, the word “dialogue” indicates a direct relationship between two persons, in this case the teacher and the disciple.
  • Every one is agreed that Socrates was very ugly; he had a snub nose and a considerable paunch; he was "uglier than all the Silenuses in the Satyric drama" ( Xenophon, Symposium). He was always dressed in shabby old clothes, and went barefoot everywhere. His indifference to heat and cold, hunger and thirst, amazed every one. Alcibiades in the Symposium, describing Socrates on military service, says:
    "His endurance was simply marvellous when, being cut off from our supplies, we were compelled to go without food — on such occasions, which often happen in time of war, he was superior not only to me but to everybody: there was no one to be compared to him. ...His fortitude in enduring cold was also surprising. There was a severe frost, for the winter in that region is really tremendous, and everybody else either remained indoors, or if they went out had on an amazing quantity of clothes, and were well shod, and had their feet swathed in felt and fleeces: in the midst of this, Socrates with his bare feet on the ice and in his ordinary dress marched better than the other soldiers who had shoes, and they looked daggers at him because he seemed to despise them."
    His mastery over all bodily passions is constantly stressed. He seldom drank wine, but when he did, he could out-drink anybody; no one had ever seen him drunk. In love, even under the strongest temptations, he remained "Platonic," if Plato is speaking the truth. He was the perfect Orphic saint: in the dualism of heavenly soul and earthly body, he had achieved the complete mastery of the soul over the body. His indifference to death at the last is the final proof of this mastery.
  • We are told that Socrates, though indifferent to wine, could, on occasion, drink more than anybody else, without ever becoming intoxicated. It was not drinking that he condemned, but pleasure in drinking. In like manner, the philosopher must not care for the pleasures of love, or for costly raiment, or sandals, or other adornments of the person. He must be entirely concerned with the soul, and not with the body: "He would like, as far as he can, to get away from the body and to turn to the soul."
  • The Platonic Socrates was a pattern to subsequent philosophers for many ages... His merits are obvious. He is indifferent to worldly success, so devoid of fear that he remains calm and urbane and humorous to the last moment, caring more for what he believes to be the truth than for anything else whatever. He has, however, some very grave defects. He is dishonest and sophistical in argument, and in his private thinking he uses intellect to prove conclusions that are to him agreeable, rather than in a disinterested search for knowledge. There is something smug and unctuous about him, which reminds one of a bad type of cleric. His courage in the face of death would have been more remarkable if he had not believed that he was going to enjoy eternal bliss in the company of the gods. Unlike some of his predecessors, he was not scientific in his thinking, but was determined to prove the universe agreeable to his ethical standards. This is treachery to truth, and the worst of philosophic sins. As a man, we may believe him admitted to the communion of saints; but as a philosopher he needs a long residence in a scientific purgatory.
  • Socrates was the chief saint of the Stoics throughout their history; his attitude at the time of his trial, his refusal to escape, his calmness in the face of death, and his contention that the perpetrator of injustice injures himself more than his victim, all fitted in perfectly with Stoic teaching. So did his indifference to heat and cold, his plainness in matters of food and dress, and his complete independence of all bodily comforts.
  • With the trial of Socrates, the history of Western political thinking begins. Socrates's death sparked off Plato's astonishing philosophical career. Only five of Plato's dialogues are centrally concerned with politics, though many bear on the practice of Athenian democracy.
    • Alan Ryan, On Politics: A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present (2012), Ch. 1 : Why Herodotus?
  • Politics may also have lain behind the trial. Socrates's friendship with the opponents of the democracy, both in the recent past and earlier in the case of Alcibiades, had alienated his fellow citizens. They did not mean him to die. At his trial, he was offered the chance to stop teaching, but would not take it.
    • Alan Ryan, On Politics: A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present (2012), Ch. 1 : Why Herodotus?
  • Triginta tyranni Socratem circumsteterunt nec potuerunt animum eius infringere.
    • There were thirty tyrants surrounding Socrates, and yet they could not break his spirit.
      • Seneca, Epistulae morales ad Lucilium, letter 28
  • It's important to remember that Thomas Huxley recognized Socrates as the first agnostic. Socrates very much believed in a God, although his deity was somewhat vague and outside of his people's polytheistic religion. Philosophically Socrates was the very essence of agnosticism.
    • James Kirk Wall, in Agnosticism : The Battle Against Shameless Ignorance (2011), p. 10
  • If anyone thinks that Socrates is proven to have lied about his daimon because the jury condemned him to death when he stated that a divinity revealed to him what he should and should not do, then let him take note of two things: first, that Socrates was so far advanced in age that he would have died soon, if not then; and second, that he escaped the most bitter part of life, when all men's mental powers diminish.

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Ancient Greek schools of philosophy
Pre-Socratic AnaxagorasAnaximanderAnaximenesDemocritusEmpedoclesHeraclitusLeucippusMelissusParmenidesProtagorasPythagorasThalesZeno of Elea
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