Socrates (469 – 399 BC) was a classical Greek philosopher who is considered one of the founders of Western philosophy. Since Socrates didn’t write any of his views that we know of, his philosophy is known due to the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of Aristophanes. Plato’s dialogues are some of the most thorough accounts of Socrates’ thoughts. Through these portrayals Socrates has contributed greatly to the fields of ethics and logic. The Socratic method (or elenchus) remains a commonly used tool in higher education and debate through a series of questions asked to gain insight into the issue at hand and discover the truth. Socrates believed the best way for people to live is to pursue virtue rather than material wealth. His most famous quote is “The unexamined life is not worth living.” He encouraged people to focus more on friendships and community, since Socrates felt this was the best way for people to grow individually and corporately.
In the day that he lived the community of Athens was dominated by the Sophists, a group of intellectuals who taught the art of persuasion and rhetoric for gain. Through his opposition to them, he developed a large following among the youth of Athens, and when the city was defeated in the Peloponnesian War, its leaders blamed Socrates for corrupting the youth and sentenced him to die. Socrates accepted his death sentence when most assumed that he would simply flee Athens. In doing so he demonstrated his commitment to community.
Although there is much debate about whether or not he believed that democracy was a viable concept, there is little doubt that Socrates believed that philosophers were the only type of people suitable to govern others. He refused to pursue conventional politics, stating that he could not tell people how to live their lives when he did not yet understand how to live his own.