Faith in Action

The Study of Socrates

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The question of good or bad seems to pop up throughout history forever. From Ancient Greek philosophers to allusions in today’s popular TV shows like “The Good Place,” the complications of morality continue to grow and shape our society. The same teachings, quotes and sometimes even lifestyles of great philosophers have been carried through time to be applied in our daily lives even as the world forms new opinions and stances on new questions and topics. However, although these philosophers committed their lives to uncovering the truth and meaning behind ethics, some did not apply their philosophies in a way that would be beneficial to not only themselves but those around them. Case in point- Socrates. While Socrates’ teachings have been passed along for centuries by his dedicated students, such as Plato and Xenophon, they have also revealed his true, somewhat snarky character. So in response to: Was Socrates a good person? I say: bad person but good philosophies.

In order to better understand Socrates, one must first look at the influences in his life. Socrates lived in Athens, from 470 BC to 399 BC. He was an only child to a stonemason and midwife. At the time of Socrates’ life, people searched for wisdom, happiness and guidance through the Greek gods and goddesses.

Socrates is best known for his acutely practical belief that the pursuit of happiness interferes with a man’s true happiness; and instead, that man should become more knowledgeable and gain wisdom in order to be truly happy. He was also known for not being afraid of the unknown. Using death as an example, since he does not know, he does not know what to be scared of. To most people, his teachings and quotes are an inspiration to be less egotistical. Some of his best and most famous quotes are most likely hung up on someone’s wall as a means of encouragement.

However, Socrates wasn’t all rainbows, happiness and forgiveness. In fact, Socrates wasn’t very forgiving towards the effect of emotions on our actions at all. Instead of emotions driving his thought process and decision making, Socrates was heavily encouraged by his hardcore devotion to philosophy. His actions and way of life were molded by his aggressive eagerness to find out more about wisdom and truth. His search to gain more knowledge even affected his marriage.

Socrates was married to Xanthippe. Although she was portrayed as a hardworking and devoted wife and mother in Plato’s works, she is most notable for her feisty personality and inclination to debate. And it was because of her inclination to argue, that Socrates chose to marry Xanthippe. When asked why Socrates married such a shrewd women, he explained that if he could put up with a wife so argumentative, then he could put up with anyone. In regards to his wife, he says, “I follow the example of the rider who wishes to become an expert horseman, none of your soft-mouthed, docile animals for me. 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.”

The trouble the chase of knowledge caused Socrates did not stop at his wife. In fact, his commitment to sharing his philosophies lead Socrates to be inclined to starting fights and debates that ended up making the other person seem particularly embarrassed and just plain dumb, leading many Athens to despise him for his condescending truthfulness. Often times, Socrates would debate with higher levels of authority and political figures, especially due to his particular disdain of democracy. In his various dialogues, Socrates praised the arch rival of Athens- Sparta.

Socrates was put on trial and found guilty for lack of reference for the gods (impiety) and corruption of the youth in Athens. His sentence was death by the poison hemlock. The hate of those who he challenged on happiness and wisdom caught up with him at court and he was found guilty 280 to 220. Although his students encouraged him to run away from Athens, he insisted that he stayed behind to die instead of living on the run afraid of his guilty actions catching up with him.

While he did behave in a reckless manner at times, his intention was to help others by bringing truth and meaning into their lives. Even so, I believe for the most part, the negative consequences of his actions overshadowed his philosophies. Sadly, he took philosophies that were initially good natured and notable to inspire some bad behavior; again- somewhat good philosophies but bad person.

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The Study of Socrates