Socrates: An Introduction and Collection of Resources

This page contains an organized collection of links to beginner friendly videos, podcasts and articles on Socrates. To get started, simply choose a topic from the list below.

Who Was Socrates?

“About 2,400 years ago in Athens a man was put to death for asking too many questions. There were philosophers before him, but it was with Socrates that the subject really took off. If philosophy has a patron saint, it is Socrates. Snub-nosed, podgy, shabby and a bit strange, Socrates did not fit in. Although physically ugly and often unwashed, he had great charisma and a brilliant mind. Everyone in Athens agreed that there had never been anyone quite like him and probably wouldn’t be again. He was unique. But he was also extremely annoying. He saw himself as one of those horseflies that have a nasty bite – a gadfly. They’re irritating, but don’t do serious harm. Not everyone in Athens agreed, though. Some loved him; others thought him a dangerous influence.

As a young man he had been a brave soldier fighting in the Peloponnesian wars against the Spartans and their allies. In middle age he shuffled around the marketplace, stopping people from time to time and asking them awkward questions. That was more or less all he did. But the questions he asked were razor-sharp. They seemed straightforward; but they weren’t.” – Excerpt from A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton.

To learn more:

Socratic Ignorance and Socratic Method

“The oracle at Delphi told Socrates’ friend Chaerephon, “no one is wiser than Socrates” (Apology 21a).  Socrates explains that he was not aware of any wisdom he had, and so set out to find someone who had wisdom in order to demonstrate that the oracle was mistaken.  He first went to the politicians but found them lacking wisdom.  He next visited the poets and found that, though they spoke in beautiful verses, they did so through divine inspiration, not because they had wisdom of any kind.  Finally, Socrates found that the craftsmen had knowledge of their own craft, but that they subsequently believed themselves to know much more than they actually did.  Socrates concluded that he was better off than his fellow citizens because, while they thought they knew something and did not, he was aware of his own ignorance.  The god who speaks through the oracle, he says, is truly wise, whereas human wisdom is worth little or nothing (Apology 23a).”… As famous as the Socratic themes are, the Socratic method is equally famous.  Socrates conducted his philosophical activity by means of question an answer, and we typically associate with him a method called the elenchus.  At the same time, Plato’s Socrates calls himself a midwife—who has no ideas of his own but helps give birth to the ideas of others—and proceeds dialectically—defined either as asking questions, embracing the practice of collection and division, or proceeding from hypotheses to first principles. – Excerpt from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Socrates by James M. Ambury.

Socratic Ignorance:

Socratic Method:

  • Plato’s dialogue Meno contains a perfect example of the Socratic method. It’s also short, easy and actually rather funny. In it, Socrates teaches an uneducated slave boy the Pythagorean theorem using nothing but a series of questions. You can read it online here, or listen to an audiobook version here. Highly recommended.
  • Gregory Sadler also has a few videos on the Meno including this general overview of the dialogue [53:29].
  • Listen to M.M. McCabe on Socratic Method [13:02] from the Philosophy Bites podcast.

Socratic Ethics

“Socrates famously declares that no one errs or makes mistakes knowingly (Protagoras 352c, 358b-b).  Here we find an example of Socrates’ intellectualism.  When a person does what is wrong, their failure to do what is right is an intellectual error, or due to their own ignorance about what is right.  If the person knew what was right, he would have done it.  Hence, it is not possible for someone simultaneously know what is right and do what is wrong.  If someone does what is wrong, they do so because they do not know what is right, and if they claim the have known what was right at the time when they committed the wrong, they are mistaken, for had they truly known what was right, they would have done it.” – Excerpt from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Socrates by James M. Ambury.

To learn about Socrates’ view on virtue:

To learn about Scorates’ view of weakness of will:

Further Reading

Primary Sources:

Secondary Sources:

Miscellaneous Resources

Videos

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Existential Comics

Video Game


If you are interested in the ideas of Socrates, the following pages may also be of interest: