Socrates 470-399 B.C.

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Celebrated Athenian Philosopher

Socrates was born in Athens, the son of a sculptor and a midwife. He was provided with a good education and while trained in his father's profession, he took an intense interest in philosophy. He was drafted to serve in the army several times but took no part in public life. He was capable of withstanding much physical hardship. He dressed very simply, always went barefoot and he ate very simply.

Socrates left no writings and he is known only through information furnished by two of his pupils, Plato and Xenophon. Sarton states that "there is no man of antiquity whom we know better, for thanks to Plato's art and to Xenophon's goodheartedness we can almost see him and hear him talk."

Sarton calls Socrates "the first semanticist explaining to people with whom he talked the danger of using big words or abstract words of which they did not grasp the meaning".

Socrates in 399 B.C. was indicted as follows:

"Socrates is guilty of rejecting the Gods acknowledged by the State and of bringing in strange deities. He is also guilty of corrupting the youth."

As a result he took a poison herbicide, the dried unripe fruit of Conium maculatum. Conium contains not less than 0.5% conitine, an alkaloid containing proplpyridine.

Although it has been argued that Socrates' influence on the science of his time was "catastrophic," Sarton declares that this was only true on the surface but not so in reality. The philosophers preceding Socrates produced speculations based upon lack of sufficient knowledge and had not approached the various scientific problems in astronomy and meteorology according to the best scientific methods. Socrates ideas were basic to the future progress and development of science. He insisted upon clear definitions and classifications. Sarton characterizes the situation as follows: "There is no point in discussing if we do not know as correctly as possible what we are talking about. That is fundamental in science, even more than in philosophy."

In the second place Socrates proceeded by questioning and discussion to reach logical conclusions. Thirdly, he had a great sense of duty and respect for the law. Sarton concludes that "the healthy growth of science requires moral purity, truthfulness, individual and social discipline. The bad citizen cannot be a good scientist. Finally his rational skepticism formed the basis for scientific research. The scientist must discard prejudices and superstitions if he is to undertake successfully the solution of scientific problems. In these respects Socrates was far ahead of his time. It has also been stated that he originated the endless quarrel between "pure and applied" science.

Sarton, A History of Science, Ancient Science Through the Golden Age of Greece, page 272.

Socrates Apology