Socrates of Athens

Socrates the philosopher was born, lived, and died in Athens, Greece (470 B.C. to 399 B.C.). He was a man whose character, manner of living what we now call the "examined life," and whose mode of questioning premisses, called elenchus, subequently exerted a profound influence on Western philosophy, both ancient and modern. Socrates became known as "the gadfly of Athens" as a result of his brand of debate, which was a cooperative argument, a dialogue based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking, and to uncover any underlying nonfactual opinions and prejudices. His knack for criticizing politicians and rudely making those who disagreed with him appear as utter fools led to his trial and execution by drinking poisonous hemlock in 399 B.C.

Socrates, the "gadfly of Athens," himself wrote nothing, but was immortalized as one of the fathers of Western philosophy by his successor, Plato, in his dialogues. Socrates’ contributions to the fields of ethics and epistemology are unparallelled.

What we know of him, we find primarily in only three sources — Aristophanes, Plato, and Xenophon. Socrates is lampooned or mentioned in Clouds, Birds, and Frogs, plays written by Aristophanes. Of Plato’s Dialogues, those that treat the life and nature of Socrates include the Ion, Lysis, Euthydemus, Meno, Menexenus, Theaetetus, Euthyphro, Symposium, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, and the Parmenides. Socrates figures in some of the writings of Xenophon, mainly his Memorabilia, Anabasis, Apology, Hellenica, and Symposium.

A. E. Taylor, Professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University, wrote two very well-researched two excellent volumes, Plato’s Biography of Socrates and Socrates, both of which we present here.

Plato’s Biography of Socrates: A.E. Taylor’s presented this paper as an exhaustive comparison and contrast of the known records concerning Socrates’ life.

Socrates: A.E. Taylor’s study of Socrates and his influence on Western philosophy is meticulously researched and quite insightful.

The Socratic Doctrine of the Soul: The Second Annual Philosophical Lecture of the Henriette Hertz Trust, delivered by John Burnet, M.A., LL.D.

David - The Death of Socrates

The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David, 1787;
oil on canvas, original in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

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Socrates of Athens
470 B.C. – 399 B.C.
The anti-politician who
challenged men’s premisses



Burnet, John. The Socratic Doctrine of the Soul, Second Annual Philosophical Lecture, Henriette Hertz Trust, Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. VII. London: Oxford University Press, January 26, 1916. This work is in the Public Domain.

Plato; Burnet, John, Platonis Opera, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1900-1907. This work is in the Public Domain.

Nails, Debra, "Socrates," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Spring 2018 Edition (Accessed November 12, 2018).

Socrates’ Image, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., Accessed November 11, 2018.

Taylor, A. E. Plato’s Biography of Socrates. A paper read March 28, 1917. Reprinted from the Proceedings of the British Academy, v. 8, London: Oxford University Press, 1917, pp. 93-132. This work is in the Public Domain.

Taylor, A. E. Socrates. Boston: The Beacon Press, 1951. [Internet Archive, retrieved November 13, 2017.] This work is in the Public Domain.