Socrates' conception of philosophy


 “Socrates’ conception of philosophy”

Ivanov Arkady

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Socrates’ conception of philosophy.

  Socrates, perhaps, the most interesting figure in the philosophy of antiquity, and also a world-famed personage. If shortly recall the periods already passed over, could be found that the ancient Ionic philosophers certainly thought, but without reflecting on the thought or defining its product as thought. The Atomists made objective existence into thoughts, but these were to them only abstractions, pure entities. Anaxagoras, on the other hand, raised thought into a principle which thereby presented itself as the all-powerful Notion, as the negative power over all that is definite and existent. Protagoras finally expresses thought as real existence, but it is in this its movement, which is the all-resolving consciousness, the unrest of the Notion. Socrates expresses real existence as the universal ‘I,’ as the consciousness which rests in itself; but that is the good as such, which is free from existent reality, free from individual sensuous consciousness of feeling and desire, free finally from the theoretically speculative thought about nature, which, if indeed thought, has still the form of Being in which “I am not certain of my existence”.

  Socrates herein adopted firstly the doctrine of Anaxagoras that thought, the understanding, is the ruling and self-determining universal, though this principle did not, as with the Sophists, attain the form of formal culture or of abstract philosophizing. Thus, if with Socrates, as with Protagoras, the self-conscious thought that abrogates all that is determined, was real existence, with Socrates this was the case in such a way that he at the same time grasped in thought rest and security. This substance existing in and for itself, the self-retaining has become determined as end, and further as the true and the good. The freedom of self-consciousness in Socrates breaks out. This freedom which is contained therein, the fact that consciousness is clearly present in all that it thinks, and must necessarily be at home with itself. Thus Socrates’ principle is that man has to find from himself both the end of his actions and the end of the world, and must attain to truth through himself. True thought thinks in such a way that its import is as truly objective as subjective. But objectivity has been the significance of substantial universality, and not of external objectivity; thus truth is now posited as a product mediated through thought.

  Since Socrates thus introduces the infinitely important element of leading back the truth of the objective to the thought of the subject, just as Protagoras says that the objective first is through relation to us. The battle of Socrates and Plato with the Sophists cannot rest on the ground that these, as belonging to the old faith, maintained against the others: the religion and customs. Reflection, and the reference of any judgment to consciousness, is held by Socrates in common with the Sophists. But the opposition into which Socrates and Plato were in their philosophy necessarily brought in regard to the Sophists, as the universal philosophic culture of the times, was as follows: — The objective produced through thought, is at the same time in and for itself, thus being raised above all particularity of interests and desires, and being the power over them. Hence because, on the one hand, to Socrates and Plato the moment of subjective freedom is the directing of consciousness into itself, on the other, this return is also determined as a coming out from particular subjectivity. It is hereby implied that contingency of events is abolished, and man has this outside within him, as the spiritual universal.

  After this Socrates accepted the Good at first only in the particular significance of the practical, which nevertheless is only one mode of the substantial Idea; the universal is not only for one man, but also, as end existent in and for itself, the principle of the philosophy of nature, and in this higher sense it was taken by Plato and Aristotle. Of Socrates it is hence said, in the older histories of Philosophy that his main distinction was having added ethics as a new conception to Philosophy, which formerly only took nature into consideration. The teaching of Socrates is properly subjectively moral, because in it the subjective side, perception and meaning, is the prevailing moment, although this determination of self-positing is likewise sublimed, and the good and eternal is what is in and for itself.

  According to Cicero Socrates’ most eminent characteristic was to have brought Philosophy from heaven to earth, to the homes and every-day life of men. This would seem as if the best and truest Philosophy were only a domestic or fireside philosophy, which conforms to all the ordinary ideas of men, and in which we see friends and faithful ones talk together of righteousness, and of what can be known on the earth, without having penetrated the depths of the heavens, or rather the depths of consciousness. But this last is exactly what Socrates, as these men themselves indicate, first ventured to do. And it was not incumbent on him to reflect upon all the speculations of past Philosophy, in order to be able to come down in practical philosophy to inward thought. This gives a general idea of his principle.

  According to Plato’s “Apology” Socrates’ behavior to others was not only just true, open without rudeness, and honorable, but also Socrates is an example of the most perfect Attic urbanity; because he moves in the freest possible relations, has a readiness for conversation which is always judicious, and, because it has an inward universality, at the same time always has the right living relationship to the individual, and bears upon the case on which it operates.

  After all this, it could be said that Socrates can be considered not only as the ideal men, but also as the ideal philosopher.

Socrates’ virtue.

 Virtues of Socrates are certainly to be looked at as his own, and as made habitual to him by his own will. To him virtue is perception. Aristotle criticizes (Magna Mor. I. 1) on the quality of virtue expounded by Socrates. He says: “Socrates made virtues into a science. But this is impossible, since, though all knowledge has some basis this basis only exists in thought. Consequently, he places all the virtues in the thinking side of the soul. Hence, it comes to pass that he does away with the feeling part of the soul, that is, the inclination and the habits.” Or Aristotle (Eth. Nicom. VI. 13), supplementing the one-sidedness of Socrates, says of him: “Socrates in one respect worked on right lines, but not in the other. For to call virtue scientific knowledge is untrue, but to say that it is not without scientific basis is right. Socrates made virtues into perceptions, but virtue exists with perception.”

 Could be seen that Aristotle misses the side of subjective actuality in the determination of virtue in Socrates, which now called the heart. Understanding the reality of the good as universal morality, substantiality is wanting to the perception; but matter, regarding the inclination of the individual subjective will as this reality. This double want may also be considered as a want of content and of activity, in so far as to the universal development is wanting; and in the latter case, determining activity comes before us as negative only in reference to the universal. Socrates thus omits, in characterizing virtue. As to Aristotle himself, he thought that virtue is that, what makes people feel good. It means that the good perceived should be virtue, it must come to pass that the whole man, the heart and mind, should be identical with it, and this aspect of Being or of realization generally. 


1) (was taken on the 3d of December)

2) (was taken on the 4th of December)

3)   Bertrand Russell “the history of western civilization” (Russian edition, 2003,part I and part II ch XI XII XIII)

4)  (was taken on the 3d of December)

5) (was taken on the 3d of December)

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