Any assessment of the legacy of Socrates is not complete without a considered critical appraisal of his trial and execution. History is stacked with persecutions of absurd hypocrisy and the trial of Socrates was the one of the first recorded examples complete with intricate details. He was put on trial for allegedly corrupting the minds of Athenian youth, found guilty and sentenced for execution to be carried out by a self imbibed potion of hemlock.
Many modern day historians consider Socrates to be misunderstood. Back in the day, the ancient Greeks viewed his question everything mantra as offensive. History has clearly illustrated that the art of questioning everything is the spark of scientific discovery that has escalated mankind's evolvement to where we are today. However .....
History's lesson gives meaning: One day your view is heresy, the next it is visionary. Such is the lot of the inconvenient man before his time.
The entirety of Western philosophical thinking can be traced back to Socrates. Plato's Academy was inspired to build on his mentor's work. Even Aristotle, who disagreed on many points, opened the Lyceum to extol the virtues of philosophical wisdom emanating originally from Socrates. Then there are the Cynics and the Stoics who were both influenced by his philosophical theories.
It was Socrates who first humanised critical thought targetted towards morality and virtue leaving a lasting legacy in the fields of ethics and epistemology.
Quotes About Socrates
His student Plato described him as:
"the wisest and most just of all men"
Plato later expanded on this by saying:
"The wisest of you men is he who has realized, like Socrates, that in respect of wisdom he is really worthless"
Plato shared this description of how the charges were framed:
"Socrates does wrong because he does not believe in the gods in whom the city believes, but introduces other daemonic beings"
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche described him thus:
"We cannot help but see Socrates as the turning-point, the vortex of world history"
The Athenian statesman Alcibiades was inspired to self reflection:
"Socrates makes me admit to myself that, even though I myself am deficient in so many regards, I continue to take no care of myself, but occupy myself with the business of the Athenians"
The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard shared this insightful thought:
"People think the world needs a republic, and they think it needs a new social order, and a new religion, but it never occurs to anyone that what the world really needs, confused as it is by much learning, is a new Socrates"
The Roman statesman Cicero opined this opinion:
"Socrates was the first to call philosophy down from the sky, to place it in cities, to introduce it even into homes, to force it to consider life and customs, good and evil"
A moral Philosopher, George Vlastos, shared this haunting moral non-equivalence:
"Imagine someone living under a brutal dictatorship, accused of a political crime, who saves himself by incriminating falsely a friend, whereupon the latter is apprehended and tortured, coming out of the ordeal a broken man to die soon after, while the accuser, well rewarded by the regime, lives on to a healthy and prosperous old age. Socrates is claiming that the perpetrator of this outrage has damaged his own happiness more than his victims. Has any stronger claim been ever made by a moral philosopher? I know of none"
The historian John M. Cooper shared this view:
"Socrates was a totally new kind of Greek philosopher. He denied that he had discovered some new wisdom, indeed that he possessed any wisdom at all, and he refused to hand anything down to anyone as his personal ‘truth’, his claim to fame. All that he knew, humbly, was how to reason and reflect, how to improve himself"
The scholar Robin Waterfield pondered safe passage offered to the condemned philosopher:
"Socrates would have been welcome in oligarchic Thebes, where he had close associates among the Pythagoreans who flourished there, and which had already taken in other exiles"
The biographer Plutarch shared this thought:
"Socrates thought that if all our misfortunes were laid in one common heap, whence every one must take an equal portion, most persons would be contented to take their own and depart"
The philosopher Bertrand Russell expressed this opinion:
"The Platonic Socrates was a pattern to subsequent philosophers for many ages... His merits are obvious. He is indifferent to worldly success, so devoid of fear that he remains calm and urbane and humorous to the last moment, caring more for what he believes to be the truth than for anything else whatever"
The Roman philosopher Seneca was impressed to say:
"There were thirty tyrants surrounding Socrates, and yet they could not break his spirit"
Xenophan shared this interesting notion:
"If anyone thinks that Socrates is proven to have lied about his daimon because the jury condemned him to death when he stated that a divinity revealed to him what he should and should not do, then let him take note of two things: first, that Socrates was so far advanced in age that he would have died soon, if not then; and second, that he escaped the most bitter part of life, when all men's mental powers diminish"
The Austrian philosopher Karl Popper shared a remark for the ages:
"What a monument of human smallness is this idea of the philosopher king. What a contrast between it and the simplicity of humaneness of Socrates, who warned the statesmen against the danger of being dazzled by his own power, excellence, and wisdom"
The philosopher Francisco J. Gonzalez came to this conclusion:
"it was not ignorance, nor even the malice of a few individuals, that killed Socrates, but, as the Apology insists, prejudices authored by no one in particular, but simply in the air and implanted in the people of Athens from a very early age"
The philosopher Epictetus explained how he never got hot under the collar:
"It was the first and most striking characteristic of Socrates never to become heated in discourse, never to utter an injurious or insulting word-on the contrary, he persistently bore insult from others and thus put an end to the fray"
Galileo Galilei pondered this age old question of wisdom:
"Socrates well perceived his wisdom to be nothing, in comparison of the infinite knowledge which he wanted. But yet, because there is some knowledge found amongst men, and this not equally shared to all, Socrates might have a greater share thereof than others, and therefore verified the answer of the Oracle"
The satirist Larry Gonick gave this view:
"The trial of Socrates has always seemed mysterious ... the charges sound vague and unreal"
It would be fair to say that Steve Jobs was a fan:
"I would trade all of my technology for an afternoon with Socrates"
The anthropologist Thomas Henry Huxley made this comparative remark:
"Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle. That principle is of great antiquity; it is as old as Socrates; as old as the writer who said, Try all things, hold fast by that which is good; it is the foundation of the Reformation"
The historian Will Durant pondered a great question:
"Is madness connected with genius in general, or rather with only the “romantic” type of genius (Byron, Shelley, Poe, Heine, Swinburne, Strindberg, Dostoievski, etc.); and is not the “classic” and profounder type of genius exceptionally sound (Socrates, Plato, Spinoza, Bacon, Newton, Voltaire, Goethe, Charles Darwin, Whitman, etc.)?"
The academic Steven Nadler made this interesting comparison:
"There may be no philosopher in history (with the possible exceptions of Socrates and Nietzsche) who has received greater attention in artistic, literary and popular culture than Bento (Benedictus) de Spinoza"
The philosopher Laurel Madison offered this thought:
"It is assumed correctly, I think, that Socrates’ last words speak volumes about both his and Plato’s view of the nature and the task of human existence"
The Agni Yoga shared this astute observation:
"If one examines the reasons for the persecution of the best minds of different nations, and compares the reasons for the persecution and banishment of Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, Socrates, Plato, and others, one can observe that in each case the accusations and reasons for banishment were almost identical and unfounded. But in the following centuries full exoneration came, as if there had never been any defamation. It would be correct to conclude that such workers were too exalted for the consciousness of their contemporaries, and the sword of the executioner was ever ready to cut off a head held high"