What is love? What is truth? What is justice? Socrates, a philosopher in ancient Greece, asked big questions like these and tried to make people think.
Socrates was born in Athens, Greece, in 469 bc. He devoted his life to philosophy. He taught students, made speeches, and debated with anyone who would listen to him.
KNOWING WHAT TO DO
Socrates wanted to find out the best way to live. He wondered why some people behaved well and others behaved badly. He thought that bad behavior resulted from ignorance. He believed that once people knew what was right, they would choose to behave well. Behaving well, Socrates claimed, was the best way to live.
Socrates’ beliefs made him urge fellow citizens to think hard about what they were doing. Was it right? Was it honest? Was it permitted by law? Through questions like these, he hoped to help people recognize their mistakes. This knowledge would bring them closer to the truth and help them lead better lives.
SOCRATES ON TRIAL
Socrates believed it was his duty to ask questions constantly. He thought his method of discussing and debating would help the people of Athens gain knowledge about themselves and their society.
But the government of Athens did not agree. They accused Socrates of corrupting (damaging) young peoples’ minds by inviting them to question and disagree. They said he ignored the Greek gods. In 399 bc, they put Socrates on trial.
Socrates defended his actions. But the jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death.
DOING THE RIGHT THING
Socrates’ friends wanted to help him escape. But Socrates felt that obeying the court’s decision was the right thing to do. Socrates spent his last day with his friends. Then, he calmly drank poison made from a hemlock plant and died.
Socrates wrote no books. But his student Plato admired Socrates so much that he described Socrates’ life and ideas in his own writings.