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Socrates’ Political Ideas

Life of Scorates

Born in 470 BC in ancient Greece, Socrates worked as a stonemason and served in the military before retiring. After that, he took to the profession of teaching. His reputation grew when an Oracle of Delphi, a priestess at the Temple of Apollo proclaimed that no one was wiser than Socrates.

Socrates took the statement as a puzzle and took to the mission of finding a wiser man than himself. He interviewed many great people and found – that although they had good knowledge of their field, it also led them to assume that they have knowledge of other fields as well (where they didn’t have any) i.e. they were ignorant about their ignorance. Socrates said that he was as ignorant as any other man, with the very slight advantage that he at least KNEW he was ignorant, and in that way, he was the wisest of the entire population. He thus found the words of Oracle irrefutable.

“I know that I know nothing” 

However, this quest of Socrates earned him several enemies. He was charged with spreading irreligion and corrupting the youth of Athens. A trial was conducted, he was declared guilty and awarded death punishment. The wisest man in Athens was put to death. (399 BC) The first thinker of political philosophy was also its first martyr.

Ancient Greek Thought

There was no concept of nation, Greeks used to live under the city state. It means the loyalty of person was towards his city and not with the broader region known as Greece. It was a agrarian society with slavery as a mode of production.
Greeks did not believe in natural equality. (Equality is a value of modern times.) It was a patriarchal society.
The city states used to fight against each other, one of the most prominent war between the two leagues of states in ancient Greece was Peloponnesian war.
In Peloponnesian war, Sparta defeated Athens. The defeat of Athens at the hands of Sparta was one of the major factor behind Plato turning towards philosophy. “The History of Peloponnesian War” was written by Thucydides. This book is considered as 1st book which contains ideas of Realism.

Socrates’ Theory of Knowledge

Before Socrates, scholars were engaged in understanding the physical, chemical and biological properties of life. Socrates believed that it is not enough to know what constitutes life, rather it is more important to know what constitutes ‘good life’ or ‘virtuous life.’ Objective of life is to lead ‘good life.’ In order to lead good life, we should have ‘the knowledge’ of ‘good life.’
The source of ultimate knowledge is within ourselves. According to him, our soul is the ultimate guide. What we should do and what we should not, our soul can resolve the dilemma.
To understand the voice of the soul Socrates had proposed the method of dialectics.

What is Dialectics?

Dialectics can be called as a method of ‘Logical Reasoning’. It is a unique method invented by Socrates. Socrates was teacher by profession. His method was to engage people in debate. The objective of the debate is that the other person should understand the limitations of his arguments, and is able to correct himself in a logical manner. This is the only way people will be convinced.

Socrates has categorized knowledge into two types.

Type I:
It gives the illusion of knowledge. This knowledge is shakable. In the words of Socrates, we should not use the term knowledge, rather we should use the term opinions or beliefs for this category of knowledge.

Type II:
It is a conceptual knowledge. It is unshakable, product of dialectics hence dialectics is a process through which our opinions get filtered and we are able to achieve true knowledge.

Socrates as father of ethics and philosophy.

Socrates is also known as father of ethics. Ethics is a branch of philosophy. It helps us in understanding, how we ought to live in the society.
Philosophy is the study of idea, Socrates has emphasized on understanding the idea or concept. Therefore he is also called father of philosophy.

Unexamined life is not worth living.

Above statement is from Socrates’s theory of knowledge, where he gives the meaning of true knowledge. 
Context of the theory is that the scholars before Socrates were focusing on the physical properties of life, Socrates suggested that, it is not enough to know what constitutes life, it is more important to understand what constitutes ‘the good life.’
According to him, in order to lead the good life, we should have the knowledge of good life. In order to understand the good life, he makes the distinction between the knowledge which appears to be knowledge and the knowledge which can be called as knowledge in true sense. Ultimate knowledge is unshakable. He also proposes the method to gain ‘true knowledge’ i.e. Dialectics. Dialectics is a process of filtration through which our beliefs get transformed into knowledge in true sense.
Hence for Socrates, the knowledge of good life is necessary and hence he believes that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” It is important to critically examine our beliefs, so that we are able to lead a good life in real sense.
He equates knowledge with virtue. Thus having the true knowledge is the precondition of a good life.
We can subscribe to this view that Knowledge is a source of virtue and unexamined life is not worth living. This idea is relevant in Indian context where many outdated and inhumane customs and traditions are still prevalent, among certain sections of the society. When we will critically examine such institutions, reject the illogical and inhumane practices, we can move towards the social progress.
Socrates theory of knowledge provided the foundation for Plato’s ‘Political Philosophy’ and justification for ‘Rule of Philosopher King.’

Test Your Knowledge!

Posted in PSIR 1A

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Sir, please can you send the link to the Topic: Introduction to Western Political thought where it contains an introduction to the subject, the difference between the terms Political Thought, Political Philosophy, Political Theory etc.,


First of all thanks alot for providing this great stuff, Kudos to you and your teams for the efforts.
Small doubt, fom last 2nd paragraph you mentioned it as “idea” is relevant in Indian context for eradicating the inhumane practices, but i think it should be “Dialectics”. Because after a rational debate we get true and real knowledge.


Sir and yours team is working really hard to provide us with such an Awsm information with great explaination, to help students to tackle every problem that they come across during preparation of psir as an optional,as you already mentioned that some institutes are charging heavy fees for delivering these notes and AWP(answer writing program) which is not affordable by everyone this shows that how you people are concerned with the difficulties faced by backward students hailing from rural areas. I have purchased yours book on pyqs of psir( from amazon, kindle edition) which is proving to be much helpful… Read more »


Thanks sir ?