Oct 21, 2007

The Philosophy of Socrates


“The unexamined life is not worth living...”
-- Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.)

The above quotation had been uttered by that great Greek philosopher more than two-thousand years ago. It is true today as it was true then. Socrates died poor, rejected and misunderstood. He chose to drink the extract of the poisonous hemlock than to give up his principles. He had the chance to escape but he chose to stay and face martyrdom. Hence, he can be considered as one of the first martyrs for the cause of rationalism.

Socrates was not executed but he was ordered to take his own life. It was the reward of the city-state of Athens to a man who simply encouraged critical thinking. Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth and he was condemned accordingly. If questioning the established order was a crime, then Socrates was indeed guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

Socrates taught his students to question the validity of virtually everything. He never claimed to be a teacher of truth but just a learner himself. His method of teaching was dialectical. It was a method whereby he posited questions and his students tried to find the answers on their own through discussions and debates. Hence, syntheses of ideas were formed from theses and anti-theses.

One of the many things that Socrates questioned was the polytheist religion of his time. The rich Greek mythology that we know today was formerly a religion that was believed by many. Socrates doubted the existence of the Greek gods and the many stories related to them. He asked if the gods really do exist or they were mere personification of the forces of nature invented by humans and given human attributes.

However, Socrates was far from being an atheist. Nonetheless, his religion was more rationally-based and morally superior than the polytheist religion of his time. He was a Deist. He strongly influenced Aristotle’s idea of the “transcendent unmoved-mover.” Socrates hinted the idea of a supreme being who created the cosmos. On the other hand, when it comes to ethics, Socrates’ adhere to the principle of the summum bonum or supreme good. This principle is sometimes corrupted to the idea of greatest good for the greatest number. Socrates religious and moral philosophy were more akin to the Christian philosophy. In fact, a significant number of theological ideas of Christianity were based on the teachings of Socrates and other ancient Greek Philosophers. The great triumvirate of ancient philosophy was composed of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

Socrates’ assertion quoted above has a corollary. If it is applied to religion, the corollary would be: “The unexamined faith is not worth having.” How many religious people have made honest examinations of their faith? Faith is meaningless if it is only based on mere subjective feelings or delusions. Christian faith, for instance, hinges on the supposed historical resurrection of Jesus Christ -- as Saint Paul has written: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith..” (1 Corinthians 15:14).

Now, if you are a Christian, have you ever asked yourself the basis of your beliefs? Have you ever wondered if your religion is valid? Do your beliefs merely rely on feelings and hearsays? Is your religion unshakably founded on truth or it has no rational foundations whatsoever? If you haven’t yet tried examining your faith, then, it is a faith not worth having.


  1. I think that in religion in general, the most important thing is the morals learned from it, or the philosophy learned from the moral stories.

    I used to not believe in God for a short period of time in my life, being Atheist. Then I realized it was just as ridiculous to have faith something isn't there that I can't prove than to have faith something is there I can't prove. That was when I became Agnostic.

    Not very long ago I realized belief in any God depends on the definition thereof. I mean if you believed God was the man who claims to be in the news, then surely your God exists. By my definition, taking into consideration the attributes applied to God across the world and combining them... God is all things, all good, all bad, all existence. Surely, all that exists exists.

  2. Yours is a nice comment on Socrates. Just as you pointed, he was far from atheist. He was condemned for impiety. They were condemning what they thought a wrong, dangerous cult. A similar charge was raised against Jesus. In both cases we mostly learn about their lives through their disciples writings.
    In both cases, their cities were obliterated shortly after their deaths.
    Both seemed to hear voices telling them what to do.
    Keep writing

  3. man with thoughts, i must partially agree with you that god or gods do exist for some people. however, this makes the issue very subjective. you are actually admitting that people create their own gods.

  4. jfdel, i agree that there are many parallels between the life of socrates and the life of jesus. however, socrates never claimed any supernatural atrributes for himself. although both jesus and socrates were teachers of ethics. the teachings of socrates were more rationally-based.

  5. As my college history professor used to like to say,

    "Sometimes the examined life isn't so great either!"

  6. well, i guess it depends on how you perceive things. a glass of water can either be half-empty or half-full. atheism does not necessarily connotes pessimistic views of life.

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