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Documented Research on Socrates

The dialogues of Plato stand alongside the Bible and Homer's Iliad and Odyssey as foundational texts of the Western civilization. The works of Plato collected under the title The Trial and Death of Socrates have been particularly influential because they provide both an excellent point of entry into Plato's vast philosophy and a strikingly vivid portrait of Plato's mentor, Socrates- one of the most uncompromising intellectuals in the pantheon of human history and culture (Gillies, 1999). While arguments presented in some of Plato's other dialogues and essential dimensions to our understanding of his thought, it is possible to find the core elements of Plato's system in Euthyphro, Apology, Crito and Phaedo, and it is predominantly through Plato's account in these works of the words and actions of Socrates during his trial and execution for impiety that the latter's nobility and profound integrity have become known to succeeding generations.  

Plato was born to an aristocratic Athenian family in 427 BC, became an adherent of the already notorious arguer Socrates on his youth, and likely abandoned Athens for several years following Socrates' execution in 399 BC. There is no consensus on precisely when or why Plato began writing the incomparably thought provoking collection of dialogues and letters that has come down to us. Some commentators suggest that his earliest writings were set down to Socrates execution as said to the memory of those who witnessed or participated in the latte's arguments, while many others believe that it was Socrates' death that stimulated Plato to begin documenting for posterity the intellectual achievements of his friend and teacher. In any event, Plato's sweeping and multifaceted philosophy, as documented in his voluminous writings, has never ceased to exert a remarkably pervasive influence upon the intellectual culture of the west. It decisively shaped the thought of St. Augustine in AD 354-386 and through him infiltrated virtually all subsequent Christian theology. 

Moreover, from ancient times until the present, there has been few great Western thinkers-religious or secular- who has failed to acknowledge an unparalleled debt to Plato. It is customary to divide Plato's dialogues into early, middle, and late periods. In the early writings it is believed that Plato was strongly under Socrates' influence and, therefore, that the characterization of Socrates' thought and method of discourse in these so-called Socratic dialogues accurately reflects Plato's recollections of his teacher (Gillies, 1999). In Plato's middle period, Socrates is made the spokesman for philosophy that notably differs from anything articulated in the early writings. Here it is suspected that Plato is setting forth his own philosophy- one that grew out of reflection upon unresolved dilemmas raised by Socrates' philosophical activity and by the traumatic experience of Socrates' untimely demise.  Phaedo, conversely, is regarded as belonging to the middle period or as a transitional work marking the beginning of the middle period. This is of importance because it provides insight into what is taking place in The Trial and Death of Socrates in the subtext of Socrates approaching his trial for impiety and corrupting the youth (Euthyphro), giving an unsuccessful defense (Apology), rejecting an offer to escape Athens before his execution (Crito), and, on his final day, discussing the merits of belief in an afterlife and then drinking his poison (Phaedo). Socrates, the central figure in most of Plato's dialogues, left no written record of his ideas.

The image we have of him is almost entirely the product of his depiction by Plato, though he also figures prominently in the dialogues of Xenophon and other contemporary authors and is caricatured in Aristophanes' play The Clouds. In the last analysis, it is Plato's Socrates who has influence mankind through the ages and with whom we are rightfully concerned, we should be aware that other sources give alternative accounts of Socrates; character beliefs and actions. The events of Socrates' life, however, take place against a well-documented historical background, though this is largely left implicit in Plato's writings. What is the most essential for the reader to know about this background is that Socrates' native city-state, Athens, was once ancient Greece's flagship democracy. Despite the facts that the right of citizenship was granted only to a fraction of Athenian inhabitants and that during Socrates' lifetime the Athenian democracy succumbed twice to the rule of tyrannical oligarchs, the onetime power and prosperity of democratic Athens signaled a major political innovation in the ancient world. Coinciding with the rise of democracy in Greece becomes an increasing prioritization of oratory skills. For in the agora, where citizens met to decide upon the affairs of state, the majority needed to be persuaded of appropriate courses of action. In the century prior to Socrates' execution, traveling teachers of a peculiar type of oratory began to appear.

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These teachers, famously known as Sophists, received payment for teaching prominent aristocratic youths techniques for winning arguments, regardless of the correctness of the arguer's position, and thus they were widely regarded as parasites and public nuisances. This is an important point in relationship to the narrative of The Trial and Death of Socrates because though Socrates was officially accused of impiety and corrupting Athenian youth with his blasphemous ideas, his defense in the Apology consists essentially of a denial that he was a Sophist- something with which he was not explicitly charged. In Euthyphro we find Socrates, on the way to his trial, pausing to engage in his typical form of inquiry with a theologian named, Euthyphro, who claims to know with certainty the nature of piety or holiness. Socrates' method is to pose to Euthyphro the question, "What is piety?" and when Euthyphro offers an answer, to ask him probing questions about it until he retreats. Once again, Socrates asks, "What is piety?" A new answer is offered, and the cycle begins again (Gillies, 1999). Ultimately this leads Euthyphro- as it did many of Socrates interlocutors- to give up and slip away. This portrayal of Socrates' activity coincides with what Aristotle- a student at the academy during the last two decades of Plato's life- has to say about it that Socrates was occupying himself with the excellences of character, and in connection with them became the first to raise the problem of universal definition. Two things may be fairly ascribed to Socrates- inductive arguments and universal definitions, both of which are concerned with the starting-point of knowledge. The first observation to make here about the agreement between Aristotle's comments on Socrates and the latter's depiction in Euthyphro is Socrates' preoccupation with "excellences of character," like morality. Thus the inquiry here is about piety, and in other early dialogues it is about virtues such as justice, courage, and temperance.

The next point is that what Socrates seeks as a valid answer to his question " What is piety?" is a universal definition, not an example or even a whole collection of examples of piety. Socrates' criteria for a valid definition are implicit in his objections to Euthyphro's answers: It must be the characteristics which is the same in all instances of the thing inquired; it must be the distinguishing characteristic marking those things off from other things; it must be the "essence" of those things- for example, that which makes them be what they are- and as such, a standard by which one could measure whether or not something was an example of this kind of thing. Lastly, Aristotle credits Socrates with inventing inductive argument in the course of his search for the starting point of knowledge, and in Euthyphro and other early dialogues Socrates' inquiries begin with a truth claim and work backward to find the basis upon which this claim rests.

Logically Attained Conclusion Based Upon the Accumulation of Historic Facts

According to Mill, We say of a fact or statement that it is proved when we believe its truth by reason of some other fact or statement from which it is said to follow.  If a statement is believed on the ground of its own evidence, then it will not furnish 'proof.' When we believe it on the ground of something previously assented to and from which it can be shown to 'follow', then only it can be said to be proved. We are now in a position to enumerate the preconditions of 'proof'. They are three in number:

a) There must be some truths which are already known to us by virtue of their own evidence.

b) There must be an intellectual passage from these known truths to some new ones.

c) The new truths must follow from the truths which we already possess. They must be believed or disbelieved on the ground of the old truths and not on the ground of their own.

If all these conditions are satisfied, the intellectual operation is said to furnish 'proof' and accordingly can be called 'inference'. To infer a proposition is therefore to prove it in accordance with these three requisite conditions.  To talk about we can infer Honesty; therefore, prosperity. Here honesty is necessary for prosperity because you cannot be prosperous if you are dishonest. So prosperity follows from honesty. But it cannot be said to follow necessarily, because honesty is not sufficient for prosperity (Sengupta, 1968). In order to be prosperous you must work hard in addition to being honest. So it cannot be said that honesty necessarily leads on to prosperity, since you cannot be prosperous if you are lazy even though you are honest.

Thus if one is necessary for the other, still the latter cannot be said to follow necessarily from the former. Similar is the case with Othello's marriage with Desdemona, and his unhappiness. The latter necessarily presupposes the former but still does not follow from it necessarily. Again, we can infer Gunshot through the heart; Therefore, death. Here gunshot is not necessary for death because death may occur under different causes in different circumstances. But it is sufficient for death. Once gunshot is present, death must follow. Here it will be seen that death does not necessarily presuppose gunshot: still it follows from the latter necessarily. What makes this difference seems to be that one is sufficient for the other. Given the former, the latter necessarily follows. Thus, even though gunshot is not necessary for death, it can be said that there is necessary connection between the two in the sense that the latter follows necessarily for the former.  It is only this sort of necessary connection which is intended in the context of inference. The premise must be sufficient for the conclusion, no matter whether it is necessary or not. The best would be, if the premise were both necessary and sufficient. But in the absence of the former condition, the latter is enough to necessitate the conclusion, and constitute a genuine inference.

Again, to prevent inference from being a mere repetition of the premise he warns us that the asserting of the proposition 'p' should not have implied the previous asserting of the proposition 'q'. If so, then inference would not be worth the name. Thus, Johnson systematizes the requisites of an inference in the above way with the help of the two conditions. The constitutive condition constitutes the validity of inference and the epistemic one prevents the inference from being a mere repetition of the premise. The epistemic condition as thus formulated seems to throw a new and perhaps the necessary light upon the problem of inference. Johnson will admit that inference is proving a conclusion and by proof he means that these conditions should be satisfied (Sengupta, 1968). From these two conditions, the result obtained must also be true, since the conclusion which follows necessarily from true premises must itself be true. But the logicians have remarked that our starting points must be true premises. Statements which are true may be known to be true. But statements which are known to be true may not be true always. An actual false statement may be wrongly known and believed to be true. Again, there may be some statements which are definitely known to be false, and statements which are known to be false may not be false always.

In conclusion, Socrates on the other side had a following that was loyal. He was very significant in the lives of Alcibiades, Euclid, Plato and many others. He was very much related with the undemocratic faction of the Athens. Socrates is accepted by a number of philosophers for his enthusiasm to discover an argument wherever it would guide as well as having the moral bravery to follow its conclusion. The point is that when we take up the task of inferring we may not start with a perfect knowledge.

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