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Views On Teaching Athenians Philosophy Essay

 Socrates was one of the most influential thinkers of all the time and even though that this Greek philosopher had no written evidence left of his own views, he succeeded in immortalizing himself through his wise and controversial concepts. “Know thyself” was the fundamental principle of Socratic philosophy which characterized Socrates view about the world and the self. Ironically, few historical documents are kept and scholars rely only on fragmented details describing Socrates, since he refused to write about himself and his life as thinker. This makes analyzing Socrates difficult and challenging at the same time, as various sources referring to his life had to be taken into account to form an adequate perspective about him. Navia (2007) who is a professor in New York Institute of Technology philosophy and also Social Sciences chair filters writings of Plato, Xenophon and Aristophanes who personally knew Socrates and unfolds in front of the reader the true self that he had.

What Navia (2997) tries to do is to synthesize the work of primary sources who had a direct contact with Socrates and secondary sources in order to deliver a vivid and honest display of Socrates’s ideas and life. Due to the incomplete and controversial historical records and conflicting evidence the biography of Socrates is interesting, though it raises doubt and debate in some areas. In his book which is a very approachable monograph Navia (2007) intermingles historical, philosophical and literary methods, though he did not soak the book with genuine philosophical insights.

Aristophanes, one of the enigmatic Athenian thinkers calls Socrates “knave with one hundred faces' and a 'gluttonous dog” (Navia). In Socrates: A Life Examined, Navia (2007) presents a unique view of Socrates dividing it into two parts. In the first, he examines Socrates life, philosophical viewpoint and character devoting a separate chapter to each of the writers – Aristophanes, Xenophon, Aristotle and Plato. The second part of the book concentrates on reconstructing the fundamental components of Socrates’s philosophy. Navia (2007) says that in order for the public to gain understanding for the “Socratic presence” (97)” they have to identify some “common features” of the differentiating accounts of Socrates from primary and secondary sources (20). Navia (2007) advised that while we are reading Socratic characteristics from the different sources, we have to questions all of them, though he comments further in the book that the Socrates descriptions are an authentic reflection of the “complex and multifaceted presence of Socrates (91).”

We can not fully grasp where the true Socrates is, because there is none. We, the readers can acknowledge the Aristophanic Socrates, the Platonic one and so on. For example, Aristophanes mocks Socrates in his comedy play “Clouds”, and calls him “ridiculous man”. The Aristophanic Socrates is, a "caricature" of the historical personality (46). Aristophanes portrays him also as generic Athenian philosopher-cum-sophist and also as "eccentric", "ridiculous", "antisocial" and a "danger to society" (56). We are most familiar with the Platonic Socrates, because he was his follower and carefully recorded Socrates’ ideas. What Plato manifests is a striking religiosity in Socrates and Navia (2007) observes that this was actually oppressed by the modern humanistically-minded commentator (120-124).

Xenophon describes Socrates as master of philosophy, and as “a gregarious man...possessed by an irresistible passion to communicate his message (62).” Socrates is presented by Xenophon as "clear-minded citizen", a "judicious gentleman", and one who "respects religious traditions (61).” Tarrant (2003) traces Socrates trial and condemnation on charges of heresy through four dialogues. Tarrant’s (2003) perspective is based on Apology of Socrates who is accused for worshipping gods not permitted by the state. Athenians were very religious at that time and Socrates believed that only when people admit their ignorance they can stars acquiring knowledge and accomplish virtue. For Socrates self-knowledge was the most important aspect of his teaching philosophy. Navia (2007) investigates Socrates’ statement that his “avowed goal is the search for the soul (183) and the “meaning of the soul is found through dialogue (194).” Navia’s (2007) opinion is that for Socrates the aching psyche can be cures only through the cathartic process of a dialogue. Only such a life for Socrates is worth living.

The philosophy developed by Plato manifests life, only if it is accompanied by self-discovery and self-responsibility. In Crito (Tarrant 2003) Socrates elaborates his counter arguments why he did not wish to escape from his death, urged by some of his friends. And eventually in Phaedo (Tarrant) Socrates confidently faces death, arguing that soul has immortality. Navia (2007) notes that Socrates is “animated by some sort of faith (216).” He claims that Socrates in his self-examination never abandons the faith of his philosophy and kept an optimistic stand in obtaining virtue. “Nothing can harm a good man either in life or after death (Socrates cited in Tarrant).”

Thoreau and Socrates have similar views about what are the most important things in life – for both of them it was knowledge and the search for truth. Thoreau just like Socrates believed that life which is not examined and discovered is not worth living. He was exalted by the ability of mind to think and to process information, to reason, to guess and to anticipate “the noblest recorded thoughts of man (Thoreau 83).” He shared similar view with Socrates that great and ultimate things stand for the absolute existence and that fear and small pleasures are like shadows for human reality. Thoreau commented that a philosopher is “to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust (12).” Thoreau believes that there are few true philosophers left and that individuals are led by money, fame and materialistic goods. The true philosopher has to avoid the complexities of living and to devote to simply life focused solely in pursuit of the truth and divide knowledge, “rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth (Thoreau 273).” The endeavor for truth is the predominant characteristic and transcendent factor in philosopher’s life, such as Thoreau and Socrates.

Certainly, there are differences between Socrates and Thoreau, mainly on their understanding of the relationship – people versus government. Socrates believed that people should obey the orders of the government and serve its rulers to the best of their abilities. In contrast, Thoreau stated that people do not have to follow government orders all the time, since they have often include bad intentions such as war and slavery and that humans didn’t need rulers (Thoreau). On the contrary Socrates thought that government organized people’s lives and made them civilized. Thoreau, however claimed that government takes away people’s freedom and limits themselves (Thoreau).

The sophists focused their ideology on the problems of knowledge, morality and justice. That is the main reason why Socrates tries to argue their ideas and establishes that true knowledge is (Jarrat). The Sophists expressed their concepts through the means of oratory and inspired in young people the desire and ability to argue, applying the proper use of words, or their misuse. Jarratt (1998) explains that the Sophists were famous for possessing encyclopedic knowledge and governing the Grecian youth at that time. Plato, who objects this circle, was the first to name those philosophers “Sophists” (Jarratt).

In regards to their historical importance, we Jarratt (1998) says that the Sophists were thought to form a transition from the old cosmological hypothesis to the new theories about people. The Sophists succeeded in recalling the philosophy to the study of the subject. One can not deny the merit that the Sophists had in establishing the greatest culmination as an arguments to their teaching – that of Plato and Aristotle (Jarratt). The Sophists were the first to demonstrate total indifference to the issues of the world of matter and to center their concepts on man. The Sophists accept the idea of the experience, as an empirical one, and not as a rational knowledge. Thanks to their views relativism and skepticism were born as contrasting notions. For the Sophists man was the measure for all things and they followed this doctrine in their philosophy (Jarratt).

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