Socrates' epistemological theory
Apr 11, 2023
Socrates is perhaps the first moral philosopher in the history of Europe. In his system of ideas, knowledge and wisdom are elements linked to good, while ignorance is evil (a belief that his disciple also adopted, Plato.
In this article We will see what the epistemological theory of Socrates consisted of. and how he was linked to morality. But first, let's start by briefly reviewing the life of this Greek philosopher to better understand why he thought as he did.
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Who was Socrates?
Socrates was born in the city-state of Athens in 469 B.C. C.. It is known of him that he participated in the Peloponnesian War against other Greek cities, among which Sparta stood out, and that on his return he dedicated himself to Athenian politics. In this way, he had the opportunity to get used to debating and developing complex ideas through dialogue, something that would later serve him to develop his philosophical inquiries.
Years later, when his father died, he inherited an amount of money that allowed him to live without having to work for pay. This fact was what made it possible for Socrates to become a philosopher.
Socrates quickly began to gain visibility as a public figure on the streets of Athens. This thinker challenged people to defend their most fundamental beliefs to their ultimate consequences., and from the posing of questions that the other had to answer he showed that those ideas were not as well founded as it seemed at first. This made him gain followers, students who attended his conversations.
The influence that Socrates gained made the authorities suspicious of him, and they finally accused him of corrupting the young, for which he was sentenced to death. Socrates he ended up committing suicide by drinking hemlock in the year 399 a. c.
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Socrates' epistemological theory
These are the main aspects of Socrates' epistemological theory. It was not only one of the first attempts to create a philosophical system of epistemology in the West, but also served as a starting point for thinkers as important as Plato.
1. The need to know what is good
The main objective of human existence, what gives meaning to life, is live following the path of good. By definition, the good is a vector that tells us which actions are desirable and which are not.
2. Good is an absolute concept
Both good and evil are concepts that exist independently of us. Whether we think of them or not, whether we exist or not, good and evil are there, and they say something about who we are even if we are not aware of it.
3. Philosophical inquiry is necessary
As a consequence of the above, it is necessary to investigate through philosophy to go beyond the simple idea that the good exists and to know exactly what its form is. Since in order to act correctly it is necessary to know reality, Socrates establishes an equivalence between good and wisdom.
4. The rejection of preconceived ideas
To arrive at the idea of the good, we must question everything we think we know to see if it is really based on true ideas. For this, Socrates resorted to a principle of knowledge called maieutics.
What is maieutics according to Socrates?
Socrates believed that, despite the fact that many of our beliefs are false, by questioning them we can get closer to the truth.
The maieutics is a form of dialogue in which each statement is answered with a question which forces the issuer to further develop his ideas. In this way it can be verified if it does not have vulnerable flanks or if it really is a simple intuition, an easily falsifiable belief.
As Socrates defended the value of maieutics, he showed no enthusiasm for long speeches or the possibility of writing books, but he preferred the dialogue developed in real time as a tool to create knowledge. This idea was taken up by other intellectuals later, although his disciple Plato, despite sharing many ideas with him, did not he followed his teacher in that respect (and actually took it upon himself to write down Socrates' ideas, since the latter did not).
What does "I only know that I know nothing" mean?
For Socrates, this declaration of intent was a way of expressing the importance of basing knowledge on the questioning of everything that seems obvious. question ideas may seem like just a way of undermining theories, but it can also be seen as the opposite: a way to strengthen them and make them really correspond to reality through criticism constructive.