UCLA Socrate Philosophy and Socrate Ideas on Excellence Essays

Part 1:M3. Assignment: Socrates’ Famous Tria

Socrates drinks hemlock. Source: Flickr

As a famous person, we really want to come to Socrates’ defense when we decide whether or not he was guilty of undermining Athenian youth. But as we saw in the Lecture on Socrates, the issue of his guilt is a difficult one to solve. The Athenians in the Classic Age had created an extraordinary egalitarian culture based on traditions handed down from Homer. Socrates, as well as the Sophists, challenged those traditions but had nothing to substitute for the traditions they criticized other than a relativistic, self-interested approach to life. This lack of answers to the criticisms he posed infuriated his fellow citizens.

This week’s assignment, from the section on The Apology,as quoted in our text, focuses on the dialogue between Socrates and Meletus, the person who brought charges against him. Socrates ridicules Meletus and mocks his argument as to his guilt. Given what you know of Socrates from the week’s readings, do you think Socrates was guilty of the charges against him? Give at least 3 reasons why you hold the view that you do, and give specific examples from the text to give substance to your claim.


  • Must be a minimum of 1 1/2 pages with standard 1-inch margins in Times New Roman or Garamond font.
  • Must be double-spaced.
  • Must address the topic of the paper with critical thought.
  • Must include in-text citations and references in MLA style. No outside sources.
  • Name, course, and assignment top left.
  • Include a Title.

Part 2 : M3. Discussion: No one Knowingly Does Evil


One of Socrates’ famous beliefs is that “no one knowingly does evil”. Most of us can think of at least one person we have known who knew full well what evil deed he/she was doing, and yet did it anyway. We could debate the question in this way, but a fuller appreciation of the Greek mindset leads to a more satisfying answer. In the first place, Socrates didn’t really say, “no one knowingly does evil”. Actually, he said no one knowingly does kakos.In ancient Greek, kakosmeans something bad; it does not have the same connotation of some sort of religious evil or human depravity that the word does today. So what could he have meant?

Socrates. Source: Flickr. Creative Commons.

Socrates’ thinking on this really begins with his view that virtue is knowledge. So the more knowledgeable a person is, the better he/she is. From this, one would logically conclude that less knowledge, means less good. But another linguistic complication arises with this. It has become commonplace to translate the word areteas a virtue. It honestly does not mean virtue in the way we think today. It means excellence of some kind. So in the end what Socrates is recommending is that in order to be an excellent person (wise), one needs to be knowledgeable about what it takes to be wise. And in order to do that, one has to have some conception of excellence as wisdom. So then, one can’t be blamed for doing the wrong thing, if one doesn’t know a better way to live one’s life. The wise person recognizes that knowledge to excel is to be sought after not shunned.

After you have read the chapter, come to some conclusions about what qualities you think a person needs to lead an excellent life today, to be a person of integrity who is well regarded by his/her family, friends, and co-workers. Don’t necessarily connect excellence with financial success (although excellence might lead to that). See if you can get to the heart of what Socrates means.

M3. Lecture
Socrates. Source: Flickr.
This week the text focuses on Socrates who was not only one of the most
important early figures in philosophy, he was also a very complex figure who was
the first to formulate the philosophical method and its passion for
truth. Philosophy, as we imagine it today, begins with him. Some background
information about Socrates and his Athenian culture is necessary to properly
understand him. Our text explains his early interest in the works of the preSocratics and that he was a Sophist of sorts in that he moved about Athens in
conversations educating young people on questions concerning truth and justice.
All that we know of Socrates comes from the works of Plato, who was a follower
of Socrates. Socrates himself was illiterate, and before his forage into philosophy,
he was a stonemason carving some of the reliefs in the famous Parthenon. But his
true calling came when he took up teaching Athenian youth. A dowry from his
wife and his inclination to poverty allowed him the leisure to live a philosophical
life of conversation and meditation. Not that his wife approved of this; she was
famous for her anger and outburst over the whole thing!
Plato wrote many dialogues covering the extent of Socrates’ teaching from the
early days when he truly was interested in Sophist philosophy to the last dialogues
of Socrates’ trial and eventual execution. The dialogues cover many of Socrates’
favorite topics and themes. The most important one was his interest in the search
for truth. For Socrates, truth matters, for without it, we “sleepwalk through
life.” He even invented a method for uncovering the truth–his so-called
dialectic. A dialectic of any topic is a search for the truth about it by engaging the
views of many individuals in conversation. Just by talking, people begin to see
differences in viewpoints and deficiencies in the views of others–leading
eventually to seeing deficiencies in one’s own perspective. In this kind of
venture, it is not who speaks loudest and best who wins. The conversation is a
collaborative effort with a kindred desire to come to a better point of view–one
which is agreed upon by all. It may not, in the end, be the complete truth of the
matter, but at least in the effort to arrive at truth and the commitment to do so,
one can reach a better level of understanding.
The Euthyphro
Our reading this week includes two of Plato’s dialogues that are accounts of
Socrates’ encounters with, in The Euthyphro, a fellow citizen, and in The
Apology, the defense of his actions during his famous trial. In
the Euthyphro Socrates poses the question, Are things wrong because the gods
disapprove of them? Or are they wrong because they are wrong? If we suggest
the second answer, some power other than the gods decides to correct moral
actions. If we suggest that the gods decide what is morally right, then such
decisions are the arbitrary decisions of the gods who are not necessarily
upstanding themselves. In either case, Socrates is proposing a very disturbing
look at moral values. In times of change, as in Athens during the time of Socrates,
and in our own time with the waning of religious institutions, the loss of a
religious perspective can be morally unsettling. So the issue that Socrates poses is
not one of the past; it has been on-going since his time. To get a handle on this to
ask yourself the following questions:

Why exactly is Socrates’ argument against the gods so devastating?

What can we use as a basis for moral values in place of divine sanction?

What justification can you give that your choice will result in just and
fair decisions?
The Apology
In the Apology, the dialogue is primarily the argument and rebuttal between
Socrates and Meletus, the person who brought charges against Socrates for impiety
and undermining the values of Athenian youth. In The Apology, Socrates
befuddles and belittles Meletus and at first, glance seems to win the debate, but
when the vote is taken, the Athenian jurors (the majority of 400 of them) have
voted him guilty. When we consider why this could have happened, notice
Socrates’ use of language. He’s not simply making a fool of Meletus, he’s making
fools of the jurors at the same time since they hold Meletus’ moral
values. Remember, too, the Athenians already have a poisoned view of Socrates
thanks to Aristophanes and his play. So Socrates’ arrogance and shall we say
smugness reinforces Aristophanes’ caricature.
However, there is another reason why the jurors are offended by
Socrates. Traditionally, the Athenian people followed the wisdom of the past,
handed down through the ages to the time of Homer and most likely many
centuries before him. That wisdom was the value system held by everyone and it
was Socrates and the Sophists who wanted to alter what had worked so well for so
many centuries.
In Socrates’ mind, many of those older values were unsound. It is one thing to
question, but what Socrates fails to do is come up with real alternatives to what he
questions. So we see that the same question posed in The Euthyphro is posed
again in the Apology. Without an agreed-upon system of values, right and wrong,
become relative–easily swayed by whim.
In the end, Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. He is not
saying we need to become self-absorbed mendicants He is simply making the
wise statement that to live well, one needs to consider what it takes to live well
and what it means to live the best life one can in the short time we spend on earth.
The oracle at Delphi claimed that Socrates was the wisest of men. Given his
statement about the unexamined life, it’s hard to find fault with the oracle.

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