Socrates is the patron saint of philosophy. Although he was preceded by
certain philosophical poets and surrounded by some learned sophists,
he was the fi rst real philosopher. If you wish to know “What is philosophy?”
one good answer is that philosophy is what Socrates did and what
he started.
Socrates was a revolutionary. He revolutionized the intellectual
method by searching for rigorous defi nitions of concepts such as “courage”
and “justice.” He revolutionized values by arguing that what matters
most to human happiness is not money or fame or power, but the
state of one’s soul. He revolutionized ethics by insisting that a good
person will never harm anyone. He was a spiritual revolutionary who
remained obedient to the law; unjustly condemned to death, he refused
his friends’ offer to break him out of jail and lead him to exile .
Socrates was a revolutionary who began a tradition. He wrote nothing.
What we know of him comes from several sources. He had the
good fortune to number among his devoted followers one of the greatest
geniuses, and most gifted prose stylists, of all time – Plato. Socrates is
the major character in most of Plato’s dialogues.