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SOCRATES (BIOGRAPHY)

A new period of philosophy opens with the Athenian Socrates (469-399 BCE).

Like the Sophists, he rejected entirely the physical speculations in which his predecessors had indulged, and made the thoughts and opinions of people his starting-point; but whereas it was the thoughts of and opinions of the individual that the Sophists took for the standard, Socrates questioned people relentlessly about their beliefs.

He tried to find the definitions of the virtues, such as courage and justice, by cross-examining people who professed to have knowledge of them. His method of cross-examining people, the elenchus, did not succeed in establishing what the virtues really were, but rather it exposed the ignorance of his interlocutors.

Socrates was an enormously magnetic figure, who attracted many followers, but he also made many enemies. Socrates was executed for corrupting the youth of Athens and for disbelieving in the gods of the city.

This philosophical martyrdom, however, simply made Socrates an even more iconic figure than would have been otherwise, and many later philosophical schools took Socrates as their hero.

Of Socrates' numerous disciples many either added nothing to his doctrine, or developed it in a one-sided manner, by confining themselves exclusively either to dialectic or to ethics.

Thus the Athenian Xenophon contented himself, in a series of writings, with exhibiting the portrait of his master to the best of his comprehension, and added nothing original.

The Megarian School, founded by Euclides of Megara, devoted themselves almost entirely to dialectic investigation of the one Good. Stilpo of Megara became the most distinguished member of the school. Ethics predominated both with the Cynics and Cyrenaics, although their positions were in direct opposition.

Antisthenes of Athens, the founder of the Cynics, conceived the highest good to be the virtue which spurns every enjoyment.

Cynicism continued in Greece with Menippus and on to Roman times through the efforts of Demonax and others.

Aristippus of Cyrene, the founder of the Cyrenaics,considered pleasure to be the sole end in life, and regarded virtue as a good only in so far as it contributed to pleasure.




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