Knowledge and Wisdom

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Socrates is widely recognized as an ancient Greek philosopher and one of the founding fathers of Western philosophy. Despite the fact that there is no real credited work to contribute to Socrates, he will always be renowned for being an enigmatic figure made famous through the works of Plato and other ancient Greek philosophers. The spirit of Socrates was always that of an inquisitive, curious, yet enlightened thinker and that is the attitude he portrayed in Plato’s Euthyphro and The Apology. Socrates was a man who manipulated anyone who would listen around him, into questioning their surroundings and contemplating philosophical questions that bridged beyond human life and into the territory of the divine. He uses rhetoric that is based on a method of constantly asking questions and begging his audience to provide him with new and enlightening ideas. Socrates never truly persuades a man to think the same way he does or to even share the same beliefs, yet his conversational skills frequently persuade his partners in dialogue to be curious for their own sake. Although we may never know who Socrates was, we can confidently interpret his philosophical intentions as a motivation to stir up the established truth and tradition and to provoke the common man to become a wise philosopher himself.

In the stories of Euthyphro and The Apology, we observe Socrates as he is about to go on trial for false teachings and imposing various disillusionments on the citizens of Athens. Regardless of what went on in the context of the story, we learned that Socrates personally does not believe himself to be wise whatsoever. Instead, he claims that only truth he is truly certain of in his life is that he knows absolutely nothing. This is disavowal of knowledge is the ultimate provocative statement that drives the debate between knowledge and philosophy. Socrates’ claim can be seen as incredibly ironic in the sense that here we have an intellect that is widely regarded as one of the most innovative thinkers of Ancient Athens proclaiming that he knows nothing despite the fact that he considers himself a philosopher which by definition makes him a ‘lover of knowledge’. According to Socrates, to know that you possess no certain knowledge of anything is to be aware of your own ignorance, yet in the two dialogues Socrates portrays himself to be in search of a definite understanding of piety, which to me, makes his later claims slightly ironic and contradictory. Although ironic, at the same time, the reader has to take Socrates’ claims seriously because he is standing before a jury of Athenians and multiple men making a case against him, but he still has the same air of enlightenment about him. His lack of positive knowledge is an interesting concept because according to traditional Greek and even modern teachings, one can be a student, master, or professional of any particular practice, and that man will then be acknowledged as wise in that field. To Socrates, his ‘human wisdom’ was a much more valuable mindset to have towards mankind, but I believe that part of that came from a subconscious feeling of arrogance. “And surely it is the most blameworthy ignorance to believe that one knows what one does not know. It is perhaps on this point and in this respect, gentlemen, that I differ from the majority of men, and if I were to claim that I am wiser than anyone in anything, it would be in this, that as I have no adequate knowledge of things in the underworld, so I do not think I have.” (Apology, Plato, 29b) By this statement, Socrates is putting himself in the minority and classifying himself almost as an enlightened outcast and I believe that he knew all along what he was doing and still did it. That is why I take Socrates’ disavowal seriously, but still with a grain of salt. Traditional teaching puts those who believe they know absolutely nothing truthfully on the ignorant side of the spectrum rather than the other way around....
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