Socrates: Philosophy to Science

Topics: Scientific method, Socrates, Science Pages: 9 (1787 words) Published: February 16, 2015
Science – or, with respect to this writing, natural philosophy – is concerned with observing, collecting and analyzing natural phenomena in order to form a collective body of knowledge that defines, explains and attempts to predict the respective phenomenon being studied. Although science, at least in its contemporary definition, did not begin until sometime during the fifteenth century AD1, the intricacies that form its core have technically been occurring since arrival of Homo sapiens on the planet. Prior to 1543, in what is now referred to as the Scientific Revolution2, the observation of natural phenomenon and consequent inferences of such obviously still occurred; back then, however, it was discipline known as philosophy and the people studying it were called philosophers. Alas, when it comes to the study of philosophy (or, history and the humanities), Socrates is a name that arises early and often, ultimately serving as the very essence of western philosophy, as its foundation can easily be traced all the way back to his teachings3. Regarding the very early contributors of science, Socrates’ name is largely absent from many of the specific textbooks offered within the hard sciences field of study, however. Socrates’ relative contributions are not completely devoid of text; rather, since his offerings were more indirectly related to the modern definition of science, it prompts the switching of mindset from the scientific perspective to that of a historical one, in order to gain a true understanding of just how critical a figure he was to the field of natural philosophy. Socrates would, in using what little we do know about him as evidence, still be considered more of a philosopher than a scientist even today, as his impact throughout the fields of ethics, elenchus4 (or, Socratic Method) - a style of education he created and, consequently, in the field of epistemology cannot be understated. Socrates was born in Athens during the year 469 BCE, an era characterized as Classical (or, Athenian) Greece5, which also happened to coincide with a dynamic time period that was full of great change and eventual uncertainty for his homeland – the rise and fall of the Athenian Empire6. The era of which Socrates lived, proved to be veritably monumental – politically, culturally and educationally – to western civilization, as it was in Ancient Greece where the concept of democracy has its recognizable origin7 (albeit, one that would be in stark contrast to its contemporary definition). Perhaps what is more conceptually important regarding this writing is, postulation by a few scholars, asserting the political and cultural discourse of the time is what served as Socrates’ proverbial straw, insofar as it instigated the trial that discredited his life’s work and culminated with a humiliating execution at the order of Athenian leadership. Though the series of events surrounding Socrates were horrific, it was his reactions to all he endured that provided, arguably, his most valuable lesson – best described by this famous quote by an author unknown, to “stand up for what you believe in, even if it means you are standing alone.” The ensuing sections will attempt to describe the work in which Socrates is accredited, as derived from the second-hand accounts by his closest pupils, and then relate it back to the early study of natural philosophy. Firstly, before diving in to the works of Socrates, it is important to note a unique and somewhat ironic issue that surround modern knowledge about him and his respective contributions. Known as the “Socratic Problem,”8 the issue presents itself when researchers are unable to collect indisputable evidence about the subject being studied. As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, this is the case with Socrates – hence the name – as a result of all the collective knowledge about him being provided primarily by his three closest students in Plato, Aristophanes and Xenophon9. The issue is unique due...
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