Socrates (469 BC-399 BC)

Moral universalism

During Socrates’ ethical relativism was prevalent in the society which says that there are many truths (Syayavad in India) but this concept of many truths was creating contradictions, and fighting in the society. But due to its influential position ie society, sophists were dominating in deciding the social norms(illogical and many times lack reasoning behind them)

But for Socrates, virtue/moral/norm is something that can be known to all and the virtuous person is the one who knows what virtue is. In this way, he Founded the concept of moral universalism.

If you want to know truth/virtue you need to enquire about the things you face.

The dialectical method of inquiry/ Socratic method/ Socratic Debate /art of questioning.

He emphasized that an issue, opinion or belief should be accepted only after thorough cross-examination and introspection. What Socrates taught was a method of inquiry that is also called as Socratic method/ Socratic Debate /dialectical method of inquiry/.

Thus, he did not tell his audience how they should live rather he told them how they should inquire about the things to live.

When the Sophists or their pupils boasted that they knew what justice, piety, temperance, or law was, Socrates would ask them to give an account, which he would then show was entirely inadequate by using the method of cross-examination.

It’s been dubbed a negative method of hypothesis elimination because it finds better hypotheses by systematically identifying and eliminating those that lead to contradictions.

At its most basic level, the Socratic Method works by breaking down a problem into a series of questions, the answers to which gradually distil better and better solutions.

It means he attempted to establish an ethical system based on human reason rather than religious doctrine.

Because his method of inquiry threatened conventional beliefs, Socrates’ enemies contrived to have him put to death on a charge of corrupting the youth of Athens.

Knowledge as a source of happiness

This cross-examination will lead you to find true knowledge. With the help of this, you can bring happiness in your life by regulating your desires as he argued that:

  1. All human beings naturally desire happiness.
  2. Happiness depends not on external goods but on how we use these external goods.
  3. the education of desire, whereby the soul learns how to harmonise its desire, redirecting its gaze away from physical pleasure to the love of knowledge and virtues, which will lead to the wisdom that is true happiness. It means we can drive that:

Knowledge as a source of good Governance:

Socrates believed that the government works best when there is rule by individuals who has the greatest ability, and knowledge and possess a complete understanding of themselves.

knowledge is virtue

For Socrates, knowledge is the source of happiness at the individual level and the source of law and order at the societal level hence he claimed that knowledge is a virtue (knowing what to do in certain situations), requiring each person to develop their inherent potentialities as far as possible.

As per Socrates, “If you constantly examine who you are as a moral agent about others, and your life in the community, you are on the right path.” This implies that we must build up personal values and

social values in an ethical manner.

The unexamined life is not worth living

He believed that humans are rational creatures, it is the knowledge that makes you virtuous, which brings happiness to you and good governance in society hence he claimed that an unexamined life is not worth living; it means humans should keep questioning, accepting and rejecting the objects they face.

Moral intellectualism

He also thought that anyone who knows what virtue is will necessarily act virtuously. Those who act badly, therefore, do so only because they are ignorant of, or mistaken about, the real nature of virtue. He said that no one knowingly does What is bad. This view is known as moral intellectualism.

Hence his whole philosophy is based on two ethical principles:

  1. Freedom to speak one’s mind, i.e., courage to speak to power.
  2. Objectivity.

For him following such ethical principles will make a person virtuous; that is how virtue ethics was born. Later it was enriched by Plato and finally established by Aristotle.

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