SOKRATES (Socrates) is the ‘father’ of Western philosophy. However, we know of no writings by his own hand. It is his ‘student’ Platon (Plato) who leaves to posterity approximately 30 dialogues. In those writings Sokrates is the ‘main character’.
Another of Sokrates’ disciples, Ksenophon (Xenophon), writes several books of dialogues (“Memorabilia“) and an “Apology of Socrates to the Jury“. The latter recounts Sokrates trial which takes place in 399 BC. The case ends up with a death sentence against our philosopher. Sokrates accepts to drink the venom – although innocent of impiety (atheism) and of corrupting young people. Yet, his choice of assenting to the sentence is no evidence of weakness, docility or guilt. In fact, it derives from civic rectitude and INTEGRITY. He sincerely believes that all citizens have the duty to respect the law and the common institutions.
Through those accounts we are aware of Sokrates’ way of living (severe), thinking (acute), discussing (innovative) and elaborating (ingenious). He loves to debate relevant philosophical topics like ‘truth‘, ‘justice‘, ‘virtue‘. He likes the conceptual challenges inherent to all the notions which are difficult to define.
One of Sokrates’ traits is his tireless capacity to insist like a horsefly. He likes to focus on whatever argument he deemes worthy of utter exploration (for the sake of truth). The philosopher uses to press his various counterparts up to the point of having them surrender and admit their ignorance.
Sokrates is the ‘father’ of Western philosophy, but he is the first to declare his own insufficiency (the same of all human beings). In fact, he says “I know that I do not know”. His philosophical attitude, then, is an unweary manifestation of irony (and HUMILITY). These qualities are based on the self-knowledge of all his (and ours) limits, particularly the limits of the mind.
‘Know yourself’ (know your fallibility, know your imperfection) is the English translation of <gnothi seauton>. And <gnothi seauton> is the crucial instruction of the philosophy we promote on this website, that is <CARE OF SELF>. In other words, the philosophical attitude of <epimeleia heautou> (<CARE OF SELF>) begins with Sokrates. The pillar of this philosophical approach is the need for the subject to know himself. No one could take care of oneself without a SOUL-SEARCHING process. No one could take care of oneself without knowing his own soul.
In “Apology” 29d, Platon recalls (or figures out) Sokrates saying these words in defence of himself: “Dear friends, citizens of Athens, the greatest city in the world, so outstanding in both intelligence and power, aren’t you ashamed to care so much to make all the money you can, and to advance your reputation and prestige–while for truth and wisdom and the improvement of your soul you have no care or worry?”.
On January 6th 1982, during a lecture at College de France, French philosopher Michel Foucault, says “Socrates appears as the person whose essential, fundamental, and original function, job, and position is to encourage others to attend to themselves, take care of themselves, and not neglect themselves“. The entire 1982 course of Michel Foucault is readable in “The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the Collège de France 1981-1982”. For other info on Foucault click on this internal link.