Socrates (469-399 BCE) was a fifth-century Athenian philosopher whose critical reasoning set the standard for subsequent Western philosophy. Since he left no writings of his own, we must rely upon contemporary writers such as Aristophanes and Xenophon for information about his life and work.
As a pupil of Archelaus during his youth, Socrates showed a great deal of interest in the scientific theories of Anaxagoras, but he later abandoned his inquiries into the physical world and began an investigation unto the development of moral character. Having served with some distinction as a soldier at Delium and Amphipolis during the Peloponnesian War, he dabbled in the political turmoil that consumed Athens after the War, and then retired to work as a stonemason and raise his children with his wife, Xanthippe. After inheriting a modest fortune from his father, the sculptor Sophroniscus, Socrates began to give full-time attention to inventing the practice of philosophical dialogue.
For the rest of his life, Socrates devoted himself to free-wheeling discussions with the aristocratic young citizens of Athens, insistently questioning their unwarranted confidence in the truth of popular opinions, even though he often offered them no clear alternatives. Unlike the professional Sophists of the time, Socrates did not accept payment for his work with students and many of them were fanatically loyal to him. However, their parents were often displeased with his influence on their children since he was controversial political figure. Although the amnesty of 405 prevented his prosecution for his political activities, an Athenian jury convicted him of corrupting the youth and interfering with the religion of the city and they sentenced him to death in 399 B.C.E. Accepting this outcome with remarkable grace, Socrates drank hemlock and died in the company of his friends and disciples.
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