Modern civilization is essentially built on the words of Socrates. The Greek philosopher’s mastery of rhetoric and complex Socratic questioning provides the scaffolding for today’s political constitutions, legal foundations, education systems, mathematics and logic, and everyday conversations. While Socrates himself did not leave writing behind, his words live on through the works of his student Plato, also known as Aristocles.
Socrates Quotes About Life and Wisdom
It’s fair to say that you already get most of your life advice from classical Greece, though you probably don’t realize it. Socrates alone would be able to guide you through any of life’s problems, no matter how minor (or major).
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” - Apology
“How I wish … that wisdom could be infused by touch, out of the fuller into the emptier man, as water runs through wool out of a fuller cup into an emptier one.” - Symposium
“What is done justly is suffered justly: if the act is just, the effect is just; if to punish is just, to be punished is just, and therefore fair, and therefore beneficent; and the benefit is that the soul is improved.” - Gorgias
“For mankind censure injustice, fearing that they may be the victims of it and not because they shrink from committing it.” - The Republic
“The soul is in the very likeness of the divine, and immortal, and intellectual, and uniform, and indissoluble, and unchangeable; and that the body is in the very likeness of the human, and mortal, and unintellectual, and multiform, and dissoluble, and changeable.” - Phaedo
“In all of us there are two principles — a better and a worse — reason and desire, which are generally at war with one another; and the victory of the rational is called temperance, and the victory of the irrational intemperance or excess. The latter takes many forms and has many bad names — gluttony, drunkenness, and the like. But of all the irrational desires or excesses the greatest is that which is led away by desires of a kindred nature to the enjoyment of personal beauty. And this is the master power of love.” - Phaedrus
“The inference is that the good is not the same as the pleasant, or the evil the same as the painful; there is a cessation of pleasure and pain at the same moment; but not of good and evil, for they are different. How then can pleasure be the same as good, or pain as evil?” - Gorgias
“Nor would any man be a ruler unless he were induced by the hope of reward or the fear of punishment;—the reward is money or honour, the punishment is the necessity of being ruled by a man worse than himself.” - The Republic
Socrates Quotes About Rhetoric and Philosophy
You only need to read one or two of Socrates’ dialogues before you understand what rhetoric should look like. His arguments are a master class in both proving your point and disproving your opponent — all in the context of teaching.
“Rhetoric is of two sorts; one, which is mere flattery and disgraceful declamation; the other, which is noble and aims at the training and improvement of the souls of the citizens, and strives to say what is best, whether welcome or unwelcome, to the audience.” - Gorgias
“Truth should be highly valued; if, as we were saying, a lie is useless to the gods, and useful only as a medicine to men, then the use of such medicines should be restricted to physicians; private individuals have no business with them.” - The Republic
“How can a man understand the name of anything, when he does not know the nature of it?” - Theaetetus
“You cannot rightly call anything by any name, such as great or small, heavy or light, for the great will be small and the heavy light—there is no single thing or quality, but out of motion and change and admixture all things are becoming relatively to one another, which 'becoming' is by us incorrectly called being, but is really becoming, for nothing ever is, but all things are becoming.” - Theaetetus
“Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.” - Theaetetus
Questions Asked By Socrates
Socrates asks hundreds of questions to his students, most of which lead them to the natural inference of his arguments. Some are rhetorical questions that make a point, while others are so deep that we struggle to answer them even today.
“What is knowledge?” - Theaetetus
“How can any one contend that knowledge is perception, or that to every man what appears is?” - Theaetetus
“How can you determine whether at this moment we are sleeping, and all our thoughts are a dream; or whether we are awake, and talking to one another in the waking state?” - Theaetetus
“And what would you say of the many beautiful—whether men or horses or garments or any other things which are named by the same names and may be called equal or beautiful,—are they all unchanging and the same always, or quite the reverse? May they not rather be described as almost always changing and hardly ever the same, either with themselves or with one another?” - Phaedo
“Is truth or falsehood to be determined by duration of time?” - Theaetetus
“In good speaking should not the mind of the speaker know the truth of the matter about which he is going to speak?” - Phaedrus
“Is not even a ridiculous friend better than a cunning enemy?” - Phaedrus
The Minds Behind Democracy
Socrates taught Plato, and Plato taught Aristotle. From this tree of knowledge comes the fruits of our modern society — although it continues to grow every day. For more on ancient Greece and philosophy, check out: