Socrates was a classical Greek philosopher who has been credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy. It is believed that his knowledge is only conveyed through his students, among them, Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, and Aristophanes .
According to Plato’s ‘Apology’, a friend of Socrates (Chaerephon) asked the oracle at Delphi if anyone were wiser than Socrates; the Oracle responded that no one was wiser. Socrates challenged this answer, (because he believed he possessed no special wisdom) by questioning the wise men of Athens (poets, politicians, etc.). His conclusion was that the Oracle may be correct; while the experts claimed themselves to be wise, they were not. This, he decided, explained why the Oracle had made such a conclusion; he was the only person aware of his own ignorance. Because of his non-conforming behavior and his challenge to authority, Socrates was put on trial for ‘wrongdoing’. He was found guilty of corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens and of impiety and sentenced to death by drinking a mixture containing hemlock (1).
While there is MUCH more to the story of Socrates and his philosophies, which have had a significant influence on Western philosophy, I think his belief: “All I know is that I know nothing” encompasses every aspect of current society and ideas, or lack thereof.
We have a problem in this country, and around the world… we all think we KNOW everything; don’t we? I believe this is the reason for the gridlock and insanity we see in Congress, and all around us. People are too busy knowing it all to listen to anyone else. Before a person can even begin to share their thoughts, recipients of communication shut down; they tune out and immediately distract themselves by formulating a rebuttal to a preconceived idea that they haven’t even heard. I see it regularly, a group of people actually TALKING at the same time, over one another… totally in their own reality, having their own dialogue with themselves; it’s quite comical, actually. They’re all speaking at once, and don’t even recognize that there are three other people doing the exact same thing! I’ve also noticed people asking questions, but not listening to the answer, instead, they answer their own question, aloud, interrupting the person of whom they’ve asked the question. Again, it would be almost comical, if it weren’t so distressing.
As much as we’d like to believe that we are oh-so-wise, wouldn’t we become even wiser if we listened to others ideas? No one person knows everything, we are ALL wrong, on occasion. It’s okay to be wrong, its okay to not know. It’s okay to change one’s mind… as they say: “change is the only constant”. Don’t we attain and education, and read, etc. to learn new concepts and ideas? What kind of information are we cheating ourselves out of by being close-minded and falsely assuming that no one is more knowledgeable than we are; that we are the wisest? We are not, but by being open-minded enough to shut up and LISTEN to what others have to say, we could become wiser than we are. When we shut ourselves off, because we think we have all the answers, we suffer greatly, individually, as well as, collectively. Sometimes, we need to just ‘shut up’ and listen (hear).
This, I think, is what Socrates was suggesting. And THIS is why the Oracle at Delphi deemed him to be the wisest of all.
1. Fallon, Warren J. (2001). “Socratic suicide.” PubMed. PMID: 19681231. US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. 121:91-106. Retrieved September 12, 2013.