When we hear the name Socrates, immediately we connect it to the philosophy of knowledge? That is because Socrates is the man who is brought the concept of knowledge and defined it. He was a man of exceptional wisdom and his teachings formed the basis of knowledge as we know it today.
Socratic wisdom refers to Socrates’ view of his knowledge and the fact that human knowledge of anything is limited. He always said about himself that he can never have complete knowledge of everything ever. Socrates’ wisdom in one line can be described best with his famous quote: “I know that I know nothing.”
There is no real record of Socrates writing down all his knowledge and ideas. The theories that have been derived from his work are based on Plato’s accounts of his teachings.
In pieces like Apology, Plato talks about Socratic wisdom in a different light. Apology is a detailed account of the trials and tribulations of Socrates’ life. Plato explains that according to Socrates, one is only as knowledgeable as the awareness of one’s ignorance. This means that the only knowledge we have is us being aware of things we do not know. That acceptance of not knowing is our knowledge.
I know that I know nothing
According to Plato, the true meaning behind this quote is the entire summary of Socratic wisdom. If one had to describe Socratic wisdom in a few words, it would be this quote. This quote refers to Plato’s analysis of Socratic wisdom although it is never expressly stated.
There is great evidence in Plato’s work on Socrates that celebrates his intelligence. Even Socrates himself values his intelligence the most, going as far as to say he will die for it. This quote is a deep insight into the world of Socratic wisdom.
An example of Socrates’ approach towards his knowledge is when he said “I do not think that I know what I do now know. In simple words, Socrates is accepting as well as clarifying that he does not claim to talk about subjects and scholars that he has not studied.
He does not pretend to know what he is aware he does not know. Similarly, Socrates also once said that “I know very well that I possess no knowledge worth speaking of” of building a home. It means that since Socrates does not have much knowledge on the subject, what is the point of trying to be an expert in it?
Research on Socrates’ work suggests the opposite of his famous saying “I know that I know nothing.” The truth is that in fact, all of Socrates’ discussions and information on various subjects rely completely on his knowledge.
All of his work that is known to us today is all the brainchild of his intelligence. In some of his work, he also sheds light on the subject of death. He says that one should only fear death if they claim to know something that they do not know. Otherwise, death is nothing to be afraid of. It is intriguing to scholars how Socrates could talk about death with such intensity without experiencing it.
Socrates as the Wisest of Them All
Plato’s piece Apology talks about Socrates’ trial in 399 B.C.E. in detail. According to Apology, tells the court that his friend Chaerephon asked the Delphic oracle if they had met anyone wiser than Socrates? The oracle stated that there was no one wiser than Socrates which left Socrates startled and he set out on a journey to find someone wiser than him.
On this mission, Socrates discovered some truths regarding himself and others. He saw how many people did possess knowledge but the difference between them and Socrates was that they believed they also had had knowledge on subjects that they were quite clearly unaware of. That is when Socrates realized that the oracle was right in one sense. Socrates was wise because he was aware of his ignorance and that is what separated him from the crowd.
This awareness of the lack of knowledge has two names: Socratic ignorance and Socratic wisdom. Although both these terms seem virtually opposite to each other, there is no real contradiction between them. Socratic wisdom has a humble approach towards knowledge because it talks about the acceptance of ignorance or lack of wisdom on certain subjects. Socrates, in Apology, does not deny that one can possess knowledge.
But he states that to have wisdom and possess knowledge of everything found in nature is a quality that only higher beings can possess. Not human beings. What did Socrates mean by that? We will never fully know, No pun intended.
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