Socrates has been one of the most important philosophers of history, master of Plato and essential figure in the unification of the Greek philosophy. It is said that he was going through the squares of Athens provoking discussions to see if the people really knew what they were talking about. In fact, the famous “Socratic irony” consisted in questioning people and then exposing the incongruity of their statements.
His quote “I know that I know nothing”, encloses his thought. He wanted people to reflect and come out of ignorance, opening up to new ideas and challenging the common knowledge. He thought that everything was objectionable and wisdom doesn’t consist in accumulating knowledge, but in reviewing what is already known to build another more solid knowledge.
He said that “Human science is more about destroying errors than discovering truths”, and applied that same kind of reasoning to society, so it’s not strange that his nonconformist stance led him to be condemned to death for “attacking the democracy”.
Socrates contributions about life and wisdom
1. The highest level of knowledge is contemplation. Wondering is the beginning of wisdom.
Socrates wanted us to take absolutely nothing for granted and question everything. This philosopher thought the most powerful word in the universe is “Why?” When we begin to question everything we have always taken for granted, our perception of the world changes, we move to higher levels of self-knowledge.
2. The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.
For Socrates, wisdom is not a goal to reach but a path to travel. Those who don’t recognize their ignorance don’t even embark on that path, they limit themselves and are happy with what they know. On the contrary, recognizing ignorance and asking questions is the only way to grow and discover new horizons.
3. Sometimes you put walls up not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down.
For Socrates, friendship was something so valuable that it had to be cultivated with patience. We must choose our friends wisely and allow those who are really worthwhile pass into our inner circle. In fact, he also used to say that “friends are like money, before we need them we must know their value”.
4. The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.
In a society where appearances are increasingly important and where many lead a “happy” double life in social networks that has little or nothing to do with their reality, this phrase of Socrates is more valuable than ever. It’s about becoming your best version, being authentic and improving every day a little.
5. The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.
Many people get stuck in suffering because they can’t make peace with their past. However, we can only change when we’re able to look to the future. With this quote, Socrates encourages us to stop wasting energy on guilt and recriminations for things we can’t solve and learn to focus that energy on building the future we want.
6. The lie wins tricks, but the truth wins the game.
Sooner or later, the lies come to light. The only lie that isn’t discovered is that which isn’t said, so it’s always better to stick to the truth. Remember that in many cases one lie leads to another, so that are created complicated situations from which it will be practically impossible to exit.
7. Starting well is not little, but not even much.
The first step doesn’t take you where you want to go, but it takes you away from where you are. There is no doubt that the first step is important, but Socrates warns us to keep walking. If we don’t, we will stay halfway, with the tiredness of the journey and the broken dreams for what we dare not go.
8. A life without examination doesn’t deserve to be lived.
Socrates referred to the importance of examining ourselves while maintaining a critical attitude towards our actions. The philosopher believed that we should worry about growing because the ultimate goal of life should be to become the best person we can be. And we can’t achieve it if we don’t do introspection.
9. I cannot teach anyone anything, I can only make them think.
This Socrates’ quote is very interesting because it draws attention to the need for each person to learn on his own and reach his own conclusions. It also alerts us that, in many cases, by helping and pretending to do the good, we’re depriving people of their ability to think, decide, go their own way and make their mistakes, which will be the basis of learning.
10. When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the losers.
With this quote, Socrates warns us of the importance of losing with dignity, as well as of being intelligent enough not to take for granted when our interlocutor, instead of resorting to reasonable arguments, simply resorts to slander because it’s the only tool of discredit that remains to him.
11. Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.
In a discussion, we must make sure we keep emotions under control to discuss ideas only. When the debate goes on the personal level or on the worth of other people, we have completely lost our way.
12. Every action has its pleasure and its price.
Everything in life has a price. It’s an illusion pretending to have everything without giving something in return. The earlier we assume it, the more willing we are to assess if the price of some things is fair or we are willing to pay it.
13. Envy is the ulcer of the soul
Envy corrodes slowly, preventing the sufferer from enjoying his life because he is too self-absorbed comparing himself with the life carried by others, instead of feeling grateful for his own. In fact, envy is like drinking poison hoping that the other person is will be dying because in reality, the only damage is suffered by envious people.
14. If you don’t get what you want, you suffer; if you get what you don’t want, you suffer; even when you get exactly what you want, you still suffer because you can’t hold on to it forever. Your mind is your predicament. It wants to be free of change. Free of pain, free of the obligations of life and death. But change is law and no amount of pretending will alter that reality.
We see reality as we are, through our expectations, which means that on many occasions suffering or happiness are self-provoked. That is why Socrates advocated that we should learn to know ourselves better and accept change as part of the natural flow of life.
15. He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.
Socrates referred to the need to feel satisfied and happy here and now, not postponing happiness to the possessions that could come in the future. Our needs always grow, so even if we always have a new goal, we must make sure to enjoy happiness in the present. After all, the key is not to have more, but to enjoy more what we already have.