Socrates left no writings of his own, thus our awareness of his teachings comes primarily from a few ancient authors who referred to them in their own works.
The words of Socrates, as quoted or portrayed in Plato's works, which are the most extensive source available for our present knowledge about his ideas.
- By means of beauty all beautiful things become beautiful. For this appears to me the safest answer to give both to myself and others; and adhering to this, I think that I shall never fall, but that it is a safe answer both for me and any one else to give — that by means of beauty beautiful things become beautiful.
- False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.
- Phædo 91
- In every one of us there are two ruling and directing principles, whose guidance we follow wherever they may lead; the one being an innate desire of pleasure; the other, an acquired judgment which aspires after excellence.
- Oh dear Pan and all the other Gods of this place, grant that I may be beautiful inside. Let all my external possessions be in friendly harmony with what is within. May I consider the wise man rich. As for gold, let me have as much as a moderate man could bear and carry with him.
- Socrates' prayer, Phaedrus, 279
- Has a philosopher like you failed to discover that our country is more to be valued and higher and holier far than mother or father or any ancestor, and more to be regarded in the eyes of the gods and of men of understanding?
Plato's famous account of the trial and death of Socrates.
- When I left him, I reasoned thus with myself: I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know.
- And how is not this the most reprehensible ignorance, to think that one knows what one does not know? But I, O Athenians! in this, perhaps, differ from most men; and if I should say that I am in any thing wiser than another, it would be in this, that not having a competent knowledge of the things in Hades, I also think that I have not such knowledge.
- The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being. (ho de anexetastos bios ou biôtos anthrôpôi)
- Variant translations:
More closely 'The unexamining life is not worth living for a human being'
The life which is unexamined is not worth living.
An unexamined life is not worth living.
The unexamined life is not the life for man.
- Variant translations:
- I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or your properties, but and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue comes money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, I am a mischievous person.
- I realized that it was not by wisdom that poets write their poetry, but by a kind of nature or inspiration, such as you find in seers and prophets; for these also say many beautiful things, but do not know anything of what they say.
- If my life is to be prolonged now, I know that I must live out my old age, seeing worse, hearing less, learning with more difficulty, and forgetting more and more of what I have learned. If I see myself growing worse and reproach myself for it, tell me, how could I continue to live pleasantly? Perhaps even the god in his kindness is offering to end my life not only at the right time, but also in the easiest way possible...
- So now, Athenian men, more than on my own behalf must I defend myself, as some may think, but on your behalf, so that you may not make a mistake concerning the gift of god by condemning me. For if you kill me, you will not easily find another such person at all, even if to say in a ludicrous way, attached on the city by the god, like on a large and well-bred horse, by its size and laziness both needing arousing by some gadfly; in this way the god seems to have fastened me on the city, some such one who arousing and persuading and reproaching each one of you I do not stop the whole day settling down all over. Thus such another will not easily come to you, men, but if you believe me, you will spare me; but perhaps you might possibly be offended, like the sleeping who are awakened, striking me, believing Anytus, you might easily kill, then the rest of your lives you might continue sleeping, unless the god caring for you should send you another.
- Not I, but the city, teaches.
- The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways — I to die and you to live. Which is the better, only God knows.
- Last words of his speech following the sentence of death.
- Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?
- Last words.
Words of Socrates as quoted by Xenophon
- You will know that the divine is so great and of such a nature that it sees and hears everything at once, is present everywhere, and is concerned with everything.
- Memorabilia I. 4.18
- If I am to live longer, perhaps I must live out my old age, seeing and hearing less, understanding worse, coming to learn with more difficulty and to be more forgetful, and growing worse than those to whom I was once superior. Indeed, life would be unliveable, even if I did not notice the change. And if I see the change, how could life not be even more wretched and unpleasant?
- Memorabilia IV. 8.8
- Really, Ischomachus, I am disposed to ask: "Does teaching consist in putting questions?" Indeed, the secret of your system has just this instant dawned upon me. I seem to see the principle in which you put your questions. You lead me through the field of my own knowledge, and then by pointing out analogies to what I know, persuade me that I really know some things which hitherto, as I believed, I had no knowledge of.
- Oeconomicus (The Economist) as translated by H.G. Dakyns.
Socrates as quoted by Plutarch
- I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world. (Note: This seems to Contradict much of what is said by Socrates in Crito.)
- Bad men live that they may eat and drink, whereas good men eat and drink that they may live.
Socrates as quoted in Lives of Eminent Philosophers
- I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.
- Often when looking at a mass of things for sale, he would say to himself, 'How many things I have no need of!"
- Having the fewest wants, I am nearest to the gods.
- There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.
- Variant: The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.
- All men's souls are immortal, but the souls of the righteous are immortal and divine.
- An education obtained with money is worse than no education at all.
- An honest man is always a child.
- As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.
- As to marriage or celibacy, let a man take the course he will. He will be sure to repent.
- Be of good cheer about death and know this as a truth — that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death.
- Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm and constant.
- Beauty is a short-lived tyranny.
- Beauty is the bait which with delight allures man to enlarge his kind.
- Beware the barrenness of a busy life.
- By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you'll be happy. If you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher.
- Variant: By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you'll become happy; if you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher.
- Call no man unhappy until he is married.
- Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty.
- Could I climb to the highest place in Athens, I would lift my voice and proclaim, "Fellow citizens, why do you turn and scrape every stone to gather wealth, and take so little care of your children to whom one day you must relinquish it all?"
- Death may be the greatest of all human blessings.
- Do not do to others what angers you if done to you by others.
- Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.
- Employ your time in improving yourself by other men's writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for.
- Variant: Employ your time in improving yourself by other men's writings so that you shall come easily by what others have labored hard for.
- Envy is the ulcer of the soul.
- Fame is the perfume of heroic deeds.
- Flattery is like friendship in show, but not in fruit.
- For who is there but you? Who not only claim to be a good man and a gentleman, for many are this, and yet have not the power of making others good. Whereas you are not only good yourself, but also the cause of goodness in others.
- Four things belong to a judge: to hear courteously, to answer wisely, to consider soberly, and to decide impartially.
- From the deepest desires often come the deadliest hate.
- Get not your friends by bare compliments, but by giving them sensible tokens of your love.
- He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature.
- He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.
- I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.
- I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.
- I decided that it was not wisdom that enabled poets to write their poetry, but a kind of instinct or inspiration, such as you find in seers and prophets who deliver all their sublime messages without knowing in the least what they mean.
- I hold that to need nothing is divine, and the less a man needs the nearer he does approach divinity.
- I pray Thee, O God, that I may be beautiful within.
- I was afraid that by observing objects with my eyes and trying to comprehend them with each of my other senses I might blind my soul altogether.
- I was really too honest a man to be a politician and live.
- If a man is proud of his wealth, he should not be praised until it is known how he employs it.
- If all misfortunes were laid in one common heap whence everyone must take an equal portion, most people would be contented to take their own and depart.
- Variant: If all our misfortunes were laid in one common heap whence everyone must take an equal portion, most people would be contented to take their own and depart.
- If thou continuest to take delight in idle argumentation, thou mayest be qualified to combat with the sophists, but never know how to love with men.
- Let him that would move the world first move himself.
- May the outward and inward man be at one.
- My belief is that to have no wants is divine.
- Not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued.
- One who is injured ought not to return the injury, for on no account can it be right to do an injustice; and it is not right to return an injury, or to do evil to any man, however much we have suffered from him.
- Our prayers should be for blessings in general, for God knows best what is good for us.
- Philosophy begins with wonder.
- Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of — for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.
- Remember that there is nothing stable in human affairs; therefore avoid undue elation in prosperity, or undue depression in adversity.
- Variant: Remember, no human condition is ever permanent. Then you will not be overjoyed in good fortune nor too scornful in misfortune.
- Remember what is unbecoming to do is also unbecoming to speak of.
- See one promontory, one mountain, one sea, one river and see all.
- Such as thy words are, such will thy affections be esteemed; and such will thy deeds be as thy affections and such thy life as thy deeds.
- The fear of death is indeed the pretense of wisdom, and not real wisdom, being a pretense of knowing the unknown . . . and no one knows whether death which men in their fear apprehend to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good. . . .
- The fewer our wants, the nearer we resemble the gods.
- The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.
- The nearest way to glory is to strive to be what you wish to be thought to be.
- The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.
- The poets are only the interpreters of the Gods.
- The shortest and surest way to live with honour in the world, is to be in reality what we would appear to be; and if we observe, we shall find, that all human virtues increase and strengthen themselves by the practice of them.
- The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.
- Think not those faithful who praise all thy words and actions; but those who kindly reprove thy faults.
- Thou shouldst eat to live; not live to eat.
- To find yourself, think for yourself.
- To need nothing is divine, and the less a man needs the nearer does he approach to divinity.
- True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.
- True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.
- Upon the score of fore-knowledge and divining I am infinitely inferior to the swans. When they perceive approaching death they sing more merrily than before, because of the joy they have in going to the God they serve.
- Virtue does not come from wealth, but health, and every other good thing which men have comes from virtue.
- We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is a habit.
- What a lot of things there are a man can do without.
- What you cannot enforce, do not command.
- Wind buffs up empty bladders; opinion, fools.
- Wisdom begins in wonder.
- Know thyself.
- This statement actually predates Socrates, and was used as an Inscription at the Oracle of Delphi. It is a saying traditionally ascribed to one of the "Seven Sages" of ancient Greece, but accounts vary as to whom. Socrates himself is reported to have quoted it.
- I drank what?
- The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.
Quotes about Socrates
- If anyone thinks that Socrates is proven to have lied about his daimon because the jury condemned him to death when he stated that a divinity revealed to him what he should and should not do, then let him take note of two things: first, that Socrates was so far advanced in age that he would have died soon, if not then; and second, that he escaped the most bitter part of life, when all men's mental powers diminish.
- Xenophon in Memorabilia IV. 8.1
- It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.
- John Stuart Mill in Utilitarianism Ch.2
- "I would trade all of my technology for an afternoon with Socrates."
- Steve Jobs in Newsweek, Oct. 29, 2001
- Socrates at Washington State University
- Project Gutenberg e-texts on Socrates:
- The Dialogues of Plato (see also Wikipedia articles on Dialogues by Plato)
- The writings of Xenophon, such as the Memorablia and Hellenica.
- The satirical plays by Aristophanes
- Aristotle's writings
- Voltaire's Socrates
- The Second Story of Meno; a continuation of Socrates' dialogue with Meno in which the boy proves root 2 is irrational (by an anonymous author)