A Critique Of Socrates Ethics Philosophy Essay

1.0 Introduction:

Knowledge, the most widely discussed topic in both western philosophy and Indian philosophy is my topic of discussion too. Knowledge which every human being wants and which every human being promises is also the least understood concept. The definition of knowledge varies from person to person, philosopher to philosopher and from philosopher to others. In this regard I would like to make a detailed study on the concept of "knowledge" according to Socrates. Thereafter I would also like to express what I liked or appreciate and what I did not like or made a change. Hence I would first like to explain the concept of knowledge according to Socrates. Then I would highlight and appreciate his praiseworthy points, at the same time critique the gaps I detected in his theory.

2.0 Socratic Method

The method used by Socrates was Dialectic which means seeking knowledge by asking questions and getting answers. Socrates asked general questions like what is justice to Cephalos. Since Cephalos was a businessman he answered from his own business perspective and said that justice means speaking the truth and paying debts. But Socrates told him that sometimes paying one’s debts may be unjust like giving back a friend’s weapon after knowing that the friend has gone insane. In this way, Socrates demolished the definition of justice given by Cephalous to which even he had to agree and come up with a new definition. [1] 

3.0 Socratic definition

We have seen that the Socratic Method is conversational in which questions are put forward to get appropriate answers. When Socrates asks a question, he asks what is, for example justice. He is asking for a definition rather than a mere answer. To define a thing is to state what it is, its essence. Thus, definition leads to essence. Since definition leads to essence, knowing to define a thing means knowing that thing. It was a new approach to knowledge, which leads one to say what things are, to discover their essence. [2] "Socrates was convinced that a clear knowledge of the truth is essential for the right control of life. He wanted to give birth to true ideas in the clear from of definition, not for speculative but for a practical end". [3] 

4.0 Socrates Philosophy

"What is right & what is good may be called a rationalistic moral philosophy, as is Socrates’ view. A rationalistic moral philosophy is that which claims that reason is the exclusive or the dominant factor in moral conduct. And thus, Socrates himself says that ‘to know the good is to do the good’.

Socrates took his stand upon the abstract principle of his philosophy for which he was willing to die- by not consenting to be conciliatory to the judges or to the jury or to their suggest of a middle punishment to death. Thus, he forced them to put him to death.

The philosophy for which he choose to die rather than he renounce it was due to the below mentioned point which he brings forth as following.

The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing: - as Socrates was regarded as wise men out all of this was because at least he knew that he really knew nothing.

Socrates second philosophic point in his Apology is that the improvement of the soul, the care for wisdom & truth, is the highest good. Virtue does not come from money but from virtue comes money & every other good thing for mankind, public & private.

Socrates says to the Athenians that if they condemn him, they would sin against the gods who have given him to them. Socrates relates himself to a gadfly and says, that God have given him to the state, which is like a great & noble horse, sluggish and show in his motion because of its vast size and new doing to be stirred into life by its sting. This was his third point.

The fourth and the most important point in Socrates speech is the principle that virtue is knowledge. And thus according to these principles to know the good is to be the good. This wrong doing comes only from failure to know what is good. And so in a famous line Socrates says: "No one does evil voluntarily". "Knowing the good no man would voluntarily choose evil; he insists that when one does an evil act, it is always with the thought that it will bring some good, some benefit". [4] For example a priest knows robbing is wrong but he robs in order to help the poor. However, the means to achieving his goal are not ethical; therefore it does not justify the end that is helping the poor. Socrates concentrates more on the knowledge of the end rather than the means to achieving it.


According to Socrates, virtue is the highest aim and greatest good one has to seek in the life. He also insisted that if it is to be the highest aim and the greatest good, it must have universal consistence and be the same for all. Now, what is universally consistent and the same for all is knowledge which is obtained through concept by the use of reason which is common in all. The relation between virtue and knowledge is inseparable. Socrates thinks that health, wealth, beauty, courage, temperance etc., which are considered to be various forms of good are good only if they are guided by wisdom; if guided by folly they could be considered forms of evil. It has already been seen that concepts are given by reason and not by perception of particular facts. Since concepts are already in human mind, they need to be enkindled by questioning. If morality is the knowledge of the idea of good through concepts, then who can obtain this? [5] "Though there is no need of long reasoning and reflection in order to learn it. This virtue wise man cannot be touched by evil of life. He stands beyond laws and conventions, at least those of the state that does not recognize true virtue." [6] 

In Plato’s 6th book of his Republic, he abandons the idea that any philosopher should be holding an esteemed place in society for no merit of their own, like the Kings of a territory. He strongly believes that those who attain the knowledge of what is true and real and are completely grasped by the pursuit of this knowledge should be made rulers. He calls these people Philosophers. [7] 

6.0 Critical evaluation

Firstly, I would like to appreciate his stand, wherein he says, "to know the good is to do the good" [8] . Knowledge leads to action, but here again the human choice and pleasure plays a very important role. Sometimes I know what is good, but if that good is not going to give me pleasure or comfort me, I may be ready to forego doing that and choose to do what satisfies me. Hence, knowledge may not always lead to the predicted action.

Secondly, knowing that you know nothing in an optimistic way would lead to accumulation of knowledge, but some would ruin the little knowledge that they have by


Finally, his way of questioning is scholarly and evokes knowledge. However, it may lead to skepticism and nothing would satisfy them, which results in bad philosophy.

According to humanity, robbing is wrong and helping the poor is right. Therefore, Socrates justifies and rationalizes the action of the priest what he is doing is right. But the law of the land this civil law will put priest in the prison.

I agree with his stance on education or true knowledge as he puts it wherein he states that those who are intellectually gifted enough, who have a hunger for gaining more knowledge, who look after the betterment of the state/ kingdom they are running and who are ever willing to share their knowledge should hold the posts of kings or rulers of their kingdom and not those who are preoccupied with the accumulation of power and who gain these positions on the basis of their ancestry and not their intellectual capabilities.


Whenever one is given a task to do, while doing it one learns many things which he initially did not know. Likewise, I have learnt many things as I was doing this assignment. First of all, I wouldn’t have really tried to analyze what is true knowledge if I was not given this assignment. I would not have learnt about it but, since I have written this assignment I have gained many new insights. I was also able to not just accept others point of view but rather question them and arrive at my point of view about the same issue which deepens my knowledge and establishes my individualism. This assignment has definitely contributed to my personal growth and love for philosophy.