Socrates was born in 469 B.C., in the early years of Pericles’ rule. Socrates, like all Athenian children, studied music, Homer’s poetry, and gymnastics. He also acquired some knowledge of geometry and astronomy, and became fascinated with the theories of Thales and others on the nature of matter. So with his friend Chaerephon, he began studying the natural science of his day.
So Socrates decided to search for someone who really did have some wisdom, and then to go back to the Oracle at Delphi and confront Apollo, hoping to learn the answer to this riddle. “Accordingly”, he later reported with priceless irony, humor, and much contemporary relevance, “I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom — his name I need not mention; he was a politician whom I selected for examination — and the result was as follows: When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and wiser still by himself; and I went and tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me.“ So Socrates left, thinking to himself that “although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is — for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know. In this latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him.”
Thus began Socrates’ mission of relentlessly asking people questions, listening to their answers, and accepting no ideas or opinions without examining them fully, as a means of eliciting self-knowledge and a deeper understanding of truth and virtue. Eventually, he so annoyed the complacent authorities of Athens, that at the age of seventy they condemned him to death on trumped up charges of impiety and corrupting the youth of the city. His allegedly ‘corrupting activities‘, as demonstrated in Plato’s Dialogues, consisted of a method of self-inquiry, a path toward ever increasing self-awareness, because he knew that self-knowledge is the necessary first step in the perfection of the soul. Socrates, as a teacher, guided his pupils through their self-examination by asking them pointed questions and probing their answers with them, leaving no stone unturned or unquestioned.