One of the most influential thinkers in the history of the West was Socrates of Athens (469-399 BCE). Literally, thousands of books and other works of art have been devoted to him, yet his character and the tenets of his philosophy remain elusive. Even his contemporaries had very different impressions of him, and since he himself left no writings to posterity, we can only wonder: Who was this man really? What ideas and ideals can be truthfully associated with him? What is the basis for the extraordinary influence he has exerted throughout history? Philosopher Luis E. Navia presents a compelling portrayal of Socrates in this very readable and well-researched book, which is both a biography of the man and an exploration of his ideas. Through a critical and documented study of the major ancient sources about Socrates — in the writings of Aristophanes, Xenophon, Plato, and Aristotle — Navia reconstructs a surprisingly consistent portrait of this enigmatic philosopher. He links Socrates’ conviction that the unexamined life is not worth living with Immanuel Kant’s later concept of an innate moral imperative as the only meaningful purpose of human existence. He highlights Socrates’ unrelenting search for the essence and value of the soul as that aspect of his philosophical journey that animated and structured all his activities. Navia also considers Socrates’ relationship with the Sophists, his stance vis-à-vis the religious beliefs and practices of his time, his view of the relationship between legality and morality, and the function of language in human life. Finally, he eloquently captures the Socratic legacy, which, more than twenty-four centuries after his death, is still so urgently relevant today. Navia brings to life this perennially important philosopher, illuminating the relevance of his ideas for our modern world.
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“A scholar of ancient Greek philosophy, Navia contributes to the immense body of commentary about Socrates with this tour of the historical man-about-Athens. All of the material about Socrates derives from four works that survived the wreck of Greco-Roman civilization: Aristophanes’ comedy Clouds; Xenophon’s dialogues; Plato’s dialogues; and Aristotle’s tracts…. Quoting extensively from these writers’ works, Navia shows where biographical agreement exists and where inference and speculation begin, as in the story of the oracle of Delphi proclaiming Socrates the wisest of men. An assessment of Socrates’ essential philosophical precepts culminates Navia’s pursuit of the living Socrates, and his hunt could attract readers with a Platonic dialogue or two under their belts.” Booklist
“[A] vivid account of Socrates’s life and ideas….The carefully documented research provides a valuable resource for those interested in the man and his ideas. Students researching philosophy will benefit from the author’s accessible connections between the beliefs of Socrates and those of many modern thinkers.” School Library Jo