Wednesday, January 20, 2016
On the other hand, human beings, though not worth adorning, were infinitely worth study. Socrates was fascinated throughout his life by the variety, peculiarities, cussedness, and sheer individualism of human beings....For Socrates, ideas existed to serve and illuminate people, not the other way around. Here was the big distinction between him and Plato. To Socrates, philosophy had no meaning or relevance unless it concerned itself with men and women. It is worth repeating, and emphasizing, Cicero's summary of Socrates' work: "He was the first to call philosophy down from the sky and establish her in towns, and bring her into homes, and force her to investigate the life of men and women, ethical conduct, good and evil."
He knew that as soon as philosophy separated itself from the life of people, it began to lose its vitality and was heading in the wrong direction...The notion of philosophy existing only in academic isolation from the rest of the world would have horrified him and probably would have produced ribald laughter, too.
For Socrates saw and practiced philosophy not as an academic but as a human activity. It was about real men and women facing actual ethical choices between right and wrong, good and evil. Hence a philosophical leader had to be more than a thinker, much more. He had to be a good man, for whom the quest for virtue was not an abstract idea but a practical business of daily living. He had to be brave in facing up to choices and living with their consequences. Philosophy, in the last resort, was a form of heroism, and those who practiced it had to possess the courage to sacrifice everything, including life itself, in pursuing excellence of mind. That is what Socrates did. And that is why we honor him and salute him as philosophy personified.
Paul Johnson, Socrates: A Man For Our Times