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Old August 30th, 2011, 05:56 AM   #1

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Did Socrates exist?

Does any serious scholar hold that Socrates was in fact a creation of Plato, in order to form an able protagonist not very much unlike himself, in order to discuss and spread his own ideas? What are the evidences, save for Plato's own writing? Personally, I have few doubts he existed, but I'd like to get a clearer picture.

I didn't see a thread on this subject, so I'll assume the field is open
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Old August 30th, 2011, 06:37 AM   #2

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It was not only Plato who wrote about him, but also Xenophon, Aeschines etc., and the Socratic dialogue became a literary genre. Aristotle refers to him quite often as a real figure. He was mocked in the comedy of the time (significantly as being a very different figure from what Plato would present hin as being). I don't think it is ever seriously argued that he didn't exist, that seems to have been a joke that was inspired by arguments about the historical existence of Jesus!
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Old August 30th, 2011, 06:52 AM   #3
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Evidence: Socrates v Jesus
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Old August 30th, 2011, 07:05 AM   #4

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This essay will limit its attention to Socrates. Of the four, he is the one whose existence is most easily questioned. So far as I am aware, he is the only one who nonexistence is actually considered a possiblity by some scholars. Those scholars are rare, but they do exist. They suggest that Socrates could have been just a fictional character created by Plato for rhetorical purposes. According to this scenario, people of later generations who read Plato's dialogues simply assumed, mistakenly, that the central character was a real philsopher who had really lived in Athens and really been executed by the city's rulers.
I have no intention here of arguing about the plausibility of that hypothesis, except to note that there are reasonable people who think it is plausible.
From the beginning of that article. I think I have a fairly good knowledge of the scholarly literature about Socrates, and I cannot think of any scholar who has seriously argued in the last couple of centuries that Socrates did not exist. (I don't deny that there may have been some crank somewhere who did; but I would be inclined to doubt that anyone who regarded that as plausible could properly be regarded as reasonable.)

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Old August 30th, 2011, 07:18 AM   #5

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I have never heard of anyone, professional or layman, state that Socrates didn't exist. What has always been in question though, is how much of his teaching were actually his and not Plato's.

I didn't read the Socrates v Jesus article that was posted, but I wouldn't be suprised if it contained a reference to the same issue when considering Jesus and Paul.
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Old August 30th, 2011, 08:42 AM   #6
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It's most likely that Socrates actually existed..... Too many sources mention his existence.
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Old August 30th, 2011, 06:04 PM   #7

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The guy had adventures with Bill and Ted, of course he existed!
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Old August 30th, 2011, 09:00 PM   #8
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It seems fairly certain that Socrates existed. But knowledge of Socrates, his nature and views is problematic. The Socratic dialog was a literary form of sorts but the positions espoused by this "socrates" varies according to who is writing them Plato, Xenophon etc. So a large part of what Socrates the character is saying is almost certainly the author of the dialog's views, not the real Socrates. We also have references in plays where Socrates was mocked, which does not provide a good example of his views either. Socrates never speaks to us in his own voice and generally we get a characterization of his speaking views other than his own.

We Know he existed, We know he was a peculiar, original thinker, but almost everything we have attributed to him is views other than his own. We know he existed, but we really dont know almost anything about his philosophy and thoughts.
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Old August 30th, 2011, 10:11 PM   #9
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I agree that it's virtually certain that he existed. The accounts of his life and fate are simply too realistic and too close in time and space to the people describing him, for him to be a mere product of someone's imagination. After all, he wasn't some mythical hero battling minotaurs, he was a slightly odd but nevertheless ordinary man whose only battle was against the courts in Athens.

Last edited by abvgd; August 30th, 2011 at 10:36 PM.
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Old September 1st, 2011, 07:19 AM   #10
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I am both overcome with praise and bemusement by this question. The posters here are focusing of course on the tangible, the physical existence with all our bodily functions. However, my question is, what difference does this make in terms of Socrates', and even Jesus', impact on societies?

Even if we assume Socrates was some porcine, bug-eyed and illiterate conversationalist of Plato's imagination, this whimsical concoction had a large impact on our societal perception and became a discourse that allowed the evolution of ideas (we could look at Hegel's dialectic, but I digress). Perhaps scholars of the period needed to expound some of their more controversial ideas, to create a persona to symbolise these ideas. Why? To expedite changes in thinking, to propel ideas in a nicely packaged personality that would become a part of the iconography; these figures give a human dimension to new thought, to radical ideas.

It is both beautiful and scary how close fiction and fact camp.
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