Was Socrates in Space? A Question of Ancient Spaceflight

Was Socrates in Space? A Question of Ancient Spaceflight

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The ancient Greeks are credited with having made many early advancements in science and mathematics which influenced later western civilization. Aristarchus of Samos proposed an essentially heliocentric cosmology millennia before Copernicus, and Archytas is credited with inventing a steam-powered flying machine long before the Wright brothers invented their powered flying machine in 1903. As a result, it is not surprising that some speculate that the ancient Greeks and other similarly advanced civilizations, such as ancient China and India, may have been even more advanced than is currently believed, even capable of ancient spaceflight.

A Case of Ancient Spaceflight?

A quote by Socrates (470-399 BC) recorded in Phaedo is one source of such speculation. The translation of the text is as follows.

“that by reason of feebleness and sluggishness, we are unable to attain to the upper surface of the air; for if anyone should come to the top of the air or should get wings and fly up, he could lift his head above it and see, as fishes lift their heads out of the water and see the things in our world, so he would see things in that upper world; and, if his nature were strong enough to bear the sight, he would recognize that that is the real heaven[110a] and the real light and the real earth. For this earth of ours, and the stones and the whole region where we live, are injured and corroded, as in the sea things are injured by the brine, and nothing of any account grows in the sea, and there is, one might say, nothing perfect there, but caverns and sand and endless mud and mire, where there is earth also, and there is nothing at all worthy to be compared with the beautiful things of our world. But the things in that world above would be seen to be even more superior to those in this world of ours. [110b] If I may tell a story, Simmias, about the things on the earth that is below the heaven, and what they are like, it is well worth hearing.”

“By all means, Socrates,” said Simmias; “we should be glad to hear this story.”

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Bust of Socrates . Marble, Roman copy after a Greek original from the 4th century BC. From the Quintili Villa on the Via Appia. ( Public Domain )

“Well then, my friend,” said he, “to begin with, the earth when seen from above is said to look like those balls that are covered with twelve pieces of leather; it is divided into patches of various colors, of which the colors which we see here may be regarded as samples, such as painters use. [110c] But there the whole earth is of such colors, and they are much brighter and purer than ours; for one part is purple of wonderful beauty, and one is golden, and one is white, whiter than chalk or snow, and the earth is made up of the other colors likewise, and they are more in number and more beautiful than those which we see here. For those very hollows of the earth which are full of water and air, present an appearance [110d] of color as they glisten amid the variety of the other colors, so that the whole produces one continuous effect of variety. And in this fair earth the things that grow, the trees, and flowers and fruits, are correspondingly beautiful; and so too the mountains and the stones are smoother, and more transparent and more lovely in color than ours ””

Socrates’ description of the earth appearing like a colorful ball from above sounds a lot like the planet Earth viewed from orbit to modern ears. This passage is popular among enthusiasts of aviation and space exploration since it presents a positive view of being above the ground.

Others, however, think that there is yet another layer. Some readers see this as evidence that Socrates actually saw the surface of Earth from orbit, or that he had access to records from another civilization capable of ancient spaceflight that was able to convey an accurate description of the appearance of Earth from space.

This true-color image shows North and South America as they would appear from space 35,000 km (22,000 miles) above the Earth. The image is a combination of data from two satellites. (Created by Reto Stöckli, Nazmi El Saleous, and Marit Jentoft-Nilsen, NASA GSFC )

Is it possible that the ancient Greeks had access to more advanced technology than is currently believed by archaeologists and historians? In other words, does this quote contain information that is more advanced than would be expected based on the modern understanding of what the ancient Greeks knew about science?

Scientific Knowledge of the Ancient Greeks

Although science did not begin with the Greeks, the primary way that modern science is practiced does have its roots in ancient Greek thought. Earlier civilizations known to the ancient Greeks did science as well. The ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians are known for their relatively advanced astronomy and engineering, for example.

The main difference is that, for earlier ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean civilizations, science was a means to an end. The ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian priests were only interested in astronomy as far as it aided them in constructing their calendars and determining the will of the gods through astromancy. Physicians, likewise, were only interested in anatomy and physiology so far as it aided them in healing.

10th century AD Greek copy of Aristarchus of Samos's 2nd century BC calculations of the relative sizes of the Sun, Moon and the Earth. ( Public Domain )

Another difference between the way these older civilizations did science is that gods were usually invoked to explain natural phenomena. There were probably exceptions to this, but for the most part, these civilizations used science for practical purposes only and not to understand the universe. Understanding the inner workings of the cosmos was left to the field of mythology. This was true of the earliest Greek thinkers as well.

Beginning with Thales (624-546 BC), the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers began to do science for different reasons. Their scientific inquiry was not just for practical purposes such as creating calendars, but also to better understand the cosmos. Also, instead of directly invoking gods to explain lightning, earthquakes, and other natural phenomena, these early philosophers sought materialistic explanations based on their experience of nature. For example, Thales explained earthquakes by saying that the earth’s disk was being rocked by the waves of the ocean on which the land floated.

Illustration from "Illustrerad verldshistoria utgifven av E. Wallis. volume I": Thales. ( Public Domain )

Most of the specific ideas and explanations of the pre-Socratic philosophers are completely wrong from the perspective of modern science, but they were significant in that they were some of the earliest attempts to use natural explanations rather than supernatural ones to understand the physical world.

This approach would later lead to some fruitful developments in the natural sciences and in engineering. Later Greek and Hellenistic scientists would use this way of thinking about the natural world to invent steam-powered devices, analogue robots, argue that the seat of intelligence was in the head not the heart, as many ancient civilizations believed, and, of course, show that the earth is spherical and not flat like most ancient cosmologies and some pre-Socratic philosophers, such as Thales and Anaxagoras had argued.

Ancient Greek Science and the Spherical Earth Theory

One of the first Greek philosophers to argue for a spherical earth was Parmenides (fl. 5th century BC). The Pythagorean school of philosophy, founded by Pythagoras (570-490 BC), also taught of a spherical earth. One of the most well-known Pythagoreans who likely believed in a spherical earth was Philolaus (470-385 BC). In addition to being a likely proponent of the spherical earth idea, he also argued that earth moved and that it was not at the center of the universe.

Pythagoras and Philolaus experimenting with musical pipes. From Theorica musicae by Franchino Gaffurio, 1492. ( Public Domain )

Philolaus was a contemporary of Socrates so it is possible that Socrates was familiar with his ideas. Socrates’ description of the earth as being like a colorful ball also resembles Philolaus’ probable view that the earth is a moving sphere. Furthermore, Plato, Socrates’ most notable student, also believed in a spherical earth and may even have been a proponent of the cosmological ideas of Philolaus.

Socrates himself did not think much of cosmology and probably wouldn’t have cared much if Plato disagreed with him on that subject, but this does make it more likely that Socrates believed in a spherical earth, since his most prominent student did.

Plato (left) and Aristotle (right), a detail of The School of Athens, a fresco by Raphael. ( Public Domain )

Spherical Earth and Socrates

By the time of Socrates, the idea of a spherical earth was already accepted by many, if not all, of most educated Greeks engaging in philosophy, which means that he does not say anything in the passage which is unexpected or anomalous based on what we know of ancient Greek science. This could be evidence that the Greeks had firsthand knowledge of what Earth looks like from orbit, but this view is not required, based solely on analysis of this passage.

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Additionally, one problem with the claim that this is evidence of Earth being seen from orbit by the ancients is that there is no indisputable evidence that any civilization prior to the mid-20th century AD was capable of spaceflight.

Also, if one has ever been to the top of a high mountain, it does not seem that difficult to guess the appearance of the earth if seen from a great height. Although it is possible that this is evidence of ancient spaceflight, Occam’s razor would mitigate against this view since there is no undeniable evidence that the Greek civilization, or any contemporary or prior civilization, was capable of spaceflight and it is not too difficult to simply guess the general appearance of Earth’s surface from a great height, if it is assumed to be spherical.

Colorado - Mount Evans: View from summit. (Wally Gobetz/ CC BY NC ND 2.0 )


This question needs to be narrowed down before it can be answered usefully. First, everyone speaking of ancient Greek religion has to bear in mind the complex relationship between that religion as a whole and the myths that -- to modern readers -- are its most famous element. Second, while it's not hard to answer the question as it asks about "any" of the myths (the answer is "Yes"), one comes to know Socrates and Plato better by trying to find out how many of the myths they might have believed, or which ones.

First, the relationship between myths and religion. Modern religions tend to be organized around beliefs, not only general doctrinal beliefs (e.g. "God exists") but also beliefs about events ("Jesus was crucified and resurrected"). So modern readers tend to gravitate toward the most visible beliefs in ancient religion, which are the myths or stories about what their gods did. The great poems of Homer and Hesiod contain many of those myths Socrates and Plato would have heard more through other poems, such as those of Pindar and Bacchylides, and would have seen tragedies based on yet other myths. It seems that hymns about the gods and goddesses, including but not limited to the Homeric Hymns, were performed by choruses of young people, in a city like Athens, so that on numerous occasions during the year the public would have heard recitations of divine actions.

Religious practice, however, did not have to include recitation of myths. The standard religious practice was the sacrifice, normally the sacrifice of an animal but sometimes of such vegetable products as a honey cake and these rituals could be carried out without anyone's stating or discussing a myth. So the first distinction to be drawn is between myths, many of which our philosophers did not believe in, and religious practices, which all the evidence suggests they did participate in. For instance, we see Socrates in Plato's _Symposium_ pouring out a splash of wine to Zeus the Savior, as the Athenians and other Greeks customarily did before drinking wine themselves. This was a religious practice toward which neither Socrates nor Plato expresses any skepticism.

Plato's _Republic_, for all its revolutionary proposals about Greek society and culture, likewise seems to assume the continuation of religious practice as it was known. There is talk of sacrifices in the new city that the philosophers are founding and the highest authority remains the oracle at Delphi.

So, if you are asking "Was Plato religious?" then even though that word "religious" does not correspond exactly to anything in ancient Greek culture, nevertheless one can answer "Yes," inasmuch as "being religious" had more to do with participating in traditional rituals and practices than in believing this or that claim about the gods.

But suppose we don't want to know about religious practice. We want to know: Did these philosophers believe a word of the myths they had heard? Again, asking whether they believed "any" myths makes the question too easy to answer. There are enough references to specific myths scattered throughout the dialogues to imply that at least some of the myths passed muster with the philosophers. For instance, in Book 2 of the _Republic_ Socrates reviews what stories the children may hear about gods in the ideal city, and his discussion makes clear that quite a few traditional stories are worth keeping and retelling. Zeus judges the souls of the dead, punishing the wicked and rewarding the just. The great technological inventions that human beings possess were given to them by the gods. Such wholesome tales are to be repeated in earnest, so that the young may grow up with a pious sense of gratitude toward their divine benefactors.

More famously, Socrates speaks out in Plato's dialogues against those myths he refuses to believe. Relevant passages include Plato's _Euthyphro_ and the aforementioned Book 2 of the _Republic_. Any stories about the gods' quarreling with one another, or lying to human beings, or changing shape, or being overwhelmed by lust, or sleeping with one another's spouses, strike the Socrates we find in Plato's dialogues as unseemly, and impossible of containing truth. (If the truth in them is something allegorical, they still need to be suppressed, because the typical young listener cannot tell the difference between a symbolic meaning and the superficial narrative.)

In rejecting such myths both Socrates and Plato seem to be following the lead of the earlier philosopher Xenophanes. Xenophanes had no patience with the anthropomorphism in Greek religion. It was bad enough, from his point of view, that human beings pictured their gods in human form, with arms and legs, desires and emotions far worse was the shabby morality those gods seemed to follow. Zeus repeatedly raped young mortal women, who then found themselves hounded and tormented by his jealous wife Hera. How could the king of the gods participate in such horrid injustice?

Plato apparently agrees with the critique. He has Socrates confess he cannot believe in such stories. They couldn't possibly be true, if the gods are to be (as we claim to believe them to be) perfectly powerful and honest and good. Some storyteller must have lied about the gods. The falsehood is not at all the falsehood that modern unbelievers experience. An atheist today is likely to say that religion is just far-fetched, or without evidence atheism begins with epistemology. The Socratic and Platonic disbelief presupposes genuine belief that the gods exist, and only a refusal to agree that they could behave in such ungodlly manner.

Philosophical Views of Socrates

[caption align=“aligncenter” width=“3896”] The Death of Socrates[/caption]

When you compare the philosophical views of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, it’s important to distinguish the historical Socrates from Plato’s Socrates. You see, Socrates did not write anything himself. Instead, Plato chronicled Socrates' life using dialogues. When you read most of Plato’s work_,_ you will notice that it looks a lot like a play. As time went on after Socrates' death, Plato’s Socrates was less like the historical Socrates, and more like Plato. The historical Socrates was written about by another Greek, Xenophan. Many scholars believe that Plato’s death of Socrates dialogues - _Apology, Crito, Phaedo,_ and _Euthyphro_ - were more accurate in depicting the historical Socrates than some of the other works. What we know about Socrates is that he was heavily influenced by Pythagoras, he was a monotheist - which created accusations of heresy by other Greeks - and he was executed by the Greeks for being a menace to society. The accusations the Greek council charged him with included that he was corrupting the youth. In the _Apology_, we are given the phrase “know thyself” and we find that Socrates believes himself to be the wisest man in Athens because he knows that he does not know anything. While earlier philosophers often focused upon metaphysics, Socrates was also concerned with _knowledge_ as well as _value_ theories. Plato often presents Socrates in situations where he’s trying to find out what something means. For example, in _Euthyphro_, he asks a question like “Is piety good because the gods like it or do the gods like it because it is good?” It’s hard to say what Socrates actually believed because we only have the writings of those who were friends with him. In addition to Xenophan’s _Apology_, we also find a comic look at Socrates in Aristophanes' play, the Clouds. It is from these three sources - Xenophan, Plato, and Aristophanes, that we know what we do about Socrates.


Socrates didn't write down any of his teachings and what we know of him comes from the accounts of others mainly his pupils, the philosopher Plato and the historian Xenophon, the comedian Aristophanes (Socrates's contemporary), and lastly Aristotle, who was born after Socrates’s death. The often contradictory stories of the ancient sources make it incredibly difficult to reliably reconstruct Socrates’s thoughts in the proper context this dilemma is called the Socratic problem. [14]

Xenophon was a well educated, honest man but he lacked the intelligence of a trained philosopher and couldn't conceptualize or articulate Socrates’s arguments. [15] Xenophon admired Socrates for his intelligence, patriotic stance during wartimes, and courage. [16] Xenophon discusses Socrates in four of his works: the Memorabilia, the Oeconomicus, the Symposium, and the Apology of Socrates—he also mentions a story with Socrates in his Anabasis. [17] Oeconomicus hosts a discussion on practical agricultural issues. [18] Apologia offers the speeches of Socrates during his trial but is unsophisticated compared to Plato's work of the same title. [19] Symposium is a dialogue of Socrates with other prominent Athenieans after dinner—quite different from Plato's Symposium—differing even in the names of those attending, let alone Socrates’s presented ideas. [20] In Memorabilia, he defends, as he proclaimed, Socrates from the accusations against him of corrupting the youth and being against State religion. Essentially, it is a collection of various stories and constituted an apology of Socrates. [21] In a seminal work of 1818, philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher attacked Xenophon’s accounts, and his attack was widely accepted and gave rise to the Socratic problem. [22] Schleiermacher criticized Xenophon on his naïve representation of Socrates—the latter was a soldier and was unable to articulate Socratic ideas. Further, Xenophon is biased in favor of his friend, believing Socrates was unfairly treated by Athens, and sought to prove his points of view rather than reconstruct an impartial account—with the result being the portrayal of an uninspiring philosopher. [23] By early 20th century, Xenophon’s account was largely rejected. [24]

Plato's representation of Socrates is not straightforward. [25] Plato was a pupil of Socrates and outlived him by five decades. [26] How trustworthy Plato is on representing Socrates is a matter of debate the view that he wouldn't alter Socratic thought (known as Tailor-Burket thesis) isn't shared by many contemporary scholars. [27] A driver of this doubt is the inconsistency of the character of Socrates he presents. [28] One common explanation of the inconsistency is that Plato initially tried to accurately represent the historical Socrates, but later inserted his views on Socrates’s sayings—under this understanding, there is a distinction among the early writing of Plato as Socratic Socrates, whereas late writing represent Platonic Socrates—a definitive line between the two being blurred. [29]

The works of Xenophon and Plato on Socrates are in the form of dialogue and provide the main source of information on Socrates's life and thought and compose the major part of Logoi Socraticoi, a term coined by Aristotle to describe its contemporary newly formed literature genre on Socrates. [30] As Aristotle first noted, authors imitate Socrates, but the extent to which they represent the real Socrates or are works of fiction is a matter of debate. [31] Xenophon’s and Plato’s accounts differ in their presentations of Socrates as a person—in Xenophon’s portrait, he is more dull, and less humorous and ironic. [16] Plato's Socrates is far from conservative Xenophon's Socrates. [32] Generally, Logoi Socraticoi can not help us reconstruct historical Socrates even in cases where their narratives overlap due to possible intertextuality. [33]

Aristotle was not a contemporary of Socrates he studied under Plato at the latter’s Academy for twenty years. [34] Aristotle treats Socrates without the bias of Xenophon and Plato, who had an emotional bias in favor of Socrates—he scrutinizes Socrates’s doctrines as a philosopher. [35] Aristotle was familiar with the various written and unwritten stories of Socrates. [36] Athenian comedians, including Aristophanes, commented on Socrates. His most important comedy with respect to Socrates, Clouds, where Socrates is a central character of the play, is the only one to survive today. [37] Aristophanes limns a caricature of Socrates that leans towards sophistism. [38] Current literature does not deem Aristophanes’s work as helpful to reconstruct the historical Socrates, except with respect to some characteristics of his personality. [39] Other ancient authors on Socrates were Aeschines of Sphettus, Antisthenes, Aristippus, Bryson, Cebes, Crito, Euclid of Megara, and Phaedo all of whom wrote after Socrates's death. [40]

Two factors emerge from all sources pertaining to the character of Socrates: that he was “ugly” (at least as an older man), and had a brilliant intellect. [41] [42] He wore tattered clothes and went barefoot (the latter characteristic made its way into the play The Clouds by Aristophanes). [43] [44] He lived entirely within ancient Athens (at least from his late 30s, and other than when serving on military campaigns in Potidaea, Delium, etc.) he made no writings [45] and he was executed by being made to drink hemlock. [46]

Socrates as a figure

The character of Socrates as exhibited in Apology, Crito, Phaedo and Symposium concurs with other sources to an extent to which it seems possible to rely on the Platonic Socrates, as demonstrated in the dialogues, as a representation of the actual Socrates as he lived in history. [47] At the same time, however, many scholars believe that in some works, Plato, being a literary artist, pushed his avowedly brightened-up version of "Socrates" far beyond anything the historical Socrates was likely to have done or said. Also, Xenophon, being a historian, is a more reliable witness to the historical Socrates. It is a matter of much debate over which Socrates it is whom Plato is describing at any given point—the historical figure, or Plato's fictionalization. As British philosopher Martin Cohen has put it, "Plato, the idealist, offers an idol [Socrates], a master figure, for philosophy. A Saint, a prophet of 'the Sun-God', a teacher condemned for his teachings as a heretic." [48]

It is also clear from other writings and historical artifacts, that Socrates was not simply a character, nor an invention, of Plato. The testimony of Xenophon and Aristotle, alongside some of Aristophanes' work (especially The Clouds), is useful in fleshing out a perception of Socrates beyond Plato's work.

According to one source, the name Σωκρᾰ́της (Sōkrátēs), has the meaning "whole, unwounded, safe" (the part of the name corresponding to σῶς , sôs) and "power" (the part of the name corresponding to κράτος , krátos). [49] [50]

Socrates as a philosopher

The problem with discerning Socrates' philosophical views stems from the perception of contradictions in statements made by the Socrates in the different dialogues of Plato in later dialogues Plato used the character, Socrates, to give voice to views that were his own. These contradictions produce doubt as to the actual philosophical doctrines of Socrates, within his milieu and as recorded by other individuals. [51] Aristotle, in his Magna Moralia, refers to Socrates in words which make it patent that the doctrine virtue is knowledge was held by Socrates. Within the Metaphysics, Aristotle states Socrates was occupied with the search for moral virtues, being the "first to search for universal definitions for them". [52]

The problem of understanding Socrates as a philosopher is shown in the following: In Xenophon's Symposium, Socrates is reported as saying he devotes himself only to what he regards as the most important art or occupation, that of discussing philosophy. However, in The Clouds, Aristophanes portrays Socrates as running a Sophist school with Chaerephon. Also, in Plato's Apology and Symposium, as well as in Xenophon's accounts, Socrates explicitly denies accepting payment for teaching. More specifically, in the Apology, Socrates cites his poverty as proof that he is not a teacher.

Two fragments are extant of the writings by the Pyrrhonist philosopher Timon of Phlius pertaining to Socrates. [53] Both appear to be from Timon's Silloi in which Timon ridiculed and lampooned dogmatic philosophers. [54] [55]

Socrates was born in 469 or 470 BCE in Alopece, a deme of Athens, with both of his parents, Sophroniscus and Phaenarete being wealthy Athenians, thus he was an Athenian citizen. [57] Sophroniscus was a stoneworker while Phaenarete was a midwife. [58] He was raised living close to his father's relatives and inherited, as it was the custom in Ancient Athens, part of his father estate, that secured a life without financial scourges. [59] His education was according to laws and custums of Athens, he learned the basic skills to read and write, as all Athenians and also, as most wealthy Athenians received extra lessons in various other fields such as gymnastic, poetry and music. [60] He married once or twice. One of his marriages was with Xanthippe when Socrates was in his 50s, the other one was with the daughter of Aristides, an Athenian statesman. [61] He had 3 sons with Xanthippe. [62] Socrates fulfilled his military service during the Peloponnesian War and distinguished in three campaigns. [56]

During 406 Socrates participated as a member of the Boule to the trial of six commanders since his tribe (the Antiochis) comprised the prytany. The generals were accused that they had abandoned the survivors of foundered ships to pursue the defeated Spartan navy. The generals were seen by some to have failed to uphold the most basic of duties, and the people demanded their capital punishment by having them under trial all together- not separately as the law of Athens dictated. While other members of the prytany bow to public pressure, Socrates stand alone not accepting an illegal suggestion. [63]

Another incident that illustrates Socrates attachment to the law, is the arrest of Leon. As Plato describes in his Apology Socrates and four others were summoned to the Tholos, and told by representatives of the oligarchy of the Thirty (the oligarchy began ruling in 404 BC) to go to Salamis to arrest Leon the Salaminian, who was to be brought back to be subsequently executed. However, Socrates was the only one of the five men who chose not to go to Salamis as he was expected to, because he did not want to be involved in what he considered a crime and despite the risk of subsequent retribution from the tyrants. [64]

As a character Socrates was a fascinating man, attracting the interest of Athenian crowd and especially youth like a magnet. [65] He was notoriously ugly—having flat turned-up nose, bulky eyes and a belly—his friends used to joke with his appearance. [66] On top of being ugly, Socrates didn't pay any attention to his personal appearance. He walked barefoot, had only one, torn coat and didn't bathed frequently, friends called him "the unwashed". He restrained from excesses such as food and sex despite his high sex drive, also he did consumed much wine but never was he drunk. [67] Socrates was physically attracted by both sexes- common and accepted in ancient Greece- but resisted his passion towards young men as he was interested in educating their souls. [68] Socrates was known for his self control and never sought to gain sexual favors from his disciplines, as it happened with other older men while teaching adolescents. [69] Politically, he was sitting on the fence in terms of the rivalry between the democrats and the oligarchs in the ancient Athens- he criticizes sharply both while they were on power. [70]

In 399 BCE, Socrates went on trial for corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens and for impiety. [71] Socrates defended himself but was subsequently found guilty by a jury of 500 male Athenian citizens (280 vs 220 votes). [72] According to the then custom, he proposed a penalty (in his case Socrates offered some money) but jurors declined his offer and commanded the death penalty. [72] The official charges were corrupting youth, worshipping false gods and not worshipping the state religion. [73]

In 404 BCE, Athenians were crushed by Spartans at the decisive naval Battle of Aegospotami, and subsequently, Spartans sieged Athens. They replaced the democratic government with a new, pro-oligarchic government, named the Thirty Tyrants. [74] Because of their tyrannical measures, some Athenians organized to overthrow the Tyrants – and indeed they managed in doing so briefly – but as the Spartan request for aid from the Thirty arrived, a compromise was sought. But as Spartans left again, democrats seized the opportunity to kill the oligarchs and reclaim the government of Athens. [74] Under this politically tense climate in 399, Socrates was charged. [74]

The accusations against Socrates were initiated by a poet, Meletus, who asked for the death penalty because of Asebeia. [74] Other accusers were Anytus and Lycon, of which Anutus was a powerful democratic politician who was despised by Socrates, and his pupils, Critias and Alkiviadis. [74] After a month or two, in late Spring or early Summer, the trial started and lasted a day. [74]

The charges stood true indeed Socrates criticized the anthropomorphism of traditional Greek religion, describing it in several cases as a daimonion, an inner voice. [74]

The Socratic apology (meaning the defense of Socrates) started with Socrates answering the various rumors against him that gave rise to the indictment. [75] Firstly, Socrates defended against the rumor that he was an atheist naturalist philosopher, as portrayed in Aristophanes' The Clouds, or a sophist – a category of professional philosophy teachers notorious for their relativism. [76] Against these corruption allegations, Socrates answered that he did not corrupt anyone intentionally, since corrupting someone would mean that one would be corrupted back, and that corruption is not desirable. [77] On the second charge, Socrates asked for clarification. Meletus, one of the accusers, clarified that the accusation was that Socrates was a complete atheist. Socrates was quick to note the contradiction with the next accusation: worshipping false gods. [78] After that, Socrates claimed that he was God's gift, and since his activities ultimately benefited Athens, by condemning him to death, Athens would lose. [79] After that, he claimed that even though no human can reach wisdom, philosophizing is the best thing someone can do, implying money and prestige are not as precious as commonly thought. [80] After jurors convicted him and sentenced him to death, he warned Athenians that criticism by his many disciplines was inescapable, unless they became good men. [72]

Socrates had the chance to offer alternative punishments for himself after being found guilty. He could have requested permission to flee Athens and live in exile, however he didn't bring it up. Instead, according to Plato, he asked for free meals daily, or alternatively, to pay a small fine, while Xenophon says he made no proposals. [82] Jurors decided upon the death penalty, to be carried out the next day. [82] Socrates spent his last day in the prison, with his friends visiting him and offering him an escape however, he declined. [81]

The question of what motivated Athenians to choose to convict Socrates remains a point of controversy among scholars. [83] The two notable theories are, first, that Socrates was convicted on religious grounds and, second, on to political ones. [83] The case for being a political persecution is usually objected to by the existence of the amnesty that was granted in 403 BCE to prevent escalation to civil war but, as the text from Socrates' trial and other texts reveals, the accusers could have fueled their rhetoric using events prior to 403. [84] Also, later, ancient authors claimed in various unrelated events that the prosecution was political. For example, Aeschines of Sphettus (ca. 425–350 BCE) writes: I wonder how one ought to deal with the fact that Alcibiades and Critias were the associates of Socrates, against whom the many and the upper classes made such strong accusations. It is hard to imagine a more pernicious person than Critias, who stood out among the Thirty, the most wicked of the Greeks. People say that these men ought not be used as evidence that Socrates corrupted the youth, nor should their sins be used in any way whatsoever with respect to Socrates, who does not deny carrying on conversations with the young." [85] It was true that Socrates did not stand for democracy during the reign of Thirty, and that most of his pupils were anti-democrats. [86] The argument for religious persecution is supported by the fact that the accounts of the trial by both Plato and Xenophon mostly focused on the charges of impiety. And, while it was true that Socrates didn't believe in Athenian gods, he did not dispute this while he was defending himself. On the other hand, there were many skeptics and atheist philosophers during that time that evaded prosecution, notably demonstrated in the political satire of The Clouds by Aristophanes that was staged years before the trial. [87] Yet another interpretation, more contemporary and more convincing, synthesises religious and political arguments, since during those times, religion and state were not separated. [88]

Socratic method

A fundamental characteristic of Plato's Socrates is the Socratic method or method of "elenchus (elenchus or elenchos, in Latin and Greek respectively, means refutation). [89] It is most prominent in the early works of Plato, such as Apology, Crito, Gorgias, Republic I and other. [90] Socrates would initiate a discussion about a topic with a known expert on the topic, then by dialogue will prove them wrong by detecting inconsistencies in his reasoning. [91] Firstly, Socrates asks his interlocutor for a definition of the subject, then Socrates will ask more questions where the answers of the interlocutor will be in odds with his first definition, with the conclusion the opinion of the expert is wrong. [92] Interlocutor may came up with a different definition which again be placed under the scrutiny of Socrates questions repeatedly, with each round approaching truth even more or realizing the ignorance on the matter. [93] Since the definition of interlocuter represent most commonly, the mainstream opinion on a matter, the discussion places doubt in the shared opinion. Also, another key component of Socratic method, is that he also tests his own opinions, exposing their weakness as with others, thus Socrates is not teaching or even preaching ex cathedra a fixed philosophical doctrine, but rather he humbly acknowledging the man's ignorance while participating himself in searching the truth with his pupils and interlocutors. [94]

Scholars have questioned the validity and the exact nature of socratic method or even if there is one indeed. [95] In 1982, preeminent scholar of ancient philosophy Gregory Vlastos identified a problem on Socratic method- he claimed that even when you disparaging the premises of an argument, you can now conclude that the conclusion is fault. [96] There have been two main lines of replying to Vlastos arguments, depending on whether is accepted if Socrates is seeking to prove wrong a claim. . [97] According to the first line, known as the constructivist, Socrates indeed seeks to refute a claim by his method, and it actually helps us reaching positive statements. [98] The non-constructivism approach holds that Socrates merely wants to establish the inconsistency among the premises and conclusion of the initial argument. [99]

Socrates and the priority of definition

Socrates used to start its discussion with his interlocutor with the search for definitions. [100] Socrates, in most cases, expects for an someone, who claims expertly on a subject, to have knowledge of the definition of his subject, ie Virtue, or Goodness, before further discussing it. [101] Giving definition a priority to any kind of knowledge, is profound in various of his dialogues, as in Hippias Major or Euthyphro. [102] Some scholars thought have argued that Socrates does not endorse this usualness as a principle, either because they can locate examples of not doing so (ie in Laches, when searching examples of courage in order to define it). [103] In this line, Gregory Vlastos, and other scholars, have argued that the endorsement of the priority principle, actually is a platonic endorsement. [104] Philosophy professor Peter Geach who accepts that Socrates endorses the priority of definitions, finds it though fallacious and he comments: "We know heaps of things without being able to define the terms in which we express our knowledge". [105] Vlastos also, discussing the "Socratic fallacy", detects an inconsistency of Socrates since on one hand he portrays himself as a strong opinioned moral philosopher, on the other hand he is not sure whether his doctrines are true or not. [106] The debate on the issue is still unsettled. [107]

Socratic ignorance

Plato's Socrates often claims that he is aware of his own lack of knowledge, especially when discussing ethics (such as areté, goodness, courage) since he does not possess the knowledge of essential nature of such concepts. [108] For example, Socrates says during his trial, when his life was at stake: "I thought Evenus a happy man, if he really possesses this art ( technē ), and teaches for so moderate a fee. Certainly I would pride and preen myself if I knew ( epistamai ) these things, but I do not know ( epistamai ) them, gentlemen". [109] In another case, when he was informed that the prestigious Oracle of Delphi declare that there is no-one wiser than Socrates, he concluded "So I withdrew and thought to myself: ‘I am wiser ( sophoteron ) than this man it is likely that neither of us knows ( eidenai ) anything worthwhile, but he thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas when I do not know, neither do I think I know so I am likely to be wiser than he to this small extent, that I do not think I know what I do not know". [110] But, in some Plato's dialogue, Socrates appears to credit himself with some knowledge and also he seems strongly opinioned which is weird of a man to hold a strong belief when he posses he has no knowledge at all. [111] For example, at his apology, he says "It is perhaps on this point and in this respect, gentlemen, that I differ from the majority of men, and if I were to claim that I am wiser than anyone in anything, it would be in this, that, as I have no adequate knowledge ( ouk eidōs hikanōs ) of things in the underworld, so I do not think I have. I do know ( oida ), however, that it is wicked and shameful to do wrong ( adikein ), to disobey one’s superior, be he god or man. I shall never fear or avoid things of which I do not know, whether they may not be good rather than things that I know ( oida ) to be bad." [112]

This antiphasis has puzzled scholars. [113] There are varying explanations of the inconsistency, mostly by interpreting knowledge with a different meaning but there is a consensus that Socrates holds that realizing one's lack of knowledge is the first step towards wisdom. [114] While Socrates claims he acquired cognitive achievement in some domains of knowledge, in most important domains in ethics he denies any wisdom. [115]

Socratic irony

There is a widespread assumption that Socrates is an ironist, this is mostly based on the depiction of Socrates by Plato and Aristotle. [116] Irony of Socrates is so subtle and slightly humorous, that often leaves reader wondering if Socrates is making an intentional pun. [117] Plato's Euthyphro is filled with Socratic irony. The story begins when Socrates, is meeting with Euthyphro, a man that has accused his own father for murder- then turning your father to authorities was pretty unpopular. Socrates bites Euthyphro several times, without his interlocutor understanding the irony of Socrates. When Socrates first hears the details of the story, he comments, "It is not, I think, any random person who could do this [prosecute one’s father] correctly, but surely one who is already far progressed in wisdom". When Euthyphro is boasting about his understanding of divinity, Socrates responds "most important that I become your student". [118] Socrates is seen as an ironist ironic commonly when using praises to flatter or when addressing his interlocutors. [119]

Socratic irony was detected by Aristotle, but linked to a different meaning. Aristotle used the term eirōneia (a greek world, later latinized and ending up us the english word irony) to describe Socrates self-deprecation. Eironeia, then, contrary to modern meaning, meant to conceal a narrative that was not stated, while today's irony, the message is clear, even though untold literally. [116] Explanation of why Socrates uses irony divides scholars. The mainstream opinion is that has been around since Cicero, perceives irony is adding a playful note to Socrates that grasp the attention of the audience. [120] Another line is that Socrates conceals his philosophical message with irony, making it accessable only to those who can separate what parts of his thought are ironic and what is not. [121] Gregory Vlastos identified a more complex pattern of irony in Socrates, where his words have double meaning, in which one meaning is being ironical, the other is not- an opinion that didn't convinced many other scholars though. [122]

Not everyone were amused by Socratic irony. Epicourians, the only post-Socrates philosophical school in ancient times that didn't identified themselves as antecessors of Socrates, based their criticism to Socrates to his ironic spirit, while they preferred a more direct approach of teaching. Centuries later, Nietzsche commented on the same issue: "dialectics lets you act like a tyrant you humiliate the people you defeat" [123]

Socratic eudaimonism and intellectualism

For Socrates, the pursuit of eudaimonia is the cause of all human action, directedly or indirectly- eudaimonia is a Greek word standing for happiness or well-being. [124] For Socrates, virtue and knowledge are closely linked to eudaimonia- how close Socrates consider this relation, is still debatable. Some argue that Socrates though virtue, knowledge and eudaimonia are identical, another opinion holds that for Socrates virtue serves as a mean to eudaimonism (identical and sufficiency thesis respectively). [125] Another point of debate is whether, according to Socrates, people desire actual good- or rather what they perceive as good. [125] Socrates total rejection of acting against your impulses or beliefs (named akrasia ) has puzzled scholars. Most scholars believe that Socrates leaves no space for irrational desires, even though some claim that Socrates acknowledge the existence of irrational motivations but do not have a primary role when someone is judging what action would he take. [126]

No-one errs willingly is the hallmark of socratic intellectualism. [127] Socrates intellectualist, giving prominent role to virtue and knowledge. He is also a motivational intellectualist, since he believes that humans actions are guided by their cognitive power to comprehend what they desire, while diminishing the role of impulses. [128] Socratic priority to intellect as the mean to live a good life, diminishing or placing aside irrational beliefs or passions, is the hallmark of Socratic moral philosophy. [129] Text that support Socrates intellectual motivism, as Socrates thesis is named, are mainly the Gorgias 467c–468e (where Socrates discuss the actions of a tyrant actions that do not benefit him) and Meno 77d-78b (where Socrates explains to Meno his view that no-one wants bad things, unless he doesn't have knowledge of what is good and bad. [130] Socrates total rejection of akrasia (acting because of your irrational passions contrary to your knowledge or beliefs) has puzzled scholars. Most scholars believe that Socrates leaves no space for irrational desires, even though some claim that Socrates acknowledge the existence of irrational motivations but do not have a primary role when someone is judging what action would he take. [126]


Socrates religious nonconformity challenged views of his times and his critique reshaped religious discourse for the coming centuries. [131] It was an era when religion was quite different from today- no organized religion and sacred text with the religion intermingling with daily life of citizen who performed their religious duties mainly with sacrifices το gods. [132] Whether Socrates have been piety, a man of religion or a provocateur atheist has been a point of debate since ancient times, his trial included impiety accusations, and the controversy haven't yet ceased. [133]

Socrates discusses divinity and soul mostly in Alciviades, Eythyphro and Plato's Apology. [134] In Alciviades he links human soul to divinity. He is discussing and concludes "Then this part of her resembles God, and whoever looks at this, and comes to know all that is divine, will gain thereby the best knowledge of himself." [135] Socrates discussions on religion, are under the scope of his rationalism. [136]

Socrates, at Eythyphro, discussing piety where reaches a revolutionary conclussion far from the age's ussual practice. Socrates deems sacrifices to Gods useless, especially that are reward-driven. Instead he calls for philosophising and pursuit of knowledge as a mean to worship gods, [137] The rejection of traditional forms of piety placed moral burden to ordinary Athenians- who also were his jurors at his trial. [138] Also, Socrates reasoning was providing an wise and just Gods, a perception far from traditional religion that. [138]

Belief in Gods is affirmed by Socrates in Plato's Apology, where Socrates says to the jurors that he recognize gods more than his accusers. [139] For Plato's Socrates, the existence of gods is taken for granded, in no of his dialogues did he examined whether gods did exist or not. [140] On Apology, a case for Socrates being agnostic can be made based on Socrates talk of the unknown after death. [141] , and in Phaedo (the dialogue with his students in his last day) Socrates hinds on his hopes of the immortality of the soul. [142]

In Xenophon's Memorabilia, Socrates constructs an argument resonating with the argument of intelligent design. He claims that since there are lot of features in the universe that exhibit "signs of forethought" (ie eyelids), a Maker should have created universe. [140] He then rationally deduce that the Maker should be omniscient and omnipotent and also, created the universe on the advance of humankind, since we naturally have many skills other animals do not. [140] Worthnoting is also that Socrates did speak sometimes of a single deity, other times of gods meaning he either believed that a supreme deity was in command of other gods, or the various gods were manifestations of the single deity. [143]


The beliefs of Socrates, as distinct from those of Plato, are difficult to discern. Little in the way of concrete evidence exists to demarcate the two. The lengthy presentation of ideas given in most of the dialogues may be the ideas of Socrates himself, but which have been subsequently deformed or changed by Plato, and some scholars think Plato so adapted the Socratic style as to make the literary character and the philosopher himself impossible to distinguish. Others argue that Socrates did have his own theories and beliefs distinct from Plato. [144] There is a degree of controversy inherent in the identifying of what these might have been, owing to the difficulty of separating Socrates from Plato and the difficulty of interpreting even the dramatic writings concerning Socrates. Consequently, distinguishing the philosophical beliefs of Socrates from those of Plato and Xenophon has not proven easy, so it must be remembered that what is attributed to Socrates might actually be more the specific concerns of these two thinkers instead.

The matter is complicated because the historical Socrates seems to have been notorious for asking questions but not answering, claiming to lack wisdom concerning the subjects about which he questioned others. [145]

If anything in general can be said about the philosophical beliefs of Socrates, it is that he was morally, intellectually, and politically at odds with many of his fellow Athenians. When he is on trial for heresy and corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens, he uses his method of elenchos to demonstrate to the jurors that their moral values are wrong-headed. He tells them they are concerned with their families, careers, and political responsibilities when they ought to be worried about the "welfare of their souls". Socrates' assertion that the gods had singled him out as a divine emissary seemed to provoke irritation, if not outright ridicule. Socrates also questioned the Sophistic doctrine that arete (virtue) can be taught. He liked to observe that successful fathers (such as the prominent military general Pericles) did not produce sons of their own quality. Socrates argued that moral excellence was more a matter of divine bequest than parental nurture. This belief may have contributed to his lack of anxiety about the future of his own sons.

Also, according to A. A. Long, "There should be no doubt that, despite his claim to know only that he knew nothing, Socrates had strong beliefs about the divine", and, citing Xenophon's Memorabilia, 1.4, 4.3,:

According to Xenophon, he was a teleologist who held that god arranges everything for the best. [146]

Socrates frequently says his ideas are not his own, but his teachers'. He mentions several influences: Prodicus the rhetor and Anaxagoras the philosopher. Perhaps surprisingly, Socrates claims to have been deeply influenced by two women besides his mother: he says that Diotima (cf. Plato's Symposium), a witch and priestess from Mantinea, taught him all he knows about eros, or love and that Aspasia, the mistress of Pericles, taught him the art of rhetoric. [147] John Burnet argued that his principal teacher was the Anaxagorean Archelaus but his ideas were as Plato described them Eric A. Havelock, on the other hand, did not accept the view that Socrates' view was identical with that of Archelaus, in large part due to the reason of such anomalies and contradictions that have surfaced and "post-dated his death." [ clarification needed ] [148]

Virtue and Knowledge

Socrates is known for disavowing knowledge, a relevant well known comment is his axiom "I know that I know nothing" which often attributed to Socrates, based on a statement in Plato's Apology the same view is repeatedly found elsewhere in early Plato writings on Socrates. [149] But it contradicts other statements of Socrates, when he claims he has knowledge. For example, in Plato's Apology Socrates says: ". but that to do injustice and disobey my superior, god or man, this I know to be evil and base. ".(Ap. 29B6-7) [150] Or at his debate with Callicles: ". I know well that if you will agree with me on those things which my soul believes, those things will be the very truth. " [150] But does it reflect a truthful opinion of Socrates or is he pretending he lacks knowledge, is a matter of debate. A usual interpretation is that he is not telling the truth. According to Norman Gulley, Socrates is trying to entice his interlocutors to a discussion. On the opposite side, Irwin Terrence claims that Socrates words should be taken literally. [151] Vlastos after exploring text, he argues that there is enough evidence to refute both claims. Vlastos claims that for Socrates, knowledge can take two separate meanings, Knowledge-C and Knowledge-E (C stands for Certain, and E stands for Elenchus-ie the socratic method). Knowledge-C is the something unquestionable whereas Knowlegde-E is the result of his elenchus, his way of examining things. [152] So, Socrates speaks the truth when he says he knows-C something, and he is also true when he knows-E that is evil for someone to disobey his superiors, as he claimed in Plato's Apology [153] Not everyone was impressed by Vlastos semanic dualism, J.H. Lesher argued that Socrates claimed in various dialogues that one word is linked to one meaning (ie in Hippias major, Meno, Laches). [154] Lesher way out of the problem is by suggesting that Socrates claim that he had no knowledge referred to the nature of virtues, but also Socrates thought that in some cases, someone could have knowledge on some ethical propositions. [155]

Socrates theory of virtue stands that all virtues are essentially one since they are a form of knowledge. [156] In Protagoras Socrates makes the case for the unity of virtues using the example of courage: if someone has knowledge of the danger, he can undertake risky tasks- for example a well trained diver can swim in a deep sea cave. [157] Aristotle comments: ". Socrates the elder thought that the end of life was knowledge of virtue, and he used to seek for the definition of justice, courage, and each of the parts of virtue, and this was a reasonable approach, since he thought that all virtues were sciences, and that as soon as one knew [for example] justice, he would be just. " [158]

Socratic philosophy of politics

Socrates view himself as a political artist. In 'Plato's Gorgias. He tells Callimachus: "I believe that I’m one of a few Athenians – so as not to say I’m the only one, but the only one among our contemporaries – to take up the true political craft and practice the true politics. This is because the speeches I make on each occasion do not aim at gratifi cation but at what’s best." [159] . His claim illustrates his aversion for the established democratic asseblies and procedings as votings- as Socrates didn't held any respect for politicians and rhetorians for using tricks to mislead the public. [160] He he never run for an office or suggested any legislation. [161] His aim was to help the City to flourish- that was his true political art. [160] As a citizen he was lawful. He obeyed the laws, completed his military duty with fighting wars abroad. His dialogues were not about contemporary political decisions- such as the Sicilian Expedition. [161]

Socrates was scrutinizing citizens, among them powerful members of Athenian society and brought the contradictions of their beliefs to light- Socrates believed he was doing them a favor since, since for Socrates politics was about shaping the moral landscape of the City through philosophy rather than electoral procedures. [162] In the polarizing climate among oligarchs and democrats in ancient Greece, there is a debate where Socrates stood. While there is no clear textual evidence, one mainline holds that Socrates was leaning towards Democracy with main arguments i)disobeyed the one order the oligarchic government of Thirty Tyrants handed to him, ii)he was respecting laws and the political system of Athens which was formulated by democrats and lastly iii)he was so satisfied with -democratic- Athens, he didn't want to escape prison and death penalty. On the other hand, oligarching leaning Socrates opinions is based on i)most of his friends were oligarchists, ii)he was contemptful the of the opinion of the many and iii) in Protagoras his argumentation had some anti-democratic elements. [163] A less mainstream argument suggests that Socrates was for democratic republicanism as he placed the City above the persons and stands in the middle ground of democrats and oligarchs. [164]

Another suggestion is that Socrates was in line with liberalism- a political ideology formed in the Age of Enlightenment but Socrates though has some parallel lines its moral considerations. This argument is mostly based on Critias and Apology where Socrates talk about mutual benefits of the citizen who prefers to stays in the City and the city, resonates the reasoning of 17th century social contract. [165] Also, Socrates has been seen as the first proponent of civil disobedience. Socrates strong objection to injustice, as he says in Critias: one ought never act unjustly, even to repay a wrong that has been done to oneself" along with his refusal to serve the Thirty Tyrants order to arrest Leon are suggestive of this line. [166] But in the broader picture, Socrates counsel would be for citizens to follow orders of the state, unless, after much reflection, are deemed unjust. [167]

There are a couple of textual passages that suggest that Socrates had a love affair with Alkiviades and other young males but also, other text suggest that Socrates did not practice pederasty, which was common in ancient Greece, and his friendship with young boys indented to improve them. In Gorgias Socrates claims he was a dual lover of Alkiviades and philosophy, and his flirtinousness is evident at Protagoras, Meno (76a–c) and Phaedrus (227c–d). But the exact nature of the relation is not clear, since Socrates was know for his self-restraining, and, as for Alkiviades, in Symposium admits that he had tried to seduce Socrates, but failed. [168]

The Socratic theory of love is mostly deduced by Lysis where Socrates talks about love. [169] There, at a wrestling school, Socrates talks to Lysis and his friends. They start their dialogue with investigating parental love and how their love is manifested with respect to freedom and boundaries they set for their child. Socrates concludes that if Lysis is utterly useless, nobody will love him, not even his parents. While most scholars take this text rather humorously, Gregory Vlastos suggests that it reveals Socratic doctrine on love which is an egoistic one- according to which we only love people that they are use us in some way, we want to benefit from them. [170] Others scholars disagree with Vlastos view, either because they affirm that Socrates leaves room for non-egoistical love to spoure, or deny that Socrates is suggesting any egoistical motivation at all. [171] A form of utility childen have for parents, as Socrates claims in Symposium is they offer the fault impression of immortality. [172] In any case, for Socrates, love is rational. [173]


In the Dialogues of Plato, though Socrates sometimes seems to support a mystical side, discussing reincarnation and the mystery religions, this is generally attributed to Plato. [174] Regardless, this view of Socrates cannot be dismissed out of hand, as we cannot be sure of the differences between the views of Plato and Socrates in addition, there seem to be some corollaries in the works of Xenophon. In the culmination of the philosophic path as discussed in Plato's Symposium, one comes to the Sea of Beauty or to the sight of "the beautiful itself" (211C) only then can one become wise. (In the Symposium, Socrates credits his speech on the philosophic path to his teacher, the priestess Diotima, who is not even sure if Socrates is capable of reaching the highest mysteries.) In the Meno, he refers to the Eleusinian Mysteries, telling Meno he would understand Socrates' answers better if only he could stay for the initiations next week. Further confusions result from the nature of these sources, insofar as the Platonic Dialogues are arguably the work of an artist-philosopher, whose meaning does not volunteer itself to the passive reader nor again the lifelong scholar. According to Olympiodorus the Younger in his Life of Plato, [175] Plato himself "received instruction from the writers of tragedy" before taking up the study of philosophy. His works are, indeed, dialogues Plato's choice of this, the medium of Sophocles, Euripides, and the fictions of theatre, may reflect the ever-interpretable nature of his writings, as he has been called a "dramatist of reason". What is more, the first word of nearly all Plato's works is a significant term for that respective dialogue, and is used with its many connotations in mind. Finally, the Phaedrus and the Symposium each allude to Socrates' coy delivery of philosophic truths in conversation the Socrates of the Phaedrus goes so far as to demand such dissembling and mystery in all writing. The covertness we often find in Plato, appearing here and there couched in some enigmatic use of symbol and/or irony, may be at odds with the mysticism Plato's Socrates expounds in some other dialogues. These indirect methods may fail to satisfy some readers.

Perhaps the most interesting facet of this is Socrates' reliance on what the Greeks called his "daimōnic sign", an averting (ἀποτρεπτικός apotreptikos) inner voice Socrates heard only when he was about to make a mistake. It was this sign that prevented Socrates from entering into politics. In the Phaedrus, we are told Socrates considered this to be a form of "divine madness", the sort of insanity that is a gift from the gods. [ citation needed ] Alternately, the sign is often taken to be what we would call "intuition" however, Socrates' characterization of the phenomenon as daimōnic may suggest that its origin is divine, mysterious, and independent of his own thoughts.

Socrates practiced and advocated divination. [176] Xenophon was thought skilled at foretelling from sacrifices, and attributed many of his knowledges to Socrates within his writing "The Cavalry Commander". [176]

He was prominently lampooned in Aristophanes' comedy The Clouds, produced when Socrates was in his mid-forties he said at his trial (according to Plato) that the laughter of the theatre was a harder task to answer than the arguments of his accusers. Søren Kierkegaard believed this play was a more accurate representation of Socrates than those of his students. In the play, Socrates is ridiculed for his dirtiness, which is associated with the Laconizing fad also in plays by Callias, Eupolis, and Telecleides. Other comic poets who lampooned Socrates include Mnesimachus and Ameipsias. In all of these, Socrates and the Sophists were criticized for "the moral dangers inherent in contemporary thought and literature".

Plato, Xenophon, and Aristotle are the main sources for the historical Socrates however, Xenophon and Plato were students of Socrates, and they may idealize him however, they wrote the only extended descriptions of Socrates that have come down to us in their complete form. Aristotle refers frequently, but in passing, to Socrates in his writings. Almost all of Plato's works center on Socrates. However, Plato's later works appear to be more his own philosophy put into the mouth of his mentor.

The Socratic dialogues

The Socratic Dialogues are a series of dialogues written by Plato and Xenophon in the form of discussions between Socrates and other persons of his time, or as discussions between Socrates' followers over his concepts. Plato's Phaedo is an example of this latter category. Although his Apology is a monologue delivered by Socrates, it is usually grouped with the Dialogues.

The Apology professes to be a record of the actual speech Socrates delivered in his own defence at the trial. In the Athenian jury system, an "apology" is composed of three parts: a speech, followed by a counter-assessment, then some final words. "Apology" is an anglicized transliteration, not a translation, of the Greek apologia, meaning "defense" in this sense it is not apologetic according to our contemporary use of the term.

Plato generally does not place his own ideas in the mouth of a specific speaker he lets ideas emerge via the Socratic Method, under the guidance of Socrates. Most of the dialogues present Socrates applying this method to some extent, but nowhere as completely as in the Euthyphro. In this dialogue, Socrates and Euthyphro go through several iterations of refining the answer to Socrates' question, "What is the pious, and what the impious?" (see Euthyphro dilemma).

In Plato's Dialogues, learning appears as a process of remembering. The soul, before its incarnation in the body, was in the realm of Ideas (very similar to the Platonic "Forms"). There, it saw things the way they truly are, rather than the pale shadows or copies we experience on earth. By a process of questioning, the soul can be brought to remember the ideas in their pure form, thus bringing wisdom. [177]

Especially for Plato's writings referring to Socrates, it is not always clear which ideas brought forward by Socrates (or his friends) actually belonged to Socrates and which of these may have been new additions or elaborations by Plato—this is known as the Socratic Problem. Generally, the early works of Plato are considered to be close to the spirit of Socrates, whereas the later works—including Phaedo and Republic—are considered to be possibly products of Plato's elaborations. [178]

Immediate influence

Immediately, the students of Socrates set to work both on exercising their perceptions of his teachings in politics and also on developing many new philosophical schools of thought.

Some of Athens' controversial and anti-democratic tyrants were contemporary or posthumous students of Socrates including Alcibiades and Critias.

Critias' cousin, Plato, would go on to found the Academy in 385 BC, which gained so much renown that "Academy" became the standard word for educational institutions in later European languages such as English, French, and Italian. [179] While "Socrates dealt with moral matters and took no notice at all of nature in general", [180] in his Dialogues, Plato would emphasize mathematics with metaphysical overtones mirroring that of Pythagoras—the former who would dominate Western thought well into the Renaissance.

Plato's protégé, another important figure of the Classical era, Aristotle went on to tutor Alexander the Great and also to found his own school in 335 BC—the Lyceum—whose name also now means an educational institution. [181] Aristotle himself was as much of a philosopher as he was a scientist with extensive work in the fields of biology and physics.

Socratic thought which challenged conventions, especially in stressing a simplistic way of living, became divorced from Plato's more detached and philosophical pursuits. This idea was inherited by one of Socrates' older students, Antisthenes, who became the originator of another philosophy in the years after Socrates' death: Cynicism. The idea of asceticism being hand in hand with an ethical life or one with piety, ignored by Plato and Aristotle and somewhat dealt with by the Cynics, formed the core of another philosophy in 281 BC—Stoicism when Zeno of Citium would discover Socrates' works and then learn from Crates, a Cynic philosopher. [182]

Socrates' student, Aristippus, rejected the asceticism of the Cynics and instead embraced ethical hedonism, founding Cyrenaicism.

Another of Socrates' students, Euclides of Megara, founded the Megarian school of philosophy. Its ethical teachings were derived from Socrates, recognizing a single good, which was apparently combined with the Eleatic doctrine of Unity. Some of Euclides' successors developed logic to such an extent that they became a separate school, known as the Dialectical school. Their work on modal logic, logical conditionals, and propositional logic played an important role in the development of logic in antiquity.

Later historical influence

While some of the later contributions of Socrates to Hellenistic Era culture and philosophy as well as the Roman Era have been lost to time, his teachings began a resurgence in both medieval Europe and the Islamic Middle East alongside those of Aristotle and Stoicism. Socrates is mentioned in the dialogue Kuzari by Jewish philosopher and rabbi Yehuda Halevi in which a Jew instructs the Khazar king about Judaism. [183] Al-Kindi, a well-known Arabic philosopher, introduced and tried to reconcile Socrates and Hellenistic philosophy to an Islamic audience, [184] referring to him by the name 'Suqrat'.

Socrates influence grew in Western Europe during the fourteenth century as Plato's dialogues were made available in Latin by Marsilio Ficino and Xenophon's Socratic writings were translated by Basilios Bessarion. [185] Voltaire even went so far as to write a satirical play about the trial of Socrates. There were a number of paintings about his life including Socrates Tears Alcibiades from the Embrace of Sensual Pleasure by Jean-Baptiste Regnault and The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David in the later 18th century.

To this day, different versions of the Socratic method are still used in classroom and law school discourse to expose underlying issues in both subject and the speaker. He has been recognized with accolades ranging from frequent mentions in pop culture (such as the movie Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and a Greek rock band called Socrates Drank the Conium) to numerous busts in academic institutions in recognition of his contribution to education.

Over the past century, numerous plays about Socrates have also focused on Socrates' life and influence. One of the most recent has been Socrates on Trial, a play based on Aristophanes' Clouds and Plato's Apology, Crito, and Phaedo, all adapted for modern performance.


Evaluation of and reaction to Socrates has been undertaken by both historians and philosophers from the time of his death to the present day with a multitude of conclusions and perspectives. Although he was not directly prosecuted for his connection to Critias, leader of the Spartan-backed Thirty Tyrants, and "showed considerable personal courage in refusing to submit to [them]", he was seen by some as a figure who mentored oligarchs who became abusive tyrants, and undermined Athenian democracy. The Sophistic movement that he railed at in life survived him, but by the 3rd century BC, was rapidly overtaken by the many philosophical schools of thought that Socrates influenced. [186]

Socrates' death is considered iconic, and his status as a martyr of philosophy overshadows most contemporary and posthumous criticism. However, Xenophon mentions Socrates' "arrogance" and that he was "an expert in the art of pimping" or "self-presentation". [187] Lactantius wrote: "Socrates therefore had something of human wisdom . But many of his actions are not only undeserving of praise, but also most deserving of censure, in which things he most resembled those of his own class. Out of these I will select one which may be judged of by all. Socrates used this well-known proverb: 'That which is above us is nothing to us.' . The same man swore by a dog and a goose . Oh buffoon (as Zeno the Epicurean says), senseless, abandoned, desperate man! If he wished to scoff at religion—madman, if he did this seriously, so as to esteem a most base animal as God! For who can dare to find fault with the superstitions of the Egyptians, when Socrates confirmed them at Athens by his authority? But was it not a mark of consummate vanity, that before his death he asked his friends to sacrifice for him a cock which he had vowed to Aesculapius? He evidently feared lest he should be put upon his trial before Rhadamanthus, the judge, by Aesculapius on account of the vow. I should consider him most mad if he had died under the influence of disease. But since he did this in his sound mind, he who thinks that he was wise is himself of unsound mind." [188] Direct criticism of Socrates the man almost disappears after his death, [ citation needed ] but there is a noticeable preference for Plato or Aristotle over the elements of Socratic philosophy distinct from those of his students, even into the Middle Ages. [ citation needed ]

Some modern scholarship [ citation needed ] holds that, with so much of his own thought obscured and possibly altered by Plato, it is impossible to gain a clear picture of Socrates amid all the contradictory evidence. That both Cynicism and Stoicism, which carried heavy influence from Socratic thought, were unlike or even contrary to Platonism further illustrates this. [ citation needed ] The ambiguity and lack of reliability serve as the modern basis of criticism—that it is nearly impossible to know the real Socrates. Some controversy also exists about Socrates' attitude towards homosexuality [189] and as to whether or not he believed in the Olympian gods, was monotheistic, or held some other religious viewpoint. [190] However, it is still commonly taught and held with little exception that Socrates is the progenitor of subsequent Western philosophy, to the point that philosophers before him are referred to as pre-Socratic. [ citation needed ]

A brief history of menstruating in space

Before women started flying in space, NASA was a little worried they might die having their periods.


The Mercury astronauts (Cooper, Schirra, Shepard, Grissom, Glenn, Slayton, Carpenter) lined up in front of their spacecraft. NASA

In honor of Sally Ride’s birthday and the historic Falcon 9 rocket launch this week, we’re reliving one of the age-old questions that kept female astronauts out of space for decades.

This story was originally published on June 10, 2016.

When NASA was preparing for Sally Ride’s first spaceflight in 1983, there was some question about what should go in her personal kit. Namely, engineers needed to figure out how many tampons she would need for a one-week mission. “Is 100 the right number?” they asked her. “No. That would not be the right number,” she replied. The engineers explained they wanted to be safe, and she assured them that they could cut that number in half without a problem.

After first allowing women into the astronaut corps in 1978, NASA really didn’t know what to do with them. Funny as questions over tampons and possible makeup kits in space seem in hindsight, it’s an interesting look at an agency’s rude awakening when faced with a whole new suite of astronauts.

Women not in space

In 1959, 32 military test pilots went through some of the most rigorous physical testing ever devised at the Lovelace clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The men were probed, prodded, inspected inside and out until not a body single secret was kept from the physicians. Seven of the men went on to pass similarly rigorous psychological screening and emerged as NASA’s first class of astronauts.

The following year, the clinic’s founder, Dr. Randy Lovelace, along with USAF Brigadier General Donald Flickinger invited pilot Geraldine “Jerrie” Cobb to go through the same testing. The men were curious to see how women would fare. On average, women are smaller, lighter, and consume fewer resources than men, making them potentially better suited to flying in the cramped spacecraft of the 1960s. Cobb passed the tests, and by the end of the summer of 1961, another 18 female pilots had submitted to the same rigorous testing as the Mercury astronauts. The only difference was the addition of a gynecological exam.

Thirteen women ultimately passed, proving themselves as ready for spaceflight as any of the Mercury astronauts. They actually had a higher success rate than the men only 18 of the 32 male candidates passed the physical testing, a 56 percent success rate compared to 68 percent for the women.

Jerrie Cobb poses with a Mercury spacecraft. NASA

But however physically fit, there was some question over women’s suitability to spaceflight. In a 1964 report published after the short-lived women’s program was terminated, the question was raised whether a menstrual cycle would affect a woman’s ability to work in space. The authors point specifically to the “intricacies of matching a temperamental psychophysiologic [read: PMS-ing] human and the complicated machine [i.e. spacecraft].” The difficulties, they said, “are many and, obviously, both need to be ready at the same time [read: the woman would have to time a flight to her cycle].” The implication is clear: a menstruating or hormonal woman just wouldn’t be able to handle herself in the challenging environment of spaceflight.

But it was probably fine, the report concluded, because “it seems doubtful that women will be in demand for space roles in the very near future.” Besides, for the moment in the mid-1960s, NASA wasn’t open to women. The requirements for astronauts stipulated that they be military test pilots, and this excluded women across the board. No amount of campaigning would change the agency’s ruling during the Space Race.

The rules governing astronaut candidacy changed in the post-Apollo era. The agency began breaking its astronauts into two categories: pilots and mission specialists. At the same time it also opened applications to a wider swath of the population. The astronaut class of 1978 brought 35 new members into the fold. Three were African American men, one was an Asian American man, and six were women.

NASA’s Group 8 was the first to bring women into the astronaut corps. NASA

Blood in space

With female astronauts training for spaceflight, NASA finally had to address the issue of merging a “temperamental psychophysiologic human” with a “complicated machine.” And specifically, what would happen when that “temperamental psychophysiologic human” went through a menstrual cycle in said “complicated machine” in microgravity.

By the 1970s, NASA knew that the cardiovascular system was greatly affected by spaceflight. Because humans evolved in Earth’s gravity, our bodies got really good at fighting gravity to pump blood from the lower extremities to the chest, where that blood can be reoxygenated and recirculated through the body. But when there’s no gravity to fight, the system gets sort of “lazy.” The heart doesn’t need to work as hard, and blood and fluids pool in the upper body and head, giving astronauts the characteristic puffy face/chicken legs look.

Knowing this, engineers and flight surgeons weren’t sure if something similar might happen to a menstruating woman in space. If blood in the body pools in the torso and head, could menstrual blood float upwards and pool in the abdomen? Retrograde menstrual flow was a real worry because the consequences could be significant. Worst case, this could cause a condition known as peritonitis, an inflammation of the membrane lining the abdominal wall and organ inside the abdomen. Left untreated, peritonitis can be a life-threatening condition. No one wanted to send a woman into space only to have her die because of her body’s natural cycle.

But there’s a pretty big difference between blood circulation and menstruation (lots of differences, really, to be clear): the former is controlled by a network of arteries and veins that work all the time while the latter is controlled by hormones. The flow of menstrual blood isn’t guided the way circulating blood is. So while male engineers were worried about retrograde bleeding, the female astronauts weren’t worried at all they expected a period in space to be the same as a period on Earth and wanted to treat it as a non-issue until it became an issue. The problem was, there was no way to prove the women right. Someone would have to menstruate in space to close the issue.

Sally Ride in orbit (and I’m not implying she was the first to menstruate in space!) NASA

To bleed or not to bleed

It’s not clear who was the first woman to menstruate in space, but someone did it and the answer came back just as the female astronauts expected it would: a period is the same in space as on Earth.

The challenge then became for NASA to deal with its menstruating astronauts. No two women menstruate exactly alike or have the same preferences, so the agency had to make provisions for women to carry the right number of their favored implements on board, be they pads or tampons. But when you’re dealing with spaceflight and rocket science, this is a pretty easy problem to solve.

There is, however, another option for female astronauts and that’s not having periods at all. Properly called medically induced amenorrhea, it’s possible to suppress menstruation by messing with the body’s natural hormones, which is what some birth control methods do. The combined oral contraceptive pill is taken daily. For 21 days the pills contain an active ingredient that suppresses ovulation and thins the uterine lining. The fourth week is seven days of a placebo pill that allows the body to go through withdrawal bleeding, which is different than menstruation. Taking the active pill for a full month, or many months, completely stops any bleeding (though there might be light spotting).

Another option is an hormonal intrauterine device (IUD) that achieves the same result through a localized release of low dose hormones. In some cases, like spaceflight, this could be a better option. Not only does an IUD negate the risk of missing a pill and getting a period, it’s small and inside the body. An astronaut could be in space for years—say, on a mission to Mars—and not have to think twice about menstruating. It would just be a non-issue. And she could resume a natural cycle once the IUD is removed.

NASA’s first female astronauts: Shannon Lucid, Rhea Seddon, Kathy Sullivan, Judy Resnik, Anna Fisher, and Sally Ride. NASA

Even in the immediate future there are some advantages to astronauts suppressing menstruation. The toilets on the American side of the International Space Station are deigned to recycle water from urine, but they aren’t designed to handle menstrual blood, so minimizing bleeding means more reclaimed water on board. There’s also the practical side of having limited hygiene products and clean clothes in space. Not having to change a pad or tampon could make a trip more comfortable.

But at the end of the day, NASA does have provisions on board the ISS for astronauts to menstruate in space should they choose to go with a natural body cycle or not use hormonal birth control. Which is a good thing. Not only are women not dying having periods in space, they have the same Earthly right to make their own choices about their reproductive health.

Was Socrates in Space? A Question of Ancient Spaceflight - History

"60 seconds of rocket burn, straight into space," Virgin Galactic tweeted today, sharing a video of their historic launch.

CNN reports: Virgin Galactic's rocket-powered plane, carrying two pilots, soared into the upper atmosphere on its third mission to reach space Saturday morning. The success cues up Virgin Galactic to begin launching paying customers within the next year as the company works to finish its testing campaign at its new headquarters in New Mexico.

Spaceplane VSS Unity reached an altitude of 55.45 miles, according to the company. The U.S. government recognizes the 50-mile mark as the edge of space. The company tweeted Saturday morning that the spaceflight carried technology experiments for NASA's Flight Opportunities Program.

Saturday's flight comes after Virgin Galactic's last spaceflight attempt ended abruptly when the rocket engine that powers the space plane, called VSS Unity, failed to ignite, setting the company's testing schedule back by months. Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson in 2004, has spent years pledging to take groups of customers on brief, scenic flights to suborbital space. But the company has faced a series of complications and delays, including a 2014 test flight crash that left one pilot dead.

Nonetheless, Virgin Galactic has already sold tickets for $200,000 to $250,000 to more than 600 people.
The company said it also collected data "to be used for the final two verification reports that are required as part of the current FAA commercial reusable spacecraft operator's license." Virgin Galactic's CEO called it "a major step forward for both Virgin Galactic and human spaceflight in New Mexico. Space travel is a bold and adventurous endeavor, and I am incredibly proud of our talented team for making the dream of private space travel a reality."

In fact, this was the first ever spaceflight from Spaceport America, New Mexico, making it the third U.S. state to launch humans into space. New Mexico Governor Lujan Grisham said proudly in the company's statement that "After so many years and so much hard work, New Mexico has finally reached the stars." To commemorate the moment, the flight carried New Mexico's traditional green chile seeds, and featured the Zia Sun Symbol from the state flag on the outside of the spaceship. "The crew experienced extraordinary views of the bright, blue-rimmed curvature of the earth against the blackness of space," reads the statement from Virgin Galactic, adding that New Mexico's White Sands National Park "sparkled brilliantly below."

And pilot-in-command CJ Sturckow now becomes the first person ever to have flown to space from three different states.

Who's an astronaut as private spaceflight picks up speed?

In this Saturday, April 28, 2001 image from video made available by the Russian Space Agency, U.S. space tourist, California millionaire Dennis Tito sits inside the cockpit of the Soyuz spaceship, at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakstan, before he and Russian cosmonauts Talgat Musabayev and Yuri Baturin travel to the International Space Station. Credit: Russian Space Agency via AP

As more companies start selling tickets to space, a question looms: Who gets to call themselves an astronaut?

It's already a complicated issue and about to get more so as the wealthy snap up spacecraft seats and even entire flights for themselves and their entourages.

Astronauts? Amateur astronauts? Space tourists? Space sightseers? Rocket riders? Or as the Russians have said for decades, spaceflight participants?

NASA's new boss Bill Nelson doesn't consider himself an astronaut even though he spent six days orbiting Earth in 1986 aboard space shuttle Columbia—as a congressman.

"I reserve that term for my professional colleagues," Nelson recently told The Associated Press.

Computer game developer Richard Garriott—who paid his way to the International Space Station in 2008 with the Russians—hates the space tourist label. "I am an astronaut," he declared in an email, explaining that he trained for two years for the mission.

"If you go to space, you're an astronaut," said Axiom Space's Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut who will accompany three businessmen to the space station in January, flying SpaceX. His $55 million-a-seat clients plan to conduct research up there, he stressed, and do not consider themselves space tourists.

In this Jan. 11, 1961 file photo, Marine Lt. Col. John Glenn reaches for controls inside a Mercury capsule procedures trainer as he shows how the first U.S. astronaut will ride through space during a demonstration at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Research Center in Langley Field, Va. In 2021, as more companies start selling tickets to space and the cosmos opens for travel like never before, a question looms above all others. Who gets to call themselves an astronaut? Credit: AP Photo/File

On Tuesday, Axiom Space announced a second flight for next year that will be led by the company's Peggy Whitson, a retired NASA astronaut who's spent 665 days in space, more than any other American. Her No. 2 will be businessman-turned-race car driver John Shoffner, of Knoxville, Tennessee, who's also paying around $55 million. "I've asked Peggy to throw the book at me in training. Make me an astronaut," he said.

There's something enchanting about the word: Astronaut comes from the Greek words for star and sailor. And swashbuckling images of "The Right Stuff" and NASA's original Mercury 7 astronauts make for great marketing.

Jeff Bezos' rocket company, Blue Origin, is already calling its future clients "astronauts." It's auctioning off one seat on its first spaceflight with people on board, targeted for July. NASA even has a new acronym: PAM for Private Astronaut Mission.

Retired NASA astronaut Mike Mullane didn't consider himself an astronaut until his first space shuttle flight in 1984, six years after his selection by NASA.

"It doesn't matter if you buy a ride or you're assigned to a ride," said Mullane, whose 2006 autobiography is titled "Riding Rockets." Until you strap into a rocket and reach a certain altitude, "you're not an astronaut."

This undated illustration provided by Blue Origin shows the capsule that the company aims to take tourists into space. Jeff Bezos' rocket company is already calling its future clients "astronauts." One seat is up for grabs on the New Shepard rocket's debut passenger flight scheduled for July 2021 an online auction is underway. Credit: Blue Origin via AP

It remains a coveted assignment. More than 12,000 applied for NASA's upcoming class of astronauts a lucky dozen or so will be selected in December.

But what about passengers who are along for the ride, like the Russian actress and movie director who will fly to the space station in October? Or Japan's moonstruck billionaire who will follow them from Kazakhstan in December with his production assistant tagging along to document everything? In each case, a professional cosmonaut will be in charge of the Soyuz capsule.

SpaceX's high tech capsules are completely automated, as are Blue Origin's. So should rich riders and their guests be called astronauts even if they learn the ropes in case they need to intervene in an emergency?

Perhaps even more important, where does space begin?

The Federal Aviation Administration limits its commercial astronaut wings to flight crews. The minimum altitude is 50 miles (80 kilometers). It's awarded seven so far recipients include the two pilots for Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic who made another test flight of the company's rocket ship Saturday.

In this Monday, March 29, 2021 photo provided by SpaceX, from left, Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski pose for a photo on the SpaceX launch tower at NASA's Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla. SpaceX's high tech capsules are completely automated, as are Blue Origin's. So should wealthy riders and their guests be called astronauts even if they learn the ropes in case they need to intervene in an emergency? Credit: SpaceX via AP, File

Others define space as beginning at an even 100 kilometers, or 62 miles above sea level.

Blue Origin's capsules are designed to reach that threshold and provide a few minutes of weightlessness before returning to Earth, By contrast, it takes 1 1/2 hours to circle the world. The Association of Space Explorers requires at least one orbit of Earth—in a spacecraft—for membership.

The Astronauts Memorial Foundation honors all those who sacrificed their lives for the U.S. space program even if they never reached space, like Challenger schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe and the test pilot killed in a 2014 Virgin Galactic crash. Also on the Space Mirror Memorial at NASA's Kennedy Space Center: X-15 and F-104 Air Force pilots who were part of a military space program that never got off the ground.

The astronaut debate has been around since the 1960s, according to Garriott. His late father, Owen Garriott, was among the first so-called scientist-astronauts hired by NASA the test pilots in the office resented sharing the job title.

It might be necessary to retire the term altogether once hundreds if not thousands reach space, noted Fordham University history professor Asif Siddiqi, the author of several space books. "Are we going to call each and every one of them astronauts?"

This Oct. 25, 1985 photo made available by NASA shows U.S. Rep. Bill Nelson of Florida, STS 61-C payload specialist. In a May 2021 interview, Nelson, NASA's new boss, doesn't consider himself an astronaut, even though he spent six days orbiting Earth in 1986 aboard space shuttle Columbia - as a congressman. Credit: NASA via AP

Mullane, the three-time space shuttle flier, suggests using astronaut first class, second class, third class, "depending on what your involvement is, whether you pull out a wallet and write a check."

While a military-style pecking order might work, former NASA historian Roger Launius warned: "This gets really complicated really quickly."

In the end, Mullane noted, "Astronaut is not a copyrighted word. So anybody who wants to call themselves an astronaut can call themselves an astronaut, whether they've been in space or not."

© 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

The Death of Socrates – Why and how Socrates died?

Athens was faced with severe economic turmoil after the Decelean or the Ionian War which concluded in 404 B.C. wherein the Spartans thwarted the Athenians. By this time Socrates had earned quite a reputation among the elite in Athens. He questioned those in authority and the beliefs that had been propagated through the centuries. His inquiring mind was instrumental in forming the basis of Western philosophy.

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The failures of the democratic government had sowed the seeds of doubts in the minds of the common man, who began pondering if such a political ideology was befitting for the country. Entire Greece had to bear the brunt of the Peloponnesian War but Athens was struggling the most. It was never able to restore its fallen pride and prosperity after accepting the subjugation by Sparta.

Socrates seemed to be a convenient distraction from the impending economic mess. His growing stature and his audacious nature brewed dissent among many of the oligarchs. And his trial was probably a frail attempt at diverting the attention of masses from the political scenario.

Despite being counseled otherwise, Socrates decided to stand up against the prevailing norms of politics and society. He believed, as a loyal citizen of Athens, it was his duty to pinpoint the shortcomings in their way of life, even if it questioned the beliefs that have been adhered to for centuries. None of Socrates’ writings have prevailed and it was by the works of his student Plato that further generations came to know of his philosophical ideas. It was in one of Plato’s works on Socrates that he describes the latter as a ‘gadfly’ of Athens (A gadfly is a person who upsets the status quo by posing upsetting or novel questions, or just being an irritant). Despite his noble intentions, Socrates might have rubbed off some members of the nobility on the wrong side, thus eventually leading to his execution.

Plato’s ‘Apology’ mentions that Socrates’ life as a gadfly began when Chaerephon, one of the latter’s close friend and confidante posed a question to the oracle at Delphi, who was wiser than Socrates in entire Athens. The oracle then pronounced that none was wiser than the classical Greek philosopher.

Confounded by the absurdity of the reply, Socrates decided to prove the oracle wrong and ventured on the quest to find out the wisest man in the entire land. He met several statesmen, poets, and artisans in his pursuit but the only truth he realized was that all these proclaimed intellectuals actually possessed no intelligence. Socrates finally came to the conclusion that the oracle’s prediction had been right. As he was the only one who was aware of his lack of wisdom, he was indeed the wisest among all men who were intoxicated by a false sense of intelligence.

The public humiliation caused to the wise people of Athens whom Socrates had interviewed during his quest was the reason he was put to trial. The intellectuals accused him of wrong doing and impiety. Despite his extensive defense, the dikastes pronounced him guilty on both counts they justified their decision saying he was corrupting the young minds and had no regard for the gods of the state.

When given the chance to propose his own punishment, Socrates suggested “a wage paid by the government and free dinners for the rest of his life instead, to finance the time he spends as Athens’ benefactor.” The archon was surprised by his audacity but eventually sentenced him to death by drinking poison.

Socrates who strongly believed in the righteousness of his actions, continued to defend himself even in his death. Despite being presented an opportunity to escape the prison, the sophist declined to flee. Also when the dikastes gave him the option to pay a fine and avoid execution, Socrates denied saying he had done nothing wrong.

Xenophon’s account states that Socrates believed it was the right time for him to die and “he was better off dead”.

The reasons he gave in support of his decisions were many:

1. He did not want to create an impression that he was afraid of death.

2. He did not want to flee as he would encounter the same fate in any other country.

3. He refused to shame the Athenian law even in his death and said that if he fled it would be a violation of the ‘social contract’ with the state.

The brave and selfless man laid down his life for his country and gladly accepted the hemlock, a toxic infusion, which he was supposed to ingest. He showed no signs of fear and consumed the contents of the vial all at once. Plato’s ‘Phaedo’ is among one of his most renowned dialogues on Socrates. The dialogue describes the death of the legendary philosopher:

“After drinking the poison, he was instructed to walk around until his legs felt numb. After he lay down, the man laid his hands on him and after a while examined his feet and legs, then pinched his foot hard and asked if he felt it. He said ‘No’ then after that, his thighs and passing upwards in this way he showed us that he was growing cold and rigid. And then again he touched him and said that when it reached his heart, he would be gone. The chill had now reached the region about the groin, and uncovering his face, which had been covered, he said — and these were his last words — “Crito, we owe a rooster to Asclepius. Please, don’t forget to pay the debt.” ‘That,’ said Crito, ‘shall be done but see if you have anything else to say.’ To this question he made no reply, but after a little while he moved the attendant uncovered him his eyes were fixed. And Crito when he saw it, closed his mouth and eyes.”

There have been several interpretations of the last words uttered by Socrates. While some believe Asclepius, the Greek god of curing illness bestowed upon him the freedom or cure from an obsolete body in the form of death, others are of the opinion that Socrates voluntarily offered himself as a sacrifice to Asclepius in exchange for curing the misfortunes of Athens.

The Journey to Spaceflight: A Q&A with Author Roger D. Launius

Space exploration is constantly fueled by mankind's desire to reach further and learn more about the cosmos.

A new book, "The Smithsonian History of Space Exploration: From the Ancient World to the Extraterrestrial Future" (Smithsonian Books, 2018), released Oct. 23, follows humankind's journey to spaceflight.

From looking up at the stars with sheer wonderment to sending astronauts to the moon and launching satellites to the far reaches of the galaxy, author Roger D. Launius, a spaceflight historian, illustrates the cutting-edge advancements made in astronomy and space science. [NASA: 60 Years of Space Exploration] spoke with Launius about key moments in the history of space exploration and where we're headed as we aim to send humans to Mars and beyond. In your experience as a spaceflight historian, what are some of the most iconic moments in human history that helped lay the foundation for space exploration?

Roger D. Launius: The discovery of reaction-type vehicles, or rockets, which dates back to 12th century China, was a major technical breakthrough. At that point, they were thinking about weapons, not about going into space &mdash no one had a real concept of space yet. Now, rockets have become the vehicle we use to get to space.

Also, the realization that points of light in the sky at night are not just points of light &mdash some of them are planets. As soon as humans came to grips with that, we started to speculate about the possibility of going there. Then, in the 20th century, we saw the merger of scientific and technological understanding, along with the development of capabilities that enabled us to go to space. How has the idea of space changed from the Babylonian astronomers of 700 B.C.?

Launius: Fundamentally, that transformation took place in the context of the scientific revolution. Ancient civilizations tracked the stars … but they certainly didn't understand that what they were looking at was a [celestial] body that might have a hard surface that you could potentially stand on &mdash that came with the scientific revolution. From religious influence to using rocketry as weapons and relying on the stars for navigation, what are some of the different roles astronomy has played in shaping human history?

Launius: Astronomy is the oldest of all the sciences. It dates back to the first recording of human history. From observations, people learned when to plant crops and [gained] an understanding of the changing seasons. When you recognize that, you start to find explanation &mdash that the Earth revolves around [the sun]. As a result, calendars were developed, as well as the ability to tell time. You mention in the book that when early explorers traveled to new territories they would describe the unfamiliar creatures they encountered as "alien." Now, as we hunt for other worlds in the universe, do you think we will find any sort of extraterrestrial life?

Launius: I certainly hope so! That's the ultimate question &mdash are we alone in the universe? Space science is built around trying to answer that question. I think in the 21st century we will probably find the answer.

Ultimately, it will be about detecting some form of life &mdash probably microbial. The biomass of this planet suggests that 99.9 percent of all the creatures that are alive are microbial, most of which are underground or underwater. With that as the case, one would expect that that's the life you'd most readily encounter someplace else in our solar system or beyond. Consequently, it would not be life that we would be able to communicate with. Chances are it would be something that's not good for us, and we would probably not be good for it because it would have evolved in a different way, in a different place, under a different set of circumstances. [Best Spaceflight and Space History Books] How did we get to the stage of space exploration we're at now?

Launius: From theoretical work that was done in the late 19th century by people like ["Russian rocket pioneer"] Konstantin Tsiolkovsky … to experimenters like Robert Goddard [who invented the world's first liquid-fueled rocket], we now have the consistent and persistent development of rocket technology that enables us to get off this planet, which is the only way we can undertake space exploration.

That process of development &mdash a lot of it fueled by military research, done for the purpose of killing people and breaking things, as opposed to space exploration &mdash is significant. In the 20th century, we were able to harness that technology for [other] purposes. Space exploration is built upon that concept. Where are we going with the space program?

Launius: I think we'll [launch] more satellites to the edges of the solar system in the 21st century. I also think humans could set foot on the moon again and even move outward to Mars. What, if any, challenges do you think we face as we move forward with international space exploration?

Launius: It's always hard to work with multiple nations. We have to negotiate and decide what is mutually agreeable. It's complicated by different cultures, languages and priorities &mdash but I think that if we were to look back in one hundred years, we would see the International Space Station as one our greatest achievements &mdash at least thus far. And it's not memorable for the science conducted on board, but for the ability to get multiple nations to work together for scientific and technological pursuit, rather than building weapons of war. Are there any major takeaways about the history of space exploration that you hope to leave readers with?

Launius: Space science is a whole lot harder than anyone ever thought. However, over time, we've learned that almost anything we envision, we can accomplish.

Socrates – a man for our times

T wo thousand four hundred years ago, one man tried to discover the meaning of life. His search was so radical, charismatic and counterintuitive that he become famous throughout the Mediterranean. Men – particularly young men – flocked to hear him speak. Some were inspired to imitate his ascetic habits. They wore their hair long, their feet bare, their cloaks torn. He charmed a city soldiers, prostitutes, merchants, aristocrats – all would come to listen. As Cicero eloquently put it, "He brought philosophy down from the skies."

For close on half a century this man was allowed to philosophise unhindered on the streets of his hometown. But then things started to turn ugly. His glittering city-state suffered horribly in foreign and civil wars. The economy crashed year in, year out, men came home dead the population starved the political landscape was turned upside down. And suddenly the philosopher's bright ideas, his eternal questions, his eccentric ways, started to jar. And so, on a spring morning in 399BC, the first democratic court in the story of mankind summoned the 70-year-old philosopher to the dock on two charges: disrespecting the city's traditional gods and corrupting the young. The accused was found guilty. His punishment: state-sponsored suicide, courtesy of a measure of hemlock poison in his prison cell.

The man was Socrates, the philosopher from ancient Athens and arguably the true father of western thought. Not bad, given his humble origins. The son of a stonemason, born around 469BC, Socrates was famously odd. In a city that made a cult of physical beauty (an exquisite face was thought to reveal an inner nobility of spirit) the philosopher was disturbingly ugly. Socrates had a pot-belly, a weird walk, swivelling eyes and hairy hands. As he grew up in a suburb of Athens, the city seethed with creativity – he witnessed the Greek miracle at first-hand. But when poverty-striken Socrates (he taught in the streets for free) strode through the city's central marketplace, he would harrumph provocatively, "How many things I don't need!"

Whereas all religion was public in Athens, Socrates seemed to enjoy a peculiar kind of private piety, relying on what he called his "daimonion", his "inner voice". This "demon" would come to him during strange episodes when the philosopher stood still, staring for hours. We think now he probably suffered from catalepsy, a nervous condition that causes muscular rigidity.

Putting aside his unshakable position in the global roll-call of civilisation's great and good, why should we care about this curious, clever, condemned Greek? Quite simply because Socrates's problems were our own. He lived in a city-state that was for the first time working out what role true democracy should play in human society. His hometown – successful, cash-rich – was in danger of being swamped by its own vigorous quest for beautiful objects, new experiences, foreign coins.

The philosopher also lived through (and fought in) debilitating wars, declared under the banner of demos-kratia – people power, democracy. The Peloponnesian conflict of the fifth century against Sparta and her allies was criticised by many contemporaries as being "without just cause". Although some in the region willingly took up this new idea of democratic politics, others were forced by Athens to love it at the point of a sword. Socrates questioned such blind obedience to an ideology. "What is the point," he asked, "of walls and warships and glittering statues if the men who build them are not happy?" What is the reason for living life, other than to love it?

For Socrates, the pursuit of knowledge was as essential as the air we breathe. Rather than a brainiac grey-beard, we should think of him as his contemporaries knew him: a bustling, energetic, wine-swilling, man-loving, vigorous, pug-nosed, sword-bearing war-veteran: a citizen of the world, a man of the streets.

According to his biographers Plato and Xenophon, Socrates did not just search for the meaning of life, but the meaning of our own lives. He asked fundamental questions of human existence. What makes us happy? What makes us good? What is virtue? What is love? What is fear? How should we best live our lives? Socrates saw the problems of the modern world coming and he would certainly have something to say about how we live today.

He was anxious about the emerging power of the written word over face-to-face contact. The Athenian agora was his teaching room. Here he would jump on unsuspecting passersby, as Xenophon records. "One day Socrates met a young man on the streets of Athens. 'Where can bread be found?' asked the philosopher. The young man responded politely. 'And where can wine be found?' asked Socrates. With the same pleasant manner, the young man told Socrates where to get wine. 'And where can the good and the noble be found?' then asked Socrates. The young man was puzzled and unable to answer. 'Follow me to the streets and learn,' said the philosopher."

Whereas immediate, personal contact helped foster a kind of honesty, Socrates argued that strings of words could be manipulated, particularly when disseminated to a mass market. "You might think words spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them they always say only one thing . . . every word . . . when ill-treated or unjustly reviled always needs its father to protect it," he said.

When psychologists today talk of the danger for the next generation of too much keyboard and texting time, Socrates would have flashed one of his infuriating "I told you so" smiles. Our modern passion for fact-collection and box-ticking rather than a deep comprehension of the world around us would have horrified him too. What was the point, he said, of cataloguing the world without loving it? He went further: "Love is the one thing I understand."

The televised election debates earlier this year would also have given pause. Socrates was withering when it came to a polished rhetorical performance. For him a powerful, substanceless argument was a disgusting thing: rhetoric without truth was one of the greatest threats to the "good" society.

Interestingly, the TV debate experiment would have seemed old hat. Public debate and political competition (agon was the Greek word, which gives us our "agony") were the norm in democratic Athens. Every male citizen over the age of 18 was a politician. Each could present himself in the open-air assembly up on the Pnyx to raise issues for discussion or to vote. Through a complicated system of lots, ordinary men might be made the equivalent of heads of state for a year home secretary or foreign minister for the space of a day. Those who preferred a private to a public life were labelled idiotes (hence our word idiot).

Socrates died when Golden Age Athens – an ambitious, radical, visionary city-state – had triumphed as a leader of the world, and then over-reached herself and begun to crumble. His unusual personal piety, his guru-like attraction to the young men of the city, suddenly seemed to have a sinister tinge. And although Athens adored the notion of freedom of speech (the city even named one of its warships Parrhesia after the concept), the population had yet to resolve how far freedom of expression ratified a freedom to offend.

Socrates was, I think, a scapegoat for Athens's disappointment. When the city was feeling strong, the quirky philosopher could be tolerated. But, overrun by its enemies, starving, and with the ideology of democracy itself in question, the Athenians took a more fundamentalist view. A confident society can ask questions of itself when it is fragile, it fears them. Socrates's famous aphorism "the unexamined life is not worth living" was, by the time of his trial, clearly beginning to jar.

After his death, Socrates's ideas had a prodigious impact on both western and eastern civilisation. His influence in Islamic culture is often overlooked – in the Middle East and North Africa, from the 11th century onwards, his ideas were said to refresh and nourish, "like . . . the purest water in the midday heat". Socrates was nominated one of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his nickname "The Source". So it seems a shame that, for many, Socrates has become a remote, lofty kind of a figure.

When Socrates finally stood up to face his charges in front of his fellow citizens in a religious court in the Athenian agora, he articulated one of the great pities of human society. "It is not my crimes that will convict me," he said. "But instead, rumour, gossip the fact that by whispering together you will persuade yourselves that I am guilty." As another Greek author, Hesiod, put it, "Keep away from the gossip of people. For rumour [the Greek pheme, via fama in Latin, gives us our word fame] is an evil thing by nature she's a light weight to lift up, yes, but heavy to carry and hard to put down again. Rumour never disappears entirely once people have indulged her."

Trial by media, by pheme, has always had a horrible potency. It was a slide in public opinion and the uncertainty of a traumatised age that brought Socrates to the hemlock. Rather than follow the example of his accusers, we should perhaps honour Socrates's exhortation to "know ourselves", to be individually honest, to do what we, not the next man, knows to be right. Not to hide behind the hatred of a herd, the roar of the crowd, but to aim, hard as it might be, towards the "good" life.

Watch the video: Space as the Basis For Future Space Exploration Robotics. Spacebit. Pavlo Tanasyuk (July 2022).


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