“It is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day and those other things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and others…” Socrates, The Apology
Philosophers can get a bad rap—among other things for discussing issues far removed from the exigencies of daily life. This is not surprising, given that many recent philosophers have given up the project of addressing life’s fundamental questions.
Not so with Socrates. He had an uncanny focus on the essential, and a striking combination of boldness and humility. Confident that the fundamental questions can be answered, he was never satisfied with the answers he had. So he kept looking and considering, and this especially by discussing.
Socrates’ discussion of virtue was not academic. It had the urgency of a discussion about how to earn a daily wage, or how to find the way home when lost. All else paled in face of the challenge of how to become the man he knew he should be. And he knew he couldn’t figure it out on his own; or if he ever stopped asking the same questions.
We could expect no more of Socrates than this fidelity in making inquiry into the most burning questions. And even if our daily schedules are more challenging than his, perhaps we should expect no less of ourselves.
The thought of Socrates (c. 469 B.C.-399 B.C.) is known primarily through the writings of his great student Plato. Plato’s Apology gives an account of the trial in which Socrates was condemned to death by an Athenian jury.