Confucius and Socrates Contents
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Influence of Socrates

by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book CONFUCIUS AND SOCRATES Teaching Wisdom. For ordering information, please click here.

The chief complaints against Socrates were not direct criticisms of his own actions, but rather that he was a corrupting influence on others, especially the young and in regard to religious beliefs. Therefore it is of special importance that we examine the effect he had on those around him.

In Plato's Defense of Socrates, Socrates admitted that many people delighted in listening to his conversations because it was amusing to see the pretenders of wisdom cross-examined. He took the time during his trial to ask if any of those present, who had listened to him, or their fathers or other relatives, would like to come up and testify that any of them were corrupted by him. Looking around the courtroom, he named Crito and his son Critobulus; Lysanias the father of Aeschines; Antiphon, father of Epigenes; Nicostratus. brother of the late Theodotus; Paralus, brother of Theages; Adeimantus and his brother Plato; Aeantodorus and his brother Apollodorus; and there were others. Socrates requested Meletus to use these men or any others as witnesses against him; when he did not, Socrates concluded that it was because he was speaking the truth, while Meletus lied.1 Of all these people who heard Socrates regularly, not one was willing to testify against him.

Earlier in the same speech, Socrates described how some of the young men picked up his style of conversation and angered others who blamed Socrates for corrupting them.

In addition to these things, the youth accompanying me,
who have much leisure, sons of the wealthiest,
delight in hearing people examined,
and they often imitate me, and proceed to examine others;
and then, I think, they find a great many people
who think they know something, but know little or nothing.

So then those examined by them become angry at me,
instead of themselves, and they say,
"This is that damned Socrates who corrupts the youth."2

This explains how the disagreeable experience of those who did not like being refuted by Socrates was multiplied when these others took it up. Also it is likely that they might have lacked some of Socrates' sensitivity in avoiding personal contention while focusing on the ideas.

We get an idea of how much Socrates meant to his close associates in the Phaedo. There Phaedo wrote that at the end they were "believing as though deprived of a father we would spend life thereafter as orphans"3 When Socrates finally drank the poison, those present could not help but weep and cried out until Socrates himself rebuked them and calmed them down.4 Since we are going to trace briefly what happened to his disciples, it is interesting to note who was present as recorded by Plato. Plato himself was mentioned as being ill by the narrator Phaedo, who was there. The native Athenians present were Apollodorus, Critobulus and his father Crito, Hermogenes, Epigenes, Aeschines, and Antisthenes. Ctesippus the Paeanian was also there along with Menexenus and some other Athenians. From Thebes there was Simmias and Cebes, and from Megara Euclides and Terpsion. Aristippus and Cleombrotus were asked about, but they were in Aegina at the time.5

Xenophon mentioned several names of men who associated with Socrates, not so they could make great speeches in the courts or assembly, but so that they might become gentlemen (beautiful and good) and be useful at home to their relatives and friends and in the city to the citizens. He named Crito, Chaerophon, Chaerecrates, Hermogenes, Simmias, Cebes, Phaedonias, and indicated there were others. These men, according to Xenophon, never did any evil nor were they censured at all during their whole lives.6 At least these men were probably helped by Socrates.

Xenophon wrote, however, that although Socrates never collected a fee for the benefits he gave, some who received these things from him did go out and charge a large price and would not speak to those who did not pay.7 Apparently Socrates placed no restrictions on what the disciples could do on their own.

Much of the information on the Socratic philosophers was gathered together by Diogenes Laertius in his Lives of Eminent Philosophers. He recorded that the public attitude changed after Socrates' death: Meletus was put to death; Anytus was expelled from Heraclea; and a bronze statue honoring Socrates was placed in the hall of processions.8

The various successors of Socrates were called Socratics, and Diogenes Laertius held the chief ones to be Plato, Xenophon, and Antisthenes, while he considered Aeschines, Phaedo, Euclides, and Aristippus the most distinguished on the traditional list of ten.9 Let us examine these men and the schools they founded.

Diogenes Laertius assumed, partly because they wrote similar dialogs in competition with each other, that Plato and Xenophon were not on good terms with each other.10 In all their works Plato never mentioned Xenophon, and Xenophon only once referred to Plato in relation to his brother Glaucon, who was portrayed as a fool.

Diogenes related an incident where Antisthenes was going to give a public reading and invited Plato. Plato asked the topic; when Antisthenes said it was on the impossibility of contradiction, Plato wondered how he could possibly write on the subject, showing the argument refuted itself. Consequently Antisthenes wrote a dialog against Plato, and they remained antagonistic to each other.11
According to this same source, Plato did not get along well with Aristippus either. He was jealous of Aeschines because of his reputation with Dionysius in his court, because Plato despised his poverty, and because Aristippus supported him. According to Idomeneus it was actually Aeschines who debated with Socrates in prison, but Plato changed it to Crito because of his dislike of Aeschines.12 Apparently the friendship of Socrates' circle was diminished when the master left.

Aristotle recorded a criticism of Plato by Aristippus because he strayed away from the Socratic approach. "Aristippus replied to Plato when he spoke somewhat too dogmatically, as Aristippus thought, 'Well, anyhow, our friend,' meaning Socrates, 'never spoke like that.'"13 However, according to Cicero the method used in Plato's Academy was to draw one forth toward truth without asserting authority, leaving the inquirer free to choose.14 Certainly the school did become a prominent institution in Athens, and Aristotle studied there for twenty years.

Diogenes Laertius in his life of Plato wrote that he first was interested in poetry and tragedy. One day Socrates had a dream about a cygnet on his knees which suddenly put forth plumage and flew away singing sweetly. The next day when Plato was introduced to him, he recognized him as the swan in his dream. After hearing Socrates at about age twenty, he burned his poetry and became a student of philosophy. Diogenes also recounted his early travels.

When Socrates was gone,
he attached himself to Cratylus the Heraclitean,
and to Hermogenes who professed the philosophy of Parmenides.
Then at the age of twenty-eight according to Hermodorus,
he withdrew to Megara to Euclides,
with certain other disciples of Socrates.
Next he proceeded to Cyrene
on a visit to Theodorus the mathematician,
from there to Italy to see the Pythagorean
philosophers Philolaus and Eurytus,
and then to Egypt to see those
who interpreted the will of the gods.15

Obviously Plato had opportunities to learn many other philosophical ideas in addition to what he had learned from Socrates.

Diogenes felt that Plato dealt with many "themes which Socrates disowned, although he puts everything into the mouth of Socrates."16 However, he did not give any specific examples. He related also that when Socrates heard Plato read the Lysis, he exclaimed, "By Heracles, so many lies this young man is telling about me!"17 Thus it would have been foolish to rely upon Plato for all our knowledge about Socrates.

What about Xenophon? According to Diogenes Laertius, he first encountered Socrates in a narrow passage. Socrates barred his way with a stick and asked him where every kind of food was sold. Then he asked, "Where do people become good and honorable?" Xenophon was in doubt about this. "Then follow me," said Socrates, "and learn." From that time on Xenophon was a student of Socrates. Diogenes wrote that he was the first to take notes of the conversations of Socrates and also to give them out to the world as he did in his Memoirs of Socrates.18 Diogenes concluded that Xenophon "made Socrates his exact model."19 Xenophon, of course, had other interests besides philosophy, such as fighting in foreign wars, estate management, and writing histories, but he did also leave us some valuable recollections of a Socrates, probably less tampered with than the one of Plato's works.

Before we examine the other Socratic schools, let us observe some of the influences on men during Socrates' life-time. Crito was the same age as Socrates and perhaps his closest friend. According to Diogenes, Crito "was most affectionate in his disposition toward Socrates, and took such good care of him that none of his needs were left unsupplied." He also credited Crito with writing seventeen dialogs.20

Menexenus was portrayed in a dialog by Plato as ready to take Socrates' advice as to whether he should go into government of not.21 Apollodorus in narrating Plato's Symposium declared that it had been "almost three years that I have been associating with Socrates and making it my daily business to know whatever he says or does." Apollodorus confessed that before that time he was running around thinking he did things and was the wretchedest man alive.22 Apollodorus got his account of the dinner and speeches from Aristodemus who was "one of the main lovers of Socrates at that time," and he also confirmed the details of the story with Socrates himself.23 These men were devoted to Socrates, but there were others who dabbled in his conversations and then pursued their own ambitions.

Alcibiades is the most famous example of this, who caused a blight on Socrates' reputation. In the Alcibiades I we see Socrates attempting to ward off the dangers of the young man's ambition to rule by showing him his desperate need for education and self-knowledge. Socrates expressed his fear that Alcibiades might be ruined by the Athenian people if he was swayed by the masses unwisely.24 Socrates warned him that ignorance in the ambitious and powerful was the most dangerous, because their mistakes could be costly and disastrous for many people. Ignorance is slavery, and virtue, not power, leads to happiness. Socrates concluded his counseling that he was very much concerned that the power of the state might overcome them.25

In Plato's Symposium we see Alcibiades several years later. Alcibiades showed up drunk wearing a crown which he first placed on Agathon, whose tragedy had just won a victory, but then he took ribbons and crowned Socrates the conqueror of mankind in conversation. Socrates jokingly asked Agathon to protect him from Alcibiades, because he feared his passion and jealousy.26 In Plato's account Alcibiades confessed that he became spellbound when he listened to Socrates. When he left the presence of Socrates his love of popularity overcame him. Even though Socrates made him ashamed of this life, he continued it, sometimes wishing that Socrates were dead.27 Thus was portrayed Alcibiades' ambivalence and confusion concerning Socrates and his political affairs.

Alcibiades stirred up the Athenians to fight in Sicily and got himself elected general. Socrates warned against the expedition because of the intervention of his divine sign. After the armies were gathered, Alcibiades was accused of profaning the sacred mysteries of Demeter and Persephone at a drunken party. This was a capital crime, but the eagerness for the war in Sicily enabled Alcibiades to get a postponement of his trial. When the Sicilian expedition proved disastrous, Alcibiades avoided returning to Athens by going to live in Sparta, the arch-enemy of Athens at that time.28 Thus he was branded a traitor, and that he had spent some time with Socrates was suspicious to many people.

Xenophon explained that Alcibiades only came to Socrates so that he could learn how to be successful in politics. As soon as he had gained enough skill in argument to outwit the other politicians, he left Socrates. To demonstrate this he recorded a conversation between Alcibiades and Pericles in which Alcibiades used a Socratic refutation to show the famous statesman that "laws" made by a minority by force and not persuasion were not really laws; even if the majority of the assembly enacted something on property owners without persuasion, it was not law, but force.29 Thus his limited education was turned into a kind of political weapon for persuasion.

Critias was another one who studied with Socrates and then went into politics as part of the oligarchy of Thirty; Alcibiades' extravagances were under the democracy. According to Xenophon both of these men remained prudent as long as they were in the company of Socrates; but when they left him, their ambition got the better of them.30 For Xenophon good character came from continuous training of the soul. When they went their separate ways, they neglected their training, which had strengthened their ability to conquer their passions. Critias went to Thessaly, where he fell in with lawless men, and Alcibiades on account of his good-looks was tempted by the ladies and the general public.31 We have seen already how Critias resented Socrates' criticism of his lust toward Euthydemus and how he attempted to silence Socrates when he ruled with the Thirty.32 It must be granted that Socrates did not have perfect success with every person who came to him, but neither was he necessarily responsible for all their actions after they left him.

Aeschines, however, remained loyal to Socrates, who said of him, "Only the sausage-maker's son knows how to honor me."33 Diogenes Laertius also informed us that the seven Socratic dialogs which he wrote were said by some to have been obtained from Xanthippe or from Antisthenes. When he was reading one at Megara, Aristippus cried out, "Where did you get that, thief?" He was introduced to the court of Dionysius in Sicily by Aristippus, presented dialogs and received gifts there. It was said that Plato became angry at him for siding with Aristippus.34 A couple of fragments from his dialogs called Alcibiades and Aspasia were presented in earlier chapters, and according to Panaetius the definitely genuine Socratic dialogs were the ones by Plato, Xenophon, Antisthenes, and Aeschines.35

In Xenophon's Symposium Antisthenes asserted that his greatest pride was his wealth. He referred to spiritual wealth as being of more value than real estate or possessions or money. He did not suffer from cold or lack of company; all his needs and desires were met as he drew forth from his soul. He claimed he got this wealth from Socrates and shared it with others. Best of all was his leisure so that he could spend the entire day in the company of Socrates.36 Later on after Socrates had described himself as a procurer, he called Antisthenes a good go-between because he helped Callias to receive lessons from Prodicus on philosophy, from Hippias on a memory system, and others he had brought together for their mutual advantage. He might make an excellent diplomat between cities or arranger of private marriages.37 This was high praise from Socrates.

According to Diogenes Laertius, Antisthenes first studied rhetoric with Gorgias and then later became devoted to Socrates. He lived in the Peiraeus and would walk the five miles to Athens every day to listen to Socrates. From him he picked up his self-disciplined style of life, emulating his detachment from feelings. He advised his own disciples to study with Socrates and originated the Cynic way of life.38 He was critical of Plato's pride; but when Plato was said to have abused him, he remarked, "It is kingly to do good and to hear bad things."39 When some youths, who had heard of the fame of Socrates, came to Athens, he led them to Anytus, whom he ironically called wiser than Socrates; the result was that Anytus was driven out of the city.40 Antisthenes held that virtue was sufficient to insure happiness, but it required the strength of a Socrates.41 His school was said to originate the most courageous section of Stoicism, and Xenophon called him "the most agreeable of men in conversation and the most self-controlled in everything else." His writings went into ten volumes on a wide range of subjects.42 Thus Antisthenes probably represented one of Socrates' finest students who was quite successful in continuing his work.

Aristippus was the first of the Socratics to charge fees. He sent the money to Socrates, who he refused to take it because of his divine sign.43 After a lawyer won a case for him, he asked Aristippus what good Socrates had done him. He replied, "This: that what you said of me in your speech was true."44 Apparently Aristippus was more concerned with his conduct in life than in the ability to make a good speech. When asked how Socrates died, he replied, "As I would pray to die myself."45 Although he was not present at Socrates' death, he did have great respect for his teacher. He said he went to Socrates for wisdom and education and to Dionysius for money and recreation.46 After he made some money by teaching, Socrates asked him, "Where did you get so much?" to which he replied, "Where you got so little."47

Aristippus founded a school in Cyrene, and they were known as the Cyrenaics. They held that life consisted of pleasure and pain, and that happiness is the sum total of all particular pleasures.48 Perhaps it is an indication of how undogmatic Socrates was, that Antisthenes and Aristippus could start schools so radically different in their philosophies.

Phaedo was said to have written some dialogs, but many of them are doubtful as to their authenticity. He developed a school in Elis.49

Euclides also wrote dialogs and had a school in Megara, where his followers were called Megarians, Eristics, and the Dialecticians. He followed Parmenides and declared that everything is good. Hermodorus stated that Plato and other philosophers visited him after Socrates' death because they were alarmed at the cruelty of the tyrants.50

Diogenes Laertius also included a life of Simon, who was a cobbler in Athens. When Socrates would converse in his workshop, he used to make notes, and he was the first, according to some, to present Socratic dialogs.51

Glaucon, Simmias, and Cebes were also mentioned as having written dialogs, though there were also a great many spurious dialogs.52

Thus we can see that many men were so well educated by Socrates that they were successful in developing their own schools. Philosophy had not only become a subject of study, but for many it was now the most important pursuit in life. The Cynics and Cyrenaics were influential for many generations and for several hundred years as they were taken over by Stoicism and Epicureanism. Plato's Academy lasted several centuries, and his philosophy has been a dominant force in the western consciousness even to today. The Socratic works by Xenophon have also been influential across the centuries, and they especially influenced Benjamin Franklin. The Socratic method is probably the most famous and most often imitated pedagogical technique as it has been used by countless teachers and private philosophers. Now that Socrates the educator has been presented, we can summarize and analyze his teaching as we compare it to that of Confucius.


1. Plato Defense of Socrates 33-34.
2. Ibid. 23 (10).
3. P. Phaedo 116 (65).
4. Ibid. 117.
5. Ibid. 59.
6. Xenophon Mem. I, ii, 48.
7. X. Mem. I, ii, 60.
8. Diogenes Laertius II, 43.
9. Ibid. II, 47.
10. Ibid. III, 34.
11. Ibid. III, 35.
12. Ibid. III, 36.
13. Aristotle Rhetoric II, 23, 11 (1398b).
14. Cicero Divination II, 150.
15. Diogenes Laertius III, 5-6.
16. Ibid. II, 45.
17. Ibid. III, 35.
18. Ibid. II, 48.
19. Ibid. II, 56.
20. Ibid. II, 121.
21. P. Menexenus 234.
22. P. Symposium 172-173.
23. Ibid. 173.
24. P. Alcibiades I 132.
25. Ibid. 134-135.
26. P. Symposium 213.
27. Ibid. 216.
28. Plutarch Life of Alcibiades.
29. X. Mem. I, ii, 39-47.
30. X. Mem. I, ii, 12-18.
31. X. Mem. I, ii, 19-26.
32. X. Mem. I, ii, 29-32.
33. Diogenes Laertius II, 60.
34. Ibid. II, 60-62.
35. Ibid. II, 64.
36. X. Symposium IV, 34-44.
37. Ibid. IV, 61-64.
38. Diogenes Laertius VI, 2.
39. Ibid. VI, 3, 7-8.
40. Ibid. VI, 10.
41. Ibid. VI, 11.
42. Ibid. VI, 14-18.
43. Ibid. II, 65.
44. Ibid. II, 71.
45. Ibid. II, 76.
46. Ibid. II, 78, 80.
47. Ibid. II, 80.
48. Ibid. II, 86-93.
49. Ibid. II, 105.
50. Ibid. II, 106.
51. Ibid. II, 122-123.
52. Ibid. II, 124-125.

Copyright © 1996, 2006 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book CONFUCIUS AND SOCRATES Teaching Wisdom. For ordering information, please click here.


Life of Confucius
Attitudes of Confucius
How Confucius Taught
What Confucius Taught
Example of Confucius
Influence of Confucius


The Socratic Problem
Life of Socrates
Attitudes of Socrates
How Socrates Taught
What Socrates Taught
Example of Socrates
Influence of Socrates
Confucius and Socrates Compared

Socrates, Xenophon, and Plato

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