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Socrates’ Theory of Human Excellence

Socrates’ Theory of Human Excellence

Socrates (469-399 BCE) was a Greek philosopher who is widely regarded as one of the founders of Western philosophy. He is best known for his method of questioning and refuting the opinions of his interlocutors, his claim that he was ignorant of the truth, and his conviction that human excellence or virtue is a form of knowledge that can be attained through rational inquiry. Socrates also maintained that human beings have a moral duty to search for the truth and to examine their own beliefs and actions. He famously declared that “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology 38a).

According to Socrates, human excellence is not a matter of external possessions or achievements, but of inner wisdom and virtue. He argued that virtue is a kind of knowledge that enables one to act rightly and to achieve happiness. He also believed that all human beings desire the good, but they often mistake what is good for what is pleasant or beneficial. Therefore, he sought to expose the ignorance and confusion of his fellow citizens by showing them the contradictions and inconsistencies in their views. He hoped that by doing so, he would help them to realize their own lack of knowledge and to pursue genuine wisdom.

Socrates did not write any books or treatises, but his ideas are preserved in the dialogues of his most famous student, Plato. Plato depicted Socrates as engaging in various philosophical discussions with different characters on topics such as justice, courage, piety, friendship, love, beauty, and knowledge. In some dialogues, Socrates appears as a constructive thinker who proposes positive definitions and arguments for his own views. In others, he appears as a negative critic who only refutes the opinions of others without offering any alternative solutions. Scholars have debated whether these different portrayals reflect the historical Socrates or Plato’s own philosophical development.

Socrates’ theory of human excellence has influenced many thinkers and movements throughout history. His emphasis on rational inquiry, moral education, and self-improvement inspired the development of ethics, epistemology, and political philosophy in ancient Greece and beyond. His challenge to conventional wisdom and authority also made him a model of intellectual courage and integrity for many philosophers, writers, and activists who sought to reform society and promote human dignity.


– Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (n.d.). Socrates. Retrieved from
– Philosophy as a Way of Life (2020). Arête: on the nature of human excellence. Medium. Retrieved from
– The Classroom (n.d.). What Were Socrates’ Beliefs on Ethics? Retrieved from
– Sharma, S. (2020). How Socrates is still relevant today and needed more than ever. Medium. Retrieved from
– Wisdom Center (2022). What did Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle Think About Wisdom? Retrieved from

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