Philosophers who influenced Socrates

The great Western philosopher Socrates did not claim the monopoly of knowledge. That is why many records have been passed down about philosophers who influenced Socrates and his moral philosophy. 

Philosophers like Heraclitus, Parmenides, Protagoras, and Gorgias, among others, predated Socrates and practiced philosophy before him. These set of philosophers that influenced Socrates were largely concerned about the basic stuff that the universe was made of.

Like all philosophers, they were prompted by wonder and curiosity about the nature of the world and the vastness of the universe. Various contestable answers were provided by the philosophers. 

Air, fire, water, change, and permanence, were prescribed in their respective attempt to fully understand the universe. In all, they employed critical thinking in arriving at their conclusions about the universe.

Socrates took a radical departure from these philosophers by citing man as the center of his philosophy. Man know thyself was his famous saying. 

Little wonder, he is regarded as the father of Western philosophy because of his vast impact, the human-centric nature of his work, and their influence on subsequent thought development through the ages, beginning from Plato, his student, and Aristotle. 

Ancient Philosophers that influenced Socrates

Most philosophers are often eager to ascribe their source of knowledge to their forebears even though a clear distinction is often provided where necessary. Some even devote the whole of their works to developing, appraising, or criticizing the ideas of other philosophers. 

As such, it is a great virtue to ascribe some credit to these ancient philosophers who influenced Socrates. As he himself once argued, Socrates cannot teach anybody but can only make them think. 

The ideas of many ancient philosophers first stung Socrates to start making rational enquiry about man and he made it a point of duty to get others to start thinking.

Thales of Miletus

Philosophers who influenced Socrates: Thales

One of the ancient philosophers that influenced Socrates is Thales of Miletus who lived between 624 and 546 BCE. He is generally seen as the first Western philosopher who focused his philosophy on trying to understand nature. Through wonder, curiosity, and critical thinking, he arrived at the notion that water is the basic stuff of the universe.

Heraclitus of Ephesus 

Philosophers who influenced Socrates: Heraclitus

The philosopher Heraclitus also influenced Socrates. Heraclitus of Ephesus lived between 540 and 480 BCE and he is renowned for his famous saying that everything is in perpetual flux and that change is the only constant reality. In defending his position, he argued that we cannot cross the same river twice. 

He went on to claim that both the river that was crossed and the man that crossed it have changed, hence it is impossible for the same person to cross the same river more than once. 

These perpetual changes as observed by Heraclitus create room for self-improvement which is in line with the views of Socrates.

Parmenides of Elea 


Unlike Heraclitus who promoted the idea that change is the only constant reality, Parmenides of Elea who lived between 515 and 450 BCE opposed the philosophy of change. Rather he posited that reality is one and unchanging. 

Parmenides did not give into the dogmatism of his day but sought rational justifications for his position. His views influenced the development of the Socratic Method which is equally dialectical. 

Read Also: What Socrates taught the most

In this method, existing paradigms are attacked and new ones evolve on the basis of their validity. While Heraclitus could be described as a champion of change, Parmenides was an advocate of a single unchanging reality.

Protagoras of Abdera 


Although Socrates did a lot in drawing the gaze of philosophy from nature to himself, a Sophist known as Protagoras first stated that man is the measure of all things. This was more like Socrates questioning the existing morality of the Athenian people by asking questions that revealed the absurdity of some highly placed beliefs. 

According to Protagoras, society operated the way it did because men designed it that way. As such it was uncritical to hold beliefs simply because certain gods and deities had prescribed them. 

Hence, he is among the philosophers who influenced Socrates by drawing attention to man in a similar way to the famous Socratic dictum “Man know thyself” did.

See Also: What Socrates is best known for

Aristippus of Cyrene 

Philosophers who influenced Socrates: Aristippus

There are indications that Socrates may have gotten some of the ideas that he taught from some well-known philosophers that came to learn from his wisdom. 

Philosophers like Aristippus of Cyrene who lived between 435 and 356 BCE were known for what has come to be understood as hedonism, a sharp contrast with Socrates’ emphasis on virtue. 

By advocating virtue and contrasting his ideas, Socrates may have tried to oppose the philosophy espoused by one of his students Aristippus.

Gorgias of Leontini 


Similarly, we think Gorgias should be on this list. He equally rebelled against the prevailing morality of his day through his rhetoric and rational arguments. 

As a famous sophist, his teachings were inspired by rationalistic and critical thinking which was not common during his time. Like Gorgias, Socrates challenged long-held traditional beliefs prompting interest among his listeners

Final Thoughts

The influence of ancient philosophers on Socrates is vast despite his title as the father of Western philosophy. He acknowledged that he knew nothing and lay no claim to any superior knowledge thereby admitting to possible influences. 

However, like the gadfly that he is, he stings his listeners into discovering that they also know very little. Similarly, Socrates directly influenced many ancient Greek philosophers and he has continued to influence philosophers to this day.

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