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Socrates of Athens

469-399 b.c.. Greek philosopher and one of the great stimulating forces in Western philosophy. He died by drinking hemlock following his condemnation for “not believing in the gods the state believes in, and introducing different new divine powers; and also for corrupting the young.” Socrates's background was in Sophism, his philosophical method that of a “midwife”-the raising of questions, the creation of a climate of doubt about accepted truths by a process of cross- examination (“dialectic”), combined with high intellectual standards and a sense of moral purpose. His magnetic personal influence, indifference to wealth, and freedom from ambition made the conservative elements suspicious and led to the political charge. Plato's Crito and Phaedo offer an intriguing portrayal of Socrates's last days. Despite his enormous influence, there is no agreement on the contribution of Socrates. Part of the difficulty is that he wrote nothing on philosophy. At one extreme there is the view that the Socrates of Plato's Dialogues is historical, at the other that nothing is known about him. Superficial parallels have led some to make rather fanciful comparisons between Socrates and Jesus Christ.