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Do we know if Socrates was a historical character or a literary device used by Plato?

By Geoffrey517
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As I understood it, we do not know for certain, however Aristotle does mention him as his teachers teacher.

Thanks Len. That sounds like pretty good provenance


I guess his existence is heresay only one 'a' away from heresy


I guess that depends on who’s reality we are talking about. Am I in your reality or are you in mine? Perhaps we are co existing the same stream.
Maybe we are both in someone else’s stream.
Cogito ergo sum?

darthfaja Level 7 Mar 14, 2019

Or even, I don’t think therefore I am!


When you think about it does not make any difference, because Platonic philosophy is not built on Socrates' existence (unlike the existence, death and resurrection of Jesus, which is of utmost importance to Christians)

Matias Level 7 Mar 14, 2019

Quite, the works make sense on their own without theological interpretations.


If I'm remembering my philosophy classes correctly (and it's been a while since I was in that ancient philosophy class or wrote my senior thesis), then there is more historical evidence for Socrates than for many others from those ancient times. I believe there are contemporary writers, aside from Plato, who wrote about Socrates.


Socrates was real enough - his teachings and style were recognisably different from Plato's. None of Plato's (and Socrates' ) contemporaries challenged the account of his life, trial or other biographical details. You may as well ask if Plato was a literary device of Socrates.

Gareth Level 7 Mar 14, 2019

Strictly speaking we do not... None of us were there

IamNobody Level 8 Mar 14, 2019

This article suggests that there seem to be surviving references to Socrates from at least four other comic playwrights: Eupolis, Emeipsias, Theopompus, and one who is anonymous. So Socrates was real is the consensus among scholars.


St-Sinner Level 7 Mar 14, 2019

Having detractors may be better evidence than supporters.


Wikipedia gives some references that seem to verify the life of Socrates. For example, Socrates was a soldier during the Peloponnesian War and was mentioned by others as fulfilling that role nobly.

How could Plato have pulled off such a prank and not been exposed?


Like any ancient character or personage, there are varying schools of thought. Some, like for jesus are easier to show that there is no evidence. For Socrates, though, there is more evidence for him than for the king of jews. That said, there are those with credible arguments against. He is mentioned in at least three plays, which again may not be real proof..............etc. Anyway, here is a pretty good summary argument for him being real.



Socrates, is that how things get printed into soccer balls? They use a Socrates to imprint lettering on soccer balls?

Antifred Level 7 Mar 14, 2019

I would never have thought of that. Thanks.

brentan Level 8 Mar 14, 2019

I think if enough time passes, the distinction becomes irrelevant.


Several other people of the time like Xenophon also mention him, that's not proof but it does give you confidence.

Fernapple Level 7 Mar 14, 2019

Yes, both Plato and Xenophon give similar descriptions of Socrates trial.


Very interesting... if Socrates was not a real man but a literary device created by Plato, then the teachings of Socrates are the teachings of Plato. This would increase Plato influence on the world by at least a factor of Socrates...Thereby creating the teachings of Platocrates

Phin Level 6 Mar 14, 2019

There is even a school of thought that Socrates was real, his execution, etc, and that Plato's works are still Plato's and he is just using Socrates as a means to get attention for his writings.


There was a film from 1989 called Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. In this film two youths traveled in a time machine and met with Socrates. He was depicted as a real man, and this is good enough proof for me.

This is the type of evidence-based, scientific thinking we need more of. Most excellent ...

I thought it was So Crate's

@oldFloyd That’s what I said. Socrates.

@indirect76 yeah I know. To me it sounds better broken up ?



From what I've read, I always assumed he was an actual person. I believe he's mentioned by others than Plato. Of course, that doesn't mean it's certain.


We know very little about what is actual history and what is not prior to 64 AD. Very few records still exist. Most were destroyed in the fire which burned Rome.

webbew1 Level 7 Mar 14, 2019

Was Plato a historical character or just a literary device used by Socrates?

jerry99 Level 8 Mar 14, 2019

No, we do know for certain Plato/Aristocles existed from the accounts of the life of Philip of Macedonia and Alexander (or more correctly al-Iskandar) the great.

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