How Did Socrates Influence His Contemporaries?

Socrates is an iconic philosopher today, but here are five ways he influenced his contemporaries, too.

Mar 1, 2024By Natalie Noland, BS Politics, Philosophy, and Economics

how socrates influence his contemporaries


Many great philosophers have emerged from Ancient Greece, but one of the most impactful was Socrates. Thanks to his wide-ranging philosophical interests, innovative teaching methods, and impact on his students, Socrates’s legacy endures today. But it’s not just modern-day thinkers who look to Socrates for wisdom; his contemporaries —such as fellow philosopher Plato, military commander Xenophon, and playwright Aristophanes — were also influenced by him. Here are five ways Socrates’s life and teachings impacted those around him. 


Socrates Passed on the Importance of Philosophical Inquiry 

The Thinker (Le Penseur) by Auguste Rodin, 1904, Musée Rodin, Paris. Source: The Met


Although Socrates’s works are far-reaching and encompass a wide range of philosophical fields — from politics to ethics to metaphysics — one thing remains common throughout: his emphasis on philosophical inquiry. Socrates was interested in examining fundamental questions, and he didn’t necessarily care about reaching an answer; he aimed to explore different avenues of thinking to expose critiques rather than firmly taking a stance. This interest in discussion over answers was passed on to Plato, who used his works to explore topics like justice, virtue, the nature of the soul, and reality. Socrates influenced not only the topics Plato discussed but also how he discussed them.


His Socratic Method Became Popular

Statue of Xenophon in Vienna. Source: Britannica


Socrates was influential not just because of his lessons but also how he taught them. Now known as the Socratic Method, Socrates pioneered a long-lasting discussion model during his lifetime; he utilized the teaching strategy by posing questions to his students to challenge their critical thinking and expose faults or contradictions in their thinking. The discussion format is still used today, and it also impacted his contemporaries. Although Plato might be most well-known for adopting the strategy, another of Socrates’s contemporaries, Xenophon —a philosopher, historian, and military leader — also presents his writing in a dialogue format, such as in “Memorabilia.”


The Philosopher’s Distrust of Written Words Impacted Others’ Texts

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Socrates was infamously skeptical about the written word, leaving behind no physical works of his own. As a result, most of what is known today about the great philosopher comes from others. While his contemporaries didn’t share this distrust — Socrates was a bit of an outlier when it came to not leaving a paper legacy — it did influence those around him. His student Plato spent his life incorporating Socrates’s words and teachings into his own accounts, helping to create the Socratic legacy that prevails. It caused Plato’s works to focus heavily on Socrates, and it impacted how Plato wrote and presented his ideas. 


Socrates Valued Knowledge and His Students Did Too

The School of Athens by Raphael, 1509-1511. Source: Musei Vaticani.


One of Socrates’s most prevalent teachings was about the nature and importance of wisdom and the necessity of accepting personal ignorance. No one can know everything and true wisdom can be found only once that is acknowledged. This particular belief had an impact on Plato’s own views regarding wisdom. Building on Socrates’s thoughts, Plato used his famous cave allegory in “The Republic” to explore knowledge, reality, and understanding by likening the shadows on a cave’s walls to misinformed perceptions of the world. Plato equates a person journeying to the world outside the cave to the journey toward wisdom, which directly builds off Socrates’s ideas of wisdom as a goal to aspire to. 


His Trial and Death Influenced Philosophers and Literature

The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David via the Princeton Museum of Art


Charged with impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens, Socrates was sentenced to execution by a jury. Plato wrote about the trial and death in his work “Apology” and depicted Socrates’s defense and dignity through his ultimate end. Plato’s views of the relationship between the individual and the state were directly impacted by these events, as well as his thoughts on the roles of justice, philosophy, and society.


Socrates’s death didn’t just impact his contemporary philosophers, though. Comedic playwright Aristophanes, who lived in Athens around the same time as Socrates, depicted a satirical version of Socrates in his play “The Clouds,” portraying a fictional version of Socrates’s trial and death. While the representation isn’t accurate, it shows the influence of Socrates’s life on many different aspects of life in ancient Athens.

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By Natalie NolandBS Politics, Philosophy, and EconomicsNatalie is a freelance writer from Rhode Island. She has a BS in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics from Northeastern University with a minor in Writing. Her academic interests include ancient philosophy, logic, and game theory. She enjoys reading, watching movies, and kayaking in her spare time.