Though it is acknowledged that the words and ideas of Socrates have been filtered though the thoughts of those that followed him, namely Plato, as Socrates wrote nothing himself, it is also clear that the interpretation garnered by the ancients has been profoundly felt throughout western culture. It is also clear that the body of work that survives in fragmentation recorded as prior to the Socratic philosophical revolution is a strong basis for that which followed, it can also be described as simpler or at least less complex. The main difference according to the writings of the post Socratic philosophers between Socratic ethics and pre-Socratic ethics are twofold. On the one hand the idea that philosophical questions are not and cannot be seen as finite and on the other the establishment of Socrates as the supreme model of the philosophical life and all its trappings. The impact that these two complex circumstances upon future philosophy even up to the present are as infinite as Socrates believed wisdom to be.
The body of pre-Socratic philosophy that best exemplifies the difference between the Socratic ethical method and that of the older philosophers is probably the Pythagorean Symbola in which a group of universal Maxims rely heavily upon both context and culture for interpretations in life and/or in metaphysics. "S4 Do not sit on a Bushel Measure." Though it can be simply understood to mean a true measure cannot be found if weighted by the burden of you're body there is surely a more contextual interpretation that can explain the source of the maxim. Another great example would be "S7. Abstain from beans." Though it is clear that beans are a very good source of protein they may cause unpopular reactions among your colleges if you eat them. Though these two examples are humorous at least, the point of the exercise is to understand that Socrates gleaned some good from the ancients but also made fun of how fixed they intended to be with their findings. Some of the examples of the Pythagorean Symbola give less humorous and a more clear examples of the sorts of fixed ideas that the pre-Socratics followed and that Socrates found illuminating but humorous because even in the time of the findings as in other places the authors of the maxims may not have been able to explain the wisdom of the fixed guideline.'s 10. Do not urinate in the direction of the sun." or's 11. Do not stick iron into anyone's footprints." Or's 19. Do not sing without harp accompaniment." (Wheelright 237-228) All three of these maxims need contextual explanations in order to be understood by a modern reader and require little observance from a philosopher who might later have no need of them, for lack of context or cultural meaning because they have become simply dated.
Probably the most famous of the examples of the Pythagorean body of knowledge are the Golden Verses which are in a much more profound way expressed as universal maxims associated with the understanding of the gods, and the universal observance of faith. Interestingly enough Socrates may have taken some clue from Pythagoras as he also wrote nothing in his lifetime, yet from his teachings and those of his students the ideas of 'universal maxims' were furthered and followed. (Wheelright 221)
In the Socratic quest to determine error in the words of the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi can be seen the discussion of the idea of philosophical quest as infinite rather than finite. Socrates made clear that the garnering of ego through the process of gaining true knowledge and also by the external perception of the holding of true knowledge is not the true right of the wise man.
Through the following short passages from the Apology one may see both the infinite ideas of Socrates and the necessity for the fulfillment of the philosophers role as being one of a sort of quest that demands the answer of the man, regardless of the invocation of unpopularity. "Then I went to one man after another, becoming conscious of the enmity which I provoked, and it distressed and alarmed me: but necessity was laid upon me -- the word of God, I thought, ought to be considered first." (Plato 22) Socrates kept coming up with the same answers, through the assumption of knowledge these men, of great were closing themselves to new thought and living on the legacy of their past truths and/or untruths, even when they could no longer explain them. "And I said to myself, Go I must to all who appear to know, and find out the meaning of the oracle. And I swear to you, Athenians, by the dog I swear! -- for I must tell you the truth -- the result of my mission was just this: I found that the men most in repute were all but the most foolish; and that others less esteemed were really wiser and better." (Plato 22-23) Socratic ethics level a charge at notoriety and ego as the impetus for the gaining of true knowledge.
The reactions to Socrates quest left him in a quandary both wishing not to accept notoriety and garnering much political angst from his colleges. "I will tell you the tale of my wanderings and of the 'Herculean' labours, as I may call them, which I endured only to find at last the oracle irrefutable. (Plato 23) Socrates often expressed and believed that the challenges of the mind were much more difficult than those of the body and in so proving this he often demonstrated incredible physical abilities that he gave his mind power credit for.
These can be seen as grand examples of the lifestyle that was though to be considered appropriate for a philosopher, part of the future ideal laid down by Socratic legacy.
Socrates moved through every legitimate intellectual circle on his quest for some shard of evidence that he was not as wise as Apollo deemed, collecting hostility and anger as he went about asking hard questions of the seemingly wise. "After the politicians, I went to the poets -- tragic, dithyrambic, and all sorts. And there, I said to myself, you will be instantly detected; now you will find out that you are more ignorant than they are." (Plato 23) At each stage of this quest Socrates wished to be disproved. He wished to be proved less intelligent than the man he was speaking with at the time. Through questioning Socrates often attempted to learn from his host the wisdom of their writings.
Accordingly, I took them some of the most elaborate passages in their own writings, and asked what was the meaning of them -- thinking that they would teach me something. (Plato 23) What he found was each writer had a fundamental inability to explain the wisdom of even his own work, let alone the ideal maxims they wished their knowledge to stand upon.
Socrates speaking through Plato in his Apology tries his accusers rather than answering their questions he levels them back toward those who express them, mainly Meletus, and concludes that each man present can be accused of the same misdeeds and that he is the least guilty of them all. Through out Socrates words there is an assumption that little is truly known yet he stays true throughout to the wisdom of the existence of God. Though his mission as a philosopher may not always be popular it is his true cause and through it he fulfills the wishes of God and honors his existence.
God orders me to fulfill the philosopher's mission of searching into myself and other men. I were to desert my post through fear of death, or any other fear; that would indeed be strange, and I might justly be…