Animated Philosophers Presents a Rocking Introduction to Socrates, the Father of Greek Philosophy

Would there be such a thing as phi­los­o­phy had there been no such person—or lit­er­ary char­ac­ter, at least—as Socrates? Sure­ly peo­ple the world over have always asked ques­tions about the nature of real­i­ty, and come up with all sorts of spec­u­la­tive answers. But the par­tic­u­lar form of inquiry known as the Socrat­ic method—a blan­ket pre­sump­tion of ignorance—would not have become the dom­i­nant force in West­ern intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry with­out its name­sake. And that is, of course, not all. In the work of Socrates’ high­ly imag­i­na­tive stu­dent, inter­preter, and biog­ra­ph­er Pla­to, we find, as Alfred North White­head sug­gest­ed, a “wealth of gen­er­al ideas” that have made for “an inex­haustible mine of sug­ges­tion” for philoso­phers since antiq­ui­ty.

As blues­man Robert John­son did for rock and roll, Socrates more or less sin­gle-hand­ed­ly invent­ed the for­mu­las of West­ern thought. He might be called the first philo­soph­i­cal rock star—and judg­ing by the Guns N’ Ros­es sound­track to the ani­mat­ed video above, the pro­duc­ers of the Greek Pub­lic Tele­vi­sion series Ani­mat­ed Philoso­phers seem to feel the same. Dubbed into Eng­lish, and with char­ac­ter ani­ma­tion that owes more than a lit­tle to South Park, this episode makes the case for Socrates’ impor­tance to phi­los­o­phy as tan­ta­mount to Christ’s in Chris­tian­i­ty. Over­stat­ed? Per­haps, but the argu­ment is by no means a thin one.

To make the point, writer, edi­tor, and host George Chatzi­vasileiou inter­views Greek philoso­phers like Vasilis Kara­ma­n­is and Vasilis Kalfas, who basi­cal­ly agree with Roman ora­tor Cicero’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Socrates bring­ing “phi­los­o­phy down from the heav­ens to the earth”… as well as, says Kalfas, “into the city” as a “teacher of the cit­i­zen” in a mod­ern demo­c­ra­t­ic city-state. A key part of Socrates’ appeal is that he “did not take any­thing for grant­ed, no mat­ter how obvi­ous it may have seemed.” Though this atti­tude is as much a per­for­mance as it is a gen­uine admis­sion of igno­rance, the Socrat­ic approach nonethe­less set the stan­dards of intel­lec­tu­al integri­ty in the West.

The com­par­i­son with Christ is rel­e­vant in more ways than one. The fathers of the Chris­t­ian church relied as much on Pla­to and his stu­dent Aris­to­tle—some­times it seems even more so—as they did on the Bible. Per­haps chief among ear­ly the­olo­gians, Bish­op Augus­tine of Hip­po receives the ani­mat­ed rock star treat­ment above in anoth­er episode of Ani­mat­ed Philoso­phers, this one sub­ti­tled in Eng­lish. The many oth­er episodes in the series—on Pla­to, Aris­to­tle, Dem­ocri­tus, Empe­do­cles, Par­menides, Plot­i­nus, Epi­cu­rus, Her­a­cli­tus, and Pythagoras—are all avail­able on Youtube, but only in the orig­i­nal Greek with no titles or dub­bing. It’s no great sur­prise the series focus­es almost exclu­sive­ly on Greek philoso­phers. And yet, nation­al pride notwith­stand­ing, the ancient civ­i­liza­tion does have legit­i­mate claim to the ori­gins of the dis­ci­pline, espe­cial­ly in that most influ­en­tial fig­ure of them all, Socrates.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

140 Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

A His­to­ry of Ideas: Ani­mat­ed Videos Explain The­o­ries of Simone de Beau­voir, Edmund Burke & Oth­er Philoso­phers

The His­to­ry of Phi­los­o­phy … With­out Any Gaps

Allan Bloom’s Lec­tures on Socrates (Boston Col­lege, 1983) 

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Sam says:

    How can Socrates be an exis­ten­tial­ist when he argued for absolutes and objec­tiv­i­ty (ie in The Repub­lic) while exis­ten­tial­ists denounce objec­tiv­i­ty of any such struc­tures as illu­so­ry, etc?

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