Socrates is one the most important thinkers in western philosophy, yet he remains enigmatic, having left behind no works of his own. Instead, his thought is understood primarily through the work of his followers, particularly Plato. Yet Plato's dialogues can offer conflicting portraits of Socrates. On the one hand, he is portrayed as “barren of wisdom”: he has questions but no answers. On the other, he appears to be “fertile”: he has important things to say about those questions. Can he be both?

Although Plato’s works focus on Socrates' questions, not his answers, a careful reading can reveal many of Socrates’ likely views. In this accessible introduction, William Prior assesses Socrates the man, his famous trial, and the nature of his philosophy. He explores Socrates' intellectualism, conception of the good life, his religious views and his thoughts concerning justice. All the way through, Prior reflects on Socrates’ distinctive method of asking questions, and the enormous influence he has had on philosophy to this day.

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  • November 2019
  • 240 pages
  • 158 x 232 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $69.95
  • 9781509529735
  • Paperback $24.95
  • 9781509529742
  • Open eBook $19.99
  • 9781509529766
Table of Contents

1 Socrates: His Times and Trial
2 Socratic Method
3 Knowledge and Ignorance
4 Piety
5 Virtue
6 Happiness
7 The State
8 From Socrates to Plato
9 Socrates’ Legacy

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About the Author
William J. Prior is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Santa Clara University.
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“Prior’s Socrates is an outstanding introduction. Written with clarity and grace, it provides a comprehensive and accessible overview of Socrates’ thought and legacy, guided by a judicious reading of Plato’s dialogues, and informed by a wide knowledge of the secondary literature.”
Richard Kraut, Northwestern University

“Is Socrates, recalcitrant hero of Western philosophy, always the ignorant and barren inquirer? Or rather a fertile voyager toward truth and wisdom? William Prior pursues these questions across the whole range of the philosophical terrain that Socrates explored. This authoritative and wonderfully lucid book offers an ideal general account, for beginner and more advanced reader alike, of this perennially intriguing figure, rewardingly rounded off with sketches of what later thinkers, notably Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche, made of him.”
Malcolm Schofield, University of Cambridge

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