Socrates was famously considered the wisest man because he knew that he knew nothing. In this blog post, I will suggest that Socrates had the virtue of humility.
These days, most philosophers work in academia and also mostly consult with one another about topics. Socrates was different. He went to ordinary people and asked them questions. Granted, he ended up annoying a lot of people and thus faced the death penalty for “corrupting the youth.” But it seems to me that Socrates had indeed reached a place of virtue and possessed the virtue of humility.
The virtue of humility is often confused with thinking you are nothing and having low self esteem. If humility were in fact that, it wouldn’t be a virtue. Socrates knew that in order to gain knowledge, he had to ask the people who knew. And that’s exactly what he did.
A philosopher, in Socrates’ sense, does not necessarily have any knowledge to impart. It’s other people—the ones out there working and doing the job—that have knowledge. Socrates was, then, humbling himself to other people by seeking them out and asking them questions.
As the wisest man, Socrates accepted his death. He refused to stop doing philosophy. We might ask, these days, if we want to go down the same path as Socrates. In general, people are still the same, and asking questions to ordinary people in order to gain understanding about things may still end up with us being the target of various abuse and mistreatment.
One thing we can learn from Socrates, though, is the virtue of humility. We can defer to ordinary people who have expertise in matters we don’t.