Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

Socrates, Science and Technology

Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

Socrates, Science and Technology

Article excerpt

Abstract

This essay examines the contributions of Socrates to the development of Greek thought and philosophy and the import of these contributions for developments in contemporary science and technology. Science and technology, today permeate the essential compartments of our lives, but the Socratic injunction for science to go hand-in-hand with ethics has been jettisoned by contemporary science. This, the essay argues, is the source of contemporary ills accompanying the various scientific feats. Paying attention to the Socratic injunction, the essay concludes, is one sure way of giving science and technology a human face and thereby put both properly at the service of mankind.

Key words: Ethics; Dialectics; Technology; Development; Human values

INTRODUCTION

The name 'Socrates' is central to the construction of the history of Greek thought and civilisation. Although the history of philosophy is usually divided into four major parts viz: Ancient, Medieval, Modern and Contemporary, but the Ancient period is the most crucial; crucial in the sense that it serves as the tank in which the prototypes of later philosophies can be found. Socrates existed in the Ancient period which itself encompasses three major periods. These are, the Pre-Socratic, the Socratic and the Post-Socratic periods.1 Socrates was the first of the Greek philosophers who represented the Socratic period; a period which has been aptly described as "the golden age of Greek philosophy" (Omoregbe, 1990, p. 89). So, Socrates represents a major landmark in the history and development of Greek thought and civilisation. He acts not only as a bridge between the early beginning of Western philosophy and the more sophisticated era of philosophising, but also as the pathfinder who provides the much needed foundation and inspiration upon which Plato, Aristotle and other philosophers of this era have to make a recourse to, for strength and intellectual finesse. Like Jesus Christ in the Holy Bible, Socrates left no writings even though he was not an illiterate.2 And also like Jesus, all that we know about Socrates and his thoughts come from the writings of men, most of whom were greatly influenced by his life and teachings (Guthrie, 1963, p. 327). In the matter of historical information however, we are much better with Jesus than with Socrates because Jesus was portrayed by simple uneducated people,3 but Socrates, by literary men who exercised their creative ability upon his portrait. This has produced a very complex 'picture' of Socrates; a picture which has made the quest for finding the meaning and relevance of Socrates for oneself, perennial.

In this essay, attempt is made to exhume from Socrates' philosophy, those sterling contributions that are today complementary to various efforts at bringing a dose of ethics into science and technology, and properly putting both at the service of mankind. We start by examining the life and character of Socrates in the hope that these influenced his contributions to the development of Greek thought and philosophy. Then, we reflect on the import of his contributions to philosophy for developments in contemporary science and technology. Science and technology today permeate the essential compartments of our lives, but the Socratic injunction for science to go hand-in-hand with ethics has been jettisoned by contemporary science. This, the essay argues is the source of contemporary ills accompanying the various scientific feats. Paying attention to the Socratic injunction, the paper concludes, is one sure way of giving science and technology a human face and thereby put both properly at the service of mankind.

SOCRATES' PORTRAIT

Born in Athens around 489 BC to Sophroniscus a sculptor, and Phaenarete a midwife, Socrates was married to Xanthippe and had three sons. In appearance, Socrates was universally admitted to be extra-ordinarily ugly, but it was the kind of ugliness which fascinates. …

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