The Quick Trick: It’s simple! Just think of them in reverse alphabetical order: Socrates taught Plato who taught Aristotle who taught Alexander the Great.
Like many a good philosopher, Socrates (470–399 or so BCE) was obsessed with truth and the correct way to stumble into it. In fact, in his effort to find truth, Socrates placed value not just on knowledge, but on how we know knowledge, and his inquisitive teaching style refl ected it. For one thing, Socrates never lectured. Instead, he asked questions on top of questions (a teaching method still used to this day). The more his students answered, the more they knew or, more accurately, learned what they didn’t know. For example, when you ask yourself, “Do I hate my job because I’m awful at it, or am I awful at my job because I hate it?” you’re being Socratic in your search. As a master philosopher, Socrates’ greatest rhetorical tool was irony, but not the Seinfeld-ian kind. Socratic irony is a tactic by which one pretends to be ignorant of another’s dogmatic beliefs. And by asking apparently “innocent” questions, Socrates would then tear the other’s position to ribbons.
Unfortunately for Socrates, endless questioning is also extremely annoying, and the barefoot philosopher’s inquisitiveness made him powerful enemies. Put on trial for “corrupting the youth,” Socrates was forced to commit suicide by drinking hemlock.
Luckily for us, his work lived on through his students. If Socrates wrote anything, it didn’t survive. But his question-and-answer sessions were recorded by his pupils, Plato and Xenophon, in the dialogues. The former (427–347 BCE, give or take) also took it upon himself to expand on Socrates, and in the later dialogues Socrates is mostly AWOL, meaning it’s all Plato. Plato’s work didn’t stop with the dialogues. His own writings dealt mostly with government, law, ethics, and reason. Today The Republic is considered Plato’s major masterwork. In fact, his treatise on a “good city” is still a “must read” for poli-sci majors in universities everywhere.
Of these three philosophical bigwigs, however, it was Plato’s student Aristotle (384–322 BCE) who had the most expansive intellect (not to mention the shortest beard). Aristotle wrote on literally every subject of the day, from metaphysics and government to mathematics and natural science. In fact, his renown as a polymath is what led Macedonian King Philip II (359–366 BCE) to choose Aristotle as a tutor for his son, Alexander. Aristotle departed from his two predecessors’ line of thought, relying more on sensory input as a source of knowledge. Today Aristotle is thought of as the granddaddy of the scientific method—despite the fact that he relied on pure reason, not experiment, to come to a conclusion, and as a result was wrong a breathtakingly large percentage of the time.
–brought to you by mental_floss!
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