These two characteristics, the concern for practical applications of his philosophy and the use of reason to supplant theological directives, distinguished Socrates. His was an attempt to teach people how to better define the highest good, how to attain justice, and therefore how to attain happiness both individually and socially.
This essay will examine Socrates’ notions of a highest good and justice, his linking of the individual and society through an integrated philosophical approach, and the implications of different choices regarding public administration and public order.
As a preliminary matter, it is important to note that Socrates’ teachings were most directed at the individual. The highest good, therefore, was a condition that each individual was capable of attaining; however, this highest good could only be known through reason and a knowledge of one’s self. Socrates equated this highest good with knowledge and happiness. Significantly, though, he went to great lengths to distinguish true happiness from illusory pursuits of happiness. He did this by drawing distinctions between absolute levels of ignorance and fancy ideals of true knowledge. These distinctions, often grounded in Socrates’ claims that he knew nothing, provided the intellectual framework for subsequently exploring ultimate questions of goodness, justice, and proper forms of public administration. In effect, he tore down common assumptions, challenged certain modes of thinking, and in the process attempted to redefine both the proper focus and method of philosophical inquiry as well as the practical application of philosophy to man’s life and to social affairs.
Central to man’s pursuit of happiness was the intellectual process by which he confronted choices and made decisions. In many ways, Socrates reduced the highest good to a