This page contains a list of the six best books on Socrates. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on Socrates” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works on Socrates. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on Socrates. This list was created by compiling recommendations from across the internet and is not a list of personal recommendations. More information about this process is at the end of the post. Here are the best books on Socrates in no particular order:
Socrates: A Very Short Introduction – Christopher Taylor
Publisher description: Socrates has a unique position in the history of philosophy. It is no exaggeration to say that had it not been for his influence on Plato, the whole development of Western philosophy might have bee unimaginably different. Yet Socrates wrote nothing himself, and our knowledge of him is derived primarily from the engaging and infuriating figure who appears in Plato’s dialogues. In this book, Christopher Taylor explores the relationship between the historical Socrates and the Platonic character, and examines the enduring image of Socrates as the ideal exemplar of the philosophic life – a thinker whose moral and intellectual integrity permeated every detail of his life, even in the face of betrayal and execution by his fellow Athenians.
Socrates – George Rudebusch
Publisher description: Socrates presents a compelling case for some life-changing conclusions that follow from a close reading of Socrates’ arguments.
- Offers a highly original study of Socrates and his thought, accessible to contemporary readers
- Argues that through studying Socrates we can learn practical wisdom to apply to our lives
- Lovingly crafted with humour, thought-experiments and literary references (from the Iliad to Harry Potter), and with close reading sof key Socratic arguments
- Aids readers with diagrams to make clear complex arguments
Socrates, Ironist and Moral Philosopher – Gregory Vlastos
Publisher description: This long-awaited study of the most enigmatic figure of Greek philosophy reclaims Socrates’ ground-breaking originality. Written by a leading historian of Greek thought, it argues for a Socrates who, though long overshadowed by his successors Plato and Aristotle, marked the true turning point in Greek philosophy, religion and ethics. The quest for the historical figure focuses on the Socrates of Plato’s earlier dialogues, setting him in sharp contrast to that other Socrates of later dialogues, where he is used as a mouthpiece for Plato’s often anti-Socratic doctrine. At the heart of the book is the paradoxical nature of Socratic thought. But the paradoxes are explained, not explained away. The book highlights the tensions in the Socratic search for the answer to the question ‘How should we live?’ Conceived as a divine mandate, the search is carried out through elenctic argument, and dominated by an uncompromising rationalism. The magnetic quality of Socrates’ personality is allowed to emerge throughout the book. Clearly and forcefully written, philosophically sophisticated but entirely accessible to non-specialists, this book will be of major importance and interest to all those studying ancient philosophy and the history of Western thought.
The Cambridge Companion to Socrates – Donald R. Morrison
Publisher description: The Cambridge Companion to Socrates is a collection of essays providing a comprehensive guide to Socrates, the most famous Greek philosopher. Because Socrates himself wrote nothing, our evidence comes from the writings of his friends (above all Plato), his enemies, and later writers. Socrates is thus a literary figure as well as a historical person. Both aspects of Socrates’ legacy are covered in this volume. Socrates’ character is full of paradox, and so are his philosophical views. These paradoxes have led to deep differences in scholar’s interpretation of Socrates and his thought. Mirroring this wide range of thought about Socrates, this volume’s contributors are unusually diverse in their background and perspective. The essays in this volume were authored by classical philologists, philosophers, and historians from Germany, Francophone Canada, Britain, and the United States, and they represent a range of interpretive and philosophical traditions.
The Trial and Death of Socrates – Plato
Publisher description: The third edition of The Trial and Death of Socrates presents G. M. A. Grube’s distinguished translations, as revised by John Cooper for Plato, Complete Works. A number of new or expanded footnotes are also included along with a Select Bibliography.
Complete Works – Plato
Publisher description: Outstanding translations by leading contemporary scholars–many commissioned especially for this volume–are presented here in the first single edition to include the entire surviving corpus of works attributed to Plato in antiquity. In his introductory essay, John Cooper explains the presentation of these works, discusses questions concerning the chronology of their composition, comments on the dialogue form in which Plato wrote, and offers guidance on approaching the reading and study of Plato’s works.
Also included are concise introductions by Cooper and Hutchinson to each translation, meticulous annotation designed to serve both scholar and general reader, and a comprehensive index. This handsome volume offers fine paper and a high-quality Smyth-sewn cloth binding in a sturdy, elegant edition.
This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:
- browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
- searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
- browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- searching for recommendations on philosophy forums
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Socrates
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Socrates
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