“In my investigation in the service of the god I found that those who had the highest reputation were nearly the most deficient, while those who were thought to be inferior were more knowledgeable” (Apology, 26).
Ultimately, Socrates earned a bad reputation because his scrutiny exposed the men’s ignorance. In spite of his conviction that his fellow Athenians were ignorant, Socrates did not see himself as the owner of the knowledge that others did not have. In his mind, his only wisdom lay in the fact that he understood that he didn’t know everything while they, even though uninformed, thought that they were wise.
At the center of Socratic irony, though, was not just Socrates’ inborn liveliness, but a serious certainty that instruction was not, as in the manner of the Sophists, just giving out of information by the teacher to the student. Actually, Socrates did not believe himself a teacher in the normal sense, but only a helper at the birth of knowledge, a scholarly assistant who helped achieve realization. Distinct from the Sophists, Socrates believed that knowledge was possible, but in his view, the only real knowledge is that which the student gets himself with the active use of his own mind. His idea was to put young men on the right track toward reality and goodness; whether they attained these goals or not was up to them.
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