Socrates (ca. 470-399 BC) is not just another "dead white male" despised by our university elite but a man who philosophical breakthroughs reverberate down through the centuries and significantly affect us today. Athens in the fifth century BC was the age of Pericles. The grandiose construction projects undertaken by Pericles such as the Parthenon were being built during Socrates' lifetime.
Philosophically, Athens was in a time of confusion, flux and disarray. The pre-sociological philosophers, particularly the sophists such as Protagorus, Gorgias and Thrasymachus were teaching moral relativism in their philosophical schools. The term "sophist" means "wise man" and these wise men implicitly regarded their own personal wisdom as the foundation of understanding right behavior.
Protagorus, Gorgias and Thrasymachus were not native to Athens and had traveled extensively. In their travels they had seen that what was hidden in one culture was permitted or even encouraged in another. This led them to the erroneous conclusion that morals are relative and there is there is no foundation of truth or firm way of determining right and wrong.
The term "sophistry" today has negative connotations as well it should. Since the sophists believed morals were relative they descended into philosophical pragmatism which is the idea that the best philosophy is that which is practical or that which "works" regardless of its moral implications.
Pragmatism is very popular in western civilization today. The pragmatist philosophy of the American philosopher William James is a flowering of modernist sophistry. In the West we now have a situation similar to that of ancient Athens. The ancient sophists charged high fees for their courses of instruction and this too was a departure from Athenian tradition which had always maintained that philosophers not charge for their instruction. Socrates was trained by the sophists but could only afford the short course.
The sophists taught rhetoric which is the art of verbal persuasion. Since the sophists made no firm truth claims so they just taught how to persuade. Each man made up his own truth and the more clever could persuade others.
Socrates saw the emptiness of this and feared for his city that the sophists, through their relativism, would destroy the foundation of morals and ever lead to an extinction of ethics and a return to barbarism. Socrates' approach to the situation was to look to the intellect to try to discover the foundation of truth. He looked to the human conscience. Socrates had stumbled onto one of God's ways of giving revelation to man.
The Bible in Romans 2: 14-15 tells us that Gentiles who do not have God's written book, the Bible, do have their consciences which tell them right from wrong.
All people through human history have the inward witness of conscience which regardless of cultural training gives witness to God's will. The Bible also teaches that all people have the witness of nature (Psalm 19: 1-3; Romans 1: 19-20) which reveals things about God. Socrates had no Bible but was not totally without access to revelation …