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Historically, Oriental and western philosophies developed in isolation from each other. The geographical and cultural distance between oriental and western civilization determined substantial differences between oriental and western philosophies. On the other hand, works of ancient Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, and some oriental philosophies, such as Taoism, do have some common ideas and concepts, although, regardless of some similarities, differences between oriental and western philosophies are distinctive. In this regard, it is possible to dwell upon the philosophy developed by Socrates and Taoism as two different philosophies, which respected the strife of individuals for the improvement of their life and self-perfection but still had quite different views, beliefs and concepts. In such a way, Taoism worshiped Toa as the first-cause of the universe and developed the philosophy, which worshiped Tao and promoted the self-perfection of individuals to meet Taoist ideals, whereas Socrates stood on the ground that individuals should seek for wisdom as the way of self-perfection, taking care of their souls to reach harmony and spiritual balance.
As the matter of fact, Socrates is one of the most influential philosophers of ancient Greece that defined, to a significant extent, the development of not only ancient philosophy but also the western philosophy at large. Socrates laid the foundation to basic principles of western philosophy, which were modified, changed and adapted by other philosophers. At the same time, his views were, in a way, universal because Socrates focused on the development of ideas, concepts and values which were universal and applicable to different cultures. Hence, Socrates’ philosophy persisted throughout times and places for centuries.
In such a context, it is important to dwell upon basic principles of Socrates’ philosophy and to compare them to fundamental principles of Taoist philosophy. First of all, Socrates stressed the importance of wisdom and knowledge. He insisted that people should learn the surrounding world, themselves and phenomena around them. He developed the idea that the unexamined life is not worth living. At the same time, he remained very critical in regard to himself and his knowledge. On analyzing his knowledge he estimated
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“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing” (). In such a way, Socrates stood on the ground that human mind can hardly become absolutely wise. In other words, Socrates had doubts that people could know everything. At this point, his views were close to Taoism, which respected Tao as the wisest deity, whose wisdom is not achievable for ordinary humans.
In such a context, it is worth mentioning the fact that Socrates insisted that wisdom should not be the ultimate goal of human life but what made the life purposeful was the search for wisdom, learning:
I decided that it was not wisdom that enabled poets to write their poetry, but a kind of instinct or inspiration, such as you find in seers and prophets who deliver all their sublime messages without knowing in the least what they mean ()
At the same time, Socrates argued that the most important task in life is caring for the soul: “All men’s souls are immortal, but the souls of the righteous are immortal and divine” (). Therefore, Socrates argued that people should take care of their souls and lead a virtuous life to be good and happy. Socrates places emphasis on the fact that people should work on their self-improvement and self-perfection to take care of their soul and to live a happy life.
At this point, another principle of Socrates is of the utmost importance. Socrates believed that a good person could not be harmed by other people. In this regard, the material well-being of a person was not important for Socrates since: “He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature” (). Therefore, Socrates believed that it is through the virtuous life people could be happy and live in harmony with their self and with other people.