Socrates was by nature a very humble man, he was always the first to admit that he didn’t know anything and spent his entire adult life trying his best to prove that he was not wise.

Some years before the Oracle at Delphi had told his friend Chaerephon that none were wiser than Socrates. It seems that this revelation disturbed Socrates who convinced that he was not wise, made it life’s work to prove the oracle wrong.

Socrates didn’t feel like a wise man and as a result made it his habit to meet and converse with the acknowledged experts of the day (those people known to be wise) and through his ‘Socratic method,’ questioned them in order to prove to himself that the oracle had been wrong. Socrates was desperate to find the wisest man in Athens and through a combination of flattery, politeness, sharp-eared listening and probing questioning he was able to demonstrate that the so-called ‘experts,’ were not, in fact, the ‘experts,’ that they thought they were…

“—for I must tell you the truth—the result of my mission was just this: I found that the men most in repute were all but the most foolish; and that others less esteemed were really wiser and better.”

Plato. The Complete Works of Plato


“And so I go about the world, obedient to the god, and search and make enquiry into the wisdom of any one, whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise; and if he is not wise, then in vindication of the oracle I show him that he is not wise;

Plato. The Complete Works of Plato”

It seems that the oracle had been right along, none were wiser than Socrates, whose example teaches us that the beginning of wisdom is to acknowledge that you know nothing, or at the very least that you do not know as much as you’d like.

Socrates was an extreme sceptic and not only the wisest man in Athens but probably the wisest man in western history.

This is humility.

To know yourself, to understand where you are weak and where you are correspondingly strong, to understand your own limits is both philosophical humility and personal humility.

You might be good at your craft, your occupation or in social circumstances but as such can only possess human wisdom, that is limited to your range of experiences and learning, but you cannot be an expert at all things all of the time. You have failings and there are areas where you are weak and this is a good thing because humility allows you to register what you don’t know, which in turn signifies that which you could know…

“And I am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom which I find wanting in others: but the truth is, O men of Athens, that God only is wise; and by his answer he intends to show that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing;”

Plato. The Complete Works of Plato

Humility is the path to wisdom because it’s also the beginning of self-improvement.

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