In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Minor Socratics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Collections of Essays
  • Comprehensive Edition
  • Partial Collections of Fragments and Testimonia
  • Translations and Commentaries
  • Bibliographies

Classics Minor Socratics
Aldo Brancacci
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 November 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 November 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0342


Minor Socratics (Socratici minori, Petits Socratiques, Kleine Sokratiker) are conventionally labelled the direct disciples of Socrates that already in Antiquity were known as Sokratikoi. Indeed, they founded the so-called “Socratic Schools” or “Minor Socratic Schools.” From this perspective, it was understood that Plato was the “major” Socratic. During the 20th and 21st century a new critical approach emerged which gradually separated Plato from the group of the Socratics as such. In this way, because of the complexity of his thought and its huge theoretical influence (in Antiquity and beyond), Plato gained his own place in the history of ancient philosophy. As a consequence of that, scholarship prefers today to easily label as “Socratics” those philosophers who have been called for a long time “Minor Socratics.” The Socratics are as follows: Antisthenes of Athens, Euclides of Megara, Aristippus of Cyrene, Phaedo of Elis, and Aeschines of Sphettus. According to the ancient historiography, Antisthenes founded the Cynic school (while the modern scholarship tends to make Diogenes of Sinope the founder of Cynism); in his turn, Euclides of Megara founded the Megarian school (a school that seems to be strictly connected with the so-called Dialectic school, although the links of the two movements have been not yet entirely clarified); Phaedo of Elis was the founder of the Eliac school, whose thought was later followed by the Eretrian school, which was founded by Menedemus of Eretria; finally, Aristippus of Cyrene founded the Cyrenaic school. Aeschines of Sphettus was the only Socratic philosopher who did not found an own school. The terms Sokratikos and Sokratikoi were coined very early, during the last decades of the 4th century BCE. They are already attested in the Peripatetic Phaenias of Eresus. Phaenias wrote a book On the Socratics, and this fact proves that the group of the Socratics had been already established before the Hellenistic historiography. Moreover, Phaenias explicitely refers to Antisthenes (= SSR V A 172). On this regard, also the testimonium on Antisthenes (= SSR V A 22) by the historian Theopompus of Chios is very important. In Diogenes Laertius one can find more complex distinctions. In II 47 the “most representative” successors of Socrates, who were called Socratics, are Plato, Xenophon, and Antisthenes. Within the same passage Diogenes Laertius specifies that, among the ten Socratics that the tradition knows, “the most illustrious” are four: Aeschines, Phaedo, Euclides, and Aristippus. The division of these “ten Socratics notorius to the tradition” cannot be identified with the division of the ten schools of ethics, of whom Diogenes Laertius speaks in the proemium of his work (I 18–19). However, much of these schools ideally developed from Socrates, because they were founded either by the Socratics or by their pupils.

General Overviews

General presentations of the Socratics are very rare. Among the presentations that appear in the classic Histories of Ancient Philosophy, those by Gomperz 1912, Joël 1921, and Zeller 1922 are very important. They are based on different historiographical perspectives, and offer three different approaches to the Socratics: historico-philosophical (Zeller 1922), strictlly theoretical (Joël 1921), actualizing, but rigorous (Gomperz 1912). Reale 1982 is clear and accurate. General presentations are offered by Grote 1885, Humbert 1967, Brisson 1998, and Decleva Caizzi 2006; more detailed is Boy-Stones and Rowe 2013; Notomi 2005 is the first monograph in Japanese about Socrates, the Socratics, and the tradition of the logoi Sokratikoi. Merlan 1972 and Chame 2017 focus on specifics topics.

  • Boy-Stones, G., and Ch. Rowe., eds. 2013. The circle of Socrates: Readings in the first-generation Socratics. Indianapolis: Hackett.

    This volume is divided into eleven chapters, each of them concerning a theme (“Argument and Truth”; “Happiness and the Good”; “Virtue and Pleasure”; “Body and Soul”; “Education”; “The Erotic Sciences”; “Alcibiades and Politics”; “Aspasia and the Role of Women”; “God and the World”; “Lesser Divinities and Socrates’ ‘Sign’”; “Debates and Rivalries”). Each theme is illustrated through a choice of translated texts that are preceded by an introduction.

  • Brisson, L. 1998. Les Socratiques. In Philosophie grecque. Edited by M. Canto-Sperber, with J. Barnes, L. Brisson, J. Brunschwig, G. Vlastos, 145–184. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

    General exposition of the philosophy of the Megarics, beginning from Euclides (pp. 147–148), of the Cyrenaics, with a too short exposition of Aristippus (p. 159), and of the Cynics, beginning from Antisthenes (pp. 166–167). The chapter is provided with an example of criticism of the sources, that is applied on a testimonium concerning the Cyrenaics, and with a bibliography.

  • Chame, S. 2017. La ontología negativa en las filosofías socráticas y sus proyecciones interepocales. Eidos 27: 39–69.

    DOI: 10.14482/eidos.27.8119

    Antisthenes, Euclides, and Stilpo develop ontologically negative conceptions that reject the affirmation of ontological principles capable of sustaining reality and its linguistic expression. This theoretical stance offers an alternative to the Platonic-Aristotelian approach toward ontology.

  • Decleva Caizzi, F. 2006. Minor Socratics. In A companion to ancient philosophy. Edited by M. L. Gill and P. Pellegrin, 119–135. London: Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631210610.2006.00012.x

    A short but updated overview of the principal Socratics. This overview is completed by a useful selected bibliography, which however presents some gaps.

  • Gomperz, Th. 1912. Griechische Denker. Eine Geschichte der antiken Philosophie, III Auflage, Zweiter Band, Viertes Buch: Sokrates und die Sokratiker. Leipzig: Verlag von Veit.

    The discussion of the Socratics regards Xenophon as well (pp. 96–112). Then there are three chapters devoted to Antisthenes and the Cynics (pp. 112–139), Euclides and the Megarians (pp. 1349–1370), Aristippus and the Cyrenaics (pp 170–200), respectively. The Megarians are compared to Herbart, Aristippus to Bentham, Antisthenes to Rousseau and the social reformers. English translation: Th. Gomperz, Greek Thinkers. A History of Ancient Philosophy (London: John Murray, 1913). Vol. 2, pp. 119–245.

  • Grote, G. 1885. Plato and the other companions of Sokrates. 4 Vols. London: Murray.

    Despite the antiquity of this volume, it offers an accurate presentation of the Socratics, still useful for many insightful ideas. The discussion of the Socratics is divided in several paragraphs, devoted to the disciples of Socrates as well to the Socratic schools. One paragraph is also devoted to Xenophon (pp. 206–245). See Vol. 1, pp. 110–205.

  • Humbert, J. 1967. Socrate et les Petits Socratiques. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

    Humbert attempts to reconstruct the essential aspects of Socrates’ philosophy and to highlight his influence on the Socratics. An important chapter of this book is devoted to the Socratic dialogue, which Humbert considers a method of knowledge as well as a moral action. In the last chapter Humbert studies the development of Socrates’ ideas in Aeschines (pp. 214–231), Antisthenes (pp. 231–250), Aristippus (pp. 250–272), Euclides (pp. 272–277), and Phaedo (pp. 277–281).

  • Joël, K. 1921. Geschichte der antiken Philosophie. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr.

    In the Socratic schools the independence of human spirit is proclaimed. Such independence was already a key principle of the Sophists, who detached it from the cultural heritage of early Greek tradition. Main features of the Socratics are the “critical spirit,” the subjectivism, and the individualism that characterize the Greek Enlightenment. Reconstructing the philosophy of the Megarics (pp. 838–862), Cynics (pp. 862–925), and Cyrenaics (pp. 925–959), the volume focuses on the Socratics as such and on their relationship with Socrates’ thought.

  • Merlan, Ph. 1972. Minor Socratics. Journal of the History of Philosophy 10: 143–152.

    DOI: 10.1353/hph.2008.1186

    It deals with Antisthenes and Aristippus and starting from these Socratics it studies Cynics and Cyrenaics. It also studies the Cynic and Cyrenaic presence in Stoicism and Epicureanism, respectively. Both the Cynics and the Cyrenaics teach a strictly individualistic ethics; both were a way of life much more than a system of thought; both were popular rather than esoteric.

  • Notomi, N. 2005. The Birth of the Philosopher: People around Socrates. Tokyo: Chikuma Shinsho.

    In Japanese. This is the first monograph in Japanese about Socrates, the Socratics, and the tradition of the logoi Sokratikoi. It includes the first Japanese translation of the fragments of Aeschines’ Aspasia and Alcibiades. A final chapter offers a survey of the reception of Socrates in modern Japan from the mid-19th century.

  • Reale, G. 1982. Storia della filosofia antica. Vol. 1, Dalle origini a Socrate. Milan: Vita e Pensiero.

    Specific chapters are devoted to Antisthenes (pp. 390–402), Aristippus (pp. 403–417), Euclides (pp. 418–426), Phaedo of Elis (pp. 427–430).

  • Zeller, E. 1922. Die Philosophie der Griechen in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung, 3 Theile, 6 Abteilungen, II 1: Sokrates und die Sokratiker. Plato und die alte Akademie, Fünfte Auflage, 232–388. Leipzig: O.R. Reisland.

    After a presentation of the “Sokratische Popularphilosophie” (pp. 232–244), the most important Socratics are studied together with the various representatives of the Socratic schools that derived from them: Megarians (pp. 244–280), Cynics (pp. 280–336), and Cyrenaics (pp. 336–383). The perspective is historico-philosophical, but the volume is also characterized by a sound philological structure. In the numerous footnotes, provided with several textual references, particular questiones are tackled.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.