As per Wikipedia, the paraphrased quotatation is found in Plato's account of Socrates, but it is not confirmed whether Socrates really said such a thing. Is it then okay to say that Plato said 'I know that I do not know'?

  • Neither said it, it is a late Latin paraphrase, see I know that I know nothing. But Plato in Apology puts a similar idea into Socrates's mouth. You can say that Plato's Socrates said it, a fictional character distinct from historical Socrates. – Conifold Sep 5 '20 at 13:09
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    For what we know, the statement reflects Socrates’ approach to philosophical inquiry – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Sep 5 '20 at 13:22
  • If you are satisfied with the answer below, please accept it. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Sep 7 '20 at 11:53

Mauro is right.

Xenophon in his Memorabilia (Memories of Socrates) quotes Socrates as saying, with regard to the temple inscription, gnothi seauton, 'know yourself':

That much I made quite sure I knew, at any rate; since if I did not know even myself, what in the world did I know? (https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1177/1177-h/1177-h.htm).

In Plato's dialogue, The Apology of Socrates, mainly a speech rather than a dialogue, Socrates tells us that his friend, Chaerephon:

went to Delphi and boldly asked the oracle to tell him ... whether there was anyone wiser than I was, and the Pythian prophetess answered that there was no man wiser (Apol. 21A; http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/apology.html).

Puzzled by this Socrates finally decided that:

the truth is, O men of Athens, that God only is wise; and in this oracle he means to say that the wisdom of men is little or nothing; he is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name as an illustration, as if he said, He, of men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing (Apol.23A-B; http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/apology.html).

Whether Socrates said the things Xenophon and Plato attribute to him, we shall never know. Unfortunately the oracle is not on hand to help but neither asribes to him the view that 'I know that I know nothing'.

  • This is probably the best answer the records allow. Socrates left no writings, and I believe the only contemporary sources to compare with Plato's dialogues are Xenophon and, even less reliably, Aristophanes. Certainly the phrase captures the gist of everything few know about Socrates, and since he was apparently quite talkative the odds are good he actually said some such thing in his sociable life. – Nelson Alexander Sep 6 '20 at 18:11
  • @Nelson Alexander. Thanks for comment. The phrase certainly squares with the early Platonic dialogues in which Socrates searches for truth but never finds it. Even in a middle dialogue, the Republic, the figure represented as Socrates runs out of road and can offer only similes, allegories and myths. Thanks again - Geoff – Geoffrey Thomas Sep 6 '20 at 19:34

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