The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.

[Η αρχή της σοφίας είναι ο καθορισμός των όρων]

Socrates (c.470-399 BC) Greek philosopher

Frequently attributed to Socrates (or, our source for most Socratic material, Plato), but not found as such in their works.

That said, there are places where Socrates indicates that searching out the meanings of ambiguities is important, and his "Socratic method" often involves calling definitions (or their implications) into question.

For example, in Phaedrus, 256d [tr. Jowett (1892)], Plato has Socrates note:

First, the comprehension of scattered particulars in one idea; as in our definition of love, which whether true or false certainly gave clearness and consistency to the discourse, the speaker should define his several notions and so make his meaning clear.

[εἰς μίαν τε ἰδέαν συνορῶντα ἄγειν τὰ πολλαχῇ διεσπαρμένα, ἵνα ἕκαστον ὁριζόμενος δῆλον ποιῇ περὶ οὗ ἂν ἀεὶ διδάσκειν ἐθέλῃ. ὥσπερ τὰ νυνδὴ περὶ Ἔρωτος -- ὃ ἔστιν ὁρισθέν -- εἴτ᾽ εὖ εἴτε κακῶς ἐλέχθη, τὸ γοῦν σαφὲς καὶ τὸ αὐτὸ αὑτῷ ὁμολογούμενον διὰ ταῦτα ἔσχεν εἰπεῖν ὁ λόγος.]

Possibly from this sentiment, Socrates' student Antisthenes said the very similar to the subject quotation, As recorded in Arrianus, The Discourses of Epictetus [Epictetus Diatibai], Book 1, ch. 17 [tr. Long (1877)]:

The beginning of education is the examination of terms.

[ἀρχὴ παιδεύσεως ἡ τῶν ὀνομάτων ἐπίσκεψις]

Arrianus was a student of Epictetus, who had been a pupil of Antisthenes. In the full passage, Epictetus ties this phrase back to Antisthenes and Socrates, possibly establishing the phrasing as a something directly said by Socrates.

More discussion of this quotation:

Added on 31-Mar-23 | Last updated 31-Mar-23
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