Was Socrates the first Coach?


The ancient Greek philosophers were preoccupied with investigation into the reasons for human existence and the way people should live to that they could be consistent with their reason for being.

Today, most of their views seem to have lost nothing of their popularity and stand out like shining beacons, especially now that the western world is desperately seeking answers in its quest to relight its fires!

In today’s blog, we are discussing the principles and practices that Aristotle and Socrates left behind for generations to come, with the intention of proving that their principles are aligned with those of coaching. In addition, we will try to prove that Socrates was the first coach ever!

  • According to Aristotle, true happiness is achieved when people develop and leverage all their capabilities.
    The discovery, development and leveraging of our skills and potential is the primary aim of coaching.

  • Our life goal is the pursuit of well-being through practicing and developing virtues; Virtues are our values and models of behavior. Excellence (aristia) refers to the virtuous person who discovers and explores his/her capabilities (his/her self-truth) and practices moderation; moderation is the avoidance of all excess, extravagance and scarcity. Excellence, for Aristotle, has to do with more action and not pursuit of perfection.
    A coach focuses on achieving a personality compatible with one’s genuine aims, thus leading to a happy life.

  • According to Aristotle, phronesis (prudence, forethought) is a virtue of one seeking essential knowledge and its implementation, i.e. action.
    Your coach supports you in changing your life and behaviours (the bad ones) in order for you to live with integrity;, for this to happen, you have to start taking action.

  • Socrates is the first Greek philosopher who investigated human nature and the soul.
    The science of coaching puts man and his behavior at its center.

  • Socrates places the quest for truth, which man has buried deep inside him, at the center of his philosophy,
    exactly the same way coaching does.

  • For Socrates, self-awareness is a fundamental value,
    just like in coaching.

  • Socrates discovers truth through dialogue. This Socratic dialectic method is called “midwifing” because it helps people give birth to the truth – by discovering it for themselves. Socrates’ mother was a midwife and Socrates used to compare his art of discussion with a midwife’s art. The midwife is not the one who gives birth to the child, rather the mother does.
    Coaching is mainly the search for truth through dialogue.

  • Socrates aimed to discover people’s limits and question the assumptions on which they built their lives.
    Coaching helps the individual to discover their limits and reposition themselves on a new, more truthful foundation.

  • Socrates did not teach, he listened. He made his interlocutors discern on their own the flaws and weaknesses of reasoning.
    A coach does the same.

  • Socrates believed that philosophers had to see beyond the obvious.
    Coaches hold the same view.

  • Through his agonizing death, Socrates provided a valuable lesson. Every individual should accept responsibility for their own actions.
    A coach is aware of the fact that the coachee is solely responsible for his/her actions and their consequences, and the coach makes this clear to the coachee.

  • Socrates believed that every human should live with integrity, according to their own true capabilities and desires.
    A coach believes that the best incentive for people to perform difficult acts is for them to discover what truly satisfies them.

  • Socrates believed in a divine voice, conscience, which dictates what is right and what is fair.
    To a coach, a man’s conscience is his true self.

Ancient Greek philosophy regarding why and how we live concentrates on the following. Why: our quest for “well-being”, for a flourishing life (eudaimonia). How: aiming for “excellence” (aristia).

Finally, both ancient Greek philosophers and modern coaches seek “excellence” (aristia) within us, not as a homogenous reality but as areti (virtue) unique to every individual.

Learn more about coaching in our previous blogs:

  1. The best explanation: why coaching really works
  2. The art of listening