- Socrates was so willing to challenge those around him that he goaded them into killing him.
- Aristophanes challenged the will to war with 'Lysistrata' and respected philosophers with 'Clouds'.
- Plato (and to a lesser extent Aristotle) challenged how society was set up.
- Jesus was a challenge to the Jewish hierarchy of his day. Paul challenged the whole exclusion of gentiles.
- Augustine challenged the intellectuals of his day, as he made his way to Christianity.
- Rabelais challenged all kinds of mores and ideals with his writing.
- Both Locke and Rousseau challenged the monarchical set up that they lived under.
- Gibbon challenged the dominant religion of his day.
- The founders of the United States followed through on Locke's thoughts and challenged the relationship between the citizen and the state.
- Smith challenged mercantilism, the major theory of economics in his day.
- Marx challenged capitalism, and the structures of society.
I haven't read all that widely outside of the western tradition. A number of years ago I read through 'The Analects' of Confucius. I was struck by how much he reinforced the state. He didn't seek any kind of revolution, but mainly cautioned against corruption. As wise as he was, he would not have fit into this years reading list.
Is that one of the unique qualities of western thought? We admire those that stand up and critique society. Even when we disagree with a rabble rouser, we admire their 'spirit' and principle. Does this same quality exist in other schools of thought? (I'll fully admit that I'm too ignorant to know the answer but I haven't come across it in my readings.)
Maybe that's the best lesson from Socrates. Be true to yourself, to whatever end you must. And if they can't take a joke, screw 'em!