During the trial, Socrates had to defend his teachings and his character. Doing so, he denied that he thought of himself as the wisest man. “This one of you, O human beings, is wisest, whosoever, like Socrates, perceives that he is in truth of no value to wisdom,” he quoted an oracle, with great self-effacement. It is harder to say what that exactly means, but I think what my mother taught me, which is the conventional English translation, is close enough.
I've tried some cases in my days as a lawyer. One thing I could have assured Socrates, without ever needing to test it, is that it would not be a good idea for me to tell the jury that I was the wisest of men even if I qualified it that it because I knew I knew nothing. But, this post is not about arguing to a jury. it is about knowledge.
And, there is no doubt in my mind that this much Socrates (or to be scrupulous - perhaps it was Plato) rightly understood - that we know so little and can be sure of almost nothing. I have much to criticize Socrates/Plato about, but not in this. It is an easy enough concept in the abstract, but very difficult to apply in real life, especially as it seems from our everyday experience. Certainly Socrates was not the first or only one to recognize it. How apt a description of Socrates' own style of questioning is Chapter 3 of the Tao te ching (we think, but can't be sure, that the Tao, which tradition says was written in the 6th century, B.C., is the older of the two as the earliest records scholars have of it appear to be from the 4th century, B.C.; that is, about the time Plato was writing his dialogues and after Socrates' death):
by emptying people's minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.
He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion
in those who think that they know."