University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Was the Death of Socrates Justified
The life and death of Socrates is a topic that can spark great debates. Socrates was an ancient Greek philosopher who was put on trial for two specific reasons. In the Apology, we learn that the people of Athens claimed that Socrates did not believe in the gods of their city, but in other spiritual things. This was thought to be impious. They also believed that Socrates was corrupting the youth. Socrates did his best at trial to prove his innocence, but in the end was found guilty by the jury, and ultimately sentenced to death.
Although many of his friends and supporters sought out to help Socrates escape, he accepted his sentence. Many people question why Socrates would chose a death sentence for himself. Socrates could very easily have fled the city and went into exile instead of drinking the hemlock that would kill him. Socrates was a proud man and truly believed that he was innocent of what he was being charged with. He was a law abiding citizen, and by running away into exile, he would be destroying the law. He had a respect for the city, and felt that running away would show a great disrespect.
Socrates states ,”Reflect now, Socrates,” the laws may say, “that if what we say is true, you are not treating us rightly by planning to do what you are planning. We have given you birth, nurtured you, educated you; we have given you and all other citizens a share of all the good things we could. ”(Crito 54) He had been a citizen of Athens for seventy years, which meant he followed the Athenian laws. He also had concerns for his family. If he were considered an outlaw, they may suffer some repercussions. If he were to break the law, he would be considered an outlaw, and I think that was against everything Socrates stood for.
When first reading of Socrates and his fate, I questioned why he would not choose to escape into exile. After reading further into his discussion with Crito, I feel Socrates has good reasons for choosing not to flee. Although Socrates feels he has been wrongly convicted, he also believes that two wrongs do not make a right. Socrates states, “One should never do wrong in return, nor do any man harm, no matter what he may have done to you. ” (Crito 52) While examining Socrates and his life, one might ask if the city of Athens was justified in executing him.
Should he have even been brought to trial in the first place is another question some may ask.. Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth and not recognizing the gods of Athens. Socrates spent his days examining life and questioning certain aspects of it. What is piety? What is wisdom? He would discuss such things with those who would listen, soon developing a bit of a following. He never accepted money for his teachings, as the sophists of his time did. He cared for the youth of Athens, feeling he was teaching them virtue. While Socrates gained many followers, he also gained many enemies.
The majority of Athens, it seems, viewed Socrates as a threat. In an article by Simon Johnson, titled “Socrates Trial and Execution was Completely Justified, Says New Study”, 08 June 2009, while many consider the death of Socrates to be one of the greatest miscarriages of justice, the trial was justified. Professor Paul Cartledge has concluded that the people of Athens were not ignorant, convicting an innocent man. Professor Cartilage states, “Everyone knows that the Greeks invented democracy, but it was not democracy as we know it, and we have misread history as a result.
The charges Socrates faced seem ridiculous to us, but in Ancient Athens, they were genuinely felt to serve the communal good. ” The fact that Socrates questioned the gods made the charge of impiety legitimate. It is also viewed that Socrates brought the death penalty on himself, when suggesting that he should actually be rewarded instead of punished. Athens viewed his death sentence as cleansing their city. Whether or not the death of Socrates was justified will always be up for debate. When speaking of society, and whether or not citizens have the right or responsibility to criticize it, can depend on various factors.
Dictionary. com defines “society” as “an organized group of persons associated together for religious, benevolent, cultural, scientific, political, patriotic, or other purposes. ” In a society, there are rules and laws that apply. Most people adhere to these. Some people in a society may view certain laws or rules as being unfair or unjust. Do they have a right to question these laws or rules and voice their opinions? It seems that in this day and age, one can. It is a free country, and one is allowed to challenge ideas or beliefs that may contradict what they believe to be true.
If we are speaking of ancient times, the idea of voicing opinions against those of the majority would probably not be in the best interest of the individual. We can use Socrates as an example. He questioned certain ideas and thoughts, perhaps not to be outrageous, but because he had a legitimate quest to learn and seek answers. This quest eventually led to his death. Socrates always maintained that he never broke any of the laws of Athens, nor would he. Socrates states, at his trial, “Very well then, men of Athens, I must surely defend myself and attempt to uproot from your minds in so short a time the slander that has resided there so long.
I wish this may happen, if it is in any way better for you and me, and that my defense may be successful, but I think this is very difficult and I am fully aware of how difficult it is. Even so, let the matter proceed as the god may wish, but I must obey the law and make my defense. ” (Apology 24) Just as a citizen today has the right to question society, society has the right to defend itself. In today’s day and age, there are many outside forces, such as terrorists, that do not like the way our society as a whole, functions. There are constant threats to our society.
Society, as a whole, has the right to defend itself against these threats and acts. One could look at the death penalty as a way of society defending itself. While this is a controversial topic, one might argue that putting someone who has done such grievous acts to death is defending society. This individual will no longer be a threat to the individuals in their community. Some may look at society defending itself as justice. Looking back on the trial of Socrates, the city of Athens defended itself against the what they believed to be impious acts.
There will always be arguments as to why Socrates allowed himself to be put to death. While many question why, it is important to remember that Socrates was a very wise man. He believed we existed in order to grow spiritually and personally. Socrates was not given the right to question society or the gods. It seems that society has always had the right to defend itself against criticism and threats. Life is about being able to question things, and to grow and learn from these questions. To quote Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living. ”