Plato’s “Defense of Socrates” follows the trial of Socrates for charges of corruption of the youth. His accuser, Meletus, claims he is doing so by teaching the youth of Athens of a separate spirituality from that which was widely accepted.
Socrates’ argument was unique in that he tried to convince the jury he was just an average man and not to be feared, but in actuality demonstrated how clever and tenacious he was. He begins with an anecdote of his visit to the Oracle of Delphi, which told him that there was no man smarter than he.
He, being as humble as he is, could not take the Oracle’s answer for granted and went about questioning Athenians he felt surpassed his intelligence. However, in questioning politicians, poets, and artisans, he found that they claimed to know of matters they did not know about. Socrates considered this to be a serious flaw, and, as Bill S. Preston, Esq. put it: that “true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing.
”Socrates acknowledges the fact that he knows nothing, at least in areas which he is unlearned in. By knowing this, he has obtained true wisdom, according to the above maxim. So, in essence, he maintains that he is not a smart man, but the Oracle was not flawed in its testimony.
Socrates argues that he could not have intentionally corrupted Athenian youth through two premises: The first being that he would certainly not want to live amongst those who have been corrupted- after all, why would he want to interact with a society whose beliefs are askew? And he supplements this with his second premise- if he did want to live amongst those he corrupted; it could only be because he was mad, and therefore unintentional. He reasons that those who are mad should not be killed, but institutionalized instead.
Socrates goes on to refuse changing his ways in order to avoid death for two reasons. The first being that he feels he is doing the work of the gods, and the second being that what he does promotes a higher level of thought and wisdom; changing his ways would go against the fundamentals Athens was built upon. However Socrates does not fear death. He figures that death could mean an afterlife that rewards those who are good- and since he feels he has been a good person, death would be welcoming. His other theory is that death equals non-existence, which most likely resembles a deep sleep. So both of these end results are not worthy of being feared.
Because of his stoic perception of death, he offers a ludicrous counter-proposal: the first being free meals for him in the Prytaneum. A bit later, his supporters convince him to settle on a moderate fine of 30 minas. His reasoning for proposing such ridiculous counter-penalties is that because he feels death would be good, he has no reason to subject himself to a far worse fate, such as exile.
Socrates’ analysis of death is not extraordinary, and is completely reasonable. Most religions support some form of afterlife that rewards those who are virtuous, and even if no afterlife exists, it could only mean non-existence. The only fault in his reasoning is the immediate assumption that he will be rewarded, in the case that there is an afterlife. Whether or not he was an exceptional human being I cannot say, but if he was incorrect in this assumption, he would have good reason to fear death; the ultimate fate of eternal punishment.
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