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Not Afraid to Die

September 14, 2010

        In a world filled with fear, one of people’s biggest fears is death.  Still, why do we fear death?  Some would argue because it is painful.  Others would say due to the harsh effect it would have on their loved ones.  However, what I would argue is that it is our fear of the unknown that causes us to fear death.  Socrates in his defense the “Apology,” argues that it is for exactly that reason that death does not scare him and it his death that will prove he is an innocent man

         “There is good hope that death is a blessing, for it is one of two things: either the dead are nothing and have no perception of anything, or it is a change and a relocation for the soul from here to another place.” (40d) Socrates saw death as an opportunity to have one of the best sleeps of his life or as a way to spend the rest of his life discussing the mysteries of life with other men he considered worth talking to. In saying this, Socrates had to be viewed as a dangerous man because the most dangerous people are the ones who are not afraid to die due to the fact that they have nothing to lose.  While, Socrates used this rationale to possibly strengthen his defense, in reality he was probably only digging himself a deeper grave. 

            On the other hand, I think Socrates may have only said this in order to infuriate his accusers even more. He says, “It is not difficult to avoid death, gentlemen; it is much more difficult to avoid wickedness, for it runs faster than death.” (39b)  Through this statement he is basically saying that even though have sentenced him to death, it does not mean he is an immoral man, but rather those who have persecuted him are the evil ones.  Furthermore, Socrates most likely wanted to die in order to prove the point that it is not the one who tries to prove his innocence that is not guilty, but rather the one who speaks the truth who is truly a just man. 

            I personally am still afraid of death regardless of Socrates reasoning and arguably our age difference plays a factor into this difference of opinion.  However, Socrates explains our ignorance about fearing death best when he parts with the lines, “Now the hour to part has come. I go to die, you go to live. Which of us goes to the better lot is known to no one.” (42)

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5 Comments
  1. Amani permalink
    September 14, 2010 12:53 AM

    I agree with your post. Socrates is acting like a tough guy or “dangerous person” like you mentioned and basically explaining to the Athenians that though they have sentenced him to death, he is not afraid of dying. He’s basically like bring it on I’m ready for it. Socrates even goes on to say that ” I say, gentlemen, to those who voted to kill me, that vengeance will come upon you immediately after my death, a vengeance much harder to bear than that which you took in killing me”. In this statement, Socrates is basically explaining that it doesn’t matter what they do to him, because those who sentenced him will face harsher consequences than death. ( since Socrates considers it to be a blessing)

    I also agree that most people are afraid of death because its the feeling of not knowing what to expect that scares people. In most situations that people come across, someone has dealt with it and has been able to speak or write about. But when it comes to death, no person that has died can come back and explain what dying feels like, that’s why the concept of dying is a very scary thought.

  2. Michael Chang permalink
    September 14, 2010 2:04 AM

    Socrates puts forth a very interesting argument. Even in his final moments, he is still attempting to mock his opponents and as you said, he is speeding the process of his death sentence. However, Socrates, by being dangerously optimistic about the afterlife, fails to mention the many other options of death. I found great irony that Socrates, the man that claims to have no wisdom can claim to know that the afterlife can only bring good things for himself; these good things being an eternity of philosophical discussion with those he considered worthy or to have eternal rest. I believe that with his statement, “There is good hope that death is a blessing, for it is one of two things…” (40d), Socrates gives himself status above human beings. The knowledge of the only options of where one might spend the rest of their afterlife is powerful.

  3. Sze Hon Aaron Yan permalink
    September 15, 2010 12:57 AM

    After reading your post, I had more understanding on how Socrates sees death. I absolutely argee that we are afraid of death not because of pains or negative influences brought by death. We fear death because we do not want to face the fact of death. In ancient china, chinese would avoid to talk about death because believe that death will come true if they talk about it. There are lots of chinese fairy tale about former chinese emperors wants to live forever. Ancient Chinese even use the word “吉”, which is the meaning of auspicious in chinese, to verbally replace the word “凶”, which is the meaning of evil or bad in chinese.

    Though I am educated in western styles of education, I personally believe the old saying from my ancestors. I avoid death as a topic between peers and family members. However, I understand that I could not live forever because there is life cycle. I would take death as a part of my life experience. It sad that death cannot be redone. However, it is glad that we do not have to repeat it.

  4. yequan permalink
    September 16, 2010 11:15 PM

    yeah, indeed. I agreed with you that Socrates was truly not afraid of death. On trial, Socrates examined his actions which lead him to a dangerous position. He compared him with Achilles, who was a hero being killed in the war of Troy. Achilles was warned by goddess, however, he did not give way and chose to face the consequence of death. Achilles turned to be immortal because of his heroic death, so did Socrates.

    Further, Socrates believed that death was not his concern. He claimed that: ” But that my whole concern is not to do anything unjust and impious”(35d) So what Socrates cared is justice and to do the right thing, but nothing else. It seems that he was a pretty persistent man, who devoted all his passion on just, and willing to test it on his life.

    Personally, I think that Socrates deliberately wanted to be sentenced to death. Let’s see, on court Socrates obviously try to provoke the jury with his contradictory argument. For example, Socrates defended that he was not wise at all and he knew nothing. Later he made this argument. “I go around seeking out anyone, citizen or stranger, whom I think wise. Then if I do not think he is, I come to the assistance of the God and show him that he is not wise. Because this occupation…”(26c) Socrates even said that he was helping God doing God’s work, and this action apparently showed his arrogance, or maybe provocative attitude.

  5. Lorig Stepanian permalink
    September 19, 2010 4:22 PM

    I also agree with your statement that Socrates is not afraid of death. If he has faith in what is the popular belief of the afterlife at the time, Hades, Socrates has nothing to fear because he clearly does not think he has committed any wrongs. In this case, Socrates might even think that the afterlife will be more fulfilling being that he can still teach and study his philosophy without the obstacles existing in the human world, such as religion or the law.
    If Socrates just believes that he will fall into an eternal sleep for the rest of time, death is not really something to be afraid of. Socrates will only lose his highly valued ability to continue his teachings and educate his followers on his philosophies. Even with a lighter sentence, Socrates would most likely not be able to spread his thoughts among the population as it is.
    I also agree with the statement that people fear death because of the unknown. No one really knows whether to “live life to the fullest” and partake in activities which could be deemed sinful or to follow the teachings of their religion. If we are to go into an eternal sleep, what do we have to lose by eating, drinking, and being merry? But if the latter is true, and judgement day awaits every human soul, we all must evaluate the priorities we have in our lives. The decision of faith is often a very difficult one in a person’s life. Many people put off their choice ultimately making them unsure of what lies ahead in the afterlife, instilling a particular fear of what is to come.

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