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Socrates As A Role Model

September 15, 2010

After reading both Apology and Crito from Plato’s The Trial and Death of Plato, a reoccurring thought has bounced around my mind. Regardless of whether or not a reader actually agrees with the logic and behavior of Socrates in these two scenes, it can not be said that he does not act as a kind of role model for the theme of society.

Throughout his trial, Socrates repeats the concept of questioning what one is told. He scouts out those who claim to be wise and humbles them. It seems apparent to me that this kind of behavior is necessary for a society to grow. Imagine if the scientists of the Enlightenment had not questioned what they had been told, but rather subscribed to the static ideology of the time. The scientific understanding of our societies would not be anywhere near what they are today. Socrates goes on to explain the flaw of a society as a whole taking the entire responsibility for educating the youth. He uses the example of a horse trainer to present his theory that education is far more productive if in the hands of a few specialists as opposed to a mob of uneducated citizens. Lets once again apply this to a more modern situation. Would any of us be attending a University if Socrates logic was flawed.

I would also like to take a moment and comment on Socrates’ lesson to societies in Crito. He counters Crito’s pleading with a response on the importance of justice. His largest objection to being sprung from jail is that it would be an act that corrupted the city of Athens. Socrates intends to teach the lesson that a society can not live without a system of justice, and if the contract between any man and that mans society is broken by disregarding a law, then justice is gone. I think it is a fair assumption that life without justice is less than desirable. Would it not be enraging to work hard in this class for a B and then see another do no work whatsoever and watch him get a solid A simply because the professor liked his hair style. That would obviously break the “contract” we made coming into this class that all work will be graded on our performance. I think Socrates hits a note when he says that “…The good life, the beautiful life, and the just life are the same…” (48b).

All this being said, it is very possible to see that Socrates acted in many other ways that are questionable at best. Yes it is important to understand how a government should operate, but there are obviously some circumstances that require some objection. At one point in his conversation with Crito he goes as far as to suggests that a man who puts his children and family above justice are fit for death (48c). It is easy to understand that this argument is a bit extreme.

In conclusion, I think that if we look objectively at Socrates in these two scenes, we can see that he does drive home some important points for how a society should operate.

One Comment
  1. Zach Alexander permalink
    September 15, 2010 11:31 AM

    I have two thoughts on the blog and the assumption. To begin, by definition I would say he is a role model. He provides a type of structure to follow how to live your life. His method of standing for what you believe in to the point of death is a model for moralistic consistency. He demonstrates that in order for you to maintain a ‘true’ belief, you must continue to apply the belief, even if it causes your downfall. In the sense of standing for your belief, he is a ‘positive’ role model.

    On the other hand, one could argue he is a ‘negative’ role model for survival. Children are taught to assimilate in order to gain acceptance and form relationships. Socrates in this case, seems to contradict this method of survival with his absolutism. It is ‘good’ to stand for your beliefs, but it is also ‘good’ to survive. In order to do the latter, you must sometimes compromise. I’d argue compromise is also a ‘good’ value. His lack of willingness to do so, even in the face of his own death is somewhat of a poor model.

    Socrates makes the comparison that he is a fly stinging the horse of Athens. However, he doesn’t bring up the fact that many flies would grow to infect the horse. Many creators of chaos, such as himself, would lead to a societal breakdown. Balance must be provided. Everyone cannot be as he is, nor can everyone be a be unquestioning.

    He’s someone to learn from, but not the ONLY person to learn from.

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