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The Final Lesson of Socrates

September 18, 2010

           Reading the final accounts of the life of Socrates, one may find the great philosopher’s reasoning rife with inconsistency and confusion.   Questions seem to plague the mind of the reader; how could so acclaimed a man find himself in this situation? How does a man this revered seem to have so many incomplete and hypocritical arguments?  I purpose that for the most part these enigmas can be explained by a sort of master plan that I believe Socrates must have had.  In this scenario, his trial, sentence, and execution would not have been the arbitrary, sequential happenings that some might believe them to be, but instead a carefully choreographed play, a sequence of events with an explicit purpose.  In ancient Greek culture it was paramount to be remembered, to be immortalized through story and song.  This fact only reinforces the notion that the manner of the death of Socrates was no mere court decision.

            First of all, Socrates was old.  It takes something special to reach the age of 70 in ancient Greece.  Undoubtedly, that “little voice” in his head must have been hinting that his time on earth was drawing to a conclusion.  Socrates’ last chance to make his impact would be his death, which, instead of wasting he chose to control to the last for the purposing of advancing his goals.  Socrates was, in my book, 100% a martyr for his cause. 

            The death of Socrates would be his last and greatest opportunity to spread his gospel to the world.  As revealed to us in lecture by our esteemed professor, Socrates was a believer in truth – among other virtues.  It was of utmost importance to him that laws be based on what was true, virtuous, and good.  He manipulated the court to prove that a procedural system based upon the whim of the majority was an injustice waiting to happen.   I think that he wanted to die in the manner that he did – to make his death his greatest lesson in virtue.  Socrates believed that what he taught (for Socrates did teach, whether he thought so or not) was much greater that himself.     

            So, when his trial came, Socrates chose to argue without validity or reasoned thought.  He instead opted to utilize irony and inconsistency to sentence himself to his intended fate, the fate of a martyr.  With the hope that the people of Athens would see the error of their systems and the faults of their belief sets, Socrates went to his end. 

            Had Socrates argued with humility and reason, with rational and systematic consistency, I think that he would have easily been let off the hook.  Free from the death sentence, he would have lived out his few remaining years going about his business as normal until he would have passed away in his sleep, or died of some various other malady of the elderly.  And then the “Men of Athens” would not have thought about poor Socrates as they went to bed at night, as they shopped for goods at the market, as they crafted public policy and voted in their elections.  Young adults in institutions of higher learning more than 2000 years after his death would not have stayed up late at night to read “The Apology”, “Crito” and “Phaedo”.  The teachings of the great philosopher may not have survived as they did across the millennia to be incorporated into the writings of other renowned public figures.  The image of Socrates as we know it today would be fundamentally different in many more ways than one.


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