Socrates’ Trial Today
It is interesting to note how far we have come in terms of under what circumstances the death penalty is considered. One of the most interesting and controversial examples of the allocation of capital punishment is the 399 BC execution of Socrates. This case is worth comparing to capital murder trials today because Socrates was not prosecuted based on him physically harming anyone but rather based on his ideological theories.
First, let us start off with what actions allow for the death penalty today. According to the Office of the District Attorney in the State of Kansas, Sedgwick County,
“The death penalty may only be given in circumstances where a defendant is convicted of pre-meditated first degree murder under the following limited factual circumstances:
• during a kidnapping for ransom
• during a killing committed under a contract or agreement
• the killing of any person by someone confined in a state correctional institution, community correction institution or jail or while in official custody
• a killing during the commission of, or attempt to commit, a rape or aggravated sodomy of any person
• the killing of a law enforcement officer
• the killing of more than one person as part of the same act or in two or more acts connected together
• the killing of a child under age 14 during a kidnapping or aggravated kidnapping with the intent to commit a sex offense upon the child” (http://www.sedgwickcounty.org/da/death.html).
Yes, this is just an example of one state’s guidelines. But, although different states follow slightly different guidelines when considering the death penalty, none of the punishable offenses include impiety or the presenting of controversial ideas to the young.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to think about the outcome of Socrates’ trial if he was tried in a modern day court? Could you imagine if someone was tried in a court of law because his or her ideology was considered outlandish? If you think about it, this would mean that every single person who preached something that the government or the majority of people didn’t agree with would be prosecuted. Clearly things have changed since Socrates’ time.
This brings me to my next point of analysis: majority opinion versus truth. Majority opinion is simply when a large group of people believe in a certain set of principles or the masses agree on a certain issue. Truth on the other hand is a more elusive term, and refers not to the socially acceptable, superficially produced majority view but to the actual reality of a situation. In Socrates’ time, majority opinion (otherwise referred to by the Athenians as democracy: a system of decision making) alone was considered just. In a modern day court of law, majority opinion is important but in and of itself is not enough to give a defendant the death penalty. Instead the court has adopted a more Socratic form of prosecution and has a number of rules and procedures in place in order to search for the truth. In colloquial terms, just because a bunch of people think that something is bad or punishable by death doesn’t mean that their accusations or points of view technically reflect the truth.