Garth Kemerling's insightful
discussion of Socrates contains many links to concepts and people.
Michael S. Russo provides
a clear commentary to Socrates' life and ideas.
The mind altering depiction of the trial of
Socrates. really, this work changed the world and if you read it
well it will change you too.
Apology: Study Questions
To think about and look for when reading the original
Socrates make important references to the oracle.
learn about this remarkable aspect of history from Scientific American
J's Illustrated Apology
A detailed analysis of the trial of Socrates.
and The Apology
Lecture notes by Janice Siegel
Another lasting innovation that Socrates brought to the intellectual tradition
is the notion that the proper subject-matter philosophy
is the human being. Prior to him, thinkers were concerned with issues
such as what the universe was made of, what made the planets move, what
pleases the gods, and so on. Socrates declared that the major concern
of all philosophy should be questions about human nature and human reality.
All of his major questions -- about justice, love, truth, courage, beauty,
knowledge, piety, etc. -- are matters connected to the human condition.
Among the other Socratic
ideas were the following:
proper subject-matter of philosophy is the human being.
one does evil intentionally.
(goodness) is a kind of knowledge.
a person has knowledge of, they can give an account of (explanation
or definition in words).
is not an evil.
These are interpretations,
not quotes. The second statement on the list; "No
one does evil intentionally" remains a common belief for many
people. You may have heard someone say; "Evil is ignorance."
The basic idea here is that humans always seek to do what they percieve
to be the good. Even if an action is obviously a horrible evil to everyone
else, the person who commits the act is seeking to attain some good that
they percieve in it. This does not excuse anyone of the wrong committed.
Rather it is a recognition that ignorance and confused perception can
be the source of great evil. On Socrates' view, to know the good is to
do the good. Of course he also demonstrated in his own time that even
the most respected citizens did not really know what good is. Times have
not changed much in that regard. We are all capable of causing evil and
injustice, particularly if we refuse to study, reflect on important matters
right before us. A modern Socrates might well ask any of us;
What is terrorism?
What is freedom?
What is justice?
What is peace?
people are confident they know the answers. Times
have not changed much in that regard.
Socrates was executed by poisoning
in 399 BC at the age of 71. He died gracefully in the company of friends.
Plato's dialogue Phaedo depicts the last hours of Socrates in his jail
cell, discussing the nature of life and death with friends, and waiting
for the executioner to prepare the hemlock potion he was to drink. Plato
Socrates had several chances
to prevent or escape his death, but refused them all on the basis of principle.
In Plato's Apology, he explains why he refused to compromise at all even
though his life was in the balance;
"Someone will say: And are you not ashamed, Socrates, of
a course of life which is likely to bring you to an untimely end?
To him I may fairly answer: There you are mistaken: a man who
is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living
or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything
he is doing right or wrong - acting the part of a good man or
of a bad...."
"Let us reflect in another way, and we shall see that there
is great reason to hope that death is a good, for one of two things:
- either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness,
or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from
this world to another. Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness,
but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by the
sight of dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain. For if a person
were to select the night in which his sleep was undisturbed even
by dreams, and were to compare with this the other days and nights
of his life, and then were to tell us how many days and nights
he had passed in the course of his life better and more pleasantly
than this one, I think that any man, I will not say a private
man, but even the great king, will not find many such days or
nights, when compared with the others. Now if death is like this,
I say that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a single
night. But if death is the journey to another place, and there,
as men say, all the dead are, what good, O my friends and judges,
can be greater than this?"
"Wherefore, O judges, be of good cheer about death, and
know this of a truth - that no evil can happen to a good man,
either in life or after death. He and his are not neglected by
the gods; nor has my own approaching end happened by mere chance.
But I see clearly that to die and be released was better for me;
and therefore the oracle gave no sign. For which reason also,
I am not angry with my accusers, or my condemns; they have done
me no harm, although neither of them meant to do me any good;
and for this I may gently blame them."
remains the paradigm of an individual with courage and character. He
is an ideal for philosophers that is difficult to match. An well-educated
person must have read at least one of the major works in which Socrates
is a character. I recommend the Apology (hint: comments
about it are next!).
- read about the tial of Socrates; The Apology.