I will begin this paper with a brief account of Socrates. I feel this is necessary for those who are not familiar with Socrates. It is as follows: Socrates (C. 470-399 B.C.) Athenian philosopher who allegedly wrote down none of his views, supposedly from his belief that writing distorts ideas. His chief student, Plato, is the major source of knowledge about his life. Socrates questioned Athenians about their moral, political, and religious beliefs, as depicted in Plato^s dialogues; his questioning technique, called dialectic, has greatly influenced Western philosophy. Socrates is alleged to have said that ^the unexamined life is not worth living.^ In 399 B. C., he was brought to trial on charges of corrupting the youth and religious heresy. Sentenced to die, he drank poison.
Of the early life of Socrates, there is little to go on. Looking at W.K.C. Guthrie^s History of Greek Philosophy Vol. III, we can extract some useful background information. Socrates was a native Athenian and he was the son of Sophroniscus and Phaenarete. His father is thought to have been a stone mason or sculptor. Some even think that Sophroniscus owned the stone-cutting shop and was quite wealthy. Socrates^ mother is believed to have come from a good family (378). Socrates was also involved in active military service during the Peloponnesian war as a hoplite. Socrates would to have had the wealth and status associated with this position. Socrates had earned high praise for his courage and coolness in battle. He took part in three campaigns and his feats of endurance were well known (Guthrie 379). We also know that Socrates was an excellent soldier and that neither heat nor cold affected him and that his fortitude was well known among fellow hoplites and acquaintances (Symp. 220b). Socrates was not a handsome man, at least outwardly. He had bulging eyes, a broad, flat, turned-up nose, thick lips and a paunch (Guthrie 387). Socrates speaks of an inner voice, given to him by a god. Socrates said that he did not understand the meaning of this voice, but that it guided him to seek the truth, the just, what he felt were virtuous. This inner voice propels him to seek the truth, to steer him away from what is wrong. As Socrates goes about seeking the truth and knowledge, he tells people that he knows nothing and understands even less (Apology 31d) I would call this inner voice the morality of Socrates; the innate knowledge of what is right/wrong and what is just/unjust, voices that are mostly negative for people. This voice, though, leads him to seek the answers for unresolved questions. Socrates was a gadfly, a pest always there creating an itch, as if forcing a person to pay constant attention. Socrates was called the wisest man in Athens, a compliment that he brushed aside which also baffled him. The understanding of the truth was the final goal. Socrates^ method for attaining this was to take a statement, have a series of cross-examinations, try to tear down the other side^s argument and then to rebuild and reform. The result would be the truth of a given matter. This process is called dialectic, or elenchos. In the Euthyphro, we have a man who professes to know the law and duty to religion. Euthyphro had charged his father with murder. His father had bound a servant by the hands and feet and threw him into a ditch. The man had killed a household slave and the father went to seek the advice of the priest in how to handle this matter. Meanwhile, the man had died of hunger, cold and because of his hands being bound. Socrates comes along (he was near the king-archon^s court, for he was under indictment by one Meletus, for corrupting the youth and religious heresy) and in the dialogue, Socrates makes Euthphro see his error. Euthyphro realized that after talking to Socrates he really did not know as much as he thought he did. In fact, he understood nothing and Socrates got poor Euthyphro so confused, that he felt like a fool. In the aforementioned dialogue, Socrates asks Euthyphro, ^Is the pious loved by the Gods because it is pious or is it pious because it is loved by them?^(10.a) Do the gods love us because we are pious to them or does the everyday person by being pious (following the laws of the city and the laws of the gods) make himself a better person? The problem here is that the gods did not have a single absolute conception of piety. The gods did not always agree. The gods were relative in their piety and so were the citizens, (most of them) for following what they thought was loved by the gods. The citizens had an interesting dichotomy, on one hand they followed nomos and on the other hand, the law of physis. Although the citizens would follow all of the human laws and the laws of religion, bad things still occurred, due to the unpredictability of nature. So, did being a pious citizen mean they were above man^s law and only had to answer to the laws of the gods? This is where Socrates demolished the premise that Euthyphro had used for dragging his father to court. After dealing with Socrates, Euthyphro understood even less than he at first claimed to. Euthphro could not get away from Socrates soon enough, ending the conversation. Socrates was incredible in his "midwives' art" of discourse. This method of dialectic process, it was a purifying process, like that of a water filter, removing all scum and sediment, until the results were pure. It is like the cream that rises to the top. For Socrates, the inner truth is covered by layers of veils, untruths, (opinions) and we try to peel away these layers until we achieve true knowledge (episteme). Socrates is sometimes confused with the sophists of his time. A clear distinction must be made here between the two. Sophists of Socrates' time would use or find the argument that worked best. Socrates believed in finding the truth; the sophists did not. The sophists in Athens at this time were not usually citizens and they traveled throughout the Greek world. They charged substantial fees for their services, while Socrates did not. Their teachings would include ethical, social, and political issues (G&W xx). Socrates spent most of his life in Athens, whereas the sophists did not. As Martin L. King Jr. wrote in his Letter From Birmingham Jail, in 1963, he was asked why he was doing the things he was doing by his fellow clergymen. He answered, "that there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth and just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind, so that individuals could arise from the bondage of myths and half-truths, to the unfettered realm of created analysis and objective appraisal." Juries in Athens were quite large, 501 citizens in Socrates' case. They would combine to be both jury and judge and would also convict and sentence. The job of assessing the penalty was handled by a prosecutor. This type of "tension in the mind," in part, led to Socrates being charged with religious heresy and corrupting the youth of Athens. Socrates was found guilty and sentenced to death. While he was awaiting his fate, Crito, a dear and old friend, came to Socrates and told Socrates that there was a plan for him to escape and to avoid death (Crito 46). Socrates explained that he could not, that two wrongs do not make a right. Socrates had lived his life as an Athenian citizen and lived by her laws. It would have been wrong for him to violate the unjust verdict given to him. He had an obligation to obey the laws of Athens. As with most of the citizens of Athens, the state was first and the people came second. Socrates made people think. Most people fear the truth, as if it were death. Socrates did not, believing in the immortality of the soul. He went to his death not afraid, but eager to go and enjoy the fortunes of the blessed (Phaedo 115 d). He also tells the jurors who acquitted him: ^but the time has come to go. I go to die and you to live; which of us goes to a better thing is clear to none, but the god^ (Apology 42a). Socrates, felt that the afterlife would be a pleasant and learning experience. There is a another side to the trial of Socrates. Some people think he was guilty as hell and deserved what he got. We know that he was not a well-liked person. Going back to the oracle of Delphi, after Socrates was told of the reply of none wiser than he in Athens, he was baffled. He then sets out to prove the god incorrect. He first goes to a politician, who was considered wise by many and was full of himself. Socrates found this politician not to be wise and told him so. Naturally, the man did not like Socrates at all after this. Socrates then went to the poets and artisans seeking the same answer without success. However, he did make many enemies. Socrates sums this up as god is the only perfect being, who is wise and all others who profess wisdom or claim to be wise are worth nothing or very little at that (Apology 21-23). Socrates was also the teacher of a couple of students that were part of the Thirty in 404 B.C. and some people think that this was a payback to Socrates. He was taking the blame for the actions of Critias and Alcibiades during the Thirty Tyrants^ reign (B&S 73). Socrates^ accuser^s could not charge him with complicity during the reign of the Thirty, due to an amnesty created, forbidding this. The people who might have had a part in the overthrow of the democracy in Athens, could not be charged for it, at least directly. Most people do not want change. We are born, we consume, we die. If you act differently from what people expect of you, then you are a freak of nature. Socrates taught that there is a need for justice, compassion and tolerance. Individuals have a collective and democratic duty toward society and themselves. It must be an individual decision and commitment though, an inwardness beginning with oneself. People must learn to think for themselves. Life can and should be made worth living. This is the legacy of Socrates.
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