Term Paper: Socrates' Decision-Defense Before We Begin

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[. . .] The only other option that the state had given him was that of death. He therefore felt it was wiser of him to choose death and thus obey state's orders instead of leaving philosophy and displeasing God. By preferring death to abandonment of his life's purpose, Socrates could practice what he preached that was obedience to state without giving up philosophy.

Therefore he felt the best thing he could do was choose death and leave the world with honor. Escape was simply out of question because running away disgracefully had no place in his beliefs or philosophies.

He was of the view that two wrongs did not make a right and thus stuck with his decision even when Crito had made all arrangements for his escape. He was of the view that if he left, he would be hurting Athenians who might accuse him of being a coward. He was also certain that retaliation wasn't a clever idea and could harm the state, Athenians and his own life-long teachings. Read the following excerpt from Crito carefully for it helps clarify some misunderstandings regarding the position of Socrates.

Then out of this agreement we must look at whether it is right for me to try to escape from here without permission of the Athenians, or whether it is not right; and if it appears to be right, let us try, but if not, let us dismiss it...If we were about to run away from here, or whatever one should name this, the laws and the community might come and ask: "Tell me, Socrates, what have you in mind to do? Is this another action you are attempting to plan to destroy our laws and the entire state... If you escape so shamefully retaliating and returning bad actions, breaking your agreements and contracts with us, and acting bad to those whom you least should do so, - yourself and friends and country and us, - we shall be angry with you"

This clearly indicates that while Socrates' escape would have saved his life, it would not have been in his best interest in the long run. By choosing death, he immortalized himself and his principles. This is a great achievement in itself for we rarely come across people who practice what they preach or keep their promises.

Socrates always claimed to be sentimentally attached to his state and city. Escaping death sentence would have meant he neither truly loved the city nor possessed much respect for state laws. In the play Apology by Plato, we notice that Socrates refers to himself as the gadfly of Athens. It is important to understand what is meant by the term 'gadfly' and what exactly did Socrates mean to say when he mentioned this term in his speech during the trial. Gadfly is actually a bloodsucking fly but this term is most commonly used for persons who refuse to let go and thus stick to one thing, cause or motive. While the term is mostly used in negative sense, we notice that in this play it has been used as an adjective to describe Socrates' love for city of Athens.

He was of the view that it would be a grave mistake to put him to death because Athens would never be able to find a citizen as devoted and faithful as Socrates himself. We may not agree with Socrates views but it is true that every city needs devoted citizens because they are the ones who refuse to abandon their homeland in the face of extreme crisis. In that sense, we can say that Socrates was an asset to the society who should not have been sentenced to death. Thus Socrates argues against his death sentence because he felt it would not be in the best interest of his city. However we must understand that Socrates had no choice whatsoever. What he really wanted to do was serve his people by practicing philosophy, however this was something that the state did not permit and thus he opted for death instead of escape. This is because though escape could have saved his life, it wouldn't have done his city or its people any good.

I believe that while the state might put people into unbearable situations and dilemmas, people like Socrates are better off obeying states orders than disobeying them. I have already mentioned the reason why he chose death over escape. Thinkers like Socrates who was an epitome of morality and ethics need to take dramatic decisions to prove their sincerity to their cause and teachings. This is because if they refuse to follow their own teachings, it is obvious that others would too.

Socrates always maintained that death was inevitable and had he chosen escape, it would have shown his disrespect for his own principles. If someone says he is not scared of death, then we expect him to stick to his words in the face of danger. That's what Socrates did and thus decided to opt for death. In attempting to escape and avoid death penalty, he would have intentionally done great damage to state laws and his own teachings. And all this would have been for nothing else but self-preservation.

To fear death, gentlemen, is no other than to think oneself wise when one is not, to think one knows what one does not know. No one knows whether death may not be the greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew that it is the greatest of evils. And surely it is the most blameworthy ignorance to believe that one knows what one does not know." (A, p. 34)

Now we understand that the reason Socrates preferred death to escape lied in his personal beliefs and teachings. We must not forget that self-preservation was never a part of Socrates' teachings for he was well aware of the fact that philosophers being the only learned men are likely to encounter danger from the state. In other words, he felt that when a man chooses to swim against the tide, he is more often exposed to dangerous situations where death becomes a too-imminent reality. For this reason, he must have been prepared for death when he chose to reject some of the beliefs that Athenians held dear. Death was therefore not as dreadful an option for him as it is for most of us.

Views of other Thinkers

While Socrates and most other ancient western thinkers and scholars were known for their details views on politics of their day, eastern philosophy was more concerned about the society and its welfare. This is an interesting contrast, which explains why eastern societies had such rich cultural values and no specific political code. By this, it should not be assumed that eastern philosophers were unconcerned about politics. The only reason they focused more on social reforms than political ones was because they firmly believed that it was only through social amendments that political change could be introduced. In other words, they felt that if man changes himself and his society, he could bring about a positive change in all other areas including economy and politics.

Confucius' Views

Confucius would thus have approved of Socrates' decision because he knew that a man could teach the world more by his actions than his words. Secondly Confucius just like Socrates believed that man must do what is right under all circumstances even if it is not in his best interest. The Master has been quoted as saying, "The gentleman (chun tzu) understands y." The small man understands l." [Analects IV: 16] yi means '"right conduct, morality, duty to one's neighbor," while Li refers to '"profit, gain, advantage' (3).

From the afore-mentioned quotation it is clear that Confucius would have wanted Socrates to do what was right instead of what was in his own best interest. He was of the view that a philosopher whom he referred to as Chun tzu, knows the importance of right action and thus never allows his own gains or profit cloud his wisdom. This is exactly what Socrates did. He opted for death because it appeared to be the best thing he could do for his country, his people and his own principles and philosophies.

Chuang Tzu's views

Now that we know how Confucius might have viewed Socrates' decision, let us consider the philosophies of some other great eastern thinkers. The most notable among them was Chuang Tzu who was a Taoist and firmly followed the Taoist principles laid down by his master, Lao Tzu. From the writings of Chuang, Socrates appears to lack certain important characteristics of a sage while fulfilling others as described by Taoists. It is only after we have established whether Socrates was a sage or not that we can determine Chuang's response in this particular case.

Socrates doesn't fulfill all the conditions of being a sage. For example Chuang believed that a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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