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Socrates' Reason for Accepting Death

By Edited Sep 2, 2016 0 0

Socrates has two reasons for his refusal to flee from jail: first, he believes that if he escapes from imprisonment and death, he will be harming his soul, or psyche, and second, he has nowhere to go. Before we can talk about why he believes this, we first have to understand what Socrates means when he talks about “harming the soul.”

In Socrates’ opinion, your soul is what makes you excellent and is one of the most important things to care for. In the time of Socrates, Striving for excellence, or arete, is an extremely vital characteristic of the Athenian people. Furthermore, the soul is the one thing that separates man from animals. Therefore, from Socrates’ perspective, if man doesn't care for his soul, then they are no better than an animal and are failing to achieve arete. This would be a way that a man could harm their soul. Understanding this, we can see how Socrates would define “harming ones soul” as anything that hinders or reverses the progress of attaining arete or truth. This definition implies that any unjust action would harm the soul, because the action doesn’t help a person to advance towards truth or arete; Socrates stated, “Wrongdoing or injustice is in every way harmful to the wrongdoer.”

Now we can address the question of why Socrates believed evading death would harm his soul. There again, are two reasons for this: he hints at the idea that if someone doesn’t follow their superiors they are innately harming themselves, and he explicitly argues that if someone makes a just agreement, they should stick to it and follow through.

Because of the definition above, if one breaks a just agreement, then one has failed at following justice, therefore harming one’s soul. Socrates emphasizes this point, before speaking of it, by analyzing if never doing wrong, even if wrong is done to you was still true and just. He also points out that even though Crito believes Socrates was wronged in court and therefore his punishment was wrong, not following the agreement would be wronging somebody who wronged you, which has already been established to be unjust. Finding that he and college still believe this to be the case, Socrates declares that his punishment was a just agreement. Furthermore, Socrates declares that the city brought him into this world, raised him, and has the right to take him out, and that he must have his doom carried out.

As for the second reason of how running away harms the soul, Socrates believes that one should always follow one’s superiors. It follows logically that if the belief in levels of arete, or ranks of excellence, is present, as in ancient Greece, then one can see that if the following of a superiors orders is not carried out, or neglected, then harm has come upon oneself. This works because of this: by recognizing that a superior is present, one has put the superior higher than oneself on the scale of arete, so to speak; therefore, if the order’s of the superior are not fulfilled or attempted, then the follower has not lived up to the superior’s level of excellence or truth, and by doing so the follower harms himself.

Now we can talk about how Socrates has nowhere to go and why he decides not to escape. Socrates claims that if he runs away, he will leave the greatest city of all; Socrates evidently believes Athens to be the greatest when he hypothetically says to a citizen, “you are an Athenian, citizen of the greatest city with the greatest reputation.” Furthermore, why should Socrates leave a city he has never left? Again, this is verification that Socrates believes his city to be the best. What type of city would accept Socrates, an old philosopher? Socrates thinks that any city that would take him wouldn’t have the same likeminded thinkers who care about their soul. Moreover, if there were such a city that had citizens who cared for their psyche, or was well governed, they would see Socrates as a destroyer and usurper of laws, and would surely try and expel him just as Athens. Furthermore, Socrates questions, “Of what good to his kids would leaving Athens do?” He wants his children to grow up as virtuous citizens. Athens being the greatest place, to Socrates, is the only city for his children to become great, or seek arete. Therefore, bringing his children to another town or city would only bring suffering to them and harm their souls.

Here is to be told the critical analysis of Socrates’ reasoning for why he accepted death in light of freedom. Is Socrates justified in accepting death over life?

Socrates talks about a “just agreement.” What are just agreements? In Crito, Socrates assumes that just agreements are worthy of trying to be fulfilled, and one should attempt to do ones just duty, so to speak. Why do they so deserve to be taken a stab at or fulfilled? Well, lets see, Socrates believes that there are certain things that one should pursue, namely arete, truth, justice, and what is pious. Socrates may not know exactly what all if these things are exactly, but he does know that they are of great importance to your soul. To continue then, where might a just agreement be issued from? Well it seems that it would be from a being that is of arete or just, true or pious. If the Greeks sought these concepts of being, then it would only make sense that one would be closer to these goals if they complete the just agreements.

Socrates clearly disobeyed the Rule of Thirty. This appears to be a complete contradiction to his believes on following the laws and those that are superior to you. How is Socrates justified for doing what he did, and doesn’t a contradiction in his beliefs imply that his other beliefs might be wrong? Yes, Socrates deliberately ignored the laws of the Rule of Thirty, however, he did not contradict himself. Socrates’ goal is to only follow what is of the earlier mentioned concepts of being. Furthermore, Socrates believes that one is only obligated to follow those laws that have helped raise him, just as a father. Only these types of beings or laws are on a higher level on the scale of arete, and worthy of listening to. The Rule of Thirty was a tyrannical fissure in the timeline of the Athenian government, and Socrates believed that what they ruled was not actual real government or creditable of attention.

Crito believes that Socrates was wronged. Does this mean that Socrates’ punishment was not a just agreement because it wasn’t based on the concepts of being, spoken of earlier? Moreover, doesn’t this imply that Socrates wouldn’t be seen as a lawbreaker, but as a just law follower? Socrates would probably argue “no,” that even though the people used the laws in an incorrect manner, that doesn't make the agreement unjust. It is the opposite reason used for the Rule of Thirty question. These laws that condemned Socrates, were the laws that brought him up and are like his father. Furthermore, just as Socrates states in Crito, it is not ok to wrong someone even if you were wronged.

Athens is the only place Socrates has lived. How does he know that all other cities are inferior? Who is to say that Athens is he greatest city? Socrates willingly states that he believes Athens to be the best city. Where does this come from? He has never left the city to find out, save only when he went to war. He has not ventured to other cities in search of the truth behind which city is number one. Yet, he claims that Athens is the best. Did he hear of this from others? If so, doesn’t Socrates say that many people claim knowledge in areas that they know nothing? How does Socrates know that he is talking to the right people? Did the gods tell him? It could be that, in his pursuit for truth, Socrates was influenced to believe that Athens was the best city for everything. Therefore, Socrates incorporated this idea into his list of stable truths. However, we don’t know who Socrates asked or how he knows this. This appears to be the one question Socrates has no answer to or hint at. 



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