The goal of this paper is to accumulate and examine the views of Socrates according to four of the eight fundamental questions. Excerpts from Defence of Socrates, Euthyphro, and Crito by Plato will be used in this essay. The text from Defence of Socrates, Euthyphro, and Crito will be shortened for in-text citations to eliminate confusion and unnecessary information. All statements and original ideas in this paper have been formulated using these sources.
Most people are further predisposed to become corrupt rather than doing what is morally right. Corruption comes naturally, while virtue takes time and effort, two things that most people are not willing to give. An excerpt from Defence of Socrates explains this, “…I have now been overtaken by the slower runner: while my accusers, adroit and quick-witted as they are, have been overtaken by the faster, which is wickedness. And so I take my leave, condemned to death by your judgment, whereas they stand for ever condemned to depravity and injustice as judged by Truth” (39a-b). It is likely that for most people, it is easier to avoid and dislike changes, then to adjust to revisions, and that is why they naturally become evil and corrupt. This type of attitude is dangerous for the community as a whole, as the developing youth are going to testify this, and acquire these equivalent responses.
To expand upon the fact that the young are learning from their elders, they are in turn being corrupted by their intellectual superiors, as well. Socrates says, “…the people they question… say that there is a nasty pestilence abroad called ‘Socrates’, who is corrupting the young. Then, when asked to just what he is doing or teaching, they have nothing to say, because they have no idea what he does… they resort to the stock charges against all who pursue intellectual inquiry…’” (Defence of Socrates 23c-d). It’s a typical condition for people to accept what others believe, but when elders have one and only one view on a certain matter and projects that view onto the younger generations, that’s not what’s best for society as a whole. People need to examine situations for themselves, acquire their own opinions, and thrive on their own. How is the world supposed to evolve and adapt to change if we don’t allow the inexperienced to have an opinion?
Overall, the problem that seems to influence all others is that everyone is selfish. They think about how something will affect them and their lives, but not how it concerns others. This is prominent in Crito when Crito says, “…I shall suffer more than one misfortune: not only shall I lose such a friend as I’ll never find again, but it will look to many people, who hardly know you or me, as if I’d abandoned you…” Socrates later responds, “But why should we care so much, my good Crito, about what most people believe? All the most capable people, whom we should take more seriously, will think the matter has been handled exactly as it has been” (44b-c). Although Socrates is the one in jail, the one who was on trial, and now the one being put to death, Crito is very concerned for his own misfortune. He is being greedy. And, when Socrates reveals to him that only the people who should know, understand, Crito responds by saying how valuable “popular opinion” is. People are selfish and self-obsessed, two things that Socrates believes are the worst of evils.
Although a majority of characters may not agree with Socrates’ morals, he doesn’t give up on them. In Defense of Socrates, Socrates describes, “…if you suppose that a man with even a grain of self-respect should reckon up the risks of living or dying, rather than simply consider, whenever he does something, whether his actions are just or unjust, the deeds of a good man or a bad one’” (28b-c). Even through all Socrates’ distress, he still manages to stay true to himself. This is further demonstrated when he states, “…my one and only care was to avoid doing anything sinful or unjust” (Defence of Socrates 32c-d). He continuously values and stands by his actions. As he was on trial, he defended himself with honor and integrity, never becoming overly upset by the circumstances in which he was put in. Rather than worrying whether people see you as an honorable or immoral person, if you stay faithful to yourself and your morals, you have nothing to be ashamed of.
Another example of Socrates’ view of what an ideal person would be is to worry about yourself, and ultimately, they will see you for who you genuinely are. As described in Defense of Socrates, “…the most honourable and easiest way is not the silencing of others, but striving to make oneself as good a person possible. So with that prophecy to those of you who voted against me, I take my leave” (39d). Throughout Socrates’ life, he was isolated. He learned to accept that not everyone is going to approve of you and want you to succeed. If you worry about yourself and strive to be as good a person you can be, you have trusted your morals. Fight for yourself and don’t give up.
Furthermore, people need to learn to accept matters for what they are, it’s the most beneficial. This quote confirms how Socrates has accepted his fortune, “…nothing can harm a good man, either in life or in death; nor are his fortunes neglected by the gods. In fact, what has befallen me has come about by no mere accident; rather, it is clear to me that it was better I should die now and be rid of my troubles. That is also the reason why the divine sign at no point turned me back; and for my part, I bear those who condemned me, and my accusers, no ill will at all…” (Defence of Socrates 41d). Some may think of death as being the most immoral thing in the world. However, Socrates thinks of it as something that was meant to be. He has accepted the fact that he will die, and yet manages to think of it in a way that helps him. The ideal person is one who takes what comes at them with grace and doesn’t break their character over something that they have no control over.
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For some, finding a purpose in life can be rather hard. Socrates, however, seems to know his mission and will do anything and everything to serve that objective. It appears as though Socrates views his role on earth is to be a server to God’s wishes. He reveals in Defense of Socrates, “… I am, in fact just the sort of gift that God would send to our city, you may recognize from this: it would not seem to be in human nature for me to have neglected all my own affairs, and put up with the neglect of my family for all these years, but constantly minded your interests, by visiting each of you in private like a father or an elder brother, urging you to be concerned about goodness” (31a-b). He sees serving God as his occupation. This is furthermore explained when he says, “I realized, with dismay and alarm, that I was making enemies; but even so, I thought it my duty to attach the highest importance to the god’s business; and therefore, in seeking the oracle’s meaning, I had to go on to examine all those with any reputation for knowledge” (Defence of Socrates 21e-22a). Although he has enemies, because of his duty to God, he won’t stop because he thinks he was sent to help those who hate.
Additionally, in contrast to Socrates’ beliefs, many other souls don’t believe there can be a purpose for everything. Socrates is being accused of “…being a busybody, in that he inquires into what is beneath the earth and in the sky, turns the weaker argument into the stronger, and teaches others to do the same’” (Defence of Socrates 19b-c). It’s very common for people to stay to themselves and only observe the superficial world. As his accusers stated, he looks beyond the surface and strives to continue his education by looking continually to find new ways to think. To Socrates, purpose can be found in everything, no matter how big or small, you just have to seek it out.
Not only is there purpose in everything, but Socrates believes that every person has a purpose in life and a reason they exist, no matter what their personal life is like. For example, Socrates has displayed a numerous amount of times that his desire is to serve God. Serving God seems as though it is a very big responsibility, and Socrates thinks that is the reason for his personal struggles, “Because of this occupation, I have had no time at all for any activity to speak of, either in public affairs or in my family life; indeed, because of my service to the god, I live in extreme poverty” (Defence of Socrates 23a-c). It is shown that no matter what walks of life you come from, in Socrates’ case, a lack of family life and extreme poverty, you can find your purpose. It might not be exactly what you were looking for, but if you’re serving your purpose, you will have lived the exact life that you were put on earth to have.
Death can be a scary thing. Not many people can say that they are comfortable with the fact that they are going to die eventually. Probably because they don’t know when the end of their life will come. Will it be ten years, ten months, ten days? And that is what frightens many people. However Socrates views death very differently, “No one knows, you see, whether death may not in fact prove the greatest of all blessings for mankind; but people fear it as if they knew it for certain to be the greatest of evils. And yet to think that no one knows what one does not know must surely be the kind of folly which is reprehensible. On this matter especially, gentlemen, that may be the nature of my own advantage over most people” (Defence of Socrates 29a-b). He doesn’t understand why we, as humans, are fearful of death. Also, he considers that, “…what has befallen me is a blessing, and that those of us who suppose death to be an evil cannot be making a correct assumption” (Defence of Socrates 40b-c). Some may object and say that the only reason he’s okay with it is that he knows when his time will come.
Additionally, he seems to think of death as a healthy thing that happens to human beings. Socrates explains, “And let us also reflect upon how good a reason there is to hope that death is a good thing. It is, you see, one or the other of two things: either to be dead is to be nonexistent, as it were, and a dead person has no awareness whatever of anything at all; or else, as we are told, the soul undergoes some sort of transformation, or exchanging of this present world or another. Now if there is, in fact, no awareness in death, but it is like sleep–the kind in which the sleeper does not even dream at all–then death would be a marvelous gain” (Defence of Socrates 40c-d). Another reason people are afraid of death is due to the fact that they don’t recognize where the universe is headed. Socrates is strangely okay with the concept of no longer existing on this earth because he believes that wherever he might go can’t be that bad. Saying that dying is like going to sleep, but not dreaming doesn’t seem too bad. Also, the possibility of being modified from a present world into another seems as though you get another shot at life. What could be so bad about that?
Critique of Socrates’ Worldview
Socrates believes that he is one of the wisest of people, because of his service to God. It seems as though his entire life revolves around him, as he has stated before, “…because of my service to the god, I live in extreme poverty.” He has even gone as far as to say, “I shall never give up practicing philosophy, or exhorting and showing the way to any of you whom I ever encounter, by giving my usual sort of message.” However, after he was sentenced to death, he seemed rather content and somewhat excited, that his life was going to end. Socrates was given a choice; either admit to the crimes for which he didn’t do and go to jail, or be sentenced to death. If he was so certain that his duty on earth was to help others through the assistance of God, then why would he choose to die? Why did he think death was more appealing than his service to the divine being. Even if he were in jail, he still had the potential to help people.
Additionally, Socrates alludes to the fact that selfishness presides in everyone. When Crito explains how Socrates’ death will affect him and his life, Socrates says, “But why should we care so much, my good Crito, about what most people believe? All the most capable people, whom we should take more seriously, will think the matter has been handled exactly as it has been.” If Socrates cares to examine problems within society and determines that selfishness is among the top, why would he knowingly do something that he identifies as a problem? By choosing to die, he is wronging all those who he could have helped. What made him think that his life was less important than it was?
- Platón , and David Gallop. Defence of Socrates, Euthyphro, and Crito. Oxford University Press, 2008.