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Socrates and Plato - Track 703

Then he compares himself to some of the heroes of the war. What should be a hero doing in a war? Because war is a place where surely death will come in one way or the other or he might escape only if he wins over the enemy or he can escape, he can run away from the war. Who is a good warrior? Then he speaks of Achilles. Achilles is supposed to be one of the greatest heroes of the war with Troy. I don’t know if you have read the story of Troy? Yes? Achilles is supposed to be the son of a goddess – Thetis and when Achilles wanted to kill Hector that was one of the greatest enemies of Achilles. Then his mother gave a warning. If you kill Hector next will be your turn, you’ll be surely killed yourself. Knowing this still he said: No, I will still prefer death because my duty is to kill a villain because Hector according to me s a villain. So I must kill him, I must do what is right even if in the consequence I’ll be killed myself.

On your view the heroes who died at Troy will be poor creatures especially the son of Thetis. He if you remember made so light of danger in comparison with incurring dishonour. When his goddess mother warned him eager as was he to kill Hector in some such words as these I fancy. My son, if you avenge your friends’ Patroclus death and kill Hector, you will die yourself. Next after Hector is thy fate prepared. When he heard this warning he made light of this danger being much more afraid of an ignoble life and of failing to avenge his friends. ‘Let me die forthwith’ said he, ‘when I have recruited the villain rather than remain here by the beak ships to be mocked, a burden on the ground. Do you suppose that he gave a thought of death and danger? The truth of the matter is this gentlemen where a man has once taken up his stand either because it seems best to him or in obedience to his orders there I believe he is bound to remain and face the danger taking no account of death or death before dishonour.

This is conclusion that is his answer. Why do you prefer a life of a kind where you are constantly in danger of being put to death? So his is, it is better to die than to remain alive in dishonour.

This being so, it would be shocking inconsistency on my part, gentlemen, if, when the officers whom you chose to command me assigned me my position at Potidaea and Amphipolis and Delium, I remained at my post like anyone else and faced death, and yet afterwards, when God appointed me, as I supposed and believed, to the duty of leading the philosophic life, examining myself and others, I were then through fear of death or of any other danger to desert my post.

Here he refers to three wars which had taken place earlier in which he was a soldier. And at that time it was expected of him that he fights the war even though that war might bring about death for him. So he said: knowing that I did my duty in the war even facing death today if I were to do a duty and not to face death, it would be inconsistency. If that was my duty at that time to face death even now it is my duty to face death. It would be inconsistent that now I avoid death.

 That would indeed be shocking, and then I might really with justice be summoned into court for not believing in the gods, and disobeying the oracle, and being afraid of death, and thinking that I am wise when I am not. For let me tell you, gentlemen, that to be afraid of death is only another form of thinking that one is wise when one is not; let me tell you, gentlemen, that to be afraid of death is only another form of thinking that one is wise when one is not; (it’s a very interesting statement, read again.) For let me tell you, gentlemen, that to be afraid of death is only another form of thinking that one is wise when one is not; (if you are afraid of death that means you know what death is, to be afraid of death means you know what death is and who knows what is death? So if you are afraid of death it means that you know what is death which you do not, therefore you think you are wise when you are not wise. Right? Read again.

 Let me tell you, gentlemen, that to be afraid of death is only another form of thinking that one is wise when one is not; it is to think that one knows what one does not know. No one knows with regard to death whether it is not really the greatest blessing that can happen to a man; but people dread it as though they were certain that it is the greatest evil; and this ignorance, which thinks that it knows what it does not, must surely be ignorance most culpable. This, I take it, gentlemen, is the degree, and this the nature of my advantage over the rest of mankind; and if I were to claim to be wiser than my neighbour in any respect, it would be in this: that not possessing any real knowledge of what comes after death, I am also conscious that I do not possess it. But I do know that to do wrong and to disobey my superior, whether God or man, is wicked and dishonourable; and so I shall never feel more fear or aversion for something which, for all I know, may really be a blessing, than for those evils which I know to be evils.

I don’t know if you follow the argument. Do you, follow the argument? Yes? He says, I know one thing certain to follow god is right, to follow my superior is right this I am certain. About death I do not know whether it is the greatest blessing of greatest evil this I do not know. Now between what I know and what do not know I can only follow what I know. Not knowing what death is whether it is a blessing or not I can therefore say: I don’t mind about death because I don’t know what it is  but I know one thing that if I disobey god and don’t do my duty, if I disobey my superiors and not do my duty it is certainly dishonourable. Therefore I don’t care whether death comes or not if I do my duty properly.

Suppose, then, that you acquit me, and pay no attention to Anytus, who has said that either I should not have appeared before this court at all, or, since I have appeared here, I must be put to death, because if I once escaped, your sons would all immediately become utterly demoralised by putting the teaching of Socrates into practice. Suppose that, in view of this, you said to me "Socrates, on this occasion we shall disregard Anytus and acquit you, but only on one condition, that you give up spending your time on this quest and stop philosophizing. If we catch you going on in the same way, you shall be put to death." Well, supposing, as I said, that you should offer to acquit me on these terms, I should reply "Gentlemen, I am your very grateful and devoted servant, but I owe a greater obedience to God than to you; and so long as I draw breath and have my faculties, I shall never stop practising philosophy and exhorting you and elucidating the truth for everyone that I meet. I shall go on saying, in my usual way. My very good friend, you are an Athenian and belong to a city which is the greatest and most famous in the world for its wisdom and strength. Are you not ashamed that you give your attention to acquiring as much money as possible, and similarly with reputation and honour, and give no attention or thought to truth and understanding and the perfection of your soul?" And if any of you disputes this and professes to care about these things, I shall not at once let him go or leave him; and if it appears that in spite of his profession he has made no real progress towards goodness, I shall reprove him for neglecting what is of supreme importance, and giving his attention to trivialities. I shall do this to everyone that I meet, young or old, foreigner or fellow–citizen; but especially to you my fellow–citizens, inasmuch as you are closer to me in kinship. This, I do assure you, is what my God commands; and it is my belief that no greater good has ever befallen you in this city than my service to my God; for I spend all my time going about trying to persuade you, young and old, to make your first and chief concern not for your bodies nor for your possessions, but for the highest welfare of your souls, proclaiming as I go "Wealth does not bring goodness, but goodness brings wealth and every other blessing, both to the individual and to the State." Now if I corrupt the young by this message, the message would seem to be harmful; but if anyone says that my message is different from this, he is talking nonsense. And so, gentlemen, I would say, "You can please yourselves whether you listen to Anytus or not, and whether you acquit me or not; you know that I am not going to alter my conduct, not even if I have to die a hundred deaths."

Is it clear this argument or difficult, very complex. This is much easier than the previous argument because it simply says, if you just tell me we shall acquit you. You know the meaning of acquittal? No, conviction? In a court of law a judgement is either of conviction or of acquittal. What is conviction? You are convicted to a penalty. When the judgement is against you then it is called conviction when the judgement is in favour of you and you are freed, you are allowed to go away without any penalty it is called acquittal. Then you are acquitted. So Socrates says, to all the people in the jury and all the people who had gathered, if you are going to acquit me, if you are going to allow me to go away from here free, not guilty but on condition that I should no more be teaching philosophy then he says, I do not want acquittal. It is god’s command to me that I should teach philosophy. I should tell everybody that wealth is not a thing to be pursued for its own sake, goodness is to be pursued. Goodness may give you wealth; it may not give you wealth. But goodness is to be preferred and if you are not doing that if you are pursuing wealth, if you are pursuing honour, position then I shall tell you, you are wrong. Whether you like it or not I’ll go on telling you and I’ll try to persuade you that you are wrong therefore do not acquit me and do not ask me to give up my profession. So his last words are –"You can please yourselves whether you listen to Anytus or not, and whether you acquit me or not; you know that I am not going to alter my conduct, not even if I have to die a hundred deaths." This is his answer, he says I do not want to please you I want to do only that which is right.

Order, please, gentlemen! Remember my request to give me a hearing without interruption; besides, I believe that it will be to your advantage to listen. I am going to tell you something else, which may provoke a storm of protest; but please restrain yourselves. I assure you that if I am what I claim to be, and you put me to death, you will harm yourselves more than me.