Saturday, 22 August 2015

Socrates' Defence by Plato Review (Little Black Classics #52)

This is Plato’s account of his mentor, Socrates, as he met his accusers in Athenian court to defend himself against charges of blasphemy and corrupting the young. 

Socrates makes short work of the weak arguments made by his chief accuser, Meletus, through logical deconstruction. What’s interesting is that the defence isn’t really of Socrates against his charges but of his life and philosophy, which is basically what the trial is really about.

His latest troubles began when the Oracle at Delphi announced that “there is no one wiser than Socrates” which puzzled Socrates who maintained that he was not a wise man at all. But he came to realise that he was the only one who was aware of his ignorance while everyone else was ignorant of their ignorance, making him indeed a wise man. 

Socrates refuted any charge of atheism - he was a devoutly religious man who cared more deeply about virtue and the soul than anyone, he claimed. The very fact that he spent all of his time demanding people live more philosophically, pursuing thought and virtue over belongings and wealth, pointed to that fact. 

Amusingly, he compared himself to a gadfly to the Athenian state, spurring it on act, therefore making him a benefactor and deserving of a salary. Not so amusingly, that was the final straw that led to his death sentence by way of hemlock poisoning. 

He was given the choice though to change his ways and live but he kept to his principles, knowing he would die by doing so. If only we could all meet our end with the dignity and fearlessness Socrates did. As he predicted, he became a martyr to the state and his words live on today. 

If there’s a problem, it’s with this Little Black Classics edition which really could’ve benefitted from a page of context before launching into Socrates’ monologue. As it is, I stopped reading after a few pages, went online to read the background to the case, and returned more edified. All this edition needs is a couple paragraphs preceding it. 

Otherwise, this is a fine piece of writing that is as relevant today as it was in antiquity. Socrates speaks through Plato across the millennia to remind us the unexamined life isn’t worth living, to reject materialism and to never stop thinking - fine words to live by.

Socrates' Defence

1 comment:

  1. I was surprised to find that as Socrates exercises his "Socratic method" in the search for agreed upon truths, these conclusions were often incorrect. But this is important because it was the process and the fundamental core agreements of truth for everyone in the discussion that were important to Socrates. The bigger conclusions being generally less significant because these "combined" truths often required subjectivity. It's not hard to see how the fundamentals of practicing law stemmed from Socratic method.