The First Advocate for Free Speech – Socrates
The precise facts about how and why the great Greek philosopher Socrates was sentenced and executed remains one of the biggest puzzles in history, even to this day. Socrates lived and philosophized in Athens, which is said to be the ancient model for a democracy. Yet, it seems like the Athenians sentenced to death a respected member of their society for speaking his mind and standing by his principles. Now how democratic is that? What makes the situation more riddling is that the only two journals for the events surrounding the death of Socrates are written by Plato and Xenophon, who are his followers. Some historians argue the picture they presented in their works is intended to imply Socrates was unfairly brought to trial and executed. However, by examining closely what arguments Socrates presented to defend himself in his Apology and the reasons he had for not escaping prison presented in Crito, it becomes more likely than not that Socrates intended to get just the judgment he got. He was aware that the Athenians wanted to be free from his philosophizing, but was not willing to go on exile and stop being who he is, and doing what defines him. That is why Socrates chose death. Throughout his trial Socrates passes through various points he has to make once again in front of the Athenian society, but the whole time what he aims is to defend his belief in the power of philosophizing and his idea of what is democratic and right. In no way would he admit his teaching was wrong. But he was aware that philosophizing is what put him on trail and by continuing to do it, he would most probably not convince the jury of his innocence. After he is pronounced guilty and a sentence is being discussed, he even starts being somewhat arrogant to the jurors, maybe to find out how they will react as the elite of a democratic society. At this point Socrates is deliberately saying things that will get him sentenced to death, but stays true to his own principles. Just as I. F. Stone suggested in his book The Trial of Socrates: “the trial of Socrates, the most interesting suicide the world has ever seen, produced the first martyr for free speech. Just as Jesus needed the cross to fulfill his mission, Socrates needed the hemlock with venom to fulfill his.” The Apology of Socrates represents a trial, and Socrates is supposed to be building a defense argument in his own favor. But what he does from the very beginning does not sound much apologetic. One important charge against him is impiety. The jury says Socrates does not believe in the traditional Greek gods and that is a crime. What the philosopher does is to refer to “daimonia”, which he describes as “god of some sort” (27d, Apology). Therefore, he is not impious if he believes in some godly concept. However, his claim is not even close to a defense against what he was accused of. As we know even form modern law a defense has to be adequate to the exact accusation, which in this case is that Socrates does not believe in particular gods. By mentioning “daimonia” he basically admits he does not obey the commonly accepted gods, therefore, admits the accusation. Another part of the “lawsuit” worth mentioning is the accusation that Socrates is “corrupting the youth”. Here, again the philosopher does not make any valid defense and does not provide any evidence for the opposite. He merely asks Meletus who makes the youth good, which in a way puts the blame on the whole Athenian society. Meletus responds that who makes the youth good is everyone but Socrates, and at this point Socrates goes further, by implying he is actually the only one who really understands the youth and can make them good. Such a statement must have sounded rather challenging for the jurors given the situation, and certainly not one that will persuade them Socrates was “innocent”. The defendant tries to discharge the accusations in his own fashion, but let us...
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