Socrates' Stand on Democracy

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Reusi 1 Raye Reusi D. Ryals Writing 1 November 14, 2012 Socrates’ Stand on Democracy Having emphasized upon me the advantages of democracy, I have always believed that it is the best system to implement in a country. Ignoring the flaws and weaknesses of this type of system, I thought that the benefits outweigh all costs. I assume that giving the power to the people is better than having one person rule the state. However, in Plato’s account on the life of his mentor Socrates, we are able to see both sides of the spectrum: the pros and cons of democracy which are accounted in Plato’s dialogues, the Apology and the Crito. Socrates, having been accused of impiety, is brought to trial in front of the jury of Athens. In his defense, he points out the flaws of a democratic system, but he has an underlying intention to improve it. Thus, despite his criticisms on the use of rhetoric, involvement in politics, and the opinions of the majority, Socrates generally takes a pro-democracy approach on his purpose of being in Athens, the importance of examining truth and life, and the significance of respecting the law. Socrates is known in Athens for his dialectic approach of questioning and examining the ideas of the people. He has unintentionally annoyed many Athenian citizens which has made him infamous. This has led other people, such as Meletus, to press charges against him. In his defense, Socrates sets himself apart from others who bring their family and friends as a kind of an appeal to the jurymen. Through tears and emotional plea, they beg to be acquitted. However, Socrates does not intend to present such acts as he places greater significance to his, the jury’s, and the city’s reputations. He considers it shameful to try to win approval through emotional appeal rather than the truth as it brings dishonor to the city (37). Socrates points out then that it is the role of a juryman not to acquit someone who seems favorable, but “to judge according to

Reusi 2 law… [which] he has sworn to do” (37). It is the jury’s responsibility to give verdict based on truth and logic. Through the oath that they have taken, the jurymen have pledged to accept this duty; therefore, to favor someone is against the law. Socrates criticizes how the public has taken advantage of the use of rhetoric to win arguments in any way possible; such as appealing to emotions which has dominated and influenced the community and its decisions. These statements highlight the anti-democratic notion of Socrates; he reproaches the majority of the citizens who have based their judgments on faulty premises. Moreover, he connotes that it is more important to listen to the persuasive arguments of “the one” that uses truth and logic, rather than the pathetic acts of “the many”. However, beneath the criticisms, Socrates tries to enlighten the members of the jury, who have a stake at public decisions, of their purposes as jurymen of the state. He reminds them of their sworn duties, and encourages them not to give in to emotional appeal, as this per se is an attack to democracy and to the law that makes the city. Additionally, Socrates explains to the jury why despite his continuous efforts to meddle on personal matters, he has never pursued on occupying political positions. This, he says, is due to the “spiritual” (34) voice that speaks to him only when he is about to do something he is not supposed to do. He believes that if he had taken part in politics, he would not have survived through the years, because he would debate against the authority or the public, and stop the unlawful actions in the state (34). Socrates upholds that “a man who really fights for justice must lead a private, not a public, life if he is to survive for even a short time” (34). He points out that in order to live a just and peaceful life, it is better for a man to stay away from “public” activities where unlawful events usually take place. It is more important to live a “private” life,...
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