Topics: Plato, Virtue, Athenian democracy Pages: 6 (2312 words) Published: August 4, 2013
Due to experiencing the volatile state of the Athenian government, it is not surprising that Socrates had much to say on the topic of political philosophy. Central to his political theory was his position on how citizens ought to approach ethics and politics. In the Apology, Socrates' conduct demonstrates his belief that citizens must not be complacent when it comes to political virtue. In order to push citizens out of complacency, Socrates used a method called the “elecnhus” to prod citizens to discover the true definition of virtues (Jowett, 2009). In doing this, Socrates hoped to promote a rigorous understanding of traditional moral virtues; an understanding of what courage, justice, and wisdom, truly meant (Jowett, 2009). At first glance, it seems that Socrates is promoting the appreciation of the traditional virtues, and is therefore a conservative. On the contrary, I will argue that Socrates' conservative rationale serves only as a diversion from his radical intentions. In defending this statement, I will first outline Socrates' conduct and motives in the Apology. Second, I will present the argument for how this behaviour can be interpreted as being conservative using narratives from Crito and The Republic. Lastly, I will argue why this behaviour instead demonstrates that Socrates was a radical. In the Apology, Plato provides a narrative of Socrates' defence for using the elenchus, an exhaustive questioning method, to stir the position of Athenian citizens on traditional values (Jowett, 2009). Derived from various arguments in The Apology, Crito, and The Republic, it can be found that Socrates had two motives for his conduct. The first motive stems from his notion of benefit in the spiritual realm, which is derived from his theory of virtue. He held that the best life for humans is a life of virtue, and a life of virtue entailed striving to comprehend the true essence of values (Jowett, 2009). The practice of valuing true knowledge was seen to be intrinsically good for citizens, for it adhered to the success of the human soul (Jowett, 2009). Further, Socrates held that evil in this context was the ignorance of the intrinsic worth of the traditional values, and complacency when it comes to abiding by such values (Jowett, 2009). Therefore, Socrates' first motive for using the elenchus method to stir his fellow citizens, was so that they could abandon their ignorance and begin to obey the true nature of human life, that is a life and soul of virtue (Jowett, 2009). By doing this, citizens would adhere to the true meaning behind traditional values. The second motive stems from his notion of benefit in the worldly realm, derived from his theory on laws. When it came to justice, there were multiple versions of what acting justice entailed. For instance, according to Cephalus, it was to honour your obligation to the city (Plato, 1974, 674). For Polemarchus it was reward and punishment to those who rightfully deserved it (Plato, 1974, 676). However, the orthodox versions of justice was that it involved simply adhering to the laws (Plato, 1974, 687). While this does contribute to a just social arrangement, in that everyone performs the role appropriate to them, it does not address the matters of ethics and law. On that matter, Socrates observed that simply obeying these laws did not automatically entail that the person was acting just, this is because laws are vulnerable to being unjust (Plato, 1974, 701). This introduced a concept that there exists an essence of justice, such that “there is an essential nature of justice and injustice and what a perfectly just and perfectly unjust man would be like (Plato, 1964, 472b). Without knowledge of the essence of justice, individuals would only be acting just by coincidence, for they would not be able to determine whether their actions were just or not (Plato, 1964, 458a). Contributing to this argument, Socrates saw that laws, and everything else in the...
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