Thursday, May 5, 2011

Essay on Plato and Socrates

Plato and Socrates - Essay

It seems to be a constant discussion in the writings of Plato that Socrates does not fear death. As Socrates is pondering death to his peers after being condemned he says, "What would not a man give if he might converse with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer? Nay, if this be true, let me die and die again" (25). He does not have any fear at all concerning death. However, could he be pleased about his execution? To me it seems that the reason that Socrates has no fear of death is because he is trying to die unjustly, thus insuring that his name will live on.

In the Crito dialogue, some of Socrates' friends are attempting to free him from prison. They are trying to bribe the guards to turn their heads until they sneak him out of his cell. However, Socrates will not escape. Crito says, "The public will never believe that we were anxious to save you but you wouldn't escape" (30). Socrates mentions that it would be an injustice if he were to try to escape, even though he believes that he has been sentenced to death unfairly. He simply sits in his cell and awaits his death. Socrates is looking for martyrdom through his own wrongful death.

Socrates, being a man of exceptional wisdom, understands what happens to men who are killed unjustly - especially when it is a man in a leadership position. They are raised to the level of a martyr. Immediately following his sentencing, Socrates says, "Not much time will be gained," Athenians, in return for the evil name which you will get from the detractors of the city, who will say that you killed Socrates, a wise man; for they will call me wise, even though I am not wise, when they want to reproach you" (23). Socrates realizes that he is held in a very high regard by some of the more prestigious members of Athens. He also knows that by dying an unjust death, his name will be remembered for all times. Socrates states, "And I prophesy to you who are my murderers, that immediately after my departure punishment far heavier than you have inflicted on me will surely await you" (23). Only by insisting on his own death could he insure his own immortality.

One could say that Socrates really wasn't seeking death, but just playing in his Socratic tone of sarcasm. After all, he does end up attempting to buy his freedom from his accusers with 30 minae. Knowing that Socrates and his friends could come up with a possible amount of money to save him, it is conceivable that he was trying to save himself. Socrates definitely has his own way of dealing with everyday problems that differs from the majority of us. Maybe he was simply toying with everyone around him. However, if he was really trying to save himself, why didn't he suggest to pay a fine in the first place? After being convicted wrongly and awaiting sentencing, Socrates suggests that his punishment should be served in the Prytaneum. He means that he should be served lunch for free for the rest of his life. Of course Socrates' sarcasm pours through these words like a waterfall, but, when faced with death, defining your own punishment should be something that would not upset the people who have the control over your life. Socrates is not even trying to save himself. He is merely making a mockery of the system. He is not fighting in anyway to prolong his death.

Another argument could be that Socrates himself does not really know if death is a good thing or a bad thing. Although he has no fear of death, he has very little true knowledge of it either. Socrates states, "I will not say of myself that I deserve any evil, or propose any penalty. Why should I? Because I am afraid of the penalty of death which Meletus proposes? When I do not know whether death is a good or an evil" (22). Socrates is wise enough to question death. The fact that Socrates is open to the idea of not knowing whether death is a good or bad thing could point to the awareness of his own humanity. In being human, Socrates would not wish an evil upon himself. He knows that the penalty could be something horrific.

As an opposition to this, no one has true knowledge of death. Not even Socrates. In time Socrates would die anyway, but dying of old age would be an honest death - not one that would help to make his name live on. It would be better to die unjustly and leave a legacy than it would be to die and leave a small following that might drizzle out in a short time.

The fact that Socrates' name still lives on to this day may be all of the proof needed to say that he did what he had to do to insure his own death. He had the chance to escape, but he declined. He held his constant Socratic sarcasm throughout the trial, and he prophesied being a martyr at the trial to his accusers. He just seemed too calm and relaxed for a man looking death in the face. It is one thing to not fear death, but it is all together another to embrace it. Had Socrates argued a little harder in his own defense the ending may have ended up much different, but is that what Socrates would have wanted?

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