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Plato’s Book Review - the Last Days of Socrates

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In Plato’s book, The Last Days of Socrates, collegiate students and lay man alike gain quite a bit of insightful information about the Classical Greek time period. Socrates was a stonemason living during the Classical Greek era that later went on to become a philosopher. He was prominent in the Athenian militia, as was required of young men of the time in Athens by law. He was especially important during the first and second Peloponnesian Wars. Socrates left no notes of his own, which is why Plato, one of his students, wrote this story in order to be a voice for Socrates. Plato was a writer and educator who was trying to better society. The translator of this version of Plato’s book was Harold Tarrant. From this book, we learn that Socrates is charged with two crimes, ultimately leading to his death. These two crimes were acting as an unlicensed teacher and not accepting the state religion while being a free thinker who fails to conform.

In particular, there were three arenas of Athenian life at the time with which Socrates strongly disagreed. At the time, the political and legal ideologies centered on aristocracy, followed then by democracy, both of which Socrates denounced as being entirely faulty. A second arena from Classical Greece that Socrates disagreed with was the religious practice. Being there was absolutely zero religious tolerance in Classical Greece, the very fact that Socrates questioned the nature of traditional worship is significant. Finally, Socrates believed the Sophists, who taught philosophical ideas in regards to virtue and only to those who could pay for the education, were entirely wrong in their way of going about education. It is only through understanding Socrates’ defiance of these three Classical Greek concepts that everything he stood for makes sense.

First, the idea that Socrates’ was against the Athenian political system is evident in his loathing of the democratic concept. He was largely against the democratic politics of Athens of the time primarily because it left all the power and decision-making in the hands of an elite group of people with little knowledge, minor familiarity of government, and a weak understanding of their own selves. He proved this in Apology when he discussed the nature of Meletus’ claim he corrupts the youth. “But I say, gentleman, that Meletus is guilty of treating a serious matter with levity, since he summons people to stand their trial on frivolous grounds, and professes concern and keen anxiety in matter to which he has never given the slightest attention.” (49) Socrates disagreed with the political figures at the time believing that the true meaning of life was not material objects, but rather virtue. He exclaimed this in Apology when he said, “wealth does not bring goodness, but goodness brings wealth and every other blessing, both to the individual and to the State.” (56) In Classical Greece, the Jury of 500 was the body of political figures who decided if a person was guilty of a crime and what the punishment should be for said crime if convicted. Socrates denounced this body as being too large and presented no more than too many conflicting opinions over a short time period.

Socrates was very concerned with the notion of justice. It was of such high regard to him that he refused to escape imprisonment, as it would have been unjust. He believed that he had an obligation to uphold the Laws of Athens, and if he escaped he would commit an injustice. He also exclaimed that he would not stop practicing philosophy. He says, “…and whether you acquit me or not; you know that I am not going to alter my conduct, not even if I have to die a hundred deaths”. (56) Socrates very strongly believed in the Classical Greek idea of duty to the polis as is obvious throughout much of the book, but became especially clear when he is talking to Crito in Crito and says, “both in war and in the lawcourts and everywhere else you must do whatever your city and your country commands, or else persuade it that justice is on your side”. (91)

Second, Socrates was accused of being an unlicensed teacher, and it was feared that this led to the corrupting of the youth’s minds. At the time in Greece, education was to concern learning from the gods and the government officials. Socrates denied this charge when he said, “…if you have heard anyone say that I try to educate people and charge a fee, there is no truth in that either…”. (42) His claim was that if he was not charging people for his teachings then he was not professional.

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