Plato, The Last Days of Socrates provides a useful insight into the philosophy and mind of Socrates. Plato showcases such philosophies in four dialogues in which Socrates is held on trial for heresy around 403 B.C. The trial serves as an opportunity for Plato to put Socrates’s philosophies on display, mainly on the responsibility of the individual’s personal responsibility for their actions, how they affect the community at hand, and to encourage critical thinking to better understand the world around you.
In the first dialogue, Euthyphro, Plato tells the story of the encounter between Socrates and Euthyphro meet before the king of Archon in 399 B.C. The main reason why Euthyphro is there to speak with Socrates about is murder. Euthyphro claims that his father murdered a servant when in reality, the servant was attacked and murdered by another servant. This situation prompts the philosophies of both men on the nature of holiness. The reader learns of Socrates ability of questioning others’ opinions and thought processes during tricky situations such as Euthyphro’s. You can also see how Socrates can portray a sense of arrogance, which makes some people his enemies as they get offended by him.
One of the most intriguing parts of this dialogue is how vague the debate between Socrates and Euthyphro ends. Plato seems to suggest that there is no right or wrong definition of holiness. The goal that Plato is reaching for is to teach people that knowledge is only obtained when we are able to justify our beliefs. Thus, teaching is more a matter of leading people toward finding the right answers on their own and being able to justify their answers rather than just giving them out. There is no personal growth within oneself when they are just given the answers to life’s problems and difficulties. They become a sheep to be led around rather than taking ownership of their thoughts and ideas.
In the second dialogue, The Apology, Plato explains the trial of Socrates. Plato presents Socrates as being skilled at the Socratic Method of asking questions in an intellectual conversation. He often made skeptics on the opposing side of the argument contradict themselves In his trial, Socrates defends himself on charges of heresy, not acknowledging the city’s gods, creating new deities, and corrupting of youth. Socrates defends himself, being honest and direct, however he claims this type of behavior is from a prophecy in which he claims he is wiser than anyone. This proves to be a weakness for Socrates as he comes across as arrogant and creates enemies, largely the reason why he was summoned to court in the first place. However, Socrates’s death sentence is delayed so he is put in jail in Athens.
In the third dialogue, Crito, Socrates friend, Crito, attempts to help him escape. Socrates challenges Crito’s intent and refuses to try and escape prison. By trying to escape prison, Socrates believed that he would be contradicting his philosophies and values which would be harmful to his community as they know him. The problem is that Socrates’s accusers have sentenced him in an unjust way. They accuse him more as an enemy rather than accusing him on legit grounds to hold a trial for him.
One of Crito’s arguments is that Socrates would be supporting the wrong-doing of his enemies by following through with his death sentence. Socrates counters by saying that he would be harming the laws, which are just, if he tries to escape. If Socrates stays in prison, he will be siding with his accusers but if he escapes he will be breaking the laws. In the end, Socrates chooses to obey the laws of the city and accept his fate.
In the fourth dialogue, Phaedo, Plato advocates his belief of the immortality of the soul. Socrates knows that death is inevitable so he believes we should welcome it, allowing us to obtain true wisdom if one’s life is lived as it should be. In Phaedo’s account, Socrates explains to his friends that a true philosopher should look forward to death. Through four different arguments, Socrates explains that setting the soul free from earthly needs is the purpose of being a philosopher. He believes that your body is temporary while your soul is eternal, thus, your soul and values live on after you pass.
Socrates’s philosophy still has influence in the present day. His method of debating and creating a narrative are still broadly used and studied. His goal was to encourage critical thinking and understanding of the world around you. Although he made many enemies with his wisdom and knowledge and ultimately led to him to his fate, his ideas and philosophy have survived him and provide a foundation for understanding western philosophy.
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