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Socrates Was Not an Enemy to the State

Was Socrates an enemy of the state? There are two appropriate answers -- "yes" and "no." But first a definition of "enemy" is needed. In Mark Twain's short story "The Mysterious Stranger," Satan explains why there will always be war. It is because "a loud little handful" at first instigates it then, "…the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war… [and later] statesmen… [will] blame…the nation that is attacked" -- in other words, as long as the "enemy" is identified, there will always be war. Therefore, an "enemy" is not just someone to distrust or despise, or someone who threatens the peace and safety of a community, but someone to blame. In the case of Socrates and his trial, the court apparently found Socrates to be an enemy. The "state" is that component of a nation or country that holds political or dictatorial power over the citizens. So, yes, the jury portrayed Socrates as an "enemy," but in fact he was not an enemy in any sense that he posed a threat.

ONE: What is your initial point-of-view?

My point-of-view initially was that historically Socrates has been viewed as a martyr because he was put to death based on the accusation of crimes that were not crimes: he was not an atheist (he did not introduce gods of his own), and he did not corrupt the young. Before delving into all the dynamics in Athens at that time, and reviewing the testimony that Socrates gave -- in response to the ridiculous charges brought against him -- it was my assumption that the trial was totally trumped up because the proletariat (average person without advanced education) was jealous of his vast knowledge and debating skills.

TWO: How can you define your point-of-view more clearly?

Here is a giant in the world of philosophy and history, whose narrative (through Plato) was beyond brilliant and in fact the modern world of elite dialogue, intellectualism and scholarship has patented a strategy called "Socratic" -- to identify the deft style of questioning and responding that Socrates authored. How could Athens put him to death for being a luminous teacher of willing young minds? Certainly there were criminals in Athenian society that deserved to be sentenced to death, but not Socrates. This was my initial point-of-view prior to reading deeper into the matter. However, once I had done the deeper research, I am closer to an understanding of why he was convicted (albeit unjustly). The fact is that there "…was perhaps an anti-intellectual stirring in the city of Athens" that had "accumulated in the years leading up to" the trial (Ahbel-Rappe, 2009, p. 19). This, on top of the fact that Socrates refused to be apologetic in any sense during the trial -- on the contrary, he appeared to be arrogant -- is a fair and reasonable assumption that leads toward a fully understanding of the outcome of the trial.

THREE: What is an example of your point-of-view.

Examples of my more informed point-of-view -- vis-a-vis the accusations against Socrates -- and his rebuttal to those accusations can be found in the subject of the Athenian view of politeness and sophism. Socrates told the jurors he was sent on a "search-and-destroy mission" by Apollo. This of course did not exactly endear him to the jury. He went on the mission, Socrates said, in order to reveal those in "high positions" and expose their "ignorance concerning matters of supreme importance, the nature of virtue" (Ahbel-Rappe, 20). By making this outlandish statement, surely tongue-in-cheek but none-the-less sarcastic, Socrates brought a "kind of collective hatred" upon himself, Ahbel-Rappe continues. In the 5th century BCE Athens was still in a "shame culture," and one's worth depended largely upon appearance and performance in public places, Ahbel-Rappe explains. By ridiculing those in "high esteem" Socrates violated the rules of the culture (Ahbel-Rappe, 20). Moreover, as to the accusation of sophism (sophists were those who were paid money by pupils, and sophists would argue in any devious way to make their points, whether truth and reason were part of their arguments or not), clearly Socrates was not a sophist. And he did not teach the hated Critias as he was accused of doing. If Socrates had indeed been the mentor of Critias -- "…the aristocratic and extremist leader of the "thirty tyrants" who, with Spartan support, briefly terrorized Athens after the defeat of 404 in the… Peloponnesian War" -- he would be further out of favor with the court (Millett, 2005, p. 23).

FOUR: What is the origin of your point-of-view?

There are several sources that lead me to believe Socrates was not an enemy of the state in the traditional sense albeit clearly he was seen as an "enemy" because he was misunderstood and he didn't do an effective job of being contrite or respectful. In the Euthyphro dialogue with Socrates, points out the ridiculousness of the charges against him with cryptic language. "They call him Meletus, I believe… He is likely to be wise, and when he sees my ignorance corrupting his contemporaries, he proceeds to accuse me" (Cooper, 2000, p. 2). Euthyphro asks what the charges are regarding the corruption of the young. "Strange things, to hear him tell it, for he says that I am a maker of gods, and on the ground that I create new gods while not believing in the old gods, he has indicted me for their sake, as he puts it" (Cooper, 3).

At this point, by asking Euthyphro to become his teacher, Socrates cleverly turns the argument around to the possible corruption of older men. He even recites a quote that he could potentially use in the trial: "If, Meletus, you agree that Euthyphro is wise in these matters, consider me, too, to have the right beliefs and do not bring me to trial. If you do not think so, then prosecute that teacher of mine, not me, for corrupting the older men…" (Cooper, 7).

FIVE: What are your assumption?

At this point I know that I was wrong to assume Socrates was not guilty but was railroaded into a guilty verdict. Actually, he made the 300 jurors angry at him by being clever and even antagonistic towards his accusers. He acted as though he didn't care whether he lived or died and that played into the jury's need to locate and identify an "enemy" -- it was Socrates, after all! And yet his oratory also had powerful logic: "It is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day and those things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and others, for the unexamined life is not worth living…" (TU / Apology, 38a).

SIX: What are the reasons, evidence, and arguments that support your point-of-view?

To continue the point made earlier, Socrates was not an enemy of the state, nor did he corrupt the youth, but the reason he was brought to trial is because Athenians needed an "enemy." The evidence is that Meletus "lost no time in proposing the death penalty," which was the plan all along, obviously, to get rid of him and remove this questioning, iconoclastically obsessed person from society (TU / Apology 36b).

SEVEN: What are other points-of-view on this issue?

When Crito offered to put up cash to pay the fine for Socrates, this was both a "show of compassion" from a friend but also it would be a "hardship for those offering the fine" (TU). Also, if Socrates had accepted the idea of "exile" it would be, as Urban suggests, an admission that Socrates cared more about saving his own skin than the laws of Athens -- "the…[continue]

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