Civil Disobedience the Trial of Socrates the Essay

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Civil Disobedience

The Trial of Socrates

The Athenians suffered a crushing defeat in 404 B.C.E. with the end of the Peloponnesian War. A Spartan occupation force controlled the city, and instituted the rule of the Thirty Tyrants to replace Athenian democracy. While a form of democracy was reinstated it lacked the acceptance of ideas and freedom of speech that had been such an integral part of Athenian society (Rogers).

In Athens at this time it was the practice of private citizens to bring accusations of unlawful behavior to the attention of government officials. In 399 B.C.E. Socrates was charged with impiety by Meletus, a poet. Laws against impiety were wide-ranging so the charges had to be specified. The indictment against him reads "Socrates is guilty of refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state and introducing other, new divinities. He is also guilty of corrupting the youth. The penalty demanded is death" (Mahan).

The King Archon determined that the accusations against Socrates were lawful and had enough worth to justify a jury trial. The charges were adjudicated by a sworn jury drawn by lot. The law did not stipulate the penalty for impiety; it was up to the person bringing the case to the court to propose the punishment. If a guilty verdict was found it was up to the defendant to propose a counter penalty, and the jury to determine between the two. The trial began in the morning and had to be completed by the end of the day. The accusers and the accused spoke for themselves (Mahan).

Plato, a pupil of Socrates, wrote an account of Socrates' trial, called Apologia Socratous or Apology of Socrates, apologia meaning defense. In his defense Socrates asserts that the charges being brought upon him were motivated by his practice of teaching young men to question the authority and wisdom of the establishment. In reply to the question of shame for having been brought to trial to defend his life Socrates responded "a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong" (Rogers).

Socrates told the jury that if he were to be released on the condition he "inquire or speculate in this way no more," he would obey God rather than them, and never stop from the practice of teaching philosophy. Furthermore he stated "I am not going to argue for my own sake, as you may think, but for yours, that you may not sin against God by condemning me" (Rogers).

The jury found Socrates guilty by a margin of 30 votes. During the penalty phase of the trail Socrates argued that his sentence should be free meals for the remainder of his life at the Prytaneum, the hall where the members of the Prytaneis, foreign ambassadors, victorious generals, and Olympic athletes dined. He then proposed to pay a fine equivalent to eight and a half years wages. In response the jury voted him to death by a margin of votes greater than had voted him guilty. Socrates' punishment was postponed for a month to observe the annual religious mission of sending a ship to Delos (Mahan).

While in prison awaiting his execution Socrates is visited by Crito who has made arrangements for him to escape from prison and to the safety of exile. Crito argued that Socrates' death will reflect badly on his friends: people will think they made no attempt to save him. Furthermore, there were arrangements for him to live comfortably in exile. Crito also argued if Socrates stayed he would be helping his enemies in wronging him unjustly and therefore would be acting unjustly himself. He also pointed out that he would be abandoning his sons and leaving them without a father (Plato).

Socrates counters one should only concern themselves with acting well and not worry about public opinion. The only concern is if it is just for him to escape. Socrates argues the Laws of Athens and to break one would be to break them all. The citizen is bound to the law as a child is bound to his parent, and rather than escape he should try to persuade the laws to let him go. Since he is a citizen of Athens and has lived there happily all his life, he is has a duty to them in the form of a social contract. If he…

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