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KNOWLEDGE AND THE IMMORTAL SOUL

The three dialogues that deal with the trial and death of Socrates are, the Apology, or the defense and subsequent condemnation of Socrates, the Crito, or the period between his condemnation and his death, and the Phaedo, or the death scene. In addition to providing a description of Plato's theory of the soul, immortality, and the forms, They will give us a deep feeling for one of the two most infamous trials in western literature. The other, of course, being the death of Christ.

The Apology is Plato's version of Socrates defense of charges of impiety brought against him by Anytus and Meletus. That the charges were not only illegitimate but somewhat preposterous are not denied even by those who do not hold the Platonic view of the trial, including Stone. However, as you will see from this that his attitude was not meant to attract admirers, but to insist on the truth even as he belittled his adversaries.

How you, O Athenians, have been affected by my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that they almost made me forget who I wasso persuasively did they speak; and yet they have hardly uttered a word of truth. But of the many falsehoods told by them, there was one which quite amazed meI mean when they said that you should be upon your guard and not allow yourselves to be deceived by the force of my eloquence. To say this, when they were certain to be detected as soon as I opened my lips and proved myself to be anything but an eloquent speaker, did indeed appear to me to be most shamelessunless by the force of eloquence they mean the force of truth; for if such is their meaning, I admit that I am eloquent. But in how different a way from theirs! Well, as I was saying, they have scarcely spoken the truth at all; but from me you shall hear the whole truth: not, however, delivered after their manner in a set oration duly ornamented with words and phrases. No, by heaven! but I shall use the words and arguments which occur to me at the moment; for I am confident in the justice of my cause: at my time of life I ought not to be appearing before you, O men of Athens, in the in the character of a juvenile oratorlet no one expect it of me. And I must beg of you to grant me a favor:If I defense myself in my accustomed manner, and you hear me using the words which I have been in the habit of using in the agora, at the tables of the money-changers, or anywhere else, I would ask you not to be surprised, and not to interrupt me on this account. For I am now more than seventy years of age, and appearing now for the first time in a court of law, I am quite a stranger to the language of the place; and therefore I would have you regard me as if I were really a stranger, whom you would excuse if he spoke in his native tongue, and after the fashion of his country:Am I making an unfair request of you? Never mind the manner which may or may not be good; but think only of the truth of my words, and give heed to that: let the speaker speak truly and the judge decide justly.

The major offenses that Socrates was accused of were that he was the author of evil deeds, that he had defamed the state religion, and that he taught these evil things to the young. In his comedy The Clouds Aristophanes had depicted Socrates and his followers floating in the clouds and teaching things about the earth and beneath the earth that no one should have knowledge of. A few scholars have stated that it was possible that when Socrates was young he might have deliberated on the Milesian cosmological themes, but there is no evidence that he ever introduced these themes into his mature discussions, indeed even that he might have done so as a youth is highly speculative. He began his defense by attacking the general accusations about him current in Athenian gossip.

I will begin at the beginning, and ask what is the accusation which has given rise to the slander of me, and in fact has encouraged Meletus to prefer this charge against me. Well, what do the slanderers say? They shall be my prosecutors, and I will sum up their words in an affidavit: 'Socrates is an evil-doer, and a curios person, who searches into things under the earth and in heaven, and he makes the worst appear the better cause; and he teaches the aforesaid doctrines to others.' such is the nature of the accusation: it is just what you have yourselves seen in the comedy of Aristophanes, who has introduced a man whom he calls Socrates, going about and saying he walks in air, and talking a deal of nonsense concerning matters of which I do not pretend to know either much or little--not that I mean to speak disparagingly of any who is a student of natural philosophy. I should be very sorry if Meletus could bring so grave a charge against me. But the simple truth is, O Athenians, that I have nothing to do with physical speculations. Very many of those present here are witness to the truth of this, and to them I appeal. Speak then, you who have heard of me, and tell your neighbors whether any of you have ever known me to hold forth in few words or in many upon such matters. ...You hear their answer. And from what they say of this part of the charge you will be able to judge the truth of the rest.

Those who were to judge Socrates were the five hundred. Five hundred men representing the five hundred tribes in Athens. Tribes is not a proper word. Actually, they for the most part were not natural family groupings since for some time newcomers to Athens who have earned the right of citizenship had been assigned randomly to one or another of the various tribes. Therefore among his judges must have been a number who were familiar with Socrates and exactly what he did represent. Next Socrates struck out at the idea that he was a teacher and that he took money for teaching these strange and impious things.

As little foundation is there for the report that I am a teacher, and take money; this accusation has no more truth in it than the other. Although if a man were really able to instruct mankind, to receive money for giving instruction would, in my opinion, be an honor to him.

There is at this time a Parian philosopher residing in Athens, of whom I have heard; and I came to hear of him in this way:I came across a man who has spent a world of money on Sophists, Callias, son of Hipponicus, and knowing that he had sons, I asked him: 'Callias" I said, 'if your sons were foals or calves there would be no difficulty in finding someone to put over them; we should hire a trainer of horses, or a farmer probably, who would improve or perfect them in their own proper virtue and excellence; but as they are human beings, whom are you thinking of placing over them? Is their anyone who understands human and political virtue? You must have thought about the matter, for you have sons; is there any one? 'There is', he said. 'Who is he?' said I; 'And of what country? And what does he charge?' 'Evenus the Parian,' he replied, 'he is the man, and his charge is five minae.' Happy is Evenus, I said to myself, if he really has this wisdom, and teaches it at such a moderate charge. Had I the same, I should have ben very proud and conceited; but the truth is that I have no knowledge of that kind.

The Sophists, like Protagorus and Evenus, were never Athenians. They came form other cities. Most Greek cities of the time had laws forbidding the open discussion of philosophical themes; they were considered too controversial. Thus they all flocked to Athens where the freedom to speak their mind was guaranteed by the constitution. In all probability, as has been urged by a number of Socratic scholars, the people of Athens did not want to kill him. These were shaky political times in Athens as well as in other cities, and the primary purpose of the trial was to shut him up, and perhaps to silence philosophy without changing the constitution. However, that was not likely to happen.

In Greek times the term 'wise man' was reserved for very few men who had reputations for doing a great deal. Chaerephon, a well known Athenian, had visited the oracle at Delphi and asked whether any man was wiser than Socrates. The oracle answered that there was no man wiser. The brother of Chaerephon was present at the trial. One of the charges against Socrates was that he was an evil man, but that he claimed to be a wise man. In this answer to that charge he is speaking of that occasion and of the words of the Delphic God.

Why do I mention this? Because I am going to explain to you why I have such an evil name. When I heard the answer, I said to myself, What can the god mean? and what is the interpretation of his riddle? for I know that I have no wisdom, small or great. What then can he mean when he says that I am the wisest of men? And yet he is a god, and cannot lie; that would be against his nature. After long consideration, I thought of a method of trying the question. I reflected that if I could only find a man wiser than myself, then I might go to the god with a refutation in my hand. I should say to him, 'here is a man who is wiser than I am; but you said that I was the wisest.' Accordingly I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom, and observed himhis name I need not mention; he was a politician whom I had selected for examinationand the result was as follows; When I began to talk to him I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and still wiser by himself; and therefore I tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me. So I left him, saying to myself as I went away: Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he isfor he knows nothing and thinks he knows; I neither know nor think I know. In this latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him.

I think that you will admit that this is not likely to impress any politicians, but it does serve to illustrate one aspect of Plato's theory of knowledge. That is, that pure knowledge, being of the unchanging and not of particular things, is divine, a possession of the gods, not of men. For the moment, consider that he is using reason while at the same time ignoring the non-intellectual meaning being absorbed by his audience, the five hundred judges. He went on to show how he tried different occupations and found that they had specific knowledge about their particular occupations but that did not make them wiser. His conclusion was that he was considered wiser than others simply because he was not wise and knew he was not wise.

And I am called wise for my hearers always imagine that I possess the wisdom which I find wanting in others; but the truth is, O men of Athens, that God only is wise; and by his answer he intends to show that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing; he is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name by way of illustration, as if he had said, he, O men, is the wisest who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is truly worth nothing

Socrates then turned his attention to Meletus, and using the same logic, and the same attitude, dealt with each of his accusation in particular terms, each time making Meletus appear worse than he claimed Socrates to be. When the guilty verdict came the only thing that surprised Socrates was the slim majority, only thirty votes stood between him and acquittal. At this point it was up to Socrates to offer a punishment so that the five hundred could choose between his offer and death. Almost any reasonable settlement would probably have gone over, at least that is the opinion of most scholars. But Socrates would have none of that. The idea of banishment for example would be of no advantage for him because wherever he went he would be falling into the same trap because he believed he was doing the right thing and wasn't going to change. He suggested that what he really deserved was to be supported by the city as a hero. He finally suggested that there be a fine of thirty minae, a paltry sum which his friends could easily cover. He was sentenced to death.

He turned next to those who had condemned him and said, "If you think that by killing men you can prevent someone from censuring your evil lives, you are mistaken; that is not a way of escape that is either possible or honorable. The easiest and the noblest way is not to be disabling others but to be improving yourselves. This is the prophecy which I utter before my departure to the judges who have condemned me."

Socrates believed that he had an internal demon who opposed him whenever he was tempted to do something wrong. At this point he turned to those of his judges who had voted to acquit him.

Friends, who would have acquitted me, I would like also to talk with you about the thing which has come to pass, while the magistrates are busy, and before I go to the place at which I must die. Stay then a little, for we may as well talk with one another while there is time. You are my friends and I should like to show you the meaning of this event which has happened to me. O my judgesfor you I may truly call judgesI should like to tell you of a wonderful circumstance. Hitherto the divine faculty of which the internal oracle is the source has constantly been in the habit of opposing me even about trifles, if I was going to make a slip or error in any matter. And now, as you see, there has come upon me that which may be thought, and is generally believed to be, the last and worst evil. But the oracle made no sign of opposition, either when I was leaving my house in the morning, or when I was on my way to the court, or when I was speaking at anything I was going to say; and yet I have often been stopped in the middle of a speech, but now in nothing I either said or did touching the matter in hand has the oracle opposed me. What do I take to be the explanation of this silence? I will tell you. It is an intimation that what has happened to me is good, and that those of us who think that death is an evil are in error.

He then considered the thought of death, considering that death is either a state of nothingness, or a migration of the soul from one world to another. "Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by dreams, death would be an unspeakable gain. For if a person were to select the night in which his sleep was undisturbed even by dreams and were to compare with this the other days and nights of his life, and then were to tell us how many days and nights he had passed in the course of his life better and more pleasantly than this one, I think that any man, I will not say a private man, but even the great king will not find many such days and nights when compared with the others. Now if death be such a nature, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is only a single night." On the other hand, if it is a migration of the soul to another world where he might find true judges, where he might converse with Orpheus and Musaeus, and Homer and Hesiod. "Nay, if this be true", he said, "let me die again and again." Finally, taking his leave of them he said "The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our waysI to die, and you to live. Which is better God only knows."

While the Apology lacks some of the clear logical arguments of the later platonic dialogues, there is a clear message presented. This was offered following Anytus' proposal that since he had been prosecuted, he must be put to death. Socrates answer put the major lesson in full perspective.

If you say to me, Socrates, this time we will not mind Anytus, and you shall be let off, but under one condition, that you are not to enquire and speculate in this way any more, and that if you are caught doing so again you shall die;if this was the condition on which you let me go, I should reply: Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting anyone whom I meet and saying to him after my manner: You, my friend,a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athensare you not ashamed of heaping up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and caring so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all? And if the person with whom I am arguing, says: Yes, but I do care; then I do not leave him or let him go at once; but I proceed to interrogate and examine and cross-examine him, and if I think that he has no virtue in him, but only says that he has, I reproach him with undervaluing the greater and overvaluing the less. And I shall repeat the same words to every one whom I meet, young and old citizens and alien, but especially to the citizens, inasmuch as they are my brethren. For know that this is the command of God; and I believe that no greater good has ever happened in the state than my service to the God.

While the trial of Socrates was going on a state galley had set out on an annual religious mission to Delos. While it was away no execution was allowed to take place. As a result Socrates was kept in prison for a month awaiting execution. When the ship arrived at Cape Sunium in Attica. and was thus expected within days at Piraieus, the port of Athens, Socrates faithful friend Crito tried once more to extricate Socrates from his impending death. This time by offering to help him to escape the prison. In the Crito Socrates put forward one of the strongest cases for moral responsibility ever made. There is a strong hint in the tale that the authorities would not mind as long as he left the country. What the problem of escaping comes down to for Socrates is, first, are we injuring people whom we should least injure? And second, Are we sticking to a just agreement or not?

Socrates: Look at it this way. If, as we were planning to run away from here, or whatever one should call it, the laws and the state came and confronted us and asked: "Tell me, Socrates, what are you intending to do? Do you not by this action you are attempting intend to destroy us, the laws, and indeed the whole city, as far as you are concerned? Or do you think it possible for a city not to be destroyed if the verdicts of its courts have no force but are nullified and set at naught by private individuals?" What shall we answer to this and other such arguments? For many things could be said, especially by an orator on behalf of this law we are destroying, which orders that judgments of the courts shall be carried out. Shall we answer, "The city wronged me, and its decision was not right." Shall we say that, or what?

Crito: Yes, by Zeus, Socrates, that is our answer.

Socrates: Then what if the laws said: "Was that the agreement between us, Socrates, or was it to respect the judgments that the city came to?" And if we wondered at their words they would perhaps add: "Socrates, do not wonder at what we say but answer, since you are accustomed to proceed by question and answer. come now, what accusation do you bring against us and the city, that you should try to destroy us? Did we not, first, bring you to birth, and was it not through us that your father married your mother and begat you?

Since Draco in the seventh century Athens had been a city ruled by laws rather than men. Even in the days of the tyrants, they too ruled through the laws and not in spite of them. Thus, laws are what create and maintain a city. To destroy them is to destroy the city itself. This is true also of the customs of the city, the laws query Socrates concerning the roles that the city and its customs played in his upbringing and education. After he was born and nurtured and educated, could he deny that he was their offspring and servant? Does he think that he and the laws are on an equal footing, that whatever the laws do to him it is right for him to do to them? Does he think that he has the right to retaliation against his country and its laws? That if they undertake to destroy him and think it right to do so, that he can undertake to destroy them? Particularly Socrates, a man who truly cares for virtue.

This, of course, is the ancient dilemma of the independent man living in a community of moral people. Do the people create the morals of the community, or do the morals of the community create the people? In any case what recourse does the individual have against a moral community whose members have wronged him? Is his argument with the men who have chosen wrongly? Or with the community which allows it to occur? Once an individual has been prosecuted according to the laws and the customs of the community and yet is not guilty of the offense, is it the community, or is it the judges who have wronged him? What should the moral man do when he disagrees with the customs of his city? The answer that the laws give to Socrates is straight forward, "You must either persuade it or obey its orders, and endure in silence whatever it instructs you to endure, whether blows or bonds, and if it leads you into war to be wounded or killed, you must obey." "It is impious," the laws said, "to bring violence to bear against your mother or father, it is much more so to use it against your country."

Socrates: "Reflect now, Socrates," the laws might say "that if what we say is true, you are not treating us rightly by planning to do what you are planning. we have given you birth, nurtured you, educated you, we have given you and all other citizens a share of all the good things we could. Even so, by giving every Athenian the opportunity, after he has reached manhood and observed the affairs of the city and us the laws, we claim that if we do not please him, he can take his possessions and go wherever he pleases. Not one of our laws raises any obstacle or forbids him, if he is not satisfied with us or the city, if one of you wants to go and live in a colony or wants to go anywhere else, and keep his property. We say, however, that whoever of you remains, when he sees how we conduct our trials and manage the city in other ways, has in fact come to agreement with us to obey our instructions. We say that the one who disobeys does wrong in three ways, first because in us he disobeys his parents, also those who brought him up, and because in spite of his agreement, he neither obeys us nor, if we do something wrong does he try to persuade us to do better. Yet, we only propose things, we do not issue savage commands to do whatever we order; we give two alternatives, either to persuade us or to do what we say.

Socrates is particularly open to these charges if he should make good his escape. He of all the Athenians is among those who most definitely came to that agreement with them. For he would not have dwelt here most consistently of all the Athenians if the city had not been exceedingly pleasing to him. He had never left the city, even to see a festival, nor for any other reason except military service. He never went to stay in any other city, as other people often do.

Thus Socrates put the case that as a loyal Athenian his choice to take this opportunity to escape was not in the best interests of either himself or his city. In his final argument he turned to the gods of the underworld, still speaking in the words of the laws of the city of Athens.

"Be persuaded by us who brought you up, Socrates. Do not value either your children or your life or anything else more than goodness, in order that when you arrive in Hades you may have all this as your defense before the rulers there. If you do this deed, you will not think it better or more just or more pious here, nor will any of your friends, nor will it be better for you when you arrive yonder. As it is you depart, if you depart, after being wronged not by us, the laws, but by men; but if you depart after shamefully returning wrong for wrong and injury for injury, after breaking your agreement and contract with us, after injuring those you should injure least--yourself, your friends, your country, and uswe shall be angry with you while you are still alive, and our brothers, the laws of the underworld, will not receive you kindly, knowing that you tried to destroy us as far as you could. Do not let Crito persuade you, rather than us, to do what he says."

Crito, my dear friend, be assured that these are the words I seem to hear as the Corybantes seem to hear the music of their flutes, and the echo of these words resounds in me, and makes it impossible for me to hear anything else. As far as my present beliefs go, if you speak in opposition to them, you will speak in vain. However, if you think you can accomplish anything, speak.