Recall that at Apology 37d, “It would be a fine life for me, indeed, a man of my age, to go into exile and spend his life exchanging one city for another, because he’s always being expelled (C. D. C. Reeve, P-Apology 37d)” Admittedly, Socrates could probably have avoided death by recommending exile if he wanted to, but he chose not to do so. Then, what exactly, was in his mind? After having been sentenced to death, Socrates was sleeping in his prison cell awaiting his execution.
Early in the morning, Crito visits Socrates and attempts to persuade him to escape the city before the execution. If we look into their dialogues, Socrates suggests examining whether he should do what Crito advises or not, defining himself as “a person who listens to nothing within him but the argument that on rational reflection seems best to him” (C. D. C. Reeve, P-Crito 46b). Here, Socrates seems to claim that he does not know anything, so will choose to do what appears to be the best to him through examining.
Socrates uses this unique method of examining throughout the books of Apology, Crito and Republic by continuously questioning to figure out what seems the best. Then, the question is, what does he mean by “best” in the statement? I argue that it is neither his life nor his family, but what is just or justice. It seems to me that Socrates’ statement at Crito 46b reflects his personal philosophy that one should examine his action whether it is just or unjust before performing it. According to Socrates, one should perform the action that is just and should not perform if it is an unjust action after examining.
A great example demonstrating this point can be found in Apology, where Socrates states “You’re not thinking straight, sir, if you think that a man who’s any use at all should give any opposing weight to the risk of living or dying, instead of looking to this alone whenever he does anything: whether his actions are just or unjust, the deeds of a good or bad man (C. D. C. Reeve, P-Apology 28b). ” This passage clearly demonstrates Socrates’ character and personal philosophy.
Socrates was a person who examines and chooses to do what is just even if the consequence of it were catastrophic—even death. In this passage, even in the situation of his own life at stake, Socrates argues that a man who’s any use at all, or I interpret this as a wise man, should not worry about life or death, but should examine what is just before performing an action; that is, the determining factor of performing an action should be based on what is just but nothing else. It seems to me that he could have avoided death if he does not say what he does in the passage.
However, he is the person who is persuaded by nothing within himself but the argument that appears to be the best to him, which is justice, as he states at Crito 46b. Therefore, he chooses to do what is just at the court regardless of the consequence of it as he does so as well later after the sentence. Another great example that demonstrates Socrates’ point would be the passage at Crito 54c. In this passage, he also reflects his personal philosophy that one should examine himself before performing an action and should not perform it if it is an unjust action.
“…Don’t put a higher value on children, on life, or on anything else than on what’s just…. suppose you return injustice for injustice and bad treatment for bad treatment in that shameful way, breaking your agreements and commitments with us and doing bad things to those whom you should least of all treat in that way… (C. D. C. Reeve, P-Crito 54c)” Once again, it seems that Socrates emphasizes that doing what is just is the highest value in life. Undauntedly loyal to his moral principles, Socrates refuses to leave Athens because he believed that it would be not only contrary to his moral principles, but also unjust to the city.
In fact, he believed that it is just in him to awaken the sleeping city, and to convince people what is truly important— justice. It seems clear to me that Socrates’ main concern was to examine himself before his action and perform what is just as he confesses at Crito 54d as follows: “That, Crito, my dear friend, is what I seem to hear them saying, you may be sure. ” Therefore, he listens to what seems best to him and does not escape the city. However, it is questionable to me that if it is just to follow unjust laws.
I am tempted to think that it would be more just to fight for just laws than merely to follow unjust laws because when I think of the holocaust victims, I do not think of them as just people, but merely unfair victims of injustice. Despite this, I think that his faithfulness to what he believed to be just is truly admirable. In my speculative opinion, being so enthusiastic to know the truth, Socrates, maybe and only maybe, wanted to know what it is after his death and to free his soul in best condition.
Or, maybe he wanted to teach that what he believed to be just is more important than his life. Overall, Socrates suggests that life is worth living only if one does the just actions through the philosophical process of examining himself. I find that his character is very inspiring because doing what is just regardless of its consequences takes a great deal of courage. Work Cited Reeve, C. D. C. A Plato reader: eight essential dialogues. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub. Co. , 2012. Print.