Athens, the capital of Greek philosophy 2419 years ago, experienced one of the darkest events in history, which reflected its influence cumulatively and made its reflections felt in every society and every time. Socrates, who was seen as the “father of philosophy”, was accused of “not believing the gods that people believe, inventing new gods, misleading young people” and sentenced to death. Whereas even people who lived together and accused themselves at that time knew how honest and lawful he was. But what was the reason why they sentenced Socrates to death? Did someone kill Socrates, or did he have a crime of the blindness of opinion that existed in every period of history?
First of all, let’s try to understand a little bit of Socrates and his point of view towards events – situations – systems for those who don’t know at all or just know the name and a few small anecdotes, like most of us. He is one of the first members and chief actors of a journey that has been going on for 2400 years and will never end. He is the first name that comes to mind when we think of the practitioners and followers of the “Know Thyself” doctrine. If you haven’t read my blog titled “Know Thyself” yet, you can find it here?
Instead of trying to perceive the world, the universe, and the environment, Socrates, unlike other thinkers before him, tried to know, and understand mankind and himself. With the words “An unexamined life is not worth living.” He first stated how important and essential is the questioning. He then stated that the beginning of this important piece should be the human being himself which is an inevitable factor that could change the universe so effectively for centuries. Socrates thought of all this in the 4th century BC, that is, without any of the events, inventions and discoveries that usher new eras after his death. As these events and inventions took place, we directed our point of view to our surroundings and to areas far from us, instead of turning to ourselves.
Socrates did not think that universal knowledge could be reached and did not carry out any study in this direction. As proof of all of this, Socrates has another very famous saying, “The only thing I know is that I know nothing.”. Another point that separates Socrates from other philosophers, he thinks that the structure of the human in the universe is naturally indexed to be happy. However, he does not consider happiness with a hedonistic approach through our pleasures, the method that most of us think of. He thought that knowledge was the main and only source of happiness. He claimed that the cause of all evil in the universe was not knowing, the lack of knowledge led us to faults and unhappiness. He said, “There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.”. And he used his unique maieutic method (Socratic method) to reveal all this information he thought was present in humans. In addition to all these views, he hated democracy before he was sentenced to death with the majority of votes in Athens and stated that democracy is not a smart form of government as we thought.
A quote from the video of “theschooloflife.com” website:
*In the dialogues of Plato, the founding father of Greek Philosophy – Socrates – is portrayed as hugely pessimistic about the whole business of democracy. In Book Six of The Republic, Plato describes Socrates falling into conversation with a character called Adeimantus and trying to get him to see the flaws of democracy by comparing a society to a ship. If you were heading out on a journey by sea, asks Socrates, who would you ideally want deciding who was in charge of the vessel? Just anyone or people educated in the rules and demands of seafaring? The latter of course, says Adeimantus, so why then, responds Socrates, do we keep thinking that any old person should be fit to judge who should be a ruler of a country? Socrates’s point is that voting in an election is a skill, not a random intuition. And like any skill, it needs to be taught systematically to people. Letting the citizenry vote without an education is as irresponsible as putting them in charge of a trireme sailing to Samos in a storm.
Socrates; Instead of trying to impose his own opinion on the person in front of him, he tried to ensure that the person found himself with the questions he asked and the answers he received using the method of maieutic. He has a very good saying for this method: “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.”. In applying this method, Socrates was aware that people are ignorant of what they thought they know. And he knew that annihilating this ignorance would not be through quarrel and controversy. For this, he acted only as a ‘midwife’ in revealing the truth with a series of questions. It was the person himself who would give birth to the truth.
The main reason for Socrates’ accusation was neither rejecting religious values nor misleading young people. The only reason he was accused was that he asked questions. Because asking questions is the questioning of what is known, what is thought to be known, and revealing that they may not be as correct as we thought. For this reason, questioning is an action that people living in the comfort zone and all societies and environments dominated by dogmas refrained from, regarded as dangerous. However, these false points of view did not prevent the instinct to ask questions that underpin scientific inventions and discoveries that led to the development of humanity. In history, after Socrates, there were many thinkers who were sentenced to death in inquisition courts for questioning, sentenced to various punishments, excluded, exiled by the society. But despite all these obstacles and punishments, the winner was still knowledge/science. Dogma is a blind faith that does not grant anyone the right to live, and it does not belong to a religion, a society, or an opinion. It is a perspective that has the potential to emerge in anyone, anywhere and in any area. It was the same in the 4th century BC, and so in the centuries after.
In the face of the accusations of these dogmas, Socrates used the Socratic method he knew best instead of oratory. Instead of asking forgiveness from the judges, he defended his ideas. He did not want the death penalty to be changed. Because of his respect for the law, he ended his life by drinking the poison. Before he died, he made the following sentences to his friends: “The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our separate ways, I to die, and you to live. Which of these two is better only God knows.”
Perhaps Socrates left a precedent and lesson that he would never have had if he lived with his death. He showed that pursuing the right thing instead of contradicting the life he lived and the values he believed in, the questioning would save us from our ignorance and that if we could get rid of our ignorance, we would reach true happiness. The blindness of thought that condemned him to death had erred and defeated for centuries. Just like that day, It will continue to be defeated and be erred. Hope to see you in my next post, stay healthy and knowledgeable!
A detailed video about ‘Death of Socrates’ painting:
Source: Apology, Plato