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Socrates (470 B.C. - 399 B.C.), Greek philosopher, is famous for a great many things. Arguably, his most important contribution to Western thought is something that has come to be known as the SocraticMethod?--a method of asking questions of a person in order to lead the person into contradicting himself--which laid the foundation for all later rational Western thought. Closely associated with Socrates' use of his method is his desire to discover the logos, or true nature or essence, of a thing (or concept). For example, in the Euthyphro Socrates asks a religious man, who believes he knows what piety is, to clarify the concept.

Socrates was what we today would euphamistically call a "street person". He was not a land owner but instead wandered the streets talking to people, and getting food from kind citizens. His attire was archaic-grunge, so to speak.

Socrates taught PlaTo?, who in turn taught ArisTotle?, and it is this triumvirate of great Greek philosophers who started the WesterN? tradition of PhiloSophy and by extension ScienCe.

Since he left no writings, all that we know of Socrates comes from the writings of just a few ancient Greeks, primarily Plato in PlatosDialogues? (most of which were written in SocraticDialogue? form), but also XenoPhon? and AristoPhanes?.

Socrates' reasoning and philosophy, and the questions they raised not only about ephemeral things but also political, moral, and legal matters drew the ire of the community's leaders who, fearing he was leading the young people of the city astray, held a vote and determined that he should be condemned to death, after a trial in which Socrates, instead of putting on an eloquent defense, called into question the whole basis for the trial. The judges were unmoved. Socrates' followers encouraged him to flee, but he refused on principle, and took the poison (hemlock) himself. (Sound familiar? Yes, this story has been reenacted in part or in whole, time and time again; those who do not learn from history are most certainly bound to repeat it.) Socrates died at the age of 70.

Note: Athenian trials did not have judges, merely juries. At the time Athens had been going through some difficult stuff, notably the thirty tyrants which included several of Socrates' friends, though he himself refused to condone it. Even so, the jury was not nearly as pitiless as the above suggests - the vote on the guilt came out very close to 50-50, and they had not chosen the sentence yet.

In Athenian trials, the sentence was chosen between suggestions from the two parties. The prosecution of course chose execution. The reason this was taken was that Socrates' suggestion was, rather than the expected exile, a fine so small it may as well have not been there. Now the verdict was nearly unanimous, but this time on a matter of principle: guilty men must be punished.

All in all: the jury chose wrong, and executed an innocent man as a result. But it is wrong to cast them as a bunch of pitiless judges, or imply that they cared nothing for justice, as neither is true. Part of the tragedy of Socrates' death is that neither he, nor the jury, was really at fault. The above text should probably reflect this.

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Last edited February 2, 2001 7:22 am by JoshuaGrosse (diff)