Chapter 5. "Seek Truth Rather Than Escape Death," by Plato

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from the The Apology, II
Reading from The Apology, II
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Socrates, Thoemmes

About the author…

There is little doubt that Plato conversed with Socrates during Socrates' last years. Plato was probably in his early 30's when Socrates was charged, and it is quite possible he was forced to leave Athens after Socrates was executed. Perhaps, either as a result of Socrates' trial or of the fact that Plato came from an aristocratic family, Plato distrusted democracy as an effective form of government. With respect to the psyche, Plato struggled with the problem of the soul having parts or being divisible, yet being eternal. He argues in Phaedo that life is the preparation for death. At death, the soul separates from the body and is released from the body's restrictions.

About the work…

Plato continues his account of the trial of Socrates. In this, the final part of The Apology,[1] Socrates is found guilty of the charges by a vote of 281 to 220; undoubtedly, the ethical seriousness with which Socrates spent his final days profoundly affected Plato as the young student. Socrates now explains why he has nothing to fear from death. Socrates argues that even if the soul were not immortal, death would be a good. Nevertheless, Socrates did not doubt the immortality of the soul.

Ideas of Interest from the The Apology, II

  1. Why doesn't Socrates plead for a lesser charge in order to save his life? Why did he feel that he couldn't accept exile?

  2. Explain how Socrates' argument that death should not be feared rests on "the Socratic Paradox." [2]

  3. Characterize as clearly as possible Socrates' conception of the soul. Does the existence of the soul presuppose an afterlife? Explain why or why not from a Socratic point of view.

  4. In what way do you think Socrates' defense exhibits irony? How is his irony related to his being a "gadfly"?

Notes

[1]

Plato, The Apology (380 B.C.) in The Dialogues of Plato (2. Vols.) Trans. Benjamin Jowett, New York, Random House, 1937.

[2]

Socrates believed that we all seek what we think is most genuinely in our own interest. If we act with knowledge, then we will obtain what is good for our soul, but if the consequences of our action are not what is good for our soul, then we had to have acted in ignorance. In a sense, for Socrates, there is no ethical good or evil—instead "knowledge" is logically equivalent to "good,""excellence," or "aret," and "ignorance" is logically equivalent to "evil" or what is "harmful." Since we never intentionally harm ourselves, if harm happens to us, then, at some point, we acted with a lack of knowledge. In this manner, Socrates concludes we are "morally responsible" for obtaining knowledge.