Sunday, October 13, 2013

Idle Thoughts -- Give Me Exile or Give Me Death!

In the end, Aristotle was accused of the same crimes as Socrates but unlike Socrates, Aristotle chose exile. Evaluate Aristotle's choice. Was he himself displaying courage ? Was he a coward? Was he rash? How do you think Aristotle would have defended his course of action? 

It is important that we understand how the Greeks looked upon exile or ostracism. Membership within the group was of great importance to these people. All Greeks regarded themselves as true human beings who were superior to others because they were the cultured, the Hellenes.

To be a member of your city, which was also your nation, was of the utmost importance to a free man. It identified who and what he was, even to marking his place in the world. 

By ostracizing a member of their society, the city was both removing the supposed threat of that individual and giving him a chance to redeem himself. After all, exile was for a limited period of time after which the individual could return and resume his place in the society.

The Greeks were very clear in their belief that this was not actually a punishment. Whoever got the most votes was the person ostracized.  It could even be regarded as an honor. You could say your enemies got together and tricked people into voting you out because of your importance.

Given this, one wonders why Socrates chose to die.  He did not specifically state the reason but it seems that he felt as a matter of principle it was wrong to leave the city even if that caused his death.

Aristotle's response makes a great deal of sense considering his belief in the Golden Mean.  Remember that this is a balance between extremes. To Aristotle, surely it would be an extreme to stay and die.  A coward might simply run away and hide while a foolishly rash man might stand and die. The balance between these extremes would be to accept your exile with dignity and eventually return with dignity from the exile.  If you demonstrated enough dignity in so doing, you might even shame those who had exiled you.

And the above paragraph would, I think, be Aristotle's defense. If a defense is needed. I'd rather think of it as his explanation. It seems a rational and very balanced course of action to take. Since Aristotle valued those traits, it would be natural for him to act in this matter.

Unfortunately, he died before the term of exile was over.

No comments:

Post a Comment