Sunday, October 6, 2013

Idle Thoughts -- Socrates' Public Defender

Imagine that you were assigned to be Socrates' legal counsel. What would you advise him to do or say to escape a death sentence? Do you think it might make a difference? Why or why not?

There were two charges brought against Socrates. First was a religious charge. This can be broken up into two subdivisions of not recognizing the same gods the city recognized, and introducing the concept of new gods. The other charge was that he was corrupting the youth of the city.

There were actually two trials. The first is to determine if he was guilty or innocent. The second was to determine his punishment.

In both trials, I would have advised Socrates to simply say as little as possible. He notoriously had an attitude which we today would regard as a smart ass attitude. Considering the importance in which the individuals who were judging him held themselves, they would take any of this behavior on his part as a direct personal insult. Which they clearly did.

I would also have advised him in the same manner that Abraham Lincoln said he advised a woman accused of murder. He took her into a separate room and then suggested to her that she looked as if she needed a glass of water and he heard that the water was really fine in a nearby state. Much later, after Lincoln left the room, the woman was discovered to have escaped.

I do not believe that this or any other advice would have helped Socrates. He was an old soldier who had faced death many times. He was well known for the calmness and dignity with which he faced the possibility of his own extinction. Added to this physical courage was a spiritual conviction, his philosophical beloef that death was something one should not fear.

In other words, I do not think he would have listened to this or any other good advice. To the end, he regarded himself as the individual providing the sting which kept the horse of Athens alert and moving forward. I would expect him to disregard any good advice which he received.

He died as he had lived. That is to say, with pride, dignity, and an acerbic sense of humor.

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