In Plato’s dialogues, Euthyphro, Apology and Crito, Socrates demonstrates his belief that “the most important thing is not life, but the good life”(Crito 48b). Socrates believed that a good life is equivalent to one that is just and honourable. The good life is also one where the beliefs and morals of a person are not put aside in order to save one’s own life and wealth should not be desired. The true purpose of philosophy is not to give answers to questions but to raise more questions to the answers given. By doing so, Socrates teaches or at least suggests the idea of living a good, moral, honourable, and just life to his friends and his fellow Athenians.
Socrates is portrayed as a religious man who spent most of his life obedient to what he believed was a divine being. He had a profound faith in the spiritual meaning of life as well as the belief in God as the source of a person’s morals. Acting in accord with the voice that he hears, Socrates was accustomed to doing what he believed was right and would not leave this way of life in order to save his own life. In Euthyphro, Socrates raises the question of “What is piety?” to see if Euthyphro is as wise as he claimed to be. After various answers, Socrates exposes the shallowness of his claim. Euthyphro believed in piety in terms of religion as a relationship between gods and men. This relationship is by the means of giving and receiving. This is what Euthyphro meant when he said that “what is dear to the gods is pious, what is not is impious” (Euthyphro 7a).
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Also, he replies that making something dear to the gods is by attending to their wishes by making sacrifices and offering prayers. Socrates disagrees with Euthyphro’s differentiation between service to the gods and service to men. He does so because he does not believe that a person’s duty towards a divine being should be separate from his duty to his fellow man. Also the purpose of religion, instead of it being a tool in order to get something one wants, should be to bring harmony between a person’s life and God’s will. Socrates believes that religion and morality are very closely related and cannot be separated. Religion and morality are the main aspects of Socrates’ “good life.”
These aspects in Euthyphro’s eyes are, however, only important as long as by following them, he will be rewarded in the end. By the end of the conversation, Euthyphro had nothing left to say, but he left thinking more for himself and not trying to be someone he wasn’t.
In the Apology, at the hearing, Socrates defends himself and demonstrates that he does not fear death. He shows his fellow Athenians that Meletus’ accusations are absurd and that Meletus keeps contradicting himself. Socrates only considers whether what he is doing is right or wrong. As a soldier in the army, he did not desert his post when facing the danger of death. Socrates believed that “wherever a man has taken the position that he believes to be best…there he must remain and face danger, without a thought for death or anything else, rather than disgrace”(Apology 28d).
He would choose death rather than disgrace because it is far better to die honourably than it is to live in dishonour. What he feared the most was that he might do something morally wrong. He explained that his manner of living is in response to a command from God to fulfill the philosopher’s duty of searching within himself and others. Therefore, to disobey this command in order to save his own life would be a disgraceful thing to do. Socrates addressed his hearers saying:
“Gentlemen of the jury, I am grateful and I am your friend, but I will obey the god rather than you, and as long as I draw breath and am able, I shall not cease to practise philosophy, to exhort you and in my usual way to point out to any one of you whom I happen to meet: Good Sir, you are an Athenian, a citizen of the greatest city with the greatest reputation for both wisdom and power, are you not ashamed of you eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation and honours as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth, or the best possible state of your soul?” (Apology 29d).
It was suggested that Socrates might escape the death penalty if he stopped making the type of conversations that brought suspicion and controversy. Socrates however, believed that it would be disobedient to a divine being for him to do that. He believed that the greatest good of man is to talk daily about virtue, examining himself as well as others, because the unexamined life is not worth living. It is evident that virtue is of great importance in Socrates’ definition of the “good life” and wealth and riches were not. He even asks the judges to be watchful of his sons when they become men and punish them if they care about wealth, or anything more than virtue, or if they pretend to be something that they are not:
“When my sons grow up, avenge yourselves by causing them the same kind of grief that I caused you, if you think they care for money or anything else more than they care for virtue, or if they think they are somebody when they are nobody. Reproach them…that they do not care for the right things and think they are worthy when they are not worthy of anything”(Apology 41e).
Socrates did not charge people for his services. He did not believe that it was correct to put a value on truth or the process of teaching people to think for themselves. He also did not want to exclude anyone and was “equally ready to question the rich and the poor if anyone [was] willing to answer” his question and listen to what he had to say (Apology 33b). The most valuable service that he could perform, in his mind, was teaching people to improve themselves by learning how to think clearly and correctly and make this service available to anyone who would take advantage of it. Towards the end of the Apology, Socrates gives a prophetic speech which illustrates his certainty that it is much better to suffer injustice than it is to do injustice and what should be feared is not what happens to one’s physical body but rather what happens to the soul:
“a good man cannot be harmed either in life or in death, and that his affairs are not neglected by the gods. What has happened to me now has not happened of itself, but it is clear to me that it was better for me to die now and to escape from trouble…”(Apology 41d).
In Crito, Crito tries to convince Socrates to escape prison and death. Crito raises the question about “money, reputation, [and] the upbringing of children.” Socrates tells him that “those considerations in truth belong to those people who easily put mean to death and would bring them to life again if they could, without thinking…”(Crito 48d). Crito believes that it would not be wrong for Socrates to escape because he was imprisoned unjustly. However, Socrates does not agree with him. Socrates on the other hand thinks that he is obliged to submit to the punishment placed upon him even if it is unjust. He believes that it is his obligation to the state to follow their laws and regulations and abide by the decisions of the courts, regardless of what those decisions may be. Similar to Euthyphro’s exit, Crito also had nothing more to say but at least was exposed to Socrates’ justifications for his actions.
Socrates succeeded in justifying his actions by showing how devastating his disobedience could be. Socrates can keep his own pride, and sense of right and wrong. He showed others, such as Crito, that there is a certain satisfaction in maintaining one’s own innocence while not accepting an empty victory. By preserving harmony between what is right and the expression of a person’s own opinions, Socrates made possible the definition of the “good life.”
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