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Socrates Did Not Fear Death

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Socrates Did Not Fear Death

Socrates did not fear death at his trial, even though his accusers demanded the death penalty if convicted. During his defense, Socrates argued that death should not be feared. His arguments to support his claim that death should not be feared were based on the following: (a) lack of wisdom, (b) living a virtuous life, (c) and two good outcomes in death. Socrates's arguments were validated by the evidence found in the Apology and Phaedo. The relationship between Socrates' attitude toward death and the philosophical life was defined and established.

Socrates was seventy years old and poverty stricken at the time of his trial (Apology 17d). He was a former war hero, and person who had always tried to live a virtuous life. Socrates abhorred injustice, and fought to help those who were unjustly convicted, even though he risked death (14e). He was placed on trial for corrupting the youth and impiety, but Socrates soon realized the trial was about philosophy itself (24c).

Many Athenians despised Socrates for his barrage of questions which usually had taken place in public view (Apology 17c). Socrates invariably infuriated people when he asked questions which made them appear foolish which amounted to public rebuke. It was probable that some of those people in which Socrates angered sat on the jury. Socrates knew how the trial would end before it ever started. Without hesitation, Socrates made the following antagonistic statement to the jury:

"Men of Athens, 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 practice philosophy, to exhort you and in my usual way to point out to any one of you whom I happen to meet (Apology 29d)."

It was a bold remark for a man who faced death. Perhaps, Socrates thought the statement validated the practice of philosophy. For Socrates, philosophy was the only way a person could achieve happiness in this life as well as the next.

What does it mean to practice philosophy? If a person does not make reflections in their life, how can they determine which goals to pursue, or if they are headed in the right direction? Virtue is developed through gaining wisdom, and without wisdom a person will not develop virtue. The reason Socrates practices philosophy is to gain wisdom, thus to develop virtue. Socrates has no doubt about philosophy's importance, and he is willing to die for his belief in it. What greater validation exists for philosophy than self-sacrifice? In the Apology, Socrates makes the following statement near the end of the dialogue:

"On the other hand, if I say that it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day and those other things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and others, for the unexamined life is not worth living for men, you will believe me even less (38a). "

What is the relationship of philosophical life to the belief that one should not fear death? The relationship stems from Socrates' belief that in death, the body and soul separate, and the soul will receive judgment for its past deeds. The good receive their reward and the wicked receive punishment (Phaedo 113e). Pure knowledge only exits in the realm where the soul dwells, and that is where Socrates will find answers to all of his questions. It is unlikely, that Socrates is fearful of obtaining pure wisdom in which he loves (Phaedo 67d).

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