Jacques-Louis David The Death of Socrates, 1787 Scene is not authentic re-creation, but 18 th century setting and purpose (manipulate crowds in pantomime festivals of French Revolutionary period) Composition echoes “last supper”—is actually secular version (12 figures, cup) indicating that morality is possible outside of religion Socrates, bathed in light, dressed in white, receiving cup, is major focus to which eye is led. Character at foot of bed, also dressed in white, is secondary focus (Plato?)
Prevailing opinion: Self-Preservation is basic human instinct motivating behavior (Rousseau, Freud, Maslow) Socrates: "The most important thing is not life, but the good life" (48b) "And is life worth living for us with that part of us corrupted that unjust action harms and just action benefits? Or do we think that part of us, whatever it is, that is concerned with justice and injustice, is inferior to the body?" (47e) "For us, however, since our argument leads to this, the only valid consideration, as we were saying just now, is whether we should be acting rightly in giving money and gratitude to those who will lead me out of here, and ourselves helping with the escape, or whether in truth we shall do wrong in doing all this. If it appears that we shall be acting unjustly, then we have no need at all to take into account whether we shall have to die if we stay here and keep quiet, or suffer in another way, rather than do wrong." (47 c,d)
Prevailing opinion: Majoritarian biases Socrates: "My good Crito, why should we care so much for what the majority think? The most reasonable people, to whom one should pay more attention, will believe that things were done as they were done." (44c) Example of athlete and trainer (47b) "...should we follow the opinion of the many and fear it, or that of the one, if there is one who has knowledge of these things and before whom we feel fear and shame more than before all the others." (47 c/d)
Prevailing opinion: Relativism widely accepted Socrates: "We must therefore examine whether we should act in this way or not, as not only now but at all times I am the kind of man who listens only to the argument that on reflection seems best to me." (46b) Alternative translations: "Then we must examine whether we ought to do it or not; for my way is and always has been to obey no one and nothing, except the reasoning which seems to me best when I draw my conclusions." "You know that this is not a new idea of mine; it has always been my nature never to accept advice from any of my friends unless reflection shows that it is the best course that reason offers."
Prevailing opinion: It's payback time, retributive mentality, lex talionis Socrates: : "So one must never do wrong....Nor must one, when wronged, inflict wrong in return, as the majority believe, since one must never do wrong." (49 b/c). "One should never do wrong in return, nor injure any man, whatever injury one has suffered at his hands." (49 c)
Prevailing opinion: Laws as one-dimensionally restrictive (Rousseau; Haiti as place where men not laws rule; tyranny of majority; self-actualization) Socrates: "Do you deny that by this action you intend to destroy us, the laws, and indeed the whole city, as far as you are concerned?" (50b--retranslated slightly) "Or do you think it possible for a city not to be destroyed if the verdicts of its courts have no force but are nullified and set at naught by private individuals?" (50 b) Laws arrange for marriage, nurture of babies and education (50e) "We have given you birth, nurtured you, educated you, we have given you and all other citizens a share of all the good things we could." (51d) "It is clear that the city has been outstandingly more congenial to you than to other Athenians, and so have we, the laws, for what city can please without laws?" (53a) "You will also strengthen the conviction of the jury that they passed the right sentence on you, for anyone who destroys the laws could easily be thought to corrupt the young and the ignorant. Or will you avoid cities that are well governed and men who are civilized?" (53c)
Which of the reasons given by Crito would have been most convincing to you? Which of the ones provided by Socrates? By the laws? What are some of the issues about an individual and society that are raised by this dialogue? Draw a horizontal line on a sheet of paper. Mark one end "no doubt about it--go for it". Mark the other "under no circumstances". Then fill in the line with a series of situations in which, at one end, you would have no difficulty in acting against rules, and at the other end, situations in which violation of rules would not be permissible. The middle area would be filled by in-between, difficult to decide situations. Some examples of situations: under 21 drinking of alcohol in the dorms, refusing to serve in the military, harboring fugitive slaves, lying on a financial aid form, escaping from prison like Jean Valjean in Les Miserables or the doctor in The Fugitive. Would Socrates and Maslow agree on what makes someone a "self-actualized" individual? On the relative "prepotency" of needs? Do you think that Rousseau and Socrates, if they were charged with writing constitutions, would construct their societies in similar ways ? Discussion Questions