Introduction to Political Philosophy
Posted on April 15, 2019
Currently doing the Yale open courses online from here. This entry is looking at Socratic Citizenship: Plato, Crito. I’m not presenting my own interpretations an I’m largely piecing together information from different sources none of it my own work. I will provide sources.
In the Apology, Socrates proposes a new kind of citizenship in opposition to the traditional one that was based on the poetic conception of Homer.
When Socrates was, at the age of seventy, arraigned, tried, and sentenced to death by an Athenian court. Brought in the usual Athenian way by a group of his fellow citizens who took it upon themselves to prosecute him for the sake of the city, the charges against him were three-fold: not acknowledging the city’s gods; introducing new gods; and corrupting the young.
In Plato’s account, after countering the religious accusations, Socrates acknowledged this abstention from public affairs but claimed to have had a more significant mission laid on him by the god Apollo when his oracle at Delphi declared that no man was wiser than Socrates: his mission was to stir up the city like a gadfly, discussing virtue and related matters, and benefiting each person by “trying to persuade him” to care for virtue rather than wealth for himself and for the city. He went so far as to claim that as a civic benefactor, he deserved not death but the lifetime free meals commonly awarded to an Olympic champion (. Socrates here depicts himself as a new kind of citizen, conceptualizing the public good in a new way and so serving it best through unprecedented actions in contrast to the conventionally defined paths of political contest and success.
In Socrates’ view, if we are all wise, none of us will ever do wrong, and our self-knowledge will lead to healthier, more fulfilling lives. Thus, the philosopher, according to Socrates, does not merely follow abstract intellectual pursuits for the sake of amusement, but is engaged in activities of the highest moral value.