Interesting article by Josiah Ober on Socrates and what his death meant for a civic citizen.(f,sheikh) Conventional wisdom sees Socrates as a martyr for free speech, but he accepted his death sentence for a different cause.
Some 2,400 years ago, in 399 BCE, Athens put Socrates on trial. The charge was impiety, and the trial took place in the People’s Court. Socrates, already 70 years old, had long been a prominent philosopher and a notorious public intellectual. Meletus, the prosecutor, alleged that Socrates had broken Athenian law by failing to observe the state gods, by introducing new gods, and by corrupting the youth.
Meletus, as prosecutor, and Socrates, as defendant, delivered timed speeches before a jury of 501 of their fellow citizens. Meletus’ prosecution speech is lost. Two versions of Socrates’ defence speech, one recorded by Plato and the other by a clever polymath named Xenophon, are preserved. A majority of jurors (about 280) voted Socrates guilty, and he was executed by hemlock poisoning.
There is no dispute about the basic facts of the trial of Socrates. It is less obvious why Athenians found Socrates guilty, and what it might mean today. People who believe in both democracy and the rule of law ought to be very interested in this trial. If the takeaway is either that democracy, as direct self-government by the people, is fatally prone to repress dissent, or that those who dissent against democracy must be regarded as oligarchic traitors, then we are left with a grim choice between democracy and intellectual freedom.
But that is the wrong way to view Socrates’ trial. Rather, the question it answers concerns civic obligation and commitment. The People’s Court convicted Socrates because he refused to accept that a norm of personal responsibility for the effects of public speech applied to his philosophical project. Socrates accepted the guilty verdict as binding, and drank thehemlock, because he acknowledged the authority of the court and the laws under which he was tried. And he did so even though he believed that the jury had made a fundamental mistake in interpreting the law.Click for full article.