Socrates On Democracy

In Plato’s Euthyphro, Crito and the Apology, we learn of Socrates’ highly
critical view of the democracy. Socrates believed that democracy was a flawed
system because it left the state in the hands of the unenlightened and it valued
all opinions as equal. In the Apology, we see how Socrates believed it was his
duty to stand for the law and justice despite the wishes of The Assembly, and
this cold have cost him his life. In Crito, Socrates states to obey the laws of
the State, only if they are just. It could be said that Socrates’ views on
democracy and justice is what ultimately led to his death. Socrates believed
poor leaders are chosen, simply on their basis of their rhetoric ability, not on
their ethics or character. He opposed the efforts of the Sophists to teach their
students virtue, knowledge and rhetoric as practical subjects needed by citizens
to participate in the institutions of Athenian democracy. His belief on
knowledge and virtue was that these required “absolute definition” which was
to be attained through exhaustive philosophical dialogue and debate. He seemed
to offend many Athenians with his negative dialectic method; revealing
people’s ignorance and inability to give definitions of truth and virtue. He
believed the citizen’s lack of knowledge made it impossible for the
citizen’s to vote properly for their leaders or for the leaders themselves to
even run. In the Apology, Socrates did not want anything to do with the Thirty
Tyrants and he crossed them to the extent that his life might have been in
danger, if they had not been overthrown. Socrates was against the trying of the
admirals from the battle of Arginusae. He was the only one to refuse to do
anything contrary to the laws. In his view it was his duty to stand for the law
and for justice despite the wishes of the Assembly, so he did, at risk of
prosecution or death. In Crito, Socrates believes that an Athenian is obligated
to obey the orders of the state or its officers, unless he considers those
orders unjust, “in which case he may protest its injustice, but must consent
to punishment if his protest proves unavailing.” Socrates’ continued to
honor his commitment to truth and morality even though it cost him his life. In
the Euthyphro, Socrates asks “is the pious loved by the gods because it is
pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” (10A). This question
can be restated as does the state prohibit this action because it is unjust, or
is it unjust because the state prohibits it? Does this ultimately mean then that
actions become right or wrong because of society’s approval or disapproval? In
the Apology, Socrates states the only opinion that counts is not that of the
majority of people, but rather that of the one individual who truly knows. The
truth alone deserves to be the basis for decisions about human action, so the
only proper approach is to engage in the sort of careful moral reasoning by
means of which one may hope to reveal it.

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