Whether or not to abide by the laws and decrees of one's own country is the question addressed by Plato's "Apology." Socrates was accused and found guilty of "corrupting the youth." For this he was sentenced to death. With hindsight, and based on what we have remaining written by Socrates' friends and supporters, it appears that Socrates was unjustly accused, tried, and condemned.

Socrates points out that he voluntarily remained in his country. He participated in government appropriately. For these reasons (and others) he felt he was rationally obliged to abide by the laws and decrees.

Was Socrates right? How does this message apply to us today?

For people living in a free and open society, Socrates' argument may well be every bit as applicable today as it was 2500 years ago in Athens.

One should note that Socrates might well have saved his own life had he tempered his thoughts with a more remorseful tone. Socrates refused to compromise his principles -- i.e., that he should say precisely what he thought -- and thus he forfeited his life. In this, Socrates poses an enduring example of authenticity and integrity.

We should also note that Socrates never failed to challenge the worldview of his listeners. The Apologia, in which he suggests that, rather than killing him, the State should sustain him as a pensioner, is an example of his bold but internally-consistent style of argument. For this alone, even if his logical and philosophical contributions are ignored, Socrates' greatness should be recognized and respected.

Last modified on 19 May 2011, at 23:07