Socrates' Refusal to Escape: What is the Consequence of Inaction

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The trial and death of Socrates is generally considered as a controversial issue and have been interpreted by many writers, artists, and philosophers past and present. Two main charges that determine the guilty of Socrates are impiety against the pantheon of Athens; and corruption of the youth of the city-state, which finally led to the death sentence of Socrates (Stone, 1989). Actually, Socrates had chances to flee Athens and escape from the death penalty, but he refused. Why did he refuse to escape, and is there anything more important than ones’ life and worth dying for in Socrates’ s mind? The essay will discuss it from several perspectives.

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The first reason why Socrates refused to escape is that his persistence pursuit in philosophy and the philosophic advocation he deemed right. In Apology of Socrates – one of primary source about the trial and death of Socrates written by Plato, it indicates that Socrates considers practicing philosophy is much more important than abiding by the law, and he “owes a greater obedience to God” than the rule of law and would “never stop practicing the philosophy” (Plato, 2019). The jury committed that Socrates would be acquitted if he promised not to allegiance to his philosophy, however, Socrates rejected them. Law can sentence Socrates to death but could never stop him practicing philosophy. Furthermore, Socrates has ever held the views which is support for oligarchic rule and expressing the derision for radical Athenian democracy so that it threatened the dominators’ rule of Athens, and it is also one reason why dominators hoped Socrates to die. As a result, Socrates refused to escape and allow himself to be executed to death, in order to prove that the defects of the radical Athenian democracy did exist at that time and justify his philosophic advocation is correct (Stone, 1989).

From a national perspective, Socrates chose to stay in prison because he loves Athens, the place raised him up and he should be loyal to the Athenian laws and Athenian democracy although they are imperfect. For Socrates, escaping from Athens is a kind of betrayal and ungrateful behavior to the city he loved. For Athens, it is more serious that what the predicted terrible consequence and negative impact after Socrates escaped would be. According to an essay studying the death of Socrates, the reason why we could never ever break the laws is because “the consequences of disobedience are, or would be, socially destructive.” (Barker, 1977). Laws is the basic and indispensable elements of a civilized society and if the laws and the decisions of its courts could be ignored, like Socrates refused to accept the execution and decided to escape, it will ignite the fuse of anarchy and bring social chaos to the city, finally no city can survive (Barker, 1977). Obviously, someone may doubt that it is impossible one man through one such act of disobeying laws can produce this socially destructive. However, Socrates was a famous and charismatic man in Athens at that time, which almost every Athenians knew him. Hence, it is sufficient to believe that a general imitation of Socrates’ s behaviors, which is ignoring the laws, and its chain-reaction would lead the social chaos and the breakdown of civic life. In my opinion, if Socrates escaped, which seemed to be an intentional breath of laws, he not only betrayed his philosophic faith but also betrayed his city. Based on these two important reasons from personal and national perspectives, Socrates will not escape although he had the chance.

However, some arguments suggested that doing nothing and allowing an injustice to occur is as wrong as committing the injustice directly (Tarrant, 2003). In their views, Socrates is creating an injustice against himself by allowing himself to be unjustly executed. However, in my view, it is clear that they are not equal and committing the injustice directly is much more serious that inaction. Socrates decided to stand his ground and opposed the escape plan so as to avoid the risk of committing the injustice, because compared with death, acting unjustly will cause unjust moral harm to oneself, and death is actually the emancipation of one’s soul. In Apology, Socrates ever said “the unexamined life is not worth living”, and a virtuous mind and self-examination is significantly important for a human, so the largest damage one person can cause onto the other is to corrupt his soul but not kill him (Plato, 2019). Therefore, death is not painful for Socrates but violating the arguments and corrupting one’s own soul is. If Socrates agreed to escape with his friends’ help, not only himself, but the friends who helped him, and indirectly his family would be involved in this wrong-doing, all of their soul would be corrupted because Socrates’ escape. It is undoubtful that Socrates will prefer to die rather than let his and his friends’ soul suffer from the unjust moral harm. Moreover, the only course of action by which he would be wronging neither God nor the Law was inaction; to allow himself to be executed unjustly rather than commit an act of injustice in escape.

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