Webster defines wise as: (1) having or showing good judgment; (2) informed; (3) learned; (4) shrewd or cunning. In my opinion, Socrates was wise in all aspects of the word. If I were placed in his position and were to make the same decisions, I would not consider myself wise. I would consider myself to be a great fool, but given the circumstances and the parties involved I believe that Socrates made proper decisions in his defense.
Socrates knew that the jury was prejudiced against him from the start and addressed it immediately. In his opening statement, of the prosecutors he stated, “but of their many falsehoods, the one which astonished me most was when they said that I was a clever speaker, and that you must be careful not to let me mislead you.”(15) That is an effective statement to taint a rebuttal before it can be presented. Also, Socrates addressed the fact that he has been accused of this treachery for years. These accusations are more formidable because they were first introduced to the jury when they were young and impressionable, but more importantly because Socrates has been unable to defend himself. He could not defend his position because the accusations have been informal and the accusers remain anonymous.
“He investigates things in the air and under the earth, and that he teaches people to disbelieve in the gods, and to make the weaker argument appear stronger.”(19) These are the stock accusations given to all philosophers. Socrates was no fool and knew that he would not be able to change these ingrained beliefs in a few hours, but was able to provide some justification as to why he had lived his life in search of wisdom. Chaerephon, a life-long friend of Socrates, asked the oracle at Delphi “if there was any man who was wiser than Socrates” and there was no one. (17) Socrates did not understand how this could be true. He did not feel that he was even slightly wise let alone the wisest man. He tried to prove the oracle wrong by examining reputedly wise men and he realized that they thought that they knew things that they did not and this made them unwise.
It was after these encounters that Socrates realized that the oracle “meant that human wisdom is worth little or nothing.”(19) It was this realization that made Socrates wise. Socrates knew that he would be convicted and sentenced to death, so his speech on death was not foolish. He was just addressing the inevitable. He says that a man of any worth does not think of life and death or of anything except whether he is acting as a good or bad man. Socrates does not fear death, “for no one knows whether death may not be the greatest good that can happen to man. But men fear it as if they knew quite well that it was the greatest of evils.”(24) Socrates was borderline foolish when he discussed his political career and how he was ill suited for it because was just and made his decisions accordingly.
This was a thinly veiled allusion to the moral character of the politicians of Greece, which must have been insulting and would not help acquit him. After Socrates was found guilty, he accepted the death penalty by insulting the jury again. He proposed that, instead of the death penalty, he should receive a “public maintenance in the Prytaneum.”(29) Today, that would be like a convicted killer asking that, instead of execution, he be sentenced to stay at Club Med. This was not foolish in Socrates’ situation because if he had made a plea bargain, it would contradict everything that he stood for.
He warns that people will question the decision to put Socrates, “a wise man,” to death. After his conviction, Socrates was given an opportunity to escape his unjust conviction. He tells his would be saviors what we call today a social contract. A social contract states, simply, that you must obey all laws, no matter if they cause you an injustice because it is the same laws that protect the citizens.
There would be no point of laws if people could ignore the ones that they felt were unjust or inconvenient. Socrates was a wise man and died as a result of his beliefs. The opposition would argue that Socrates was not wise because he could have saved his own life and he could have done more good. Also, he could have been prosperous by accepting money and by not stepping on everybody’s toes. This could never happen because it was against Socrates’ beliefs.
He believed that truth was paramount and that by living an honest life, he was more successful and powerful than all of Greece. Bibliography: