ENGLISH 101. ACADEMIC WRITING
The following is a representative TC3 student essay on
the character of Socrates, handwritten in an hour and fifty minute
"live" class. Students were told that it was ok in their citations in
this essay to use Stephanus numbers and to abbreviate dialogue titles as
follows: E = Euthyphro, A = Apology, C = Crito, P = Phaedo.
What are Stephanus numbers, you ask. They are the numbers in the margins of your Plato texts, first adopted by an editor in the Renaissance (yes, he was named Stephanus!), numbers maintained by most editors ever since. In addition to page numbers, Stephanus broke his pages into five parts: a, b, c, d, and e. Hence, the oddball numbering system of Phaedo 102c and so forth. The system remains useful today because no matter what edition or translation of Plato you happen to have, you have uniform numbering in almost all of them. It's rather like the uniform chapter and verse numbering of the Christian Bible. Nobody cites page numbers in a Bible because all editions and translations have unique page numbering.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of this essay?
30 September 2003
The Last Days of Socrates: The Making of A Martyr
The title The Last Days of Socrates, by Plato, is pretty much self-explanatory. The book, written in four-part dialogue format, gives readers a glimpse into Socrates' personality while focusing on his trial, imprisonment and execution. Because readers can acquire so many random inferences about the character and personality of Socrates from the literature, I will discuss the conclusions that I came to concerning Socrates through what I consider to be his most important and impressing quality: his commitment.
One of the things that Socrates is most famous for is serving as the model for the Academy. I find, however, that Socrates could never have accomplished this if he hadn't been committed to the acquisition of knowledge. Socrates' thirst for knowledge seems to me to be unquenchable. Even on the day of his trial, when most people's thoughts would be a thousand miles away, Socrates is focused on gaining knowledge from his friend, Euthyphro. What I find most shocking about this is that a man, who many people consider a genius, humbles himself to tell Euthyphro that he is "anxious to become a pupil of [his]" (E 5c). This demonstrates to the reader that Scrates was so committed to gaining knowledge that he would accept and appreciate from anyone, not just those that society deemed "wise" (E 5c-5d).
I was shiocked again when the character Phaedo revealed to readers that Socrates' last conversation consisted of the "usual philosophical discussions..." (P 59a). Even on his dying day, Socrates' committment to gaining knowledge took priority over what was going on.
Secondly, Socrates commitment to his spirituality was striking. When beginning his defense during his trial, Socrates "felt compelled to put the god's business first..." (A 21d). It was obvious to me as a reader that Socrates' faith, and his exploration of it, was of the greatest importance to him. It seemed as though Socrates careed a great deal less about his fate in comparison to the importance he placed on the jury not questioning his commitment to his faith (A 22d-22a). On the other hand, in "Phaedo" Socrates makes a statement to the effect of "none of it matters because we men are in the care of the gods" (P 62b). This statement also demonstrates Socrates' committment to his faith, even in the face of death.
Lastly, and most importantly when discussing Socrates' death, is his committment to justice. Just as Euthyphro was was willing to be truthful and prosecute his own father in the persuit of justice (E 4d), so Socrates was just enough to be truthful before the court, even if it meant "[dying] a hundred deaths" (A 30 b-c). The greatest testing of Socrates committment to justice, however, did not occur in the court room, but rather just before his death. In the dialogue "Crito," Socrates is offered the chance to run away, but he does not take it. He explains to his friends that "[He] cannot the abandon the arguments which [he] used to expound in the past simply because this accident happened to [him]. . . " (C 46b). His committment to to justice would not be broken just because it was bad for him. This committment is a true example of justice being blind and, in the end, it was this committment that killed him.
In conclusion, Socrates was a genius, a criminal, or a model for the Academy, but before all of these things, he was simply a man who valued committment.
Plato, The Last Days of Socrates. London: Penguin, 1993.
--end of essay--