The citizens of Athens have charged Socrates with corrupting the youth and worshipping the wrong gods. If he is found guilty, he will be given the death sentence.
What did Socrates do? He believes that he has been ordered by a "god" to perform a very special task, which is to inspire people to pay more attention to their soul than to the affairs of the material world. Socrates does this by starting conversations with people over questions concerning what is true and real and of utmost importance. He says that he tries to show them that they do not really know what they think they know about such things as justice, piety, courage and beauty.
Socrates tells the youth that for the sake of their soul, they should live a life where they try to replace ignorance with wisdom. He believes that our soul will be healthy or sick depending on what we put into it in the way of ideas, beliefs, and values. The youth of the city are very fond of Socrates and delight in watching him force the adults of the city to justify their beliefs and the quality of their lives. Socrates had been warned many times that he would get into trouble for doing these things. But he claims that "the unexamined life is not worth living," and that "one must be willing to die for the truth." Socrates says that since the god has sent him to give humans this message, he should not stop his questioning of people even under the threat of death. He believes that since, fundamentally, a person is their soul not their body, his enemies cannot hurt him. At the trial, Socrates told them that "You can kill my body but you cannot hurt my soul." He said that "Because you betray your own soul by this unjust action, you really only hurt yourselves by killing me."
Socrates says that he does not want to die. But he insists that we must never place the life of our body above the health of our soul. Death is easy to avoid if a person is willing to do anything to stay alive, including the betrayal of our soul that occurs from any unjust action. He says the protection and the development of our soul is the meaning of our life on this earth.
Was Socrates guilty of corrupting the youth by teaching them these things? Socrates’ ?gods? are reality, truth, reason, and the goal of perfecting the human soul (the psyche). Is he worshipping the wrong gods? Is he corrupting the youth by encouraging them to worship these gods? Let?s summarize his teaching as within the following three general points:
1. We have a duty to live a life that values true idea over material things. We betray our soul when we place the affairs of this world over and above the quest for truth. True happiness will be ours only when we turn our psyche toward this quest.
2. The Sophists were wrong in their theories of relativism and moral realism. An idea is not made true just because we might "feel" it is true, or even if everybody in our society "feels" that it is true. Ideas are true if and only if they tell us something about an independently existing reality. Feeling, power, persuasion and popular opinion will not take our souls to reality. Only reason can do this. Because human beings have a psyche, which can reason, as well as a material body, we do not have to restrict our lives to contingencies and the shadows of the material world. Reason has the power to see beyond this world and grasp truth. Thus, we should never accept any idea until it has been proven to us through reason. If the leaders of our society or the members of our family cannot successfully defend their ideas in the face of sincere but serious rational criticism, then the youth should turn away from the guidance that these people offer.
3. If we do not examine carefully critically and reasonably the ideas on which we base our life, then our life is not worth living. True happiness requires us to turn our souls toward the word of eternal truth and not become ?lost? within the uncertain and changing material world of power games, physical pleasure, the acquisition of material possessions, and so on. The only true goal in life is, as Plato shows us, to escape the darkness of the cave and live in the light of the sun. It is better to die for the truth than to live a life that is ignorant.
If these three points, taken together, form a corrupting influence on the youth, then perhaps Socrates is guilty of the charges made against him. The issue is not whether Socrates is sincere in what he is doing. Sincere people can still be corrupters of others. Likewise, the issue here is not one?s freedom of speech to say controversial things, for this also has nothing to do with whether or not what Socrates says has the potential to corrupt others if they take him seriously. The main issue before you is whether the youth would be better off if they embrace or reject the ideas presented above. Should they be encouraged to take such ideas seriously and use them to direct the course of their lives? Or, would they be better off if they rejected these ideas?
Your assignment is to write a 700 to 1000 word essay, which responds to this question: ?Is Socrates guilty of corrupting the youth??
Your essay should be organized into the three parts described below. Please use the part headings Part One, Part Two and Part Three, within your essay.
Part One: Argument Analysis. Use the presentation of the trial of Socrates presented in Chapter Two as the basis of your deliberation. Summarize and pick apart what you take to be Socrates? line of argument. What are the main premises of Socrates? argument? Does he make any assumptions? If so, what are they and why are they assumptions. What evidence does he present that is factual and verifiable? And what evidence does he present that is more a matter of speculation and/or interpretation? In this part of your essay you are merely analyzing, or, picking apart his argument. Do not draw any conclusions as to whether or not this argument is valid and sound. This part of your essay should be at least 200 words.
Part Two: Argument Evaluation. Now that you have laid out his argument, draw some conclusions about it and make logical judgments about whether or not the argument succeeds in proving Socrates? innocence. When you do this address the following questions: Are the premises safe to accept? If we do accept them, do they take us logically to their conclusions? If not, then why do they not take us logically to their conclusions? Note that much of the argument focuses on Socrates? intentions. But even if he did not intend to corrupt the youth does this mean that he did not actually corrupt them by teaching them philosophy? Just because a terrorist may intend to do God?s work when exploding a bomb, this does not mean that he or she is truly acting in the name of God. Your evaluation should make explicit use of concepts such as ?assumption,? ?soundness? and ?validity,? as these are presented within Chapter One of the text. This part of your essay should be at least 250 words.
Part Three: Conclusion. In this part go beyond the argument of the trial, and consider the life and work of Socrates in broader terms. Does he corrupt us with his teachings? Should we put reason before feeling? Should we examine everything in a critical way? Is an unexamined life not worth living? Do not merely offer a set of "feelings" or an ?opinion.? Instead, build an argument, regarding the charges against Socrates. Your conclusion will not be evaluated on whether I agree with what you are saying. I am looking at your understanding of the issues surrounding Socrates, but mostly I am looking at the amount of depth, development and thoughtfulness that you bring to the question that has been posed to you. To this end, avoid expressions such as "I feel" and "In my opinion." Provide thinking rather than feeling and arguments rather than opinions.
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