Archive for the ‘Socrates’ Category

Throughout history there have been various views of man in terms of his social relationships and subsequent forming of political structures. Aristotle (in his Politics) observed, “man is by nature a political animal.” Man’s behavior can be studied according to psychological principles. Given this fact, the political behavior of people may be subject to Freudian analysis. Sigmund Freud described the functioning of personality as being the result of the dynamic interaction of the id, the ego, and the superego. The id, according to Freud, is a boiling cauldron of desires and drives (i.e. sexual and aggressive) and operates on the pleasure principle, demanding immediate gratification. The id is felt to be the most basic state of an infant’s psyche. The superego is the polar opposite of the id. It operates as the voice of conscience and establishes internalized principles for the controls of one’s desires, as generated by the id. The ego is the emotionally conscious portion of the personality that mediates between the unchecked desires of the id and the overly rational demands of the superego. The ego operates on the reality principle, seeking to satisfy the id’s desires in a realistic manner. (David G. Myers, Psychology. 8th edition, New York, Worth Publishers 2007, p. 598.)

In terms of political theory, Thomas Hobbes viewed the state of man as being the id incarnate. He viewed the fundamental nature of man as being a constant state of “war, where every man is enemy to every man…there is no place for industry…and which is worst of all, continual fear, and the danger of violent death; and the life of man, [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Wootton, p. 159). Where Hobbes was mistaken lies in his failure to recognize that man is not merely a political animal, but a social animal. We know that even subhuman mammals, such as dolphins, exhibit cooperative behavior and altruism. At the other extreme, Socrates believed that man was capable of being all superego. He believed that man could be completely rational, and pursued this concept by causing people to rationally reexamine their entire belief system. Socrates found, “in [his] investigation of the service of the god…that those who had the highest reputation were nearly the most deficient, while those who were thought to be inferior were more knowledgeable” (the Apology, 26). Socrates’ fatal mistake was his failure to recognize that man is not merely a political animal, he is also an animal, and as such, is not an entirely rational being. Pointing out to an irrational person that he is, in fact, irrational doesn’t make him any more rational, but does tend to make him angry.

In the best dialectical sense, Martin Luther King, Jr. embodied the principles of the Freudian ego. Dr. King recognized that man embodies both superego and id, and that the reality principle dictates that the ego must find a way of satisfying both these forces. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” MLK stated that, “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws” (p. 4). King did not advocate defying the law altogether, but did think that “one who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty” (p. 5). Dr. King understood the importance of rationally defying an unjust law, while making an emotional appeal to the conscience of a nation by being willing to accept even the violent and deadly consequences.

MLK succeeded where both Hobbes and Socrates failed: it was Locke’s philosophy, not that of Hobbes, that won the attention of our Founding Fathers; Socrates was executed for his efforts. Dr. King utilized the reality principle of the ego to achieve an effective balance between American society’s superego and id.

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On Consent

John Locke and Socrates talked about consent; how people tacitly consent by doing nothing, and expressed consent, when people state their consent.  I do not think that tacit and expressed are the only kinds of consent that we should consider.

Take homework for example- I do not expressly say that I am not going to do my homework, however I did technically make the decision not to do homework.   It is not necessarily express consent, but there is something between the two, express and tacit, I will call it conscious consent.  I may not say I am not going to write my blog post tonight, but I also did not just sit idly by and the blog post not get done.  I made a decision to watch Bones instead of do homework.  I consciously decided what was going to happen, maybe without considering the consequences.

I read a book by Dean Koontz called Velocity that reminded me of this tacit consent concept.  In the book the main character finds a note on his windshield- “If you don’t take this note to the police and get them involved, I will kill a lovely blond schoolteacher somewhere in Napa County.  If you do take this note to the police, I will instead kill an elderly woman active in charity work.  You have six hours to decide.  The choice is yours.”  Thinking it was a joke the man does not do anything, and a schoolteacher is killed.  This was not tacit consent- the person chose not to report to the police because he thought that the note was a prank, not because he has something against blond teachers. 

This begs the question how do we decide when someone has consented to something.  When can we say that they consented because they allowed it to happen?  Is it fair to say that someone made a decision when they did not expressly make that decision?  Would that make this guy as guilty as the murderer himself?

Locke and Socrates would say that by not doing anything the man did decide.  Whether he meant to or not, he gave his consent for the schoolteacher to be killed.  Socrates said that by staying in Athens he had agreed to live by their laws and accept their punishment when they decided that he broke them.  Locke talked about people giving their consent by simply living somewhere.  While Locke and Socrates talk of consent in strictly a political sense- obeying the laws of where you live because you consented to them by living there- I wonder what they would have thought about Koontz’s main character and the murderers concept of consent.  Part of me wants to say that both would say that you cannot use tacit consent to justify murder.  However, the other part says that if they truly believe that people tacitly consent to things just by not doing something that they would agree with the murderer, the main character gave consent for the schoolteacher to be killed by not bringing the note to the police. 


Koontz, D. (2005). Velocity. Bantam Books.

Wootton, D. (2008). Modern Political Thought Second Edition. Hackett Publishing Company.

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I want to know what you guys think about this.

I feel like the reason that Hobbes talks about is very similar to the truth that Socrates talks about.

Like what Socrates says about the truth, Hobbes says the the reason is something that we just know and we use that to act and make important decisions. Where does reason come from? do we know?

btw I was on cnn and found this. I dont know if you guys have already seen it but here. Its a video clip of Joe Wilson’s speech after his outburst.


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We have been discussing in class whether majority opinion or truth should prevail in the laws of society. While Socrates argued for truth, the Athenians as a whole believed in majority opinion. It is easy to say that we want society to function through truth. But how do we determine what is truth?  Isn’t the purpose of the majority opinion to determine our nation’s belief in truth? If the majority of society makes a conclusion, whether in a sentencing or drafting of a law, doesn’t that become truth? Or quite possibly the best method is to combine truth with majority opinion. While the actual truth is important, we need the majority to determine what the truth is. The question remains as to how we get the majority opinion from society.  Are we to ask every single person within a state or nation what they believe the truth is? Our government (along with Athens) uses representatives of the nation to represent the state as a whole, and takes the opinions of these representatives to determine the truth. Through a government of representatives of the people, we are able to discover whatever truth we are looking for, yet still there always remain criticisms.

Is it inevitable for there to be outliers who criticism the government’s decisions? Further, will there always be people who believe in a different version of the truth? I conclude that it is impossible to exist in a society where everyone, regardless of age, family, or environment, is raised to believe in the same ideals. Regardless of how thoroughly we try to represent our nation, there will always be a voice unheard, because we all have different voices. We can see this from the different parties in the American government.  From the creation of our Constitution we have almost always had two political parties, and while they have been categorized by different names, it is generally always a group of people who lean left or lean right (and people somewhere in the middle of this spectrum). We can exist in a society where there are two distinctively different ideals because both ideals want to achieve the same goal, they want to serve the best interest of the nation.

An article about Obama’s “first big leak” is what prompted these ideas. The Obama administration had apparently received information that stated we may lose the war in Afghanistan if we do not send more troops abroad. This caused me to reflect on people who have been protesting the war overseas for years. The Americans were promised by the Obama administration during elections that we would pull out of the war and start bringing troops home, I find it ironic that the Obama administration is now contemplating sending more troops abroad.  I am not criticizing this; I believe it is hard to criticize the decisions of the current government because as this shows, there couldn’t be leaks if there weren’t things we weren’t being told.  We obviously do not know all of the information, or all of the truth, so how can the majority really decide what is best?

I am not saying that the Obama administration is right or wrong. I am pointing out that in our nation we elect officials to represent our best interests. We determine who to elect based off of their campaigns and their previous decisions in office. But the problem is that the government withholds information from the nation. How can we decide if we think they have made the correct decision if we did not know the information they knew when determining their votes. We can never really judge if the representatives have acted on what the majority opinion would find as the truth until after the decisions are made and all of the information is released, often years later. Many things may have happened in these years which can change what our opinions would be now versus then. I find it intriguing that our nation elects a group of officials to represent majority opinion (congress) to try to determine what is truth, but at the time a specific person is actually in office, we do not TRULY know if they’re decisions are what the actual majority would believe is the true, just decision. We do not know because we were never put in the situation, with all of the information, and the stress of making a decision on the spot. We have to put all of our trust that somebody is an adequate representative, but have no way of knowing for certain.


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Upon reading Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter from a Birmingham Jail, as well considering the readings, lectures, and discussions about Socrates that I have been exposed to, it has become evident that they actually have very different methods of achieving their goals and of teaching.  First, MLK is a far more public person than Socrates.  He advocates sit ins, rallies, and other public forms of protest, whereas Socrates constantly believed that it was better to have a mostly private life (with the stipulation that a private life is far different from a solitary life).

First, we can examine the methods used by Socrates to teach his pupils, including Plato, Crito, and others.  I have not heard of any situations during which Socrates so much as attempted to even make a public statement, prior to his trial during which he was thrust into the public eye and had little choice.  Even at that point, he insisted on talking to the extremely large jury as if he were talking to a friend, rather than using a more formal type of speech.  While he is speaking, he asks questions, before answering them, which, again, is a simplistic way of making a point that one would be more likely to do when talking to a person with whom he/she felt very close; however, Socrates uses this method when talking to over 500 people, many of which he assuredly does not know.  Next, it is evident that Socrates’ method of teaching did not lend itself to public demonstration.  Rather, he used the Socratic Method to allow his pupils to arrive at conclusions on their own and eliminate many of their own preconceived notions that may have been prematurely determined or simply incorrect.  This form of teaching is clearly one that takes place in a private setting, likely during one on one conversation.

MLK’s methods of teaching and influence were obviously different than those of Socrates.  One of the most famous things that MLK did, if not the most famous, was his delivery of the “I had a dream” speech.  That speech provides a pretty good example of how MLK preferred to exert his influence.  It was nonviolent, which was critical to MLK, but at the same time, it was obviously very public and one of the most important parts of it was that it went against the social norm.  Most people would have been unwilling or incapable of making such a speech, yet MLK thrived on the fact that he could do so.  This differs from Socrates in the sense that Socrates did not seem to care whether or not he went against the social norm, but did so merely because his beliefs happened to not coincide with societal norms in Athens at the time.  Also, MLK believed in organizing people to have a bigger influence on the people to whom he wanted to protest.  On the contrary, Socrates concentrated on the influence that he could personally have as well as the influence he could have on those who sought to learn from him; however, he certainly did not seek out extra pupils to teach or try to teach unwilling listeners.

Upon further consideration, the methods and messages of Socrates and MLK are surprisingly different.  I am not trying to say that one is better or one is worse, but it seems undeniable to me that they would not see completely eye to eye if they lived in the same time.  Perhaps the differences were a virtue of societal differences, but then again,  perhaps not.

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Execution Controversy

“Dead man walking”.  This phrase resonates in the minds of inmates as they approach the destination of their execution. But should it? Arguments highlighting the morality and constitutionality of capital punishment swarm the media and commands answers. The current issues facing lawmakers today finds relevance in Athens trial against Socrates.

An article that surfaced in Newsweek titled “Innocent Until Executed” attacked the ethical issues surrounding the death penalty, as well as the lack of rights criminals have to proving their innocence with DNA testing.  The post conviction DNA exoneration of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man accused and executed for alleged arson, has the media in an uproar about the potentially innocent people who face the electric chair. But as I scanned the words of the article trying to form my own opinion about the debate I found myself calling upon the words of Socrates. “Doing people harm is no different then wrongdoing”(Plato, 50c). From this statement I formed my new opinion (previously I had been in favor of execution with the “punishment fits the crime” attitude); execution does not seem morally correct. As Socrates explains, inflicting wrong unto a criminal doesn’t make the punisher any more innocent. The execution process breaks the very law that it tries to enforce. However, Socrates multifaceted definitions of harm make me question if he thinks not all crimes should go unpunished. By Socrates refusal of exile he finds it is just for him to accept the penalty of the court because he failed to argue his innocence. The same approach can be taken on the capital punishment. If the court rules he is indeed guilty of breaking the laws then it would be a crime for the criminal to not pay the consequence. Currently all but 13 states have the death penalty. If a criminal is sentenced to death in a state that has a death penalty, Socrates would probably argue that they carry on with the execution because by living in the state they were in agreement of the laws and penalties. But  Socrates first argument on harm makes me to believe that two wrongs still do not make a right.  So rather then legalizing it further, states without capital punishment should enact  penalties that are within moral limits and that set an example to discourage further lawbreaking.

So as I came to the final paragraph of the Newsweek article and the unanswered questions resounded in my mind, Socrates answered. Within the Crito, I found logic and reason to believe that capital punishment is unjust.  Just as it is not within the rights for a criminal to take a victims life, it is not within a jurors to take life away. So while activist groups continue to argue the questions of capital punishment, they should consider calling upon the opinions of past executes. With that they would certainly find that Socrates would have mouthful to say.

http://www.newsweek.com/id/214833 ( article reference)

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There are obviously disagreements over whether Socrates was contradicting himself, and if whether what he did was right or wrong.  I’m not even going to post what I believe because I feel that it isn’t going to prove anything. For centuries people have been bickering over the choices he made and what was going through his mind, but what does it really matter what people think about what he did? Socrates was pursuing HIS vision of the good life. It is obvious by these many blog posts that everybody’s vision of the good life is different; some may be similar to others while some are vastly different.

Recent comparisons are arising too, like Kanye West’s remarks at the VMA’s. We keep arguing about what Socrates (or Kanye) should or shouldn’t have done. I just don’t understand why.We can’t change the past so why argue about it? Can’t we accept the fact that Socrates helped to change and shape political processes everywhere by making the court of Athens see that sometimes it could be wrong (even if it would never admit to it)? I am just confused about why we are focusing so much on how he thought. I don’t think we could ever come to an agreement on how he processed things that ran through his mind.

I don’t really know much about political science, and sorry if these are stupid questions, but can somebody help to clear this up a bit for me?

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Socrates clearly denies that he is guilty of the charges brought against him, so why does he turn down Crito’s proposal for escape?  In The Apology, Socrates asserts, “hardly anything of what [my accusers] said was true” (17b).  Socrates states his innocence and then the Athenian court pronounces him guilty, so it would appear by substitution that Socrates would find the Athenian courts flawed.  Courts are theoretically supposed to search for truth, and since Socrates sees himself as innocent, Socrates would see the courts as just if they acquitted him, but as unjust if they found him guilty.  Socrates’ decision not to flee seems somewhat contradictory.  For if he finds the courts’ decision wrong, and therefore unjust, by following the order of the court, he is going along with an unjust institution.  In The Apology, Socrates says, “…death is something I couldn’t care less about, but that my whole concern is not to do anything unjust or impious” (32d).  As someone who portrays himself as only concerned with the greater justice of Athens, it seems that going into exile as Crito suggests would in fact be the just thing to do.  Does acting in accordance with a flawed and, as Socrates would suggest, an unjust judicial system by substitution make one unjust? 

            Socrates entire argument for not following Crito’s plan for exile centers around the desire to be “just” and “fair.”  But I would argue, that by Socrates’ very definition of justice, obeying an unjust institution would in turn make one unjust.  Socrates’ main argument for accepting death is that by having lived in Athens he has accepted to live by the laws and rules of the city, that by staying in the city he has implicitly consented to follow their laws.  However, in addressing Crito, Socrates also asks “One should value the good opinions, and not the bad ones…the good opinions are those of wise men, the bad ones those of foolish men?” (46b).  In response to this point, I would argue that this actually supports the idea of leaving Athens and the death sentence behind.  The majority opinion was the opinion that found him guilty, the very majority that supports the laws of Athens.  And since Socrates feels that he is innocent, wouldn’t the “good opinions of the wise men” belong to those who believed his innocence?  Socrates acknowledges that one cannot follow the “bad [opinions] of foolish men,” but then why does he deem it okay to follow the Athenian laws of men who he thinks are foolish?  And if he were to follow those who had these “good opinions” wouldn’t he find the courts unjust and therefore, by his own standard of justice, feel compelled to disobey? 

            Socrates’ reason for staying in Athens to be killed is unclear to me.  His argument for staying is contradicted by his assertions earlier in the apology and also even throughout his conversation with Crito.  I think Socrates stayed to prove a point, to die for his cause.  In The Apology he says, “…for if you kill me you will not easily find another like me” (30e).  Socrates sees himself as a martyr for philosophers and therefore subjects himself to a punishment he sees as unjust.  But, by accepting this “unjust” punishment, I would argue that he not only weakened his previous arguments of innocence but also his skills as a philosopher.  

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these people don’t even know what they are talking about. they are wise with the knowledge that they dont have. Socrates talked about people like this.

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Why would Socrates want to die? It can’t be because he hates life itself and wishes to abandon it, for he states “one should never do wrong in return, nor do any man harm, no matter what he may have done to you” (49d). By leaving life while he has the chance to live, Socrates would harm his students and his family and, therefore, go against his personal philosophy. No, Socrates has a different motive, one that harkens back to his belief that “the most important thing is not life, but the good life” (48b). Socrates must understand that accepting death will help his followers achieve the good life. If he does not, he contradicts his philosophy and further distances himself from his ultimate goals of truth and justice. But how would his death benefit them? Well, he also believes that it is important for a man to contribute to well-being primarily in his area of expertise (47b).  Since Socrates’ area of expertise is teaching, he is most apt to increase the good life by teaching his students about what it is. Therefore, it can be seen as in accordance with the philosophy of Socrates that he plans on using his death as a way of teaching something that will highlight the importance of truth and justice to his philosophers and will increase their ability to live the good life. There is no better way to do this than to expose the justice system of Athens as flawed in a way that will ultimately lead to its improvement. Unfortunately, this never happened: Athens remained merely procedurally just, as did the entirety of the Western world for the next millennium. However, the times have changed. The Western world today, thanks in large part to the likes of Socrates and those inspired by him, has taken great strides towards substantive justice. However, it is hardly clear that true substantive justice has ever been achieved. Less than a century ago, two men (Sacco and Vanzetti) were put to death not because they committed a crime but because their political views were not in line with the ideals of the society in which they existed. They were found guilty by a jury of their peers however, enough to make their trial procedurally just. Perhaps, the world can never achieve true substantive justice. Perhaps, society simply doesn’t have the knowledge to come to such a conclusion. Thanks to Socrates, however, we have at least lost our naivety. Although we may not be able to claim substantive justice yet, we are now able to differentiate it from procedural, which, in the end, might have been all Socrates wanted.

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