Socrates died in 399 B.C. after being sentenced to death by a slight majority of 500 jurymen for corrupting the youth and not believing in the (right) Gods. He was given the choice to either drink hemlock or leave Athens, and he chose to drink the poison in the company of his friends. I know this because my brain decides what it will and will not remember, seemingly at random, and it decided a book report I did as a kid was something to remember. If only I could harness this memory for good! Or evil!
These are the four dialogues, as the title of the book aptly notes, around Socrates’ trial and death. The first, Euthyphro, is a discussion that takes place as Socrates awaits his trail. Euthyphro is also awaiting trial to prosecute his own father for causing the death of a worker through neglect in a morally ambiguous (for the time, maybe) circumstance. They use this to discuss the meaning of piety. Socrates says he wants to learn from Euthyphro and use the knowledge in his trial, but it mainly feels like he’s trolling him. It might be the translation. but Socrates comes across as a condescending brat a lot of the time.
In the second dialogue, Apology, Socrates defends himself against the charges. Apology here is taken to mean ‘defence’, which was an early definition of the word, because he certainly doesn’t stand up and apologize during this. He states that if he was corrupting youth, those youth or their families would be accusing him when none were, and that he believed in the gods but merely questioned them. Unfortunately he had gained a reputation for impiety, and it was that view of him he had to argue against rather than first-hand evidence.
[…] in my investigation in the service of the god I found that those who had the highest reputation were nearly the most deficient, while those who were thought to be inferior were more knowledgeable.
In Crito we find that Socrates has been found guilty of the charges and is defending his decision not to flee the city to a friend of his. And finally in Phaedo, Socrates takes the poison in the company of his friends. He embraces death and essentially tells them all to man up and let it be a joyous occasion.
Socrates: I cannot abandon the principles which I used to hold in the past simply because this accident has happened to me.
It was interesting to read the Socratic method in action with Socrates himself. As a software developer who spends half his time tangled in logic, it’s fun to visit a classic that had such an early influence on the field. As far as ‘dialogues’ go, it typically consisted of Socrates asking someone a barrage of questions and them answering with ‘yes’. As a result, these came across a lot more like lectures than dialogues, but still quite interesting to read.
I think if I was a friend of Socrates I might have throttled him, though. For a man whose only knowledge is that he knows nothing, he’s sure a know-it-all.