L. Neil Smith's
Number 309, March 6, 2005

"Free Walt Anderson"

[Letters to the editor are welcome on any and all subjects. To ensure their acceptance, please try to keep them under 500 words. Sign your letter in the text body with your name and e-mail address as you wish them to appear.]

Letter from Drew Williams

Have you ever been browsing and just go off and read a Socrates bio? No?

Well I did, although I can't remember what prompted it.

Anyway, if there were any original works from Socrates they didn't survive so most of our accounts of him come from Plato who wrote of his life in The Apology and The Crito. What struck me about the bio I read at (http://www.philosophypages.com/ph/socr.htm) was that it emphasized that "He concludes... that an individual citizen—even when the victim of unjust treatment—can never be justified in refusing to obey the laws of the state." This resulted in his own death, by taking Hemlock (a poison) as his sentence for "corrupting the youth." Whoa, there goes any respect for the man that I had! Of course Socrates died in 399 BC., so he didn't live to see some of the most inhumane treatment of people by governments in our history but I could never argue that Jews should have accepted Hitler's solution, for example. I had already known that Socrates had turned down offers of escape from sympathizers but it have never struck me that he was actually making an argument for the absolute power of the state. Scary.

Drew Williams

[Indeed scary. Two very good studies of Plato's Socrates are:

The Trial of Socrates, by I.F. Stone


The Spell of Plato, which is volume 1 of The Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl R. Popper.

Of course, the classic study of the subject is Plato and the Other Companions of Socrates, by George Grote. Now hard to find (I've never managed to find a copy to read), and also expensive, alas.—Editor]

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