Aug. 25th, 2002

incandescens: (Default)
I appear to be in a dialogue with myself, and I'm not sure what the answer is. While the discussion hasn't yet degenerated to china-throwing and comments of "You simply don't understand," neither is it anywhere near coming to a conclusion.

Let's see.

Contrary to certain facets of pop culture belief, Socrates' last words were not, "Oh shit, what was in that cup?" Rather, he said, "Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?"

If I remember correctly, in an earlier dialogue from Plato dealing with the whole affair (I forget which, alas), earlier on Socrates is approached by friends who offer him the chance to make a quiet, discreet escape. He refuses, on the grounds that the State has basically ordered him to stay here and die. When he was a soldier earlier in his life, he did not refuse orders to go and fight in hazardous locations; should he refuse the State now? (I'm probably misquoting or misreferring, but I'm fairly sure that this was the gist of it.)

What an unfashionable attitude! And, on the other side, how convenient an excuse for "I was only following orders"! Here we have a situation where any true Hollywood action hero would be climbing the walls (together with his plucky anachronistic female companion -- none of this stuff about a wife called Xanthippe who was reputed to be something of a scold, not to mention the three children, and certainly none of this sending the women home early while the men stayed round to condole with Socrates on the night of his death) and making a heroic escape. After all, does one have a duty to obey the State when the State is wrong? Or does one have a moral (define moral, please) duty to disobey the State when one disagrees with its decrees involving one's self?

Or is the only area where one can morally oppose the State when it involves others? We have recorded cases of Socrates objecting to generally unjust decrees, but in this case, when he is the only person affected (unless one counts the grief of his friends) he resolves to obey orders. Is this where one says, o Socrates, "I will obey the State insofar as and only as far as I like what it tells me: otherwise I will disagree with it"?

I really don't know where this argument goes. I agree that there are cases where one should object to what the State decides/wishes/orders, even when it's politicians whom one has one's self voted for.

Socrates was, one could argue, unselfish in sticking firmly to his personal principles. Or was this really a very refined form of selfishness?

What is truth, said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.

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