Tan Yi Han's Reviews > The Last Days of Socrates

The Last Days of Socrates by Plato
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Jun 23, 12

Read from June 06 to 24, 2012

I'm still on the last chapter (Phaedo), but I've run out of time. Have to return the book. So let me review based on the first 3 chapters.

This book uses a very original style of writing to give readers an inside look into the life and wisdom of Socrates in his last days.

Socrates liked to examine people. But he wasn't concerned about their appearance. He liked to examine people who thought themselves wise/clever and see if they really are.

His tool? A method of argument called the elenchus. Unlike a normal argument where both parties simply try to outwit/ outshout each other, Socrates starts with a simple mutually agreeable statement. Then, via a logical progression, in which the other party remains in agreement, Socrates would eventually be able to come to a conclusion that cast insights into the other party's original belief. Often, it would expose inconsistencies or contradictions in their beliefs.

Because Socrates exposed the ignorance in people who thought themselves as wise and clever, they became angry with Socrates. Eventually, he was put to trial and sentenced to death. While in prison, one of his followers, Crito, bribed his way into Socrates' prison cell and suggested that Socrates should escape. Knowing that Socrates had no fear of death, Crito tried to convince Socrates that he should escape because otherwise, the public would deem Socrates' friends as cowards for not saving him. True to form, Socrates decided to examine that statement with Crito's agreement.

Socrates: Is it good enough to say that we should not value all the opinions that people hold, but only some and not others? Isn't that a fair statement?
Crito: Fair enough.
Socrates: In other words, one should regard the sound ones, and not the flawed?
Crito: Yes.
Socrates: When a man is in training, and taking it seriously, does he pay attention to all praise and criticism and opinion indiscriminately, or only when it comes from the one qualified person, the actual doctor or trainer?
Crito: Only when it comes from the one qualified person.
Socrates: Does this apply as a general rule, and above all, to the issues we are trying to resolve: just and unjust, honourable and dishonourable, good and bad? Ought we to be guided and intimidated by the opinion of the many or by that of the one - assuming that there is someone with expert knowledge?
Crito: I think it is true, Socrates.

At this point, Socrates gives Crito a reminder, that I feel we should all bear in mind. The really important thing is not to live, but to live well. To live honourably and justly.

Socrates points out that by the fact that he has chosen to stay in Athens, it means that he is satisfied with the laws of Athens and the benefits these laws provide. Therefore, he must accept the law even when it turns against him.


When the prison officer told Socrates that the poison was ready, Socrates cheerfully asked for the poison to be brought to him.

Crito hurriedly urged Socrates to delay drinking the poison. After all, in other cases, people have dinner and enjoy the company of those whom they love and drink the poison quite late at night.

Socrates brushed it aside, and declared that "I should only make myself ridiculous in my own eyes if I clung to life and hugged it when it has no more to offer."

As he took the poison, his friends sobbed uncontrollably, but Socrates urged them to calm themselves and be brave, because 'I am told that one should make one's end in a reverent silence.

And so ended the life of the bravest, wisest and most just man of his time.

But, his story continues to inspire. As Socrates said himself, "nothing can harm a good man either in life or after death."

To be able to live life honourably and justly, without fear, even of death and of unfavourable public opinion... isn't that a life worth living?
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