Socrates’ views of death as represented in “The Trial and Death of Socrates” are irrevocably tied to his beliefs of what makes life significant. For Socrates, life must be examined through constant questioning and one must hold the goodness of life above all else. Consequently, even in the face of the un-good, or unjust in Socrates’ case as represented in his trial, it would not be correct to do wrong, return wrong or do harm in return for harm done. Therefore, no act should be performed with an account for the risk of life or death; it should be performed solely on the basis of whether it is good and right.
Throughout the Apology, Crito and Phaedo, Socrates expresses his conceptions of death and the afterlife, which are reflected in his views on what makes life significant. First I will explain Socrates’ views on what makes life significant. Above all, Socrates feels his significance in life is to fulfill his philosophical mission; to search into himself and other men. Socrates believes he was attached to Athens by the god and that in fulfilling his philosophical mission he must do what is right and just by the god. This is his service to the god.
He explains in the Apology that there is a voice that speaks to him, a divine sign. “Whenever it speaks it turns me away from something I am about to do, but it never encourages me to do anything. ” 31d. His divine sign as he explains, has prevented him from taking part in public affairs and ultimately has lead him to do what is right and just which is the other factor in what makes life significant. As he stated to Crito in 48b, “the most important thing is not life, but the good life. ” Socrates believed that “neither to do wrong nor to return a wrong is ever correct, nor is doing harm in return for harm done. 49d. Therefore, one should live life acting in a way which is good and just. In his defense, Socrates explains, “You are wrong sir, if you think that a man who is any good at all should take into account the risk of life or death; he should look to this only in his actions, whether what he does is right or wrong, whether he is acting like a good or bad man. ” This ties his views on what makes life significant with his views of death and the afterlife. Socrates freely admits in the Apology that he does not know the true nature of death.
He explains in 40d that death could be one of two things: either a total lack of perception, like a dreamless sleep, or a relocating for the soul to another place. Socrates explains that either option would be a great advantage to him. In 40e he explains that a complete lack of perception would be an advantage because “all eternity would then seem to be no more than a single night” which he relates to a night in which a man slept soundly. And if death is a relocation of the soul to another place and all who have died are there, “what greater blessing could there be? He explains that this would be pleasant for him because he could continue his philosophical mission there. “Most important, I could spend my time testing and examining people there, as I do here, as to who among them is wise, and who thinks he is, but is not. ” 41b. Based on Socrates’ views of the afterlife, it is evident that he does not fear death like other men seem to. “No one knows whether death may not be the greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew that it is the greatest of evils. ” 29b.
He states, “wherever a man has taken a position that he believes to be best, or has been placed by his commander, there he must I think remain and face danger, without a thought for death or anything else, rather than disgrace. ” 28d. Therefore, in life, death should not be one’s primary concern. One’s main concern in life was doing what is just and pious. He explains that if a man is good he cannot be harmed in either life or death. Socrates conducted his defense in a way that upheld his beliefs on the significance of life. He explains that if he “would much rather die after this kind of defense than live after making the other kind. 38e. The other kind of defense being one in which he did not obey the gods. Such as if they acquitted him on the terms in which he did not practice philosophy, he stated he would “obey the god rather than you, and as long as I draw breath and am able, I shall not cease to practice philosophy. ” 29d. Socrates, even in the face of his own mortality, is consistent in his moral beliefs.
Socrates believed that death was a good thing and did not just happen of itself in his case. “it is clear to me that it was better for me to die now and to escape from trouble. That is why my divine sign did not oppose me at any point [throughout my defense]. 1d. In the Phaedo, moments before his death he explains to Crito that he doesn’t see the point in prolonging his death by waiting to drink the poison. He believed that it would be “ridiculous in my own eyes for clinging to life, and be sparing of it when there is none left. ” 117a. Socrates completely accepted his death. He believed death is a cure for the ills of life as stated in his last words. “Crito, we owe a cock to Ascelepius; make this offering to him and do not forget. ” 118. I believe he was looking forward to continuing his philosophical mission without trouble in the afterlife.
In the documentary “Weapons of Spirit” by Pierre Sauvage, citizens of Le Chambon, France act in a way that reflect somewhat similarly to the beliefs of Socrates. During the Holocaust, villagers of Le Chambon helped to protect the Jewish people who came knocking on their door by hiding them in their homes. They protected over 5,000 Jews from the Nazis. What is perplexing about this documentary is why an entire population would so naturally act in a way to rescue the Jews as if it were the only right thing to do while the rest of the world seemingly turned their backs on the Jewish population.
According to the citizens of Le Chambon, they acted in a way that was simple and natural to them. Their “conspiracy of goodness” was the only thing to do in their situation based on their morality. Their acts of saving lives of those who were unjustly being murdered were done out of goodness. They did not fear death or punishment. Their views on doing what is right, and feelings of death relate to those of Socrates but I am not so sure Socrates would have acted in the same way they did.
I believe that the citizens of Le Chambon acted in an extremely courageous way however I think Socrates would propose the argument of what exactly the limits of a “conspiracy of goodness” are. I think he would argue that one should never do wrong nor return a wrong and that going against the government, although corrupt in this case and by far acting unjustly, would be acting wrong. I personally relate with Socrates views on the significance of life, death and the afterlife. I too, do not know what will happen after death but that does not make me fear death.
Most people fear what they do not understand but for me, I do not fear the unknown. I broaden my knowledge in times of uncertainty to try and make things more clear to me. When it comes to death, I will not have the answer until that time comes therefore I cannot fear it for it is out of my control. I believe the significance of my life is also somewhat similar to Socrates. He lived to fulfill his philosophical mission and to live the good life. I am living to fulfill my missions I have set for myself as well as acting in a way that I believe is right and just and agrees with that of the good life.