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Copyright 1999,
Dorian Scott Cole

 Motivational Writing
The Art of Empowering Others
Through Story

Socrates's Society

By Scott Cole

"Know Thyself."


Dialectic: Pursue truth through conflict with opposing ideas.  Question everything, pursuing truth until the process removes the false and leaves what is valid.
            - The Socratic Method

This is a true story of one of the first philosophers who shaped our world - way back in 400BC.

Living during a period of war with eroding moral values, Socrates took it upon himself to strengthen the ethical side of life by the admonition to "know thyself" and by exploring moral and humanistic terms. Despite being well connected and well thought of, his preoccupation with ethics probably led him to a life of poverty. Despite being distinguished and having served the public faithfully, he refused a career in politics, saying that it would compromise his principles. Despite his refusal to enter politics, eventually his principles brought him into conflict with politics, and for his principles, he was executed.

During his life, he lived his principles and stood up for others. When men were collectively tried, he fought against it. When directed to accuse honorable men, he disobeyed.

What kind of man was this man of philosophy?

He was a rough looking man, but his friends said that he was the most upright man of that day. His self-control and powers of endurance were examples to others. "He had so schooled himself to moderation that his scanty means satisfied all his wants." Year round he wore the same coat, and he had neither shoes nor shirt. Antiphon remarked, "A slave who was made to live so, would run away." He imposed these hardships on himself - this was his price for spiritual independence.

Socrates was totally comfortable with himself. He was so comfortable at parties that he drank very little, if at all. But Socrates was not into tormenting himself. He "Knew both how to want and how to abound," and had more fun than all of the others. He appreciated the comic in human nature. Although he was regarded as the most wise among them, he said he knew nothing except his own ignorance, and often passed himself off as the dumbest of them and the slave of passions. He taught these things to his students.

Despite his temperance and wisdom, politically he made some moves that cost him his life. He dared to criticize democracy, and he remained friends with men with conflicting opinions - men who were especially despised by democrats. This led to his indictment for "impiety," "corruption of the young" and "neglect of the gods whom the city worships and the practice of religious novelties." His "crimes?" He attempted to teach what he considered true morality, and expose the pitfalls of false morality. And he practiced his religious beliefs in his daily life, but neglected the religious form.

How do you put on trial a man of principal?

The prosecutor had asked for death, thinking that Socrates would leave the country and end the problem. Socrates could easily have escaped before the trial, but, although he criticized democracy, his sense of patriotism to democracy prevented him from escaping. Instead, he treated the charges with the contempt he believed they deserved, and refused at any point to compromise. His defence was instead an avowal of the charges, hoping to get a direct verdict in his favor. It didn't work. He was guilty of the charges even if they were bogus. By a small majority, he was convicted.

In the sentencing phase, a lesser penalty than death would have been accepted, but Socrates chose instead to declare that he was a benefactor of society and deserved to be supported by the public. What prompted this? Senility? A last desparate attempt to charm his judges? A veiled request to validate a life of self-sacrifice and honor? This, too, failed. After sentencing, others arranged for his escape, but he refused to go.

Unlike the politicians, you can't put someone on trial who truly lives by his principles, and expect him to compromise.  

Socrates was required to drink hemlock - commit suicide for his ideas, for his original thoughts, for accepting others despite differing opinions and other's dislike, for his challenge to the way the world lived, for speaking his mind, for teaching others morality in that fledgling democracy. 

So in his own home, no longer comfortable in his world and perhaps not even with himself, he willingly took the cup of hemlock and drank it.

There was no freedom of speech, no freedom at all.

Be comfortable with yourself and uncomfortable with other's demands.
Think your own thoughts.
Speak your own mind.
Don't be forced to use poisons by anyone or anything.

Know yourself, be true to yourself, be true to others, be moderate in all things. 

Be part of Socrates's Society.   


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