The Trial of Socrates

The people of Athens with power decided to silence the questioner. Socrates at the age of 70 in the year 399 B.C. was brought to trial on trumped up charges of corruption and impiety.

For a report about the trial and what it tells us about the great philosopher, we turn to Plato’s ethical theory. In Plato’s own thought, no more important starting point in understanding ethics can be found than beginning with the life of Socrates. Here Plato finds a justification for philosophy: in an ethical ideal to which all students of philosophy might aspire. Since Socrates’s life serves as an ideal, Plato insists on writing about Socrates in the writings which bear most directly on ethics. He does this in a sequence of three dialogues called the Apology, the Crito and the Phaedo, which describe the trial, the imprisonment and finally the execution of Socrates.

These three dialogues are based on the events at the end of Socrates’ life. But they’re probably not strict historical records. The statements that are attributed to Socrates undoubtedly resemble what he actually said. Even if we can’t be certain about this, we can be certain about his ethical commitment shown in his trial and death. We can be certain about the connection revealed here between the ethical decisions and the use of reason. Hereto we find Socrates his famous statement, as compelling as it is brief: “The unexamined life is not worth living”.

These words spoken in a time when Socrates his life was at stake demonstrate how powerful the role of reason was for both Socrates and Plato. Not only for theoretical questions, but for the practical question of how one, anyone, ought to live. In the Apology Plato presents a version of Socrates’ speech as he defended himself at his trial. The jury of 500 Athenians, selected by lot, have heard the charges against him. He was accused of corrupting the young people among his followers and of impiety against the Athenian Gods. It was evident that behind these charges, perhaps even more important than the charges themselves, there was a sharp personal animosity against a man who would often challenge and embarrass the leading figures of Athens. It is no surprise then that an attempt was made to silence Socrates, he did damage a lot of egos.

When he spoke in his own defence, Socrates first attempted to explain the antagonism that led to his trial. He did so by relating an episode that involved the Oracle of Delphi, a religious figure revered by the Greeks for her wisdom. Chaerephon, a friend of Socrates, traveled to Delphi once to ask the oracle whether she knew anyone who was wiser than Socrates. The oracle replied ‘no’. Socrates was puzzled for he didn’t consider himself wise. But the oracle would not be wrong either. To find out what she meant, Socrates began to talk to other Athenians. He asked them questions about themselves and their work. In these discussions, he discovered that the people he spoke to – the politicians, the poets, the teachers – were far from the authorities they were supposed to be. They didn’t know what they claimed to know. And Socrates concluded that this would be the basis for what the oracle had said. He didn’t believe that he had had knowledge just like the other Aethenians didn’t have knowledge. But he was wiser because he knew that he didn’t know.

“I gave a thorough examination to this person, I need not mention his name. And in conversation with him I formed the impression that although in many people’s opinion – and especially in his own – he appeared to be wise, while in fact he was not. Then when I began to try to show him that he only thought he was wise and that he was not really so, my efforts were resented both by him and by many of the other people present. However I reflected as I walked away: well, I am certainly wiser than this man. It is likely that neither of us has any knowledge to boast off. But he thinks that he knows something while he does not. Whereas I am quite conscious of my ignorance.”

This profession of ignorance by Socrates has since become known as Socratic irony. In it, ignorance too becomes an object of knowledge. But Socrates’ irony is more than a manner of speaking. Ignorance by itself is for Socrates not exactly harmful. It becomes harmful when a person is not aware that he lacks knowledge. The ignorant person then has no reason to examine himself and to learn. Knowing that one doesn’t know is thus a form of wisdom and Socrates claims this wisdom for himself.

Of course by repeating this claim at his trial, Socrates did only add insult to injury. It surely didn’t help his cause. But the method he used at his trial is the only one he knew. He spoke the truth and directed it at the people who he thought that most needed to hear it. Socrates told the jury: “I am not arguing in my own defense, but rather in yours.”

Nor was Socrates willing to change his opinions or his method because of the possible consequences of what he said. To do this would be to repeat the mistake of not recognizing one’s own ignorance. “Even to fear death my friends is also to think ourselves wise without really being wise. For it is to think that we know what we do not know.”

Socrates’ honesty and consistency were not enough to convince his jury… He was found guilty of the charges and executed by means of a cup of poison he was forced to drink.

Source: The Giants of Philosophy (Plato, Grece ca. 428-348 B.C.)

Corona is een te lichte waarschuwing gebleken…

De linkse partijen leden gisteren een enorme nederlaag. Partij voor de Dieren wist op te schuiven met één zetel naar in totaal zes, maar met 3,6 procent van de stemmen is pijnlijk duidelijk dat weinig Nederlanders de noodzaak zien tot een fundamentele koerswijziging.

In haar boek Dieren kunnen de prest krijgen, en dan? schrijft partijleider Esther Ouwehand van de PvdD over het ontstaan van de coronacrisis en andere infectieziekten van de laatste tien jaar. Wopke Hoekstra noemde corona destijds een Zwarte Zwaan, een totaal onverwachte gebeurtenis met enorme impact.

Dat van die impact klopt, maar een Zwarte Zwaan is het absoluut niet. Corona is een zoönose, een infectieziekte die is overgesprongen van dier op mens. Net zoals eerder gebeurde met SARS, hiv/aids, MERS, ebola, zika, Mexicaanse griep en Q-koorts. De Nederlandse melkgeitenhouderij maakte duizenden mensen ziek, bijna 100 mensen overleden en meer dan 500 mensen worden nooit meer beter. Net zoals bij corona het geval is, worden we bedreigd door een ziekte die is ontstaan door de ongezonde manier waarop de mens zich tot de dieren verhoudt.

Regeringspartijen VVD en CDA weigeren de bio-industrie – die ook heeft geleid tot de stikstofcrisis – aan te pakken. VVD vanwege de economische belangen en CDA omdat de boerenlobby de baas is bij de partij. Het ligt zeer voor de hand dat VVD en D66 met elkaar gaan praten over een formatie na deze verkiezingsuitslag. “Maar ik heb al eerder gezegd dat we ook graag met het CDA samenwerken”, zei VVD-leider Mark Rutte woensdagavond.

Dat betekent ruim baan voor de bio-industrie en de vrije markt. Slecht nieuws voor dieren, natuur en klimaat, maar natuurlijk ook voor de mens. De vraag is namelijk niet of er een nieuwe ziekte-uitbraak komt, maar wanneer die komt. De hoop is gevestigd op D66 om het kabinet nog enigszins te doen beseffen dat het nu aan het dweilen is met de kraan open.

En dat dweilen kost een hoop geld. Een van de meest schokkende verhalen uit het boek van Ouwehand gaat over de nertsenfokkerijen, een sector waar jaarlijks miljoenen dieren vergast worden voor hun vacht. Er was allang geen draagvlak meer voor deze wrede industrie, maar na een aantal corona-uitbraken moesten de fokkers eindelijk hun deuren sluiten. Uiteraard moesten zij wel rijkelijk gecompenseerd worden en dat deed het kabinet door ze een kwart miljard euro!!! (250.000.000) belastinggeld mee te geven. Ook multimiljonairs Jos van Deurzen en de gebroeders Rien en Pierre Leeyen kregen een miljoenenbonus uitgekeerd.

Het kabinet vond het niet nodig om voorwaarden te verbinden aan het geld, zoals dat het niet mocht worden gebruikt om massaal andere diersoorten te gaan fokken en ophokken. Vrije markt hè? En dus, op 19 december 2020 interviewde de Leeuwarder Courant twee voormalige nertsenfokkers die een nieuw bedrijf aan het opzetten waren. Waar hadden ze de afkoopsom in geïnvesteerd? Geiten. In Friesland, de provincie die in 2012 werd getroffen door een grote uitbraak van de Q-koorts. Noem het cynisme. Of gewoon: te bont, schrijft Ouwehand. En dus stevenen we af op een volgende, mogelijk nog veel dodelijkere crisis. We leren het wel. Ooit.

Dungeon Classics #12: Snatch

FilmDungeon’s Chief Editor JK sorts through the Dungeon’s DVD-collection to look for old cult favorites….

Snatch (2000, UK | USA)

Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Jason Statham, Stephen Graham, Brad Pitt, Alan Ford
Running Time: 104 mins.

Two years after his formidable debut Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Guy Ritchie, now one of the hottest new directors around, returned with Snatch: a crime comedy with exactly the same formula. Poker is replaced with bare knuckle boxing, stolen antique rifles became a stolen diamond, and Big Chris is renamed Bullet Tooth Tony. The visual gimmickry is still there. And a few cast members returned, most notably Jason Statham, now as leading man. Ritchie had more money this time around, so he could also hire A-listers like Brad Pitt and Benicio Del Toro. Both are great as usual, but Pitt plays one of his most memorable roles ever as Mickey, a ‘pikey’ boxer with an indecipherable accent. What also returns most prominently is the humour. Snatch has sequences – like the black guys attempt to rob the bookies – that will make you piss your pants. It’s one of the funniest crime movies ever made. And the dialogues are one of a kind. In short, Snatch is 86 carats. Or is it 84?

Dungeon Classics #11: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

FilmDungeon’s Chief Editor JK sorts through the Dungeon’s DVD-collection to look for old cult favorites….

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998, UK)

Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Nick Moran, Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Jason Statham
Running Time: 107 mins.

Guy Ritchie’s low-budget debut is still his best film, although its hilarious follow-up Snatch comes close. Four friends raise 100.000 pounds to let one of them – card wonder Eddy – participate in the high stakes game of underworld figure Hatchet Harry. They lose 500.000 due to foul play on Harry’s part and have one week to pay back the ‘porn king’ or his enforcers will start collecting their fingers and Eddy’s father’s (played by Sting) pub. This is the beginning of an exhilarating quest for money, featuring dumb criminals, antique rifles and an unconscious traffic warden. Ritchie employs all editing and camera tricks he can come up with which makes the movie – groovily shot in shades of yellow, brown, and grey – a visually rip-roaring experience. The clever screenplay, brilliant soundtrack and delicious cockney accents add to the enjoyment. Not to be missed this one! Allright?