The Last Days of Socrates – book review

The Last Days of Socrates by Plato

The Last Days of Socrates
In this book Plato provides us with an account of Socrates’s argument on the charges placed against him and his reflections on living philosophically. He is charged with corrupting the minds of the youth and heresy. More specifically, the affidavit states, “Socrates is committing an injustice, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example”.

The book is divided into four sections:

  1. Euthyphro- Holiness, where Socrates discusses religious ideas with Euthyphro and questions ideas about what is holy and how holy are the gods.
  2. Apology-Justice and Duty, where Socrates defends the charges put against him at trial.
  3. Crito- Socrates in prison discussing philosophical virtues with Crito and the reasons as to why he will not attempt to escape.
  4. Phaedo- Socrates discussing the immortality of the Soul prior to his death.

I read this book whenever I got a chance during my pretty hectic schedule. Unfortunately, this led to attempting to understand the text in most inappropriate environments. For instance, at my current place of work it is quite noisy and often full of macho banter as you might expect from a lively bunch of lads. The atmosphere can be quite rajasic (From Sanskrit word; rajas, meaning the activity of creation, it means busy or hectic in this context) leading to some difficulties in trying to understand challenging parts of the text- particularly Phaedo. Therefore, a nice quiet room will be more useful in trying to get to grips with Euthyphro and Phaedo. Both these sections demand concentration and the reader will be justly rewarded for this preparation particularly the latter section. The editor has included a lengthy Introduction. I found this difficult, but may reread this at another time. Each section also has a small Introduction that can be quite challenging at times, and is probably meant for an academic audience.

I had the privilege of listening to Shane Mulhall’s (The head of the Practical Philosophy school in Ireland) Philosophy & Communication CD around the same time as reading this book. I was quite surprised at the similarities between the two texts particularly around the concepts of Truth and Love. For example, Mr. Mulhall mentions that by being totally honest and not speaking pleasant untruths, rather than fearing diminishing bank balances, the opposite actually happens. This is because with virtue comes wealth. Socrates says: ‘wealth does not bring goodness, but goodness brings wealth and every other blessing, both to the individual and to the State’.

Also, Mr Mulhall talks about three types of speakers, two of them being ego-centred and the other being a truth-centred participant. The latter is only interested in the truth of the situation, he offers his own viewpoint and his equally interested in others. ‘He only rests when he gets to the truth of the matter and his grateful when proven wrong’ . In Phaedo, Socrates is having complex discussions on the immortality of the soul. During these discussions, his audience are instructed to pay ‘most careful attention’ and they most certainly do. Cebes and Simmias believe Socrates’s argument is ‘not altogether adequate’ to which he replies: “You’re feeling is very likely right…but tell me where the inadequacies are”. So, Socrates is not offended by any inadequacies of his theories as he is only interested in the truth.

The book deserves a full second reading sometime in the future. However, I will be dipping into the text whenever I feel the need. Socrates discussions on beauty and wisdom are so sublime that I will reflect on these words as often as I can. I would like to close this review with some words of wisdom from Socrates followed by some of caution from Mr Mulhall:

A man only has one thing to consider in every action, that is, whether he is acting justly or unjustly” (Socrates).

Most business meetings are conducted whereby participants know who they will vote for before the voting begins. If judges acted like this it would be appalling’ (Shane Mulhall).

Review by Paul Brown


Note: Philosophy & Communication CD is available from the School of Philosophy and Economic Science website.

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