Socrates on Moral Decisions Essay Example

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1396 Words
Date:  2022-08-18

According to Socrates, one must not heed popular opinion about moral matters. He states that one should not pay attention to what most people think (Plato 46b). His friend Crito criticises his point by stating that it is indeed the popular opinion, through a majority verdict, that had him facing execution. In Socrates counterargument, he points out that it is more reasonable to follow expert advice instead of public opinion. It is through this analogy that Socrates showed his belief that popular opinion is at times the wrong one. He was convicted through popular opinion, which can be deduced as possibly the wrong decision on the jury's part (Ramose 67). Nonetheless, he had to do the right thing which was to follow through his sentence. His friend Crito was worried about public opinion. He was concerned on how they would think of him for not helping his friend despite of his wealth and influence. In the face of death, Socrates decided to do the right thing that would cause him harm. Ironically, he stated that since expert advice topples popular opinion, life is not worth living in a 'ruined body' (Plato 45b).

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The statement infers to the comment Socrates made on expert advice over popular opinion. An expert will know a correct treatment for an illness as opposed to the opinion of the majority. Expert advice would save the body while the popular opinion will ruin the body. It follows that life is not worth living in a ruined body. Socrates explained that the body is worth more than the body (Plato 48a). For this reason, one who cares about the soul should heed expert advice unlike the opinion of the majority that might ruin the soul. His argument can be understood on the basis that one person's opinion is meaningful compared to the shared opinion of others. It is with this reasoning that it can be understood that even if one has to be subject to popular opinion, he or she must reason critically about their decisions without any obligation to please the public. Socrates explains:

"But why, my dear Crito, should we care about the opinion of the many? Good men, and they are the only persons who are worth considering, will think of these things truly as they occurred" (Plato 44b).

Therefore, Crito should not consider what the public think of him in regard to his friend's rescue, but should still do the right thing by respecting their decision. Crito poses the argument that Socrates should consider the welfare of his children that he would leave behind. According to Socrates, the public would change their mind about his execution based on sympathy over justice. It is yet another argument that he used to show that the public are not necessarily correct when it comes to the aspect of right and wrong, and thus can be disregarded.

Socrates does not believe in the fairness of the laws under which he was tried and convicted. It can be seen in his argument where he pointed out that one cannot do wrong to counter another. In this instance, the wrong he was asked to do by his friend was to escape in order to avoid his execution. The law was erroneous, but he was not going to avoid execution by indulging in another wrongful act. When Crito explained how he was worried about public opinion on why he did not rescue his friend, Socrates replied that Crito should not be concern himself with popular opinion (Kernahan 7). This statement furthers the argument that the law that was used was not fair because according to him, public opinion is often wrong. Therefore, the public that made the decision to convict Socrates were wrong. He did not agree with the laws that were used, but he had to honour them.

Socrates recognised that the laws used to convict him were not fair, evident in the way he was critical about the value of public opinion that decided his fate. He said that the popular opinion is often wrong and can ruin the body and soul. He also knew that he could sway the opinion of the public by mentioning his children, but he decided to abide by the law. It was his belief that justice had to be served regardless of the fairness of the law. He specified that he needed to remain steadfast in his decision to do the right thing. Additionally, the public would have seen that their decision to convict a family man was indeed wrong. Socrates stated that justice needed to be adhered to regardless of the underlying affections (Ramose 68). For this reason, he believed that the laws were not just since if they were, they could not be wavered. He believed in justice that could only be served by abiding by the law that was passed. It was clear that did not agree with the law, but for fairness, he had to adhere by the popular opinion. Socrates believed that people needed to act honourably even in circumstances when they are oppressed.

Socrates believed in acting honourably by doing the right thing. Congruently, he would have been wrong to escape. In his reasoning, he was wrongly convicted, but it is not right to retaliate even when offended. He believed that people need to stand up for what they believe regardless of the situation. He stated:

"You are mistaken my friend, if you think that a man who is worth anything ought to spend his time weighing up the prospects of life and death. He has only one thing to consider in performing any action - that is, whether he is acting right or wrongly, like a good man or a bad one" (Plato 28b).

In his argument, justice triumphed all underlying circumstances such as his impending death. It means that justice was served in his sentencing despite the law not being fair. He could not escape because that would not be just. Therefore, the response is he would have been wrong to escape. It was his belief that justice must always occur in every situation. Escaping would not have been just, even in retaliation to how he was wronged. He was categorical in his explanation to his friend that despite the erroneous public opinion, one should always do the right thing in every situation. He was sentenced to death, but still had to do the right thing. On the other hand, the public would have judged Crito harshly for not helping him, but he had to uphold his virtue. In the face of danger or public shame one has to do the right thing, which in this case in not to escape.


Socrates lived by the principles of justice and honour (Gonzalez 104). In the course his trial, one can see that he did not believe in public opinion. He was certain that the position in which he placed was unfair. His lesson is that when one is faced with a decision to make, he or she should always act justly regardless of the offense or the consequence. Returning an injustice when wronged is not the correct thing to do under any circumstance. He debates that he was aggrieved, but in no way was he going to harm those that wronged him. This is because he considered escaping as an injustice that is akin to inflicting an injury. One needs to let go of personal feelings and think critically. In this instance, he had to let go of his belief on public opinion and the fact that he was sentenced to death. He had to abide by the law that shapes the functioning of the society (Kernahan 13). In his reasoning, people should respect the law when they do not agree with it as much as when it is beneficial to them. The law stipulated that his crime was punishable by death, and he was obliged to respect.

Works Cited

Gonzalez, Francisco. "Socrates on Philosophy and Politics: Ancient and Contemporary Interpretations." Ideas y valores, 2012, vol. 61, 149 pp. 103 - 123. Print.

Kernahan, Patrick. The Meaning of Law: Plato's Minos. IWM Junior Visiting Fellows' Conferences, 2004, Vol. 13. Print.

Plato, "Socrates' Defense (Apology)" trans. Hugh Tredennick in Plato: The Collected Dialogues ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), 14. Print.

Ramose, Magobe. "Dying a hundred deaths: Socrates on truth and justice." Phronimon, SASGPH and Unisa Press, Vol. 15.1.2014, pp 67-80. Print.

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