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Relationship Between Individual and Society

Plato presents an explicit statement of the relationship between the individual and society--even an unjust society--in the form of the "Apology," the statement of Socrates to the court that finally sentences him to death. The speech represents the conflict between the power of the state and the integrity of the individual. The title of the dialogue, of course, is "Apology," but in truth the title is ironic, as is much of what Socrates has to say to Meletus and the others in court. He has nothing to apologize for given that he has been performing in a more moral fashion than his accusers, and he is not apologizing for philosophy because philosophy is not only his life but the goal to which he believes all human beings should tend. He has dedicated his life to inquiry, and his apology is just another example of his method of inquiry. Rather than apologizing, Socrates offers a graphic example of his method, the method of teaching for which he is now on trial.

The court gives Socrates an out if he recants his teachings, and he will not do it:

If I say it is impossible for me to keep quiet because that means disobeying the god, you will not believe me and will think I am being ironical. On the other hand, if I say that it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day and those other things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and others, for the unexamined life is not worth living, you will believe me even less (41).

Socrates represents the primary social value of inquiry, of the pursuit of philosophy, of the examination of the meaning of life. He also represents integrity, for when we inquire into the meaning of existence and develop a set of beliefs, we must live up to those beliefs. Socrates believes the unexamined life is not worth living, and if he accepts the right of the court to judge his thoughts, he has lost his integrity. Socrates is a poor man who is rich in intellect and in dedi...

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Relationship Between Individual and Society. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 01:19, February 24, 2017, from