This essay will attempt to give a comprehensive view of SocratesÆ views on death in the Apology and the Crito. It will pay special attention to the following two problems. First, in the Apology, at 41c-d, Socrates sounds certain that death is not a bad thing, either for himself or for others, but then his closing statement, at 42a, sounds much less certain; is there an actual contradiction here? In order to attempt to clarify this, the essay will consider what Socrates apparently knows and doesnÆt know about death according to what he says in these dialogues.
Second, in the Apology, at 28b, Socrates clearly implies that fear of death should not be considered relevant by a good man who is making a decision about whether to do or not do something. However, at 31d-32a and at 32e, Socrates appears to be saying that he refrained from becoming involved in Athenian politics because he was afraid that he might lose his life if he were to become too public a figure--as seems to have happened with his trial. Is there an inconsistency here and, if so, how can it be cleared up?
In asking how much Socrates knew and what he believed about death, one is, of course, also facing several other problems. First, how much and what did Plato know and believe about death? Second, is the Socrates whom Plato presents the ôrealö Socrates? Or is he instead a fictive character invented by Plato for dramatic and philosophical reasons?
There are other contemporary descriptions of Socrates. The one by Aristophanes in The Clouds--to which Plato has Socrates refer in the Apology, at 19c--is admittedly a parody; and yet it must have borne some resemblance to the real Socrates (as Tarrant xxvii argues), else it would not have been funny. The description of Socrates by Xenophon (mentioned by Tarrant xvi and 31) is also very different from that of Plato, and is usually assumed to be more simply historical or biographical, since Xenophon did not hav...