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jnolf
Con (against)
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The Contender
elimay
Pro (for)
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Should Socrates have drunk the hemlock?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/8/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 827 times Debate No: 31080
Debate Rounds (3)
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jnolf

Con

Socrates made the decision to drink the hemlock and therefore commit suicide because the people of his city decided that was his fate, but was that really the correct choice? The Enchiridion says "Some things are in our control and others are not. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions" (1). According to this quote, whatever Socrates did would not have mattered. People have control over his reputation and command, he cannot tell them how to feel. He could have run away and people would have judged him, but he would have lived. Or he could drink the hemlock, be dead, and still have people judge him.
The Enchiridion also states that "one must do what is right even if others judge that decision". "Others" are the ones who made the decision for him to kill himself in the first place. Killing himself is going on the assumption of the masses that the "right" thing to do is to drink the hemlock. Maybe his friends, the lesser group of people were right; he should not have drunk the hemlock. Socrates could have continued to preach his teachings as a philosopher and continued his life. Being right or wrong is a matter of opinion, Socrates could have run away and had the masses of people judge him instead of his friends.
elimay

Pro

Socrates made the right choice in drinking the hemlock. Doing anything otherwise would have been a terrible idea that could have put Socrates in even more trouble than he already was with the people of Athens. Considering the situation he was in, his best bet was to just accept his sentence and drink the hemlock.

According to The Enchiridion, by Epictetus, one must do what is right even if others judge that decision. Socrates ended up finding himself in that predicament after he was sentenced by the people of Athens to end his life by drinking the hemlock. His friends thought he was foolish to go ahead with his sentence when they could easily help him escape. They believed they were doing a good deed by offering to get him out of Athens when in reality that would not have been a wise decision on Socrates"s part. Socrates, being the philosophy enthusiast that he was, followed Epictetus"s belief about doing what is right and obeyed his sentence despite what his friends were saying to him.
Debate Round No. 1
jnolf

Con

Going back to my original argument Socrates should not have been concerned with what the people of Athens were thinking about him. His reputation is not within his control and he is listening to the masses of people when he could simply listen to a small group of people who are right. So therefore, when you say that not drinking the hemlock would have been a "terrible idea that could have put Socrates in even more trouble than he already was with the people of Athens", it does not matter. They are just one mass of people with one opinion that he cannot change. Also you say that Socrates "followed Epictetus"s belief about doing what is right and obeyed his sentence despite what his friends were saying to him", when in fact the Enchiridion, in which I am assuming you are referencing to, came after Socrates died. Epictetus actually mentions Socrates on multiple occasions in this writing.

Back to my argument, according to "The Philosopher's Mean", part of being a philosopher is blending in with the common man, "perverted forms of self-display are to be avoided". By choosing to kill himself, Socrates is creating a relatively big ordeal and a big trial and drawing negative attention to himself and philosophy in general. Also, it is plainly stated in the Philosopher's Mean that penance is not a part of philosophy at all. Penance is voluntary self-punishment because of having done something wrong. By drinking the hemlock, Socrates is one, voluntarily punishing himself, and two, admitting that he wronged the society of Athens. He is conveying a message that philosophy is a crime. He is completely abandoning his beliefs. Socrates had a duty as a philosopher to spread his teachings and pass the knowledge of philosophy on. Committing suicide would be a transgression of his duty which according to David Hume's "On Suicide" is a reason that committing suicide is not okay. Like I said before, he is leaving his responsibilities of a philosopher by drinking the hemlock.
elimay

Pro

Socrates himself said in The Phaedo that the body is nothing but a distraction from acquiring knowledge. Death would free a philosopher from any obstacles in pursuing a connection with his soul. It is because of this that death would not have been much of a consequence for him. Instead it would have benefited him greatly. He believed that once he was dead he could focus on his mind and soul, which is all a philosopher like Socrates would want. While speaking to Simmias Socrates scoffed at the pleasures other people found in life, claiming that a true philosopher had no use for them. He explicitly stated that one should not care about these pleasures that one finds in life to support his claim that death frees a philosopher and allows his to acquire knowledge more easily.

During that entire conversation he defended death as something that every true philosopher appreciated. Clearly Socrates"s death sentence of ingesting the hemlock was the best thing that could have happened to a philosopher like him.
Debate Round No. 2
jnolf

Con

Who is Socrates to define death for us? He has never experienced it nor heard stories from others who have experienced death because there is no way to do this. Socrates is simply trying to sooth himself into accepting his death. If death is what a true philosopher wanted then why did he never do this before? Why are none of his friends killing themselves to detach the body from the soul? Because being a true philosopher does not involve being dead. There is no use in that. Socrates had the opportunity to continue his life as a philosopher, but instead threw it away.

Socrates truly let his fellow philosophers down when he made the choice to drink the hemlock. His knowledge could have continued to help society, just in a separate town that he escaped to. Socrates says himself that he was superior to a number of people and finally came to the conclusion the oracle was correct; he was the wisest of them all. Yet, he ends his wise life short. Yes, Socrates was obeying the law when he took his own life, but Socrates pointed out in his argument with Thrasymachus on the meaning of right, the law and those in higher power can make mistakes and they may not always be right nor is there a clear meaning for the word.
elimay

Pro

One of Socrates's most famous sayings is "I know what I don"t know." He had no problem admitting that there were a great deal of things he had no knowledge about. You say he didn't know what death would bring him but he also didn't know what would happen to him if he escaped. He had no idea what awaited him outside of his hometown in Greece. It would have been a huge risk for him to escape because he didn't know what would happen to him. There could have been a chance that things would have gotten better for him. Maybe he would have lived peacefully for the rest of his life, but there was just as much of a risk that he would've met the same fate there as in Athens.

One thing he was certain about was that he would've met death after drinking the hemlock, regardless of what "death" even means. His attitude towards death was positive compared to that of others in Athens so drinking the hemlock wasn't even something he feared. He knew death was inevitable and reaching it a little sooner wasn't going to affect him. He wouldn't have gone under any psychological stress over it so why not go through with something you have no problem with?
Debate Round No. 3
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