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May 30, 2022 1 min read

socrates-death-penalty-democracy

Socrates could have proposed exile instead of the death penalty to save his life. However, the court ultimately had only a choice between the death penalty and an insignificant fine, so they voted for the former. Assuming a jury of 501, this would imply that he was convicted by a majority of 280 against 221.

The actual grounds for Socrates' accusation and subsequent execution are somewhat unclear. The charges are very vague, but it is unlikely that they had anything to do with religion, as claimed. The philosopher and his anti-democratic teachings were seen more as a threat to the rulers of Athens.

The city-state had just recovered from a period of great instability in which a rebellious organization called "The Thirty Tyrants" had overthrown the democratic government. A brutal regime of terror that exiled and executed thousands of innocent citizens was attempting to establish oligarchic rule. The leader of the Thirty Tyrants, Kritias, was one of Socrates' students. This connection probably led to the teacher being sentenced to death. Socrates, then, was probably condemned because of his proximity to autocratic sentiment-makers. Ironically, the trial is received as a historical example of a failed democratic official act.


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