Socrates’ Struggle: Philosophy over SocietyWhen dealing with the extent to which Socrates is a good example for following the ideals of democratic citizenship, a good source to use as a point of comparison to his life is the principles laid out about that citizenship by Pericles in his Funeral Oration. In the Oration, Pericles brought forth certain ideas about Athenian democracy and how its citizens should live their lives in accordance with it.
He held these views to be paramount and used them in association with the principles of Athenian Law to prove a persuasive point that Athenian democracy had to be one with the people to survive. Above all other ideals he held first the thought that politics was the highest calling and second that the citizens should strive to improve themselves socially/politically to better the state. These ideas prove to well founded when their validity is examined in answering questions of what is the best form of government, and does that form better serve the nature of freedom, equality and justice. However, when one looks at the actions and words of Socrates (such as his lack of participation in politics or lack of desire to further himself in society), it is clearly seen that he did not believe in or live by these standards.Order now
In the Funeral Oration, where Pericles professed that the core aspect put forth in Athenian democracy was that politics is the highest calling, Socrates believed philosophy to be the eternal endeavor of life. Pericles believed that representing the people of his city was the best way to serve the ideals for which it stood and he proved this by depended on the majority rule inherent to that democracy to preserve freedom. He saw that through hard work and dedication to the state, self-determination would be preserved by the voice of the many, not of the few. Furthermore, in the mind of Pericles, any citizen who did not take some part in the realm of politics was not just missing the core of Athenian democracy, but was essentially useless.
This is so because Athenian democracy stood on the idea that people would take an active role in the government that represented them in order to protect their freedoms, and anyone who shunned that responsibility was a detriment to society. The arguments that Pericles puts forth are persuasive in the sense that theoretically in order for a democracy to survive as intended (which is self-representation and majority rule) then people must take politics sincerely. Socrates, at the other end of the spectrum, saw politics as a wasted venture for him because his life was devoted to a quest for knowledge. He stated his way of life, which conflicts with that of Pericles’ model, to differ from that of the democratic system of Athens because he saw the government to be corrupt and the majority to not be just. Socrates did not bother to lead a life of servitude to the ideals of the state because he showed through his actions that an unexamined life without critical thinking was not a life at all. As is made clear by the admittance of Socrates himself, his defense plea is the first time he has appeared in a court of law, even by the age of seventy.
Socrates’ life was dedicated to the pursuit of further comprehension and debate with the Athenian people on the deeper issues of life, not to a court of law; and he saw this as noble. The most concrete example of the divergence in political beliefs can be seen in Socrates’ “Apology” written by Plato when Socrates states, “. I have neglected what occupies most people: wealth, household affairs, the position of general or public orator, or public clubs and factions . These statements that Socrates admitted to not having interest in were inherently the core principles of Athenian Law and society.
Pericles, in his Funeral Oration, also discusses the importance of self-improvement/interest and striving for excellence as features of Athenian citizenship, while Socrates chooses to pursue neither as prescribed by the state. Pericles thought that in order to further society and in turn benefit the city, its citizens had to strive for excellence by giving of themselves