In Plato’s Euthyphro, Crito, and the Apology, we learn of Socrates’ highly critical view of democracy. Socrates believed that democracy was a flawed system because it left the state in the hands of the unenlightened and valued all opinions as equal. In the Apology, we see how Socrates believed it was his duty to stand for the law and justice despite the wishes of The Assembly, and this could have cost him his life.
In Crito, Socrates states to obey the laws of the state only if they are just. It could be said that Socrates’ views on democracy and justice are what ultimately led to his death. Socrates believed that poor leaders are chosen simply on the basis of their rhetorical ability, not on their ethics or character. He opposed the efforts of the Sophists to teach their students virtue, knowledge, and rhetoric as practical subjects needed by citizens to participate in the institutions of Athenian democracy.
His belief on knowledge and virtue was that they required absolute definition,” which could be attained through exhaustive philosophical dialogue and debate. He seemed to offend many Athenians with his negative dialectic method, revealing people’s ignorance and inability to give definitions of truth and virtue. He believed that the citizens’ lack of knowledge made it impossible for them to vote properly for their leaders or for the leaders themselves to even run. In the Apology, Socrates wanted nothing to do with the Thirty Tyrants and crossed them to the extent that his life might have been in danger if they had not been overthrown. Socrates was against the trying of the admirals from the battle of Arginusae.
He was the only one to refuse to do anything contrary to the laws. In his view, it was his duty to stand for the law and for justice despite the wishes of the Assembly. So, he did, at the risk of prosecution or death. In Crito, Socrates believes that an Athenian is obligated to obey the orders of the state or its officers, unless he considers those orders unjust. In which case, he may protest its injustice but must consent to punishment if his protest proves unavailing. Socrates continued to honor his commitment to truth and morality even though it cost him his life.
In the Euthyphro, Socrates asks, Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” (10A). This question can be restated as, “Does the state prohibit this action because it is unjust, or is it unjust because the state prohibits it?” Does this ultimately mean that actions become right or wrong because of society’s approval or disapproval? In the Apology, Socrates states that the only opinion that counts is not that of the majority of people, but rather that of the one individual who truly knows. The truth alone deserves to be the basis for decisions about human action, so the only proper approach is to engage in careful moral reasoning to reveal it.