Monthly Archives: April 2019

Summary of Julian Baggini’s, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: Part 2 – Thought Experiments in Logic

My friend Ed Gibney has written on each and every one of the thought experiments in  Julian Baggini’s, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher. He has also summarized his own 100 blog posts on Baggini’s 100 thought experiments in “What I learned from 100 Philosophy Thought Experiments.”

(Here is his summary of, and commentary on, Baggini’s thought experiments dealing with metaphysics. It follows from a previous post on thought experiments dealing with knowledge. I have added my own brief reflections at the bottom of the page.)

From Ed Gibney’s blog, reprinted with permission.

2. Logic

First off, as seen in #42 Take the Money and Run, logic puzzles alone don’t always teach us much. However, #6 Wheel of Fortune helps us see that our guts are bad at statistics. And to solve any paradox, like the one in #70 An Inspector Calls, you must carefully define unclear terms. #64 Nipping the Bud shows that simple answers to complex situations are always wrong in some way. And via #49 The Hole in the Sum of the Parts, it’s a “category mistake” to treat concrete things and abstract ideas as if they both existed as singular entities.

In #85 The Nowhere Man, we see that “meaningless statements” whose meanings seem clear is a contradiction in terms, but this is the kind of problem that was solved in mathematics by the invention of the concept of zero. Just as “the present King of France” or “the round square” don’t refer to anything, neither does the number zero, and so such linguistic oddities might, therefore, be labeled zero, as in, they are neither true nor false, but technically zero.

In another problem for the application of logic, we see in #16 Racing Tortoises that time cannot be slowed to a halt. This then shows us in #94 The Sorites Tax that the concepts of TRUE and FALSE were built on an ancient’s view of the universe as an unchanging and eternal thing. Once we discovered evolution in 1859, and the Big Bang was confirmed by background radiation in the 1960s, our cosmological revolutions should have led to logical revolutions as well. You cannot impose eternal and unchanging TRUE/FALSE logic on an evolving and expanding universe. I call this the Static-Dynamic Problem of philosophy. One can only apply logic to a static picture where TRUE or FALSE definitions can remain valid. Once you move to the dynamic realm, classical logic breaks down.

Nonetheless, as in #61 Mozzarella Moon, when mutually exclusive ideas mingle, they must either adapt or go extinct, and it would be much better for all involved if the changes didn’t have to come from violent conflict (might doesn’t make right), so it’s vital we figure out how to root out truly maladaptive thoughts by using logical reason alone. Sadly, as seen in #24 Squaring the Circle, irrational beliefs in gods are unaffected by rational arguments. And so we, therefore, must move to the subjective realm to understand emotions and other views about the nature of one’s reality.

My Brief Reflections – There is a lot here but I agree that as long as there is time, as long as there is a tomorrow, we cannot claim to know something definitively.  Still, I’d argue that if we can enhance our intelligence, merge with AIs, create a global brain, become transhuman, etc., then there is a possibility of adjudicating our disputes with reason alone.

(Next up – the thought experiments dealing with metaphysics.)

Summary of Julian Baggini’s, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: Part 1 Thought Experiments in Epistemology

My friend Ed Gibney has written on each and every one of the thought experiments in  Julian Baggini’s, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher. Gibney has also summarized his own 100 blog posts on Baggini’s 100 thought experiments in “What I learned from 100 Philosophy Thought Experiments.”

(Here is his summary of, and commentary on, Baggini’s thought experiments dealing with metaphysics. It follows from a previous post on worldviews. I have added my own brief reflections at the bottom of the page.)

From Ed Gibney’s blog, reprinted with permission.

1. Epistemology

What do I know? From #1 The Evil Demon, we cannot be absolutely certain of anything. #62 I Think, Therefore? shows that not even cogito ergo sum is a bedrock. Everything is uncertain and all knowledge is probabilistic. In #41 Getting the Blues, we saw that knowledge comes only via sensory experiences. We haven’t found any exceptions to this. This is reinforced in #13 Black, White, and Red All Over, where the physical nature of the universe creates an epistemic barrier to our knowledge. As a consequence of all this, #63: No Know shows that since we can never be certain that any TRUTH will remain unchanged in a changing universe, our cosmological revolutions need to sink into our epistemological understanding. Knowledge can only ever be: justified, beliefs, that are surviving. For such an evolutionary epistemology, all theories are “true” only provisionally, regardless of the degree of empirical testing they have survived. #73 Being a Bat showed that this evolutionary perspective provides a clear and interlocking set of beliefs that consistently come together to help solve the most fundamental questions of philosophy.

What about the knowledge of others? What do they know? And what can we ever really say to one another? #47 Rabbit! showed that we cannot know for certain that we are talking about the exact same thing whenever we talk to someone, in this language or another. Through #74 Water, Water, Everywhere, we see that the meaning of our words evolves as more information comes in. This is why the many and varied efforts of philosophers of language to find logically perfect and universal definitions of meanings are doomed to failure. There is hope, however. #23 The Beetle In The Box shows that we cannot know what is inside other minds, but our shared evolutionary history makes it highly probable that there is much in common. For example, in #59 The Eyes Have It, vision has shared the same chemical basis across the entire animal kingdom for over a billion years. We can’t Know with a capital K what others see, but it is extremely likely to be the same as what we ourselves perceive. In #19 Bursting the Soap Bubble, our shared evolutionary history shows that we all see the world similarly, but we must still be open to hearing others’ views and change our minds when it is justified. In fact, according to #3 The Indian and the Ice, we absolutely must change our minds, although only when it’s appropriate.

How do we know when it’s appropriate to change our beliefs? In #40 The Rocking-Horse Winner, we see that knowledge cannot be generalized from prior perceptions, nor predicted using the assumption that the universe is uniform. The best we can do is prove through falsification via the scientific method what does not work. In the face of this, #28 The Nightmare Scenario shows that there is a big difference between productive speculation, which is the hallmark of good science, and pernicious speculation that specifically eliminates the possibility of testable hypotheses. As shown by #51 Living in a Vat, there are infinite unfalsifiable notions about reality so none of them are more probable than any other. Therefore, none of them ought to have any bearing on our behavior. In fact, as shown by #81 Sense and Sensibility, if a belief is completely unscientific because it is unfalsifiable, then the burden of proof for such strange ideas must fall on the person advocating the notion, since such things cannot be disproven, and there are infinite such nonsenses (like Bertrand Russell’s teapot orbiting the sun, the flying spaghetti monster, or all historical notions of God).

To reiterate, according to #93 Zombies, we cannot use our general epistemological uncertainty to arrive at any epistemologically certain statements, such as “physicalism is true” or “physicalism is false.” Philosophers seem to enjoy speculating about the unknown and fighting about what may or may not be there while the evidence is gathered by scientists, but none of these merely potential occurrences have any weight whatsoever to actually affect our current knowledge. They are observations with an n of zero.

So now that we have some knowledge—justified, beliefs, that are surviving—what can we do with this?

My brief reflections – I agree with Gibney’s epistemological fallibilism/skepticism modified by the view of the provisional nature of all truth. I would only emphasize that this does not imply relativism, as the provisional truths of science are often supported by mountains of empirical evidence. The best a rational person can do, as Locke and Hume taught us, is proportion their assent to the evidence.

(Next up – the thought experiments dealing with logic.)

What is A Worldview?

My friend Ed Gibney has written on each and every one of the thought experiments in  Julian Baggini’s, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher. He has also summarized his own100 blog posts on Baggini’s 100 thought experiments in “What I learned from 100 Philosophy Thought Experiments.”

Overall Gibney’s careful and conscientious effort to summarize, categorize, and comment on all these thought experiments and place them in the larger context is a superb intellectual achievement. 

After finishing this work Gibney claimed “that this writing project made subtle but important changes to the way I looked at things. In other words, I felt my worldview change.” Not many books do that. But what exactly is a worldview? Let Gibney explain. 

From Ed Gibney’s blog, reprinted with permission.

What is a worldview? We all have one. It’s possible that they can be explicitly known and explored, but more commonly they are a bundle of hidden assumptions tied together by a few professed beliefs you’ve either grown up with or adopted later in life. They can be passively absorbed from the society around you, or actively built through personal research and rational reflection. They aren’t always, if ever, perfectly consistent, but they have many interrelated and interlocking components, which makes them very difficult to shift. They’re sometimes called a “personal philosophy,” but since 1790, when Immanuel Kant coined the German word weltanschauung in his book Critique of Judgment, the specific idea of a worldview has been adapted and adopted all over the world as a term that “refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs forming a global description through which an individual, group, or culture watches and interprets the world and interacts with it.”

What specifically does this framework of ideas and beliefs consist of? A brief search through the Internet turns up several different but often overlapping elements of what a worldview must include. According to several sources (1234), a worldview ought to:

… explain the nature of the world; give us direction; tell us what to value; tell us how to act; explain what we can know; provide consistency and coherence to the story we tell ourselves; incorporate facts that we encounter; explain how things function; tell us why we are the way we are; yield insights into our feelings and emotions; tell us how to organise politically; help us choose future paths; uncover the origins of the universe and life itself; give us meaning and purpose; answer questions about gods and other mysteries; tell us what is good, what is truth, and what is beauty; help us feel less terrified of death; shed light on our joys and sorrows; and guide us through our darker hours.

Such core beliefs of our lives “are often deeply rooted…and are brought to the surface only in moments of crises. [But] the philosophical importance of worldviews became increasingly clear during the 20th century for a number of reasons, such as increasing contact between cultures, and the failure of some aspects of the Enlightenment project, such as the rationalist project of attaining all truth by reason alone.” Adding to the difficulty of getting our worldviews from fragmentation to integration has been the arrival of the information age. Ever since “the final decade of the 20th century, we have had an enormous amount of information at our disposal. On the one hand, this makes it easier for us to form an image of the world in which we live, but on the other hand, this introduces a new type of difficulty, i.e. we must develop the ability to take into account all this information.” We now have all the facts we could ever consume, but many worldviews are struggling to properly digest them.

This rising complexity and clash of worldviews in the late-20th century remind me of an illustrative passage of dialogue I just read in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, which was published in 1868 and therefore foreshadowed some of these issues. In the novel, one of the minor characters reacts negatively to the modernism of his time by appealing to some good old-fashioned nostalgia (which never seems to go out of style). Recalling an earlier time, he said:

“Back then, people were driven by a single idea somehow, now they’re more edgy, more mature, more sensitive, able to cope with two or three ideas at a time…the man of today has a wider apprehension and, believe me, that prevents him from being as harmoniously integrated as they were in those days.” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Two or three ideas? Those were simpler times! What about when we are forced to cope with thousands of them? Or even just 100 that have been chosen very precisely to pick apart the tiniest inconsistencies in your worldview. How could anyone manage to be “harmoniously integrated” in the face of such a deluge? As I worked my way through Baggini’s book, it became apparent that he had ordered his thought experiments pretty much at random, and that made it very difficult for me to see how the changes he was causing might be strung together into a coherent summary of what I had learned. But then, this is a lot like life. And philosophy has been used to make sense of life for thousands of years.

In my first edition of Evolutionary Philosophy, I attempted to construct a worldview through the use of a simple list of 10 tenets, and then by using a more comprehensive set of questions on how to Know Thyself. Those were both non-traditional methods for philosophers, but now it’s more of a natural fit to try and sort the 100 philosophical thought experiments into a traditional construction of a worldview by using the six academic branches of philosophy: epistemology, logic, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, and political philosophy. These branches originate from very basic and universal questions: What do I know? How do I know it? Where do we come from? What is good? What is beautiful? How do we act? As I slot the lessons learned from 100 thought experiments into these six categories, I believe that all of the needs for a worldview which we listed above will be met. In fact, due to the overlap and repetition that exists in this list, we now know (specifically from #43 Future Shock) that one hundred philosophical thought experiments are more than enough to know the field.

Great. We know the journey will be worth it, so let’s get started. I’ll try to go through this as quickly as I can by summarising the lesson of each thought experiment in just a sentence or two (as I just did above after the hyperlink). If any summary doesn’t immediately feel right for your worldview, have a look at the thought experiment in full to see where one of us has gone wrong. And with that, we’re off! First, to build a view of the world, we must gain some knowledge about it.

(Next up – the thought experiments dealing with epistemology.)

Review of: A Thinker’s Guide to Living Well

I have given away almost my entire collection of philosophy books, which at one time numbered more than a thousand. I have kept maybe 75 books, mostly ones that I had written or had been gifted to me with inscriptions, or that had special meaning to me.

Surprisingly one that I still possess is a book I reviewed for a professional journal more than 25 years ago—the first such review I had ever done. That book was titled, A Thinker’s Guide to Living Well by Dennis Bradford. The review, which appeared in The Modern Schoolman, LXX, January 1993, I reprint here with minor editing.

Dennis E. Bradford’s book provides a plan for living well. “Providing a good plan that works is what this book is all about.” (p. 3) He recognizes that others have attempted this—Confucius, Socrates, Aristotle, and Ben Franklin among others—but he wants to show how this can be done in “present-day North America.” (p. 3) The author claims that a good life is one of health, wealth, and wisdom. Wisdom is especially concerned with living well, but although you can have wisdom without health or wealth, it is better to have all three, “just ask anyone who is either unhealthy or poor.” ( p. 4) He also claims by being informed by modern medical science and technology, his plan has advantages over previous attempts to describe the good life.

The author has some informative things to say about health. He emphasizes how important health is to the good life, (not a sufficient but a necessary condition) and the importance of things like choosing a qualified physician, have regular physical exams, receiving appropriate vaccination, keeping up with health care developments, a practicing preventative medicine, and learning basic first aid techniques. While such advice may seem mundane, it is important nonetheless.

Habits are the next topic. Good habits increase the chance of success in one’s project–defined as one’s most important activity—and bad habits decrease this chance. In Chapter 3 he focuses on eliminating bad health habits, particularly smoking. “Your smoking habit began voluntarily and can be stopped voluntarily.” (p.39) And, it turns out, Bradford is a former smoker himself. “Think of curing dried leaves off a bush, shredding and blending them rolling them into a piece of thin paper, lighting one end, and sucking the resulting smoke into your lungs. The whole sequence is preposterous.” ( p.44)

Chapters 4 & 5 focus on creating good health habits. These habits aren’t identified as those leading to pleasure and besides “it is false that pleasure is the only abstract good.” (p. 52) Eating, for instance, may be pleasurable but is purpose is to contribute to one’s health. Bradford offers some suggestions about a healthy diet but defers to nutritional experts for specific advice? As for exercise, he recommends walking for beginners and he provides a detailed explanation for a gradual training program.

The author considers knowledge to be intrinsically valuable, and he advises getting as much education as possible. Bradford also argues that work is intrinsically valuable. Unfortunately, many people don’t have the opportunity to engage in satisfying work because of social and economic conditions. But as this is not a treatise in political philosophy, the issue is not explored. He does recommend that individuals pursue formal education and strive for financial independence. But he reminds his readers, that financial independence is a means to an end. To live well and engage in one’s most important project is the end and financial independence is the means to that end. Benjamin Franklin exemplified this approach. His business success provided him the means to pursue his project—scientific activities. Still, “Financial independence is not the meaning of life.”
( p. 179) The question now becomes, “What is?”

The last chapter, entitled “The Meaning of Life,” probes this question. Bradford argues that “Nothing done by any human … will have any permanent significance.” ( p. 184) He doesn’t believe that we have any cosmic significance and that the burden of proof rests with those who suppose we do. Those who believe that we have a special cosmic significance should present evidence. “Where is that evidence? I know of none.” ( p. 185) But our cosmic insignificance implies that we can do with our lives what we want. We can give them meaning and significance through our projects. And what do worthwhile project entail? He argues they must be: 1)capable of withstanding rational scrutiny, 2) directed toward a valuable end; 3) moderately challenging; and 4) a source of lasting satisfaction. He offers two examples of such a project—a life of service exemplified by someone who helps house the homeless, and a life of inquiry exemplified by a medical researcher.

Is there any way to decide which life is most valuable or which one should we choose? Such questions lead to considerations of the relationship between facts and values. The author believes that the “value-facts” exist but are difficult to determine.” ( p. 208) Value-facts derive from a consideration of human nature. Because of our nature, health, knowledge, friendship, wealth and wisdom are all intrinsically valuable.

Bradford’s book echoes much of Aristotle’s writing on the good life. As such he fills in a lot of details that Aristotle could not. And he concludes by stating that he wrote the book “for the satisfaction of communicating something useful to other passably intelligent people.” I believe he has succeeded.

Socrates: The Trail And Death

© Darrell Arnold Ph.D.– (Reprinted with Permission)

Socrates is philosophy’s most famous martyr. Yet he wasn’t the first tried in the courts of Athens. The Decree of Diopeithes allowed for the persecution of  “those who fail to respect (nomizein) things divine or teach theories about the heavens” (OCD). It had been used against Anaxagoras, who challenged traditional views of gods and taught the heavens were merely burning stones. There is also evidence that Diogones of Apollonia was accused (Laks, 7). Numerous other thinkers and statesmen were also sentenced to death for various reasons around this time: Sophocles is only the most famous of others to be executed for impiety (Johnson, 152)

The rigid legal system was a sign of the crisis in religious and moral traditions at the time, and of the fear of those governing. The legitimation of morality in Athens, like the legitimacy of religion, was viewed as under threat. The Presocratics along with the Sophists — and some other thinkers — were seen as a threat to the civil order. Here religion was not a private affair. There was a civil obligation to participate in religious rites. It would have been widely accepted that the gods may punish the city for the impiety of its members. There would have been a strong desire among many to prevent the teaching of new ideas about the gods and to halt any questioning of traditional ethics. New teachers of all sorts were suspect.

Socrates and Xenophon both make strains to distinguish Socrates from the Sophists and the Presocratics, the philosophers of nature like Anaxagoras, who Pericles had invited to Athens. This is writ large in The Apology and Plato’s general narrative about Socrates. Aristophanes’ The Clouds, however, told a different story, one that would have been familiar to many at Socrates’ trial. Aristophanes’ work might be read as an early medial attack on a leading public figure. It set up Socrates, apparently very unjustly, for a fall. We can imagine that it also influenced Plato’s later developed view of the potentially negative role art could play in a polis.

The alleged impiety of non-traditional thinkers like Socrates was of grave concern to many in Athens. Add to this the fact that Socrates had attracted to him members of the Thirty Tyrants who were had early staged a bloody coup of the Athenian government and harbored some of the strongest critics of the Athenian Democracy. Critias, his former student and the cousin to Plato’s mother, had led the group. Charmides, a close associate, was Plato’s uncle (Johnson 145ff.). Socrates had also, no doubt, regularly embarrassed many of the leading figures of the city and not unlikely some on his jury or well-connected to jury members. The Athenian democracy, too, was a purely majoritarian political order, entailing all of the possible threats of a mobocracy. Spurred on by the fate of Socrates, Plato will later offer one of the most influential attacks on democracy in history, precisely as facilitating mob rule and rule by the least fit.

The jury, according to The Apology, consisted of 500 citizens of Athens. In the trial, Socrates displays his typical irony. Specifically of importance for the case of denying the existence of the gods, Socrates relates how his entire philosophical quest (which is resulting in his now being tried) began only after his friend Chaerephon had been told by the priestess of the Oracle at Delphi of the judgment of the Oracle that none was wiser than Socrates. The irony here, of course, is that the Oracle is deeply significant for the religious. Do the religious really want to condemn one who their own most famous oracle has said was unmatched in his wisdom?

There would, of course, have been various ways to understand the Oracle. One might have understood it to mean that no man is wise at all — along the lines of Heraclitus’ fragment that “a man is found foolish by a god…” (D 79). So Socrates’ wisdom like that of all other men would be negligible. Socrates, however, does interpret the Oracle rather more commonly as implying that he does possess a kind of wisdom. Interestingly, though, Socrates does not simply accept the statement of the Oracle on faith. He trusts his own reasoning, not the declaration of a religious authority. So he sets out apparently thinking it may be possible to show the Oracle wrong. Socrates surely has a different piety than most Athenians. His has underlined the importance of trusting his own reasoning, not that of authorities. Yet he does come to see the truth of the Oracle. As earlier discussed, he sees a form of wisdom in his understanding of the limits of his own knowledge.

The story of the Oracle, of course, provide Socrates with the possibility of describing how he came to be a public philosopher. Yet, since this is the major Oracle of religious importance, the story serves as a sort of witness of character — for those willing to believe, from the gods. Much of what Socrates offers in the court scene similarly witnesses to his character. He recounts his service in the Peloponnesian War. He distances himself from the natural philosophers who had otherwise been tried in Athens, noting that as a young man he had already turned his back on their speculations having found them bereft of evidence and also unimportant since the teaching would not improve the soul of man. Similarly, he distances himself from other new atheists, the sophists, who are known to teach for profit. The former group may teach heresy about the gods. The latter were in many cases more vehement about their atheism, not redefining the gods anew, and they were thought to corrupt the youth. Socrates shows he has a kind of piety.

By contrast with the sophists —  he maintains — he fundamentally cares about the soul. Further, he claims not really teach at all. He just spurs his interlocutors on to self-reflection in conversations. In his plea, Socrates reveals that he is not like Heraclitus, who condemned the religious rites as having a corrupting influence on those who practiced them. Socrates may have unorthodox views about the gods, but he still participates respectfully in the civic religious ceremonies. More still, Socrates, even is led in his decisions, always consulting with the voice of a daemon, which speaks to his conscience, not bidding him positive things to do but warning him when he should avoid some negative course of action. Though his defense does show that he is far from Orthodox, it also does show Socrates to be a deeply spiritual man.

Is he an atheist? It is clear that he does not believe in the gods of Hesiod. Does he corrupt the young? He does for those who think that teaching non-traditional ideas about the gods and about morality is corrupt. Socrates, however, makes his case denying atheism and maintaining that he did not take money for teaching like the sophists, who it is implied might really be considered too corrupt the young. And in any case, he underlines he would only encourage the young to use their minds, to care for their souls, that which is best in them.

In the end, the 500 votes were cast. It was a close decision, as Socrates was found guilty by fewer than 30 votes. But guilty he was found. It thus came to him to propose a penalty. Now, though, in a display of Socratic irony, even at this point Socrates refuses to placate his jurors. As a proposed punishment, rather than suggesting a reasonable fine or exile — something customary that may well have swayed enough jurors in his favor — as punishment, he suggests free meals at the Prytaneum for life, the reward for Olympian heroes. Would not Socrates deserve at least as much since he cared for what is most important in man — not the body but the soul? This was clearly in jest. But large numbers in the jury, we can well imagine, would have been less than amused. He then notes that he has but one mena, an amount that would buy a copy of Hesiod — so again, an insult. So he finally suggests that his friends would come up with thirty menas (Johnson, 167), about 1/5 of his annual income. This was not insignificant but was still not a serious amount of money as an alternative to a death penalty. At the jury reconvening, in a larger number than the initial vote, they sentence Socrates  — to death by the drinking of hemlock (Johnson 151ff.).

Socrates in prison

Ordinarily, Socrates would have been executed the day after the trial. But because of a religious ceremony over three days, the execution had to be postponed. The prison reflections that occur (or that Plato places) in this period in Crito and Phaedo provide Socrates (or Plato) an opportunity to reflect on the trial, of his views of his obligations to the state and on his views of death. They show Socrates content with his decisions in the trial and willing to face death, even if it is unjust.

Crito, who the dialogue is named after, depicts conversations between Socrates and his friend in his final days. In the dialogue, Crito offers arguments critical of Socrates’ behavior in the trial and reasons for Socrates to allow his friends to pay a bribe so that Socrates can flee prison. Socrates in each case offers counter-arguments that Crito appears to find convincing. A first argument concerns why Socrates was so disregarding of the mores during the trial. Surely, Socrates would have had a better chance with his case had he simply been respectful of those trying him. To this Socrates indicates that he does not believe that respect in such arguments is due to those in power, but to those who have truth on their side. “One should greatly value some opinions,” Socrates notes, “and not others.” Besides he argues, “A good life is more important than a long life.” Socrates is unrepentant. Crito is an obedient interlocutor.

Seeing that Socrates is in such a difficult situation and that Crito and his other friends can help, Crito suggests though that Socrates allow them to pay a bribe for his escape. This would have occurred often enough in the situation. Crito drives home particularly that this would be justified since the sentence was wrong, and indeed Socrates death would bring about a further wrong of depriving his wife and their children of his care. Socrates rejects this utilitarian argument about the greater of evils. He adheres to a strict ethics of duty. Even though the sentence was wrong, paying a bribe is wrong as well; and two wrongs do not make a right.

A tacit contract — and a basis for civil disobedience

Finally, Socrates argues that besides the fact that bribery is wrong, he thinks that has a duty to the city-state of Athens to accept the punishment of its legal system, even if that penalty is unjust. Here Socrates puts forward an argument that will be important in the history of philosophy that individuals living in a polity form a tacit contract with the political body from which they benefit. In Socrates’ case, he has benefited from his education in Athens and from the security of the city-state. So while he has a fundamental obligation to follow his conscience on matters of individual action, he also has an obligation to accept the punishment for that if the city-state metes it out.

Socrates implied throughout the court case that he has an obligation to follow a higher law than that of the city. He must follow his conscience in matters of personal action. Here, however, he displays a paradox, like later proponents of civil disobedience. While maintaining the duty to breach a particular law (here to question traditional views even if it is not permitted), he still affirms a basic duty to the system of law. He must accept the punishment the city-state provides for breaching that particular law.

The entire point is not so clearly laid out as it is displayed. Though these fundamental principles of what will become civil disobedience are not all clearly synthesized in a treatise, the basis for the argument is clearly to be reconstructed from the text.

There are some further elements in a teaching of civil disobedience as later developed missing here. In John Rawls 20th century theoretical formulation of the ideas, it is important that the breaches of the law be done with the purpose of pointing out the failure in the legal system to those in power so that they reform it. In most cases, civil disobedience later occurs not with individual actors, who would likely be ineffectual, but as part of a social movement.

Nonetheless, whatever differences there are between civil disobedience as a developed teaching and Socrates’ depicted actions in the trial and death scenes, there are some remarkable similarities. In the ideas depicted in these final scenes of Socrates life, we thus see two vital ideas for the later history of thought: the idea that there is a tacit contract between an individual and her polity; and the kernel of the often related teaching on civil disobedience.

On death and the soul

Phaedo is thought to be a middle-period work of Plato. In it, Plato develops ideas on the immortality of the soul that many scholars think differ from Socrates’ own views. In part, this is because they show a tension with other views that are expressed on the soul by Socrates in the Apology. In that dialogue, contemplating death Socrates assures his friends that there is no need to fear, for it is one of two things. Either it is a night of dreamless sleep, which should cause none to worry, or it is as the poets claim, which is a reason to be cheerful. Socrates expresses a hope that it is the latter, but without a worry if it is not.

In Phaedo more Platonic views of the soul are introduced. In that dialogue, Socrates wife, Xanthippe and his child were sitting with Socrates when his friends entered to speak to him. They are led away after the arrival of his friends. In the ensuing scenes, the character Socrates is together with Crito, Cebes, Simmias, and Phaedo discussing many (of Plato’s) ideas about the soul.

One of the remarkable elements of Socrates’ death scenes is the great serenity with which he is shown to confront death. He is 70 at the time of his execution. He exudes a sense that he has lived a life of good conscience and he can die in peace. After a long discussion, Socrates finally summons the guard for the hemlock. He drinks it and settles down to die. Of those present, Socrates alone remains calm. He eventually lies down and covers himself. The parting words of the philosopher were a request to settle debts: “He was beginning to grow cold about the groin, when he uncovered his face, for he had covered himself up, and said—they were his last words—he said: Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt? The debt shall be paid, said Crito.”