Socrates and Justice. A Perspective.
by Dr. Parviz Dehghani
My dear Euthyphro, why are you doing here sitting on the steps of the court? I’m waiting till I’m called to go in. What for? I’m about to have my father indicted. In fact, I’m the one who reported him. What? Your father? Why? On what charges? He caught a murderer and left him in a hole with his hands and feet tied up. He then ran to inform the police about it. But by the time he was back, the man who had committed such an act was dead due to thirst and heat exhaustion. But Euthyphro, your father didn’t have a bad intention in bringing in a murderer to justice. He didn’t want to murder him. Yes, perhaps he didn’t handle the situation very well. Do you realize what I’m telling you? Euthyphro, there was no intent in your father’s act. In other words, he didn’t do it intentionally. Do you see the difference? My dear student, the natural law would not regard your father’s action wrong. Because he didn’t have a bad intention in so doing. Besides, he just wanted the man to get a fair trial. He didn’t do anything wrong. Perhaps his failure was that he didn’t leave him in the shade with some water. Euthyphro, where is your sense of justice? What is your criteria for justice? Who do you follow and believe in? Socrates, I respect and have faith in the gods? One of them, indeed, castrated his father. So, they’re your role models. Am I correct? Yes, Socrates. But belief in many gods are things of the past. Those gods were worshipped in the first stage of our culture. And as you remember, those philosophers and scientists, who came in the second stage, were great figures in our history, who didn’t accept the fact that gods or goddesses of nature were directly involved in our everyday affairs. Let me ask you a question Euthyphro. Please go-ahead Socrates. These gods of yours, do they argue among themselves like us? I’m sure they do. Is it possible that one of them considers one act just and another would regard the same act unjust? I would say yes. But my friend, how can an act be just and not just at the same time and in the same relationship? Don’t you think they would be entertaining a contradiction here? Without a doubt. And you know this very well that either an action is just, or it is unjust. It cannot be both. By that I mean, it cannot be just and not be just at the same time and in the same relationship. I understand what you mean Socrates. Then how can they be role models for piety, righteousness, honesty, transparency, and justice?
Euthyphro, do you still think there’re many gods? Don’t you think, it makes more sense to believe in one God rather than many? Let us not forget that even one God can, according to some, regard one action just and unjust at the same time and in the same relationship. What do
you think? I don’t believe a true God would do that. What do you mean by that? I mean a God that contradicts Himself is not a real God. Then who is this God? This God is the creation of those who only relay on their own opinions. If they had true knowledge, they would not have faith in such a God. So according to you, true knowledge matters. Well, I’m glad you reached such a conclusion. However, does God have to follow our logic? Is it possible that God’s logic is super logic, which is way above ours? You have a point there Socrates.
Yes, Euthyphro, people who stay on the level of opinions don’t realize they’re ignorant and therefore, don’t know what they do. These are the ones who think their actions are justified and they know what they are doing is right. Of course, there’re those who disagree with them and there’re those who support them in their actions. And if those who stand by them are in majority, then their decisions as to what to do with those they have accused falsely would lead to conviction.
By the way, why are you here Socrates? I’m here because I have been accused of having corrupted the youth of Athens. You corrupting the youngsters of our city? This is really absurd my wise teacher. Look, you just opened my eyes, so I can see what I did was wrong. You just taught me to think as to whether my actions are right or wrong. You helped me see the truth. Is this called corruption? Who are these people Socrates? They’re Sophists, Euthyphro, whom you’re familiar with. They’re teachers of rhetoric and persuasion. They charge for what they do. I have heard about it Socrates. Does the truth matter to them? As far as I know, they teach their students the art of persuading the jury regardless whether justice is served or not. But Socrates, a true lawyer is the one who fights for what is right. Isn’t it? Yes, my dear. Have you seen them doing this? Well, I have had experiences with them. Mine are not opinions. Besides, my students who have studied with them, tell me about them. However, I had to find out for myself. It does not mean I didn’t trust their judgments. But I just wanted to see what they were all about with my own eyes. Socrates, then why are you accused of corruption, when they’re the ones who have been teaching their students the art of deception rather than truthfulness? It sounds like they do what works for them. But just because it works, does not mean it is right. Does it? No Euthyphro, it does not. However, they’re the ones in the position of power now. So they want to stop you from teaching. Well, you never charge the students you teach anyway. So it is not going to be a financial loss for you. It is true. I don’t worry about that. What matters to me is the kind of lessens our students are learning from their judgments in the court against me. I don’t worry about myself here, even if they sentence me to death. If I go along with what they want me to do,
namely, shut my mouth or get out of Athens, then what kind of example am I setting for those seek the truth? But Socrates, this is a travesty of justice. You’re right Euthyphro. These Sophists seem to be very clever Socrates. Yes, they’re Sophos as we say. They usually come up with clever and plausible but fallacious arguments, which are based on specious reasoning. (Webster’s New World Dictionary). They teach you how to argue on either side of a case in the court. Truth has no meaning for them.
They have also accused me of secretly and tacitly siding with Persians admiring their monarchical system and Spartans for their conviction and faith in their cause. After all, they’re the ones who helped us win the battle against Persians, on the one hand, and defeated us once they were unjustly treated by Pericles, our beloved statesman and general.
But Socrates, isn’t it true that these judges who’re also Sophists had already made up their mind as to what to do with you? In other words, it seems your appearance in court today is more symbolic. They must know they have made a mistake about your true intentions in this matter. Because you’re innocent of such a crime. All they have to do is admit they have accused you falsely. They must know in clear conscience that you’re innocent of all these charges. To get rid of you, perhaps, they came up with something which has no basis in the court of law what so ever. All your life you have been trying to teach with integrity and honesty. But instead of appreciating what you have been doing and rewarding you for it, they’re asking you to either leave Athens or take hemlock and commit suicide. This is what you told me after you came back from the court. They’re forcing you to do what you never asked your students to do, that is, leave in the face of adversity or just take your life. Are these Sophists the ones who’re accusing you of corrupting the youth of Athens? You have always stood up for what is right and moral. How can they expect people to have any respect for such judicial system? Are not they to be judicious in the way they handle a case like yours? How can they show sound judgment? What right do they have to make you feel guilty about what you have done for the Athenians? Is this Justice Socrates? Why should they interpret your actions the way I have interpreted my father’s? Like my father, you never intentionally did anything to harm people. You never claimed to be the wisest. You hardly said you were perfect. We all make mistakes. Why is it that when they act the way they do, they’re excused, but when others do, they’re doomed and deserve to be punished severely?
Socrates, you have decided to stay and not leave Athens. You told them that if you cannot change the laws, you abide by them. You have, therefore, made a decision to take the hemlock.
Do you hold a grudge against them? Are not you angry enough with their decisions to contemplate a revenge? Don’t you want to get even with them? After all, you have been treated unjustly. Is not justice worth fighting for? I know this much that they did not change their decision, even after some of your friends, who believe in you, tried to convince them as to your innocence in this matter. You yourself made an attempt to prove to them that they were mistaken but to no avail. What do you think Socrates? Well, my dear Euthyphro, I don’t punish those who’re ignorant and don’t know what they’re doing. I even ask God to forgive them. Remember, this is not about me. This is about you and others I have been teaching for a long time. This is about the fact that I’m now deprived of a chance to give my students what I have learned all my life. Then what do you do? Do you forgive them? Yes, I do. In fact, I have already done that. But these are the people who have tried to ruin your reputation while you have always offered your best to your students. I know you’re not flattering me my dear son. You’re honest and sincere. Do you love those who have hurt you? I don’t call it love. But I have compassion for them. Don’t you think compassion is what they need, not retaliation? I have always made an effort to be a mirror for them like a true friend showing them their faults and shortcomings. However, since they don’t like what they see, they have shown me their anger. They tried to break the mirror. Nevertheless, I forgave them and showed them who I really was right before they broke the mirror. I struggled to convince them that they ought to change themselves and not to punish me. I didn’t lie to them. I was a mirror. Why do you think they’re punishing themselves through me? They don’t like what they see. Now that I’m about to die, they know who I’m, but they cannot change their minds, even at this price, which is my death. Yes, Euthyphro, I forgive them for they know not what they do, and I ask my God to also forgive them and not punish them for what they have done to me.
Socrates, they don’t have faith in one God like you do. They have accused you of the fact that you have turned your back to their gods. Euthyphro, there is no perfect justice in this world. But Socrates, don’t these Sophists believe when gods call an act just, then it is? Yes, and that is exactly what the problem is. What? Because whatever their gods say is just, then it is just. Their gods determine what is just and what is not just. But Socrates, how do they know this is what gods are saying? Who is their prophet or messenger? It seems the gods they have a great respect for are nothing but the reflections of their own egos. Is not this what we mean by the term, ‘Anthropomorphism’? They form their gods in their own minds and then they become spokespersons for them. In reality, they’re the ones who decide what the gods say. No wonder why you challenged them for their beliefs in these gods. Well, is it possible they consulted the deities through the oracle? You yourself heard what the oracle said about you that you’re the wisest. Yes, you’re right. And I remember very well that your response was you never thought of yourself as the wisest man in Athens. You came out and said: ‘I know this much that I don’t know.’ Others think they know, but they don’t. You said your wisdom is simply that you’re aware of your ignorance. Euthyphro, this does not mean I have no faith in the oracle. In fact, I do. However, I felt at the time God was testing me. Because, I believe the only Reality that is the wisest is God himself. However, I believe actions that are just, they’re just not because gods or even God say they are. So, in other words, we don’t need to consult the deities to know what is right and what is fair and just. You mean, we’re not in need of the blessings of the gods or the God to understand what is just and what is not just? Is it true Socrates? Yes, my friend. But Socrates, how is it possible that while the oracle calls you the wisest, the Sophists, who’re your prosecutors, would consult the same oracle as to what to do with you in the court? These two just don’t go together. Do they? Euthyphro, knowing the fact that I was nominated to be the wisest man in Athens, do you still expect the Sophists to go to the oracle to find out from the deities as to what to do with me? They knew very well that they were going to be disappointed by the oracle’s answer. They knew their charges were baseless. If they had any reverence for the gods, they wouldn’t teach the youngsters to learn the art of persuasion regardless of which side was telling the truth. Thus, their very actions show they just trumped up false charges against me, perhaps for political reasons or perhaps because they’re biased or prejudiced. They just trumped them up to shut me dawn, so I wouldn’t not be able to unchain those in the cave, who only see the images on the wall as the true realities. I was able to free myself from that bondage and saw the bon fire and those who were walking in front of it. It was their shadows which created those images on the wall. I then proceeded to follow the sun light, which was penetrating the cave. Once I was out of the cave, I stared at the sun and became enlightened. Subsequently, I decided to return to the cave and free those who were in chains. Now you know why I have been sentenced to death or get out of the country. Socrates, do you wish that gods or God would bring punishment upon them? Wouldn’t you desire justice to be done and so somehow, they would pay for what they have done to you? Not at all Euthyphro. Then what is the difference between me and them? I’m not suggesting I’m better than them. I just want them to know what they have done. I want them to know I didn’t deserve to be treated this way. I wasn’t expecting a reward for my services. However, I didn’t want to be treated with disrespect either. I ask wasps: “Now that you’re not providing me with honey, why are you hurting me?” But if you disrespect me, I’m not going to disrespect you. You see, I don’t believe in the golden rule. But Socrates, don’t you get some kind of satisfaction to know, for instance, those who unjustly accused you suffered from some kind of diseases or disasters in their lives? Well, first of all, my dear friend, I’m not going to be around that long to see that. Nevertheless, even if I lived a long life to experience that, I still wouldn’t enjoy the misery of even my own enemies. I don’t pray to gods or God so that they would bring harm to them and their families. I did whatever I could to defend myself, which was my moral duty to do so. What if I wished that and nothing happened to them and their families and all of them lived a prosperous life? Because I don’t measure the value of justice by what happens to them, whether good or bad. I, in fact, keep the God out of this equation. I don’t ask, for example, how come God couldn’t prevent such a travesty of justice from happening? Either there is a God or is not. If there is, then it is not for me to question that. The fabric and the cloth of the whole universe is made of threads and yarns of justice and righteousness. If I were to enjoy their agonies, then I deserved whatever happened to me. Once upon a time, my dear fellow, God asked one of His faithful believers to go to the nearest village and find the worst person. He did exactly what God had asked him to do. He searched and inquired from the residents and was about to bring that person to God. However, he paused for a moment and asked himself: How do I know I’m not that person? He went back empty handed. God asked him: What happened? He responded: Nothing, except the fact that I found out I was that person. So here I’m my Lord. God said to him: Verily, you’re the most righteous man. I’m not even waiting for such a compliment by God. I can only say: I know that I don’t know.