Is Socrates a rebel, or is he honoring the ideals of the state?

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When discussing Socrates, it's important to note that Platonists are idealists: they believe in fundamental moral truths. For Socrates, a thing is good or noble not because it is enshrined thus in law, but rather because it is good or noble by its very nature, in line with a higher standard of morality. If the laws of the state are in keeping with these higher moral truths, than he will follow those laws; if the laws of the state are in conflict with those moral truths, then Socrates will side with what he considers good.

This is important because when he was put on trial, Socrates was charged with impiety and corrupting the youth. So, I think it's clear that his accusers viewed him as a rebel. But in Apology, he defends himself as a teacher of virtue. In Plato's narration, Socrates says, "I go around doing nothing but persuading both young and old among you not to care for your body or your wealth in preference to or as strongly as for the best possible state of your soul" (Cooper, Apology, 30a–b). Later in that same defense, Socrates states that when the Oligarchy was put into power,

the Thirty summoned me to the Hall, along with four others . . . to bring Leon from Salamis, that he might be executed. They gave many such orders to many people, in order to implicate as many as possible in their guilt. Then I showed again . . . that my whole concern is not to do anything unjust or impious. That government, powerful as it was, did not frighten me (Cooper, Apology, 32c–d).

While his accusers would have almost certainly called him a rebel, from Socrates's perspective, he was acting to uphold morality.

Citation: This response was written with reference to: Plato: Complete Works ed. John M. Cooper and D. S. Hutchinson (associate editor). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1997.

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