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If you were an Athenian jury member in Socrates' case, how and why would you vote?

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If one was a member of the Athenian jury hearing the case of Socrates, they might vote to acquit him since many of the charges against him were overblown and had little proof to support them.

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Socrates certainly did not mind creating enemies. As the moral gadfly of Athens, he rubbed people the wrong way. This is why he ultimately ended up on trial. The official charges against Socrates were corrupting the Athenian youth and denying the gods. These were primarily trumped-up charges. In reality, Socrates...

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likely was condemned for his friendship with the defector Alcibiades, his support of the tyrants, and his outspoken disapproval of democracy. In fact, Socrates was known for expressing sympathy for Athens' nemesis, Sparta. It was these opinions that drew the ire of Athenian officials.

Athenian juries were very different than juries today. They could be as large as five hundred jurors, and the verdict was decided by a majority of votes. Opinions were clearly divided at the trial of Socrates. Plato suggests that he was convicted by a majority of just thirty votes.

Personally, I would like to think that I would have been one of those who voted to acquit. While I might not have liked Socrates and probably would have found him to be obnoxious, I hope I would have recognized the actual charges against him to be without merit. Certainly, I would have disagreed with the death penalty. Even if he were guilty as charged, it seems an overly harsh punishment. Of course, we are looking back at this event from a perspective that is quite different from that of Classical Athens. It is really impossible to know how anyone alive today would have voted back then.

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Socrates (c. 470 BCE – c. 399 BCE) was an outstanding Greek philosopher. He is often remembered as the first of the great three of ancient Greek philosophy: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. In fact, we know little of his life or of the arguments made at his trial. His writings were lost, and his ideas were passed on by his philosophical successors, especially Plato. Socrates featured prominently in Plato's books.

Socrates came from a humble family and may have worked as a mason. It is not known whether or not he was paid for his teaching. He served in the Athenian infantry during the war against Sparta.

Socrates stressed the importance of human reason. He said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." He thought the best government would be one led by men who possessed knowledge and virtue.

His ideas were controversial in Athens and ultimately resulted in his trial and death. Athens had lost a war with Sparta, and its place in the world was uncertain. Many felt Socrates contributed to that uncertainty by questioning Athens's established norms and rulers. After his trial, the vote to convict him was 280 to 221. He probably could have avoided death by going into exile, but this alternative did not interest him. Socrates bravely met his death: "The end of life is to be like God, and the soul following God will be like Him."

Today, it is easy to criticize the 280 men who condemned one of the greatest thinkers in human history. But people who feel threatened do not act rationally. That was true in the time of Socrates, and it still is true today.

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Speaking personally, I would've voted to acquit Socrates. First and foremost, I would've done so because the charges against him—impiety against the gods and the corruption of youth—were manifestly absurd and had no evidence to back them up.

The second main reason for voting to acquit Socrates would be that he was a great man, a wise man who provided profound new insights into the human condition on a variety of different subjects. Socrates understood that philosophy—which literally means "the love of wisdom"—was primarily concerned with ethics, with what kind of life we choose to lead and how we behave towards others.

Yes, this strange-looking man, with his ugly face and disheveled clothing could be more than a little irritating at times, as he went about Athens questioning people on what they knew about the meaning of justice, for example. But there was a good reason behind Socrates's approach: he wanted nothing more than to get at the truth. And even if we might disagree with Socrates over his methods or his conclusions, it seems harsh to say the least to put him to death for trying to make people think seriously about life's big questions.

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This is a difficult question to answer, as it's hard to put oneself in the shoes of a juror from an age so long past. It is dubious to hypothetically think of myself as an Athenian, as I have no reference for what that frame of mind must be like. For example, while I am highly invested in democracy as a framework for governance, I might entertain doubts about it were I living in post-war Athens, as Socrates did.

All that being said, I would very much like to believe that I would vote on behalf of Socrates's innocence. Though his radical candor, apparent arrogance, and skepticism in regard to democracy were no doubt infuriating to the leaders of Athens, Socrates was guilty of nothing but sharing his ideas with people who wanted to learn. The charges against him—impiety and corruption of youth—did not truly reflect what issue Athens took with him.

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