Monday, 2 December 2019

Hegel On The Condemnation of Socrates

When Socrates took up the mantle of free enquiry, which is unencumbered by prevalent beliefs and prejudices, he was following the command that the Greeks attributed to their god Apollo: “Man, know thyself.” Socrates had dedicated his life to inculcating in his followers the virtue of critically reflecting on matters concerning morality and politics. But this kind of critical reflection makes reason, and not social custom, the ultimate judge.

In his the Philosophy of History, Hegel says that by teaching his followers to reflect on moral and political issues, Socrates was destabilizing the Athenian city-state—he was fomenting a revolution. Therefore, he notes, the Athenians were right in regarding him as an enemy of their way of life and condemning him to death. However, in ancient Athens, the principe of free thought was too firmly entrenched in culture to be banished by the execution of a single individual. The revolutionary idea remained alive in Athens after the death of Socrates; and in time it led to the condemnation of all the accusers of Socrates while Socrates himself was posthumously resurrected.

The posthumous resurrection of Socrates had a vitalizing impact on the principle of free thought and that contributed to the decline of the Ancient Greek civilization. Thus Socrates was responsible for the end of the world-historical role that the Ancient Greeks had been playing.

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