Socrates was imprisoned for corrupting the youth’s minds in Athens as well as defying the gods that the state recognized. Although Socrates’ contemporaries agreed that he had an opportunity to escape, he refused all of them. Socrates’ followers did not want to see their inspiring figure being executed by drinking poison, so they agreed to bribe the guards to let them get to Socrates. However, Socrates did not change his mind.
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Firstly, by escaping, Socrates would be assumed to have a fear of death. Socrates, however, believed that no philosopher must fear it. This point was made primarily because he regarded death as a continuation rather than an end. Socrates believed that everything must go according to the laws of nature, and death (his or anyone else’s) is something that must happen. Additionally, it may be stated that Socrates desired to achieve awareness of other plains of existence. This means that, as a philosopher, Socrates always tried to deepen his knowledge and understanding of the world he lived in or, simply put, discover new things. Death is then assumed to be a form of ascension – an entirely new experience (Rawson 87). Therefore, each philosopher that truly craves knowledge must be willing to accept death.
Another reason is much simpler. Socrates knew that he was sentenced to death primarily because he questioned everything that other citizens of Athens took for granted. This was not because their opinions and views were wrong but, rather, a result of Socrates’ perspective. It was natural for him to doubt things. Socrates regarded every part of his surroundings as something that must be questioned. Therefore, he would approach other cultures and beliefs in the same fashion becoming an unwanted person in foreign regions as well. Thus, there was no place for him to go after his potential escape.
Socrates, as a citizen of Athens, consciously agreed to live under this state’s laws and regulations. Therefore, he could also be judged by these statutes and sentenced to any punishment government would find fitting. If Socrates violated this agreement, he would harm the state in which he lived. Such an act, according to his political and social beliefs, was unacceptable and even more so for a philosopher like Socrates himself. As a citizen living by the principles he had, Socrates could not allow such a violation of the law to happen (Rawson 83). He could not escape imprisonment, therefore, avoiding punishment.
Finally, Socrates understood that, by helping him to escape, his followers would also become liable before the law. While Socrates may have believed that his punishment had the wrong basis, he still recognized that his imprisonment and sentence were both acceptable and respected them in the framework of the law. Therefore, he believed that he must not be helped to violate the judgment he respected (Regan 17), especially with someone else paying that kind of price for his escape.
Although these reasons may be the most possible, there also could have been others that only Socrates knew or understood. However, his reputation and descriptions of his lifestyle and actions provided by his contemporaries suggested that these reasons were the most probable. Therefore, Socrates’ decision to stay in prison and accept his punishment was justified by his principles and beliefs that indicated that he was a stoic and respectable person that lived by the set of rules he created for himself.
Rawson, Glenn. “Critical Thinking in Higher Education, and Following the Arguments with Plato’s Socrates.” AAPT Studies in Pedagogy, vol. 2, 2016, pp. 73-93.
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Regan, J. Ward. Great Books Written in Prison. Mcfarland, 2015.