Socrates – The philosopher of Justice.
“Α Democracy is excellent when everyone fears the law as one does a tyrant”. This principle was first expressed by Bias of Priene, one of the Seven Greek Sages, around 600 BCE. This was the principle the Athenian Democracy was built upon and this perception empowered the brave soldiers who stopped the “invincible” Persians at the battles of Marathon and Salamis. Those brave Athenian soldiers, who, as Demaratos said to Xerxes, “when they fight one-to-one they’re as brave as anyone else, but when they fight all together, they are the best fighters in the world. They are free, but not completely; their Master is the Law, whom they fear more than they your men fear you.”
It sounds good, but how many of us would defend this principle at any cost?
The philosopher of Justice
Socrates paid the highest price in order to stay true to his lifelong teaching, that one ought not to do wrong at all, not even when he is treated unfairly. Because no virtue has any value if it is not lightened by justice. Bravery, for example, is a great virtue, but imagine a brave man who uses his bravery to hurt others. What kind of person would he be?
So, it is justice above all, but what is just? That’s the question sophist Hippias posed to Socrates one day, and he replied “what is legal is also fair”. The citizens have come to an agreement to abide by certain rules, to do things and to don’t do other things. A person who keeps the agreements is honorable and a person who honors the social contract he voluntarily accepted, he is lawful and just. A person who doesn’t keep the agreement is unlawful and unjust. That is what Socrates said, and Hippias took the chance to present an argument that was very popular among the sophists: “Why should we think so highly of the laws and the obedience to them, when even those who make the laws amend them all the time and overwrite them later on?”
“Don’t we do the same when we go to war and serve a situation that is about to change when peace comes?” Socrates replies, explaining that the temporariness of an agreement does not justify its disdain, nor does the fact that peace comes after war mean that we can put blame on the soldier who is fighting for his homeland. Laws, Socrates claims, are the foundation for a harmonious coexistence of the citizens. And this harmony and concord among citizens is the necessary condition for their happiness and prosperity.
Without a doubt, Socrates was not just talk; he reverently abided by the laws under any circumstances all his life. In his private life he followed the rules and in his public life he was obedient to the authorities and laws, both when being in the city or on campaign fighting. In fact on one occasion, while he was the custodian of the Ecclesia (People’s Assembly), he stopped his fellow citizens from making a decision that was against the law. Even at the time when the Thirty Tyrants were in power, he disobeyed an order, because it was against the law. It’s really unbelievable that the most law-abiding Athenian citizen ended up in prison and was given the death penalty!