T.H. Irwin

T.H. Irwin was a professor of ancient philosophy at Cornell and then at Oxford, retiring in 2017. He is the author of Plato’s Moral Theory and Aristotle’s First Principles.

The Strangeness of Socrates

T.H. Irwin, 21 November 1991

Socrates both demands and manifests uncompromising moral integrity. He wants his fellow citizens to take morality more seriously, and he lives by his own moral convictions. When he is on trial for his life, he insists that the claims of morality and justice override all other considerations, and that they require him to disobey any order that the state might give him to abandon his philosophical inquiries. This defiant claim is not reassuring to the jury, and Socrates pointedly refuses to reassure them; he repudiates the Athenian custom of making a conciliatory speech to avoid a sentence of death. When he has been sentenced to death, he no longer claims any right to disobey the law; this time he refuses to follow the customary and perfectly respectable practice of escaping into exile to avoid execution.

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