PHIL 233

PHIL 233: The Trial and Execution of Socrates
Instructor: Alan McLuckie

In 399 B.C., Socrates was condemned to death by a jury consisting of 500 (or 501) Athenian citizens; the official charge was “impiety” or, more specifically, not recognizing the gods of the city, inventing new divinities, and corrupting the youth. As reported in a moving death scene in Plato’s Phaedo, Socrates died in prison one month after his conviction, as a result of drinking hemlock, despite the fact that he had ample opportunity to escape and hence avoid death. Since then, Socrates has become one of the most influential figures in the Western world; it is perhaps no exaggeration to compare the magnetism he has exerted on us to that of Jesus, Buddha or Muhammad. Many questions continue to persist today concerning Socrates’ trial and execution as well as his life and the substance of his philosophical views. In this course, you will have the opportunity to decide for yourself whether the citizens of Athens were right to convict and execute Socrates in 399 B.C. in what has arguably become the most important trial in the history of Western civilization. Through innovative methods, including blended and project-based learning, we will explore the philosophical, historical, cultural and political circumstances that led to Socrates’ death from an interdisciplinary perspective, culminating in our own performance of a mock trial of Socrates at the end of the semester. Along the way, we will examine the testimony of some of Socrates’ most illustrious contemporaries (e.g., Plato, Xenophon and Aristophanes) as well as the reception Socrates’ death has received in later antiquity. Throughout, our discussion will be informed by the perspectives of experts from a range of disciplines, including Philosophy, History, Classics, and Religious Studies.

Readings:
Patricia Curd, A Presocratics Reader: Selected Fragments and Testimonial
Plato, Gorgias, Plato, Phaedrus, Protagoras, and Symposiu
D. C. Reeve, The Trials of Socrates: Six Classic Texts
and additional readings on eClass