I understand that the five Socratic dialogues presented here are are both culturally and historically significant to the development of philosophical reasoning in the western world. I get it: Socrates is a big deal and the “Socratic method” of proving hypotheses through dialectic questioning helped develop the foundation of philosophical inquiry. However, not being particularly versed in ancient Greek philosophy and thus lacking the critical reading techniques required to capably appreciate the methodical questioning utilized by Socrates throughout these dialogues, I found this to be a laborious and boring read. Many of the theories presented in the dialogues such as the philosophy of forms, evidence for piety, and the incorruptibility of the human soul have significance, however as I read them I couldn’t help but feel that humanity has progressed so far beyond these concepts to a greater understanding of human perception. Maybe if I read this in my late teens or early twenties I would have been more impressed because these dialogues are a foundation that so many other great thoughts have built upon, but in my thirties with a broad background in inquisitive reading under my belt, my impression of the Socratic dialogues was not inspired.
The unexamined life is not worth living, as Socrates so famously states in the Apology and although the dialogues were not terribly interesting to me, the act of reading them has prompted me towards a more inquisitive state of mind. Ironically, this past week I was called to serve in jury service and was actually selected as juror number 12 (my second time in the past 4 years in the juror box). I say that this is this ironic because Socrates’ Apology deals with a jury trial and the dialogue is his defense towards the Athenian jury that eventually convicts him to death for not believing in the Athenian Gods. Socrates accepts his conviction because he believes it better to remain faithful to Athenian law rather than escape or contest the court’s decision. Although our democratic union is loosely inspired by the ancient Greek democracy, I find that our culture is far from the Greek ideals displayed by Socrates and his peers. American people are quick to criticize politicians but slow to vote and many believe that our judicial system is flawed yet so few value the opportunity to participate in the system by serving as a juror. These days it is rare to find someone that respects the call to serve on a jury as a civic responsibility. This observation became painfully apparent to me during the jury selection process when the judge and attorneys ask questions of approximately 80 potential jurors to narrow it down to 12 “reasonable” people capable of following the law to pass judgement on an accused citizen. The selection is painful because in the limbo of not knowing if I would be selected I must endure hearing the wildly diverse opinions and excuses people explicate in an attempt to be dismissed from the jury. The attitude that one should try to “get out” of serving is polar to the ancient Greek practice of serving one’s duty, let alone accept death to fulfill one’s commitments to the laws of your home.