Thucydides and Plato’s Republic

Posted: August 29th, 2013





Thucydides and Plato’s Republic

            In the Mytilenean Debate, Cleon and Diodotus gave different perspectives concerning the fate of the Mytileneans. Cleon showed rigidity in his speech. He did not believe that there was any point for people having rules, which they were not going to follow. He did not accept the fact that people would change their minds so easily. He discouraged pity, fairness and compassion to those he considered enemies. He did not believe in the power of democracy, and he believed that an empire would stand when the leaders used democracy. Diodotus on the other hand urged the people to think more carefully before making any decisions. He urged them not to make decisions quickly, and to avoid making decisions out of anger. Had Socrates participated in the debate, he would have agreed and disagreed with some of the points raised by Cleon and Diodotus. Socrates believed in making decisions that benefited the whole city, and he would have employed justice, and avoided decisions that would have served the interests of a few people.

Had Socrates participated in the debate, he would have found agreed with some of the arguments made by both speakers, and he would have opposed some of their views. Socrates believed in friendships and he encouraged justice among the people. He urged the people to have a sense of community in the society. Socrates usually engaged the people in conversations, choosing to ask them many questions, and offering no answers in most cases. It is therefore possible that in the Mytilenean Debate, he would have engaged them in conversation, rather than seeking to convince them by giving them a speech. It is also probable that he would have sought their opinion on what to do with the Mytileneans. The Mytilenean Debate is all about justice and the exercise of power. The Athenians had the power and they had the freedom to do what they wanted with it. Socrates discouraged abuse of power. In The Republic, he points out that leaders are supposed to rule for the benefit of the people, and not merely for personal gains. He thus discourages the abuse of power by leaders by proposing that they hold no private property, wealth and land. Socrates discouraged evil, and he asserted that no one would do evil willingly and knowingly

Socrates and Cleon have some similar and opposing viewpoints and they would have handled the Mytileneans Debate differently. Socrates opposed the Athenian democracy, as is clear from Plato’s The Republic. He would therefore have agreed with Cleon concerning the issue of democracy. Cleon believed that democracy was not fit to lead an empire, in the sense that it tended to be led by compassion rather than the rule of law. He opposed democracy because the people had changed their minds about executing the Mytileneans. Cleon did not give priority to the educated people in the society. He told the people that having sensible people in the society was better than having educated people who did not have self-control. He also says that common people govern the city better than those who are more intelligent. According to him, the intellectuals are more interested in appearing wiser than the laws rather in governing the people. Cleon seemed to despise the intellectuals and ordinary men who delighted in their speeches and words of wisdom. He told the people to avoid being slaves to new paradoxes and to stop applauding every word the intellectuals said.

Socrates would argue contrary to this viewpoint. He believed that the philosophers were in a better position to lead and govern, since they knew what was good for the city. He believed in the power of wisdom, stating that if the people were wise, then they would not do any wrong. Socrates believed that wisdom enhanced people’s health, and it enabled them to live more fulfilling lives. In The Apology, Socrates encouraged knowledge as a way of getting rid of ignorance that usually led a person to do evil. Cleon did not see any way that the Athenians would have benefited from the services of the Mytileneans. Cleon did not use or encourage a diplomatic approach when dealing with the people he considered enemies. He made that clear when he encouraged the death penalty on the Mytileneans. He was more rigid about his decisions, and he did not see the point of having a different perspective on the issue. His speech was vengeful in tone and he put the people in the same spirit. Socrates would have handled the issue differently. He was more or less a proud man, and he did not usually let his emotions direct and control him. He chose to pursue and take actions that were based on reason and logic. In The Apology, he chose to go with the jury’s decision on the death penalty, rather than pleading and begging for mercy. When given the chance to choose his sentence, he chose it based on what he thought he deserved.

Diodotus and Socrates had similar and opposing views regarding justice, the rule of law and government. Diodotus applied the power of rational thinking when talking to the people. He presented the people with the facts and urged them to reconsider their earlier reasoning and judgment concerning the people of Mytilene. Socrates usually used this technique when he was having conversations with his friends. He was able to do this by describing analogies to them. In The Apology, Socrates urges the jury to reason well before declaring their sentence. He would have used similar techniques had he been in the debate. Diodotus encouraged the people to make decisions that would benefit the city. He did not entirely oppose the death penalty for the Mytileneans, telling the people that they should continue with the death penalty, if they thought that that would benefit all the people. Socrates would agree with Diodotus to this effect. Socrates urged the people to consider making decisions that would not only benefit a few individuals, but would also benefit the entire city. He also advocated for the death penalty. In one case, he spoke to letting people who had incurable physical diseases and mental conditions to die.

Diodotus urged the people to be moderate in their thoughts. He told them not to judge the Mytileneans based on prejudice, but to seek the ways that the Athenians could benefit from them. Socrates would agree with Diodotus on this point. Socrates had proposed dividing the people into different segments, with each segment performing a specific function. He urged all the segments to exercise moderation in their activities. Diodotus encouraged the people to be more humane, since doing so would benefit them in the end. Socrates believed in exercising virtue, and he urged the people to resist from evil. Diodotus told them not to heed the words of Cleon, who had earlier encouraged them to kill the Mytileneans. He told them that they would be committing a crime if they killed them. He told them to be wise in their reasoning since they would lose their benefactors, lose the support of the masses and lose the friendship of the affluent and stronger classes in the society. Socrates believed that justice should prevail above everything else. In The Apology, he told the jury that justice is more important than life or death. Socrates believed that placing one’s life ahead of justice showed that a person was selfish. Socrates believed that people were selfish because they were ignorant, and they did not have self-knowledge.

Socrates did not usually participate in public debates during his lifetime. He believed in knowledge and philosophy. He was convinced that a city needed wise leaders, and this was his main reason why he hated the Athenian democracy. Diodotus and Cleon had very different perceptions concerning the Mytileneans. Cleon believed that the enemy would not benefit them in any way, and he encouraged the people to use the death penalty. Diodotus on the other hand urged the people to act in a humane way, and he urged them to make decisions that would benefit the whole society. I believe that Socrates would have shared this perspective if he had participated in the debate. He believed in justice, and he usually encouraged the people to make decisions that would benefit the city, rather than benefiting one individual. He also encouraged wisdom and knowledge, and he saw them as the society’s solution to ignorance and selfishness.



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