A discussion of I. F. Stone’s essay “When Free Speech was First Condemned: The Trial of Socrates Reconsidered” which challenges some of the longstanding assumptions about Socrates.
This paper examines the way in which Stone in his essay appears to be acting as a kind of prosecuting attorney across the ages, asking Socrates why and how the philosopher behaved in ancient Athens the way he did. By doing so, by using the format developed by Socrates himself, Stone hopes to shift the emphasis from the image of the hemlock-drinking, condemned philosopher to Socrates as he was in life.
First of all, Stone challenges the simple association of Socrates with free speech. In fact, Socrates periodically challenged the democratic, free speech ideals of the Athens he lived in. Socrates hoped to create an ideal philosophical kingdom, ruled by a philosopher king. Although Socrates was condemned to death in Athens for what he said and advocated, this did not mean therefore that that Socrates had advocated free speech during his life, in his philosophy. Socrates was only able to flourish as long as he did in Athens because of the free debate and discussion encouraged in his resident city. Even though he condemned such free and democratic Athenian debate, Socrates benefited as a result of the city’s tolerance.