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The Trial of Socrates Paperback – February 1, 1989

4.1 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"The philosopher we meet on these pages is an arrogant, bullying elitist who welcomed death and did his best to antagonize the jury that sentenced him," stated PW. "In this iconoclastic portrait of a secular saint, Socrates emerges as a thoroughly dislikable, albeit superior, man who upheld unpopular truths."
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Since his retirement in 1971, former muckraker Stone has turned classicist. He is especially fascinated by Socrates's trial because it represents a "black mark" for the free and democratic Athens that he admires. Stone argues that while the Athenian verdict cannot be defended, it can be understood: Socrates was an anti-democratic reactionary whose philosophy posed a genuine threat to liberal ideals. Stone's portrait of Socrates sharply contrasts with the popular hagiographies and will stimulate a wide range of readers, although specialists will find much to argue with. Recommended for general collections.Richard Hogan, Southeastern Massachusetts Univ., North Dartmouth
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (February 27, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385260326
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385260329
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on May 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
I.F. Stone, one of the few honourable journalists in recent US history, wrote this book in his retirement as an attempt to answer a question that had dogged him for years: How could Athens, a genuine democracy, condemn a man like Socrates to death? I mean, this was Socrates, the first major hero of western philosophy (if you don't count the pre-Socratics), the master of dialectic, the hero of all those who value intellectual independence, right?
Wrong. Stone's initial puzzlement hardens into a damaging case against Socrates. He never defends the Athenians' decision to execute him (because he finds it indefensible), but he produces a case for the prosecution that's hard to answer. If, like me, you'd always vaguely considered Socrates to be a model upholder of free thought, free speech and liberty in general, you're in for a shock. Socrates' contempt for democracy and the democratic process was all but a gauntlet thrown in the Athenians' faces. He claimed at his trial to be a gadfly, a reminder of uncomfortable moral truths which the polis was inclined to forget, but on the occasions when Athens was faced with tough moral decisions, Socrates was nowhere to be seen, and had nothing to say. His favourite disciple, Alcibiades, was a right-wing thug. He never ceased to praise the totalitarian government of Sparta, and to heap contempt on the participatory government of Athens (okay, women and slaves didn't have the vote in Athens, but it would be a couple of thousand years before they got it _anywhere_.
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Format: Hardcover
It might as well be said right off the top: Stone is clearly not a scholar of classical Greece. Although Stone acknowledges his amateur status, it is clear that it is false modesty: he clearly believes that his lack of formal training in classics is a point in his favour. An enlightened amateurism, supposedly uncorrupted by years of indoctrination into the hagiocracy of accepted scholarship, is a pretension he shares with many journalists, who seem to think that an entertaining and provocative story is more important, interesting and "true" than a complete and accurate story. So much for Stone, but what about his book?

I first read Plato's Apology, Crito, and Phaedo (Plato's description of the trial and death of Socrates) in first or second year university. As it is to many young people, it was a moving experience, and one that set the stage for much of my later interest in Greek history and philosophy. The execution of Socrates has usually been treated as a stain on the otherwise monumental achievements of Athens. The contrast between the Athenians' receptiveness to a multiplicity of ideas has always seemed to me, and to many others, to stand in stark contrast to their handling of Socrates. (This seeming contradiction is a useful one, however, since it reminds us that ancient Greek culture, while incomparably influential on Western civilization, was not a uniformly noble affair). Stone questions this seeming contradiction as a journalist would and finds more worldly reasons for the execution, namely that the Athenians believed Socrates to be an active opponent of the democracy, whose teachings directly counseled his pupils (especially Critias and Alcibiades) to commit treason by siding with the Spartans to install an oligarchy in Athens.

Stone's central premise is not new.
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Comment 38 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
Read the editorial reviews for books on or by Plato and you will find the fawning hagiolatry that too many professional philosophers have bestowed upon one of their own (comparable only to the scorn heaped upon the Sophists, who demonstrated by example how philosophical methods can lead to absurd conclusions, and are thus suspect). Anyone reading "The Republic" in earnest cannot fail to be horrified by prescriptions that are eerily reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution in China or Pol Pot's reign of terror in Cambodia.
I.F. Stone's book demonstrates how Plato's views were those of a disgruntled aristocrat railing against the (relative) democracy of classical Athens who stripped his class of many of its privileges. Some of his associates went beyond railing and actually committed treason in an attempt at restoring the said privileges.
Unfortunately, Stone misses his target, and actually believes Plato when the latter fraudulently ascribed his own opinions to Socrates. Most of Stone's scathing criticism and debunking of Socrates should really be understood as applying to Plato. There is very little we can know about Socrates himself and his views, as he did not write, and any speculations on the man are likely to be fruitless or unsupported by hard evidence.
A much more rigorous (and devastating) critique of Plato is Karl Popper's "The Open Society and its Enemies", but it is certainly less accessible to the layman. For all its flaws, Stone's book is a good read and a first step in reversing centuries of undeserved praise granted to Plato.
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