In one of the most impactful of Plato’s Dialogues, The Crito, Socrates is being put to death for living out his convictions. One of his students sets up a plan to break him out of prison, and Socrates is faced with a decision. Do I stay here and accept execution, or do I escape and abandon my beliefs? To answer this question, Socrates does what he does best, he asks a question:
“Has the argument which was once good now proved to be talk for the sake of talking; in fact an amusement only, and altogether vanity?”
From classroom lectures, to conferences, to podcasts, there is quite a bit of talking that goes on in the world of education. Meanwhile, educators and parents within classical communities are asking their students to pursue a life of excellence and civic virtue. We often share these deeply held beliefs with those under our tutelage, but how often do we truly seek the validity of said convictions. Better yet, how often do we truly live our lives according to them? In the face of adversity, would we choose to hold the positions that we expound, or would we fold to that which is expedient?
Socrates is unwilling to simply believe something to be true without acting upon it. He works his decisions through a process of previously held beliefs but is willing to challenge them to be sure they are correct before acting. Famously, Socrates faces the ultimate test of his beliefs when confronted with his own mortality. Unwilling to act for personal gain alone, especially if it will negate all of his previous teachings or harm those he spent his life teaching, he accepts his death at the hands of the people of Athens. In dying, Socrates proves to his family, students, and all of Athens, that he would rather die than betray his beliefs. He was willing to act according to his convictions regardless of the cost.
Our philosophy, our seeking of truth, our scholarship should not end with talking. True conviction must be followed based on intensive inquiry of that conviction’s validity. And ultimately, actions must stem from those beliefs. If not acted upon, one must acknowledge that the belief is based on convenience, and nothing more. As a community that holds up virtue – goodness, truth, and beauty – we must do the difficult work of testing what we believe, and then living our lives according to those convictions, regardless of the adversity it brings.
Headmaster, Ascent Classical Academy of Northern Colorado
Plato, The Crito, translated by Benjamin Jowett