Literature Study GuidesDialogues Of PlatoThe Counter Penalty Summary 35e 38b Summary

Dialogues of Plato | Study Guide


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Dialogues of Plato | The Counter-Penalty Summary (35e–38b) | Summary



Socrates is found guilty by a fairly narrow margin. He then proposes three punishments as alternatives to the death penalty. He argues that, since he has for years abandoned his family, affairs, and various opportunities in order to serve the soul of Athens, he should be hosted at the Prytaneum. This proposal is not made, he says, out of pride. Rather, he is unwilling to propose a penalty that wrongs him, such as exile. His activities would likely inspire responses similar to those that have landed him in court. He wouldn't be willing to refrain from philosophy, either, since it would be disobedient to his religious obligation. He would rather live as he is, where he is, spending his time examining himself and others. Indeed, "the unexamined life is not ... worth living."

His second proposal is that he will pay one mina of silver. At the urging of his friends, his third proposal is to pay 30 minae—or rather, he proposes that his friends, including Plato and Crito, pay it on his behalf. After all, he has no money of his own.


Socrates's first counter-penalty proposal may be considered an instance of situational irony. The Prytaneum housed only honored guests, such as Olympic victors, so his first proposal would have been astounding—requesting an honor in place of a punishment. Irony was considered a defect in virtue, so it is unlikely that Socrates would have succumbed to it. But, as in other dialogues, Socrates demonstrates a proclivity for gently teasing his interlocutors. It is more likely that his own explanation for the proposal reflects the truth of what he did, or would have, said. The other two proposals are rather extravagant, given that one mina alone was a substantial sum. They serve to highlight his previously made argument that he has not been paid for his teaching.

In this section, Socrates makes one of his most famous assertions: "the unexamined life is not ... worth living." Given what Socrates has said about his religious obligation, his commitment to a good life, the belief that ferreting out false beliefs and replacing them with true ones will guide one to the good life, and his insistence that death is not to be feared over being unjust, the quote takes on a more robust meaning. Examination, according to Socrates, is a relentless pursuit of knowledge. More specifically, it is the pursuit of knowledge that will guarantee a good life. Rather than making decisions about right and wrong out of habit or tradition, one should ask why one holds certain values. No other life is worth living, for no other life properly fulfills what it is to be human.

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