In Plato’s Apology, Socrates delineates a distinct boundary between pursuing a life of justice and engaging in politics. He posits that a life devoted to righteousness is fundamentally at odds with the realm of political involvement (Apology, pp. 41-42). Through the Socratic dialogues of Socrates’ own trials, Plato illustrates an examination of the moral and ethical foundations of the Athenian society and political system, underscored by Socrates’ assertions, “He who will fight for the right, if he would live even for a brief space, must have a private station and not a public one”. Consequently, I find myself aligning with Socrates’ perspective, asserting that leading a just life is an endeavour incompatible with holding political office.

Socrates ascribes his abstention from political engagement to a divine mandate (“a voice”) directing him towards the pursuit of truth and virtue. At the onset of the trial, Socrates mentions a prophecy from the Oracle of Delphi, which declares that “no man [is] wiser” than Socrates. Spurred by this proclamation, Socrates engages with those renowned for their wisdom through scrutiny and questioning in an attempt to unravel the oracle’s message. Yet, none could furnish satisfactory answers to his inquires, leading Socrates to a profound realisation that his true wisdom is rooted in recognising his own ignorance for knowing nothing (Apology 21a-23b). Socrates then embarks on a path of reminding those around him always to use intellect to scrutinise their lives and questions whether they live their life truthfully, embodying a commitment to virtuous living (Apology, 23b-23d). This philosophy is further emphasised in his dialogue, where the statement “the unexamined life is not worth living” encapsulates his conviction and mission to lead a life rooted in truth and virtue.

Socrates’ commitment to a virtuous life often stood in stark contrast to the political pragmatism of Athens, a discrepancy which resulted in numerous adversaries for Socrates over the years as he advocated for a virtuous way of life. Throughout his trial, Socrates shed light on the corruption ingrained within the Athenian democratic system, as evidenced by the charges against him—corrupting the youth and displaying impiety towards the Athenian pantheons (Apology 24a-28b). These accusations stemmed from his associations with individuals who had fallen out of political favour in Athens post-Peloponnesian War (Britannica). Upheld by the principle that “injustice and disobedience to a better, whether God or man, is evil and dishonourable,” Socrates found the notion of partaking in the “public life” of Athens’ turbulent political scene unpalatable, especially when faced with political decisions (Apology 24d, 25a). Hence, he chose to steer clear of a “public life,” recognising that the political domain, fraught with inherent compromises, could lead individuals towards committing injustices, thereby tarnishing the soul. In Socrates’ view, it was his duty as a philosopher to uphold moral integrity without succumbing to the compromises inherent in politics. Socrates even suggests that death is preferable to a life of dishonesty or moral compromise (38a, 30c-d). His willingness to face death rather than retract his philosophical beliefs during his trial epitomises this stance.

By abstaining from political life, Socrates was able to dedicate himself to a life of virtue and truth, even at the cost of his own life. Through this choice, Socrates exemplifies the notion that a life worth living is one committed to higher principles rather than personal or political gain. While I understand this stance, I find it somewhat implausible as I believe a life worth living necessitates a balance between moral integrity and political engagement rather than solely focusing on maintaining a high moral compass. If one aligns solely with Socrates’ ideas, there’s a risk of being perceived as selfish for not seizing the opportunity to effect positive change. Historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr. embody a different ideology by embracing political engagement to drive substantial changes for the betterment of society (Strauss, B).

In conclusion, Plato’s Apology articulates Socrates’ persuasive arguments regarding the dangers inherent in political life for individuals committed to justice and truth. Socrates’ life and trial serve as poignant exemplars of these challenges within the historical context. The core of Socrates’ philosophical inquiries and thought-provoking arguments, which challenge the values and norms of Athenian society, suggests that total withdrawal from public life is the sole path for a philosopher whose mission is to pursue truth and maintain personal integrity, irrespective of the political climate. While these ideas may hold relevance in a specific context, I argue that they are implausible. A nuanced balance between political engagement and moral integrity should be the cornerstone one aims for to lead a life that is truly worth living.


Plato. (n.d.). Apology. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Retrieved from

Encyclopaedia Britannica. (n.d.). Background of the trial - Socrates. Retrieved from

Strauss, B. (n.d.). Martin Luther King Jr. and Socrates. Retrieved from

_feedback: criticising Apology arguments, perceived as selfish Socrates in general with appearance vs. essence (value essence over appearance) so long as you are actually selfish Alegory of the cave for example. Devaluation of opinion Earlier in Repulblic doing thought experience (just look injust vs injust look just) live of the just would be better to live _