According to Plato's writings, Socrates went on trial and was executed because he didn't believe in democracy while people practiced it in Athens.

What was the core arguments or reasons that he didn't believe in democracy?

  • 5
    Democracy was not why Socrates went on trial, the charges were impiety and corruption of the youth. Socrates's (really, Plato's own) arguments against democracy are collected in Republic, and Wikipedia gives a short summary:"democracies were anarchic societies without internal unity... followed citizens' impulses rather than pursuing the common good... unable to allow a sufficient number of their citizens to have their voices heard, and... were typically run by fools."
    – Conifold
    Oct 27, 2017 at 18:49
  • 1
    The whole history of the Peloponnesian war may go to explain his position too, at least from the Athenian side., which is really to say the same thing referenced in Conifold's comment.
    – Gordon
    Oct 27, 2017 at 19:14
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    'democracy' in athens is not what you associate with the word. It was really a large gathering with mob rule being the norm. Oct 28, 2017 at 9:54
  • @Conifold well, and inventing new gods Oct 28, 2017 at 23:46
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    He probably heard about Trump becoming president. And Hillary being the other choice.
    – user4894
    Oct 29, 2017 at 19:20

1 Answer 1


Socrates preached to the Athenian young that those with governing power should have the knowledge of the Good. To him, a person obtains this knowledge when she realizes that this world is merely a shadow of the real world. The cave fable of Plato illustrate this idea. This view of Socrates is called philosopher kingship. Plato's republic and Aristotle's aristocracy were examples to embody this view that knowledge is political power. To arrive at this view, Socrates assumes that there is the absolute truth and some humans can access the truth.

Historically speaking, Socrates, with this notion of absolute truth, tried to refute the going, powerful view of the sophists who denied the absolute truth. Their intellectual godfather, Protagoras, famously stated that "Man is the measure of all things." The saying is interpreted as meaning that truth is what each individual construes. Another important sophist, Gorgias, moved this truth relativism idea further to truth nihilism. According to him, "Nothing exists; even if existence exists, it is inapprehensible to humans; even if existence is apprehensible, it certainly cannot be communicated or explained to others."

Their differing views on truth directly influenced their answers to the question, "Who should have the political power?" Socrates' answer was that only those with the knowledge of absolute truth should rule. Socrates' answer meant a refutation of democracy since, to him, 'demo' meant the stupidity of the crowd. To the sophists, on the other hand, knowledge was relative and possibly non-existent, and, in this case, each and every citizen should have a political say. The answer by the sophists, then, was the affirmation of going Athenian democracy.

And the rest, the fate of Socrates, is history.

  • This really confuses me. Does this mean that what I was taught as Socratic method is not the real one? I was taught that his view was "I neither know nor think that I know." (Apology). That is why he advocated lifelong questioning. But then I learned that he had hardline views against democracy and women. And now this. What was he?
    – Spero
    Apr 24, 2019 at 17:46
  • @Spero: What Socrates actually said in The Apology is: "I seem, then, in just this little thing to be wiser than this man at any rate, that what I do not know I do not think I know either". Widely paraphrased incorrectly, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_know_that_I_know_nothing For Socrates, true knowledge is unchanging, the eternal truths inscribed within one's soul. "I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think" -Socrates
    – CriglCragl
    Aug 6, 2021 at 14:11

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