Law, reconciliation and philosophy : Athenian democracy at the end of the fifth century B.C.
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The purpose of this thesis is to defend Athenian democracy against a long-established suspicion that the Athenian government, with its radical form of popular participation, was not only incompetent but also dangerous. There are two serious misunderstandings in this traditional view; one is the myth of the decline of Athens after the death of Pericles, the other being the outright denial of Athenian democracy by its philosophers, Xenophon and Plato. These two common presumptions about Athenian history and philosophy are therefore examined. The historical examination focuses on three important events: the law reform, the reconciliation and the trial of Socrates. All of them were conducted by Athenian democracy at the end of the fifth century B.C., a period of time that is often cited for the failure of democracy. However, it is found that the democracy demonstrated its excellent ability to manage political conflicts through the laws and the reconciliation. As to the infamous trial of Socrates, there were reasons for the popular suspicion of the Philosopher’s way of life. Following what we have learnt in the historical survey, we search for responses to the three events in the works of Xenophon and Plato. There are passages, though often dismissed by scholars, which indicate remarkable recognition of the democratic achievements in domestic politics. As regards the trial of Socrates, there are also signs of second thoughts in their works that reveal understandings of the democracy’s condemnation of philosophy. The works of Socrates’ pupils show mixed evaluation rather than outright denial of Athenian democracy. The traditional suspicion of Athenian democracy is therefore problematic due to its misconception of Athenian history and philosophy.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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