The Injustice of Jailing the Ignorant

Xenophon, Memorabilia I

“But, his accuser continued, Socrates used to teach them to be contemptuous of their fathers by persuading them that he made his associates wiser than their fathers and by alleging that it was permissible by the law for a son to imprison his father upon a conviction of madness. This was the proof he used that it was lawful for the ignorant to be jailed by those who were wiser.

But Socrates really believed that the man who chained someone because of ignorance would justly be imprisoned himself by those who knew more than he did. Because of these beliefs, he often used to consider the difference between madness and ignorance. He believed that it was advantageous for those who were crazy  and their families that they be locked up; but the ignorant rightly need to learn what they should know from those who know it.”

Ἀλλὰ Σωκράτης γ᾿, ἔφη ὁ κατήγορος, τοὺς πατέρας προπηλακίζειν ἐδίδασκε, πείθων μὲν τοὺς συνόντας ἑαυτῷ σοφωτέρους ποιεῖν τῶν πατέρων, φάσκων δὲ κατὰ νόμον ἐξεῖναι παρανοίας ἑλόντι καὶ τὸν πατέρα δῆσαι, τεκμηρίῳ τούτῳ χρώμενος, ὡς τὸν ἀμαθέστερον ὑπὸ τοῦ σοφωτέρου νόμιμον εἴη δεδέσθαι.  Σωκράτης δὲ τὸν μὲν ἀμαθίας ἕνεκα δεσμεύοντα δικαίως ἂν καὶ αὐτὸν ᾤετο δεδέσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἐπισταμένων ἃ μὴ αὐτὸς ἐπίσταται· καὶ τῶν τοιούτων ἕνεκα πολλάκις ἐσκόπει, τί διαφέρει μανίας ἀμαθία· καὶ τοὺς μὲν μαινομένους ᾤετο συμφερόντως ἂν δεδέσθαι καὶ αὐτοῖς καὶ τοῖς φίλοις, τοὺς δὲ μὴ ἐπισταμένους τὰ δέοντα δικαίως ἂν μανθάνειν παρὰ τῶν ἐπισταμένων.

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