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The very first paper I wrote as a college student. Was for one of my favorite classes I have ever had the opportunity to be apart of. We learned of our world through the eyes of great philosophers from the past. Thus, we hope to make better decisions in our future.

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  1. 1. Duty By Colin Henning While this is strictly an English 111 Composition, I find myself more involved in this paper than I ever have been before for any other class. During other class periods I am thinking not only about this paper, but the thoughts and ideas that we have spent all semester trying to tease out. That is why, right here in Engineering Materials Class, I have decided to write about Socrates. In a sense, I feel similar to how Socrates felt during his trial. My life may not be on the line, but I do feel that I am standing up for what I believe in, while working as hard as I can to achieve my goal. This goal is one of knowledge and understanding. My original topic was love; to begin this piece writing about love was a fairly simple task for me. However, once a few pages were completed and I was solidly committed to my topic, my mind began to wander. I had decided early in the semester that for my final paper I would write about love, and how it was portrayed in its different lights but for some reason, I kept coming back to Socrates and his idea of Duty. I thought at first that I could somehow take a stand on this issue and relate the two together in a very clever, subtle way. However, this proved to work as well as defining beauty did during the discussion that took place at in the fall colloquium; there was just no answer to be found and no solution worth proposing. I was left at this; nowhere to run, and essentially nowhere to hide. Throughout my struggle to find connections between various topics, and some of the greatest writings in the history of mankind, I kept coming back to something that has been bugging me, essentially from day one of class. In our very first reading, we read
  2. 2. The Apology, by Plato. More specifically, the death of Socrates is what bewildered me. The copulation of his character, ideas, and wisdom really comes together during his trial to form this image of him, that maybe he really was the wisest man on earth during his time. “He takes his commands from Apollo to question men who think they are wise, to show them that they are not” (Plato 791). Among the multiple charges brought against him, he pleads innocent to them all. What really gets me going is that he loses his life, even when in his own heart he knows that he is innocent. If he is guilty of anything, it is for standing up for what he believes in. Many have argued that Socrates never advanced any new theories of his own, but he did stand up for what he believed in, and that is what has stuck out to me. The simple fact that he never wrote anything famous does not in my mind, take him off the stand of someone to look up to. Did Vince Lombardi ever write a famous novel or book worth mentioning? No, but he definitely has his spot in history, just like Socrates. It is unfair to Socrates to make any sort of comparison because he died for his duty, and the basis of the philosophy of which he believed in. The interpretation of our duty can at times be confusing. During Socrates trial he states that, “You must first suffer to find truth” (Plato 797). Does this mean that he finally found the truth he was looking for? We know Gilgamesh did. He spent most of his life living with what he was searching for right under his nose. He suffered greatly at the death of his friend and soul mate, Enkidu. Once Enkidu had passed, Gilgamesh spent his days searching for understanding, and a chance for immortality. “Revealed to him was a mystery, a secret of the gods” (Gilgamesh 35). That secret told to him by Utnapishtim was just a story to prolong the inevitable. He is heartbroken once he realizes that
  3. 3. immortality is not meant to be obtained. He spent his life looking for what he could not have, but once he returned to his kingdom, he realized that the great city he had ruled over and tormented was beautiful beyond belief. That city was a marvelous and enduring achievement, which was the closet to immortality to which he could have wished to achieve. Although it took him time, he finally fulfilled his duty to the people of Uruk, as they have now been remembered forever. It is just amazing that in the year 2007, we are discussing the great early civilizations of the human race, and how the idea of duty keeps coming up in this literature. Whether it may be large or small, this is just reiterating what has been said for thousands of years; that literature is a step-by-step manual for living. Just think of how writing has evolved since its origin, to the great works of poetry and literature that we have with us today. It is easy to see this growth coincide with the growth and development of civilization. Going back to one of the most well-known civilizations of all time, Athens Greece is where Plato witnessed and wrote of the great teachings of Socrates. I feel at times that the kind of person Socrates was just explodes off the pages from Plato’s pen and straight into my head. For example, do you know the feeling when you meet someone, a girl for instance, and she is so breathtaking that even if your meeting is brief she never really leaves your mind? That is exactly how I feel about the character and essence of Socrates portrayed in The Apology. Although the time we spent in class about him was brief, I still remember his actions more than any words he had ever spoken. One may ask why he acted in the ways that he did. I believe it is because he had such a strong commitment to what he believed in. Apollo had instructed him in his ways, and Socrates
  4. 4. knew that his duty was to follow Apollo’s instructions. Essentially, this voice keeps Socrates in the path of true justice and wisdom. Why did I keep coming back to Socrates while I was writing my paper on love? It was his character and how he gave his undivided attention to his duty as a human. He felt that he had a duty to Apollo, but also to the people of Athens. His quest for wisdom, and the sharing of that wisdom through the teaching and instructing of others is what he considered to be the highest aim in one’s life. One of his most famous quotes reads that, “The unexamined life is not worth living” (Plato 793). He was offered his life at the end of the trial, but refused to stop philosophizing. He chose death out of his options because if he had lived, he would have been denying his duty as instructed by Apollo. Death was his punishment of choice because it fulfilled his duty as directed by the divine spirits, and he showed Athens that they would never grow or gain any understanding by just killing off their critics. Socrates was a wise man and believed that there is no possible way on earth to know what death is like. Since no one has ever been able to tell us what it is like, Socrates decided that it was a waste of time to worry about it. Just like when we each imagined our own personal picture of what death would be, no two were the same. We will never know if Socrates was right about either the state of nothingness and deep sleep, or the journey of our soul to another world. Just think, to be able to spend time with some of the greatest people that have ever lived. You and I could soon be spending time with Abraham Lincoln, Babe Ruth, or even my Great Uncle Ken. Socrates having the courage to convince himself, as well as others that death was nothing to fear shows how persuasive, and lasting his thoughts were.
  5. 5. Another character with a duty to the divine was Agamemnon from The Iliad. In the book by Homer, war and even death are celebrated. However, not just pain and negativity are felt in this story, but also victory and life. The Story of The Iliad takes a dark turn at the start when Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter so that he may go to war. In this passage, his primary duty is to the God’s and some may argue that he is neglecting the values of his family. Whatever the case was, war is sparked between Troy and Sparta because of the kidnapping of a woman; Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. When Menelaus attacks Troy because of the loss of his wife, he is showing his true colors of how love can easily get the best of great men. He was showing his duty of family here because thousands of Greeks who had a duty to their king risked their lives for him, and his family, without ever batting an eye. During the war, Hector kills Patroclus. He had no other choice than to take his life because his family, and country was under siege. If you are looking for an example of duty to one’s family, look no further than these pages of The Iliad. In protecting his family, Hector ignites a spark in Achilles that cost his army the war, and him his life. As Homer put it so plainly, “Indeed, even the noblest and bravest of all may succumb to death sooner than others” (Homer 221). When Hector realizes that Achilles is not going to back down, he shows many traits of a coward while he scampers away from Achilles three times before he stands up to fight him. Yes Hector pays dearly for his mistake, but it shows that even a celebrated war hero like Hector did not stand up in character to Socrates. Socrates persists in his practice, even though his life is in danger, because he feels he has a duty to Apollo. If he fears death, he would be presuming to know what happens
  6. 6. after death. Since he cannot know, it is foolish to fear it, and he shouldn’t avoid acting just because he’s afraid of dying. He knows that on judgment day, what the people of Athens thought of him will not matter, but how Apollo viewed him will. That is why he is not afraid of death. For Socrates, philosophy is not an occupation or a hobby, but rather a way of life. He is not about building up knowledge, but rather questioning and clarifying knowledge. As Plato wrote in The Apology, “The goal of any philosopher who follows him, is to seek the truth and live justly” (Plato 797). As stated in multiple works of great philosophers, our duty as humans is to use our rationality to question ourselves as well as others in order to live more justly and truthfully self-examined. When reading these great works of ancient literature I interpreted them in a way that led me to believe that living justly is our duty as humans; which is an important, central duty. In Lysistrata, “The women of Greece convened immediately because they knew the product of the war was death and pain to their husbands, relatives, and sons” (Aristophanes 748). With everything that women did in Ancient Greece: run the house, watch after children, and prepare meals, they made their stand to a group of male politicians and warriors their very first priority. Although they were putting their necks on the line, they quickly recognized that as women, they had a duty to their communities and families. The women may seem mean towards the men because they are withholding sex, but they are serving Greece in a way never seen before. What they do actually works! Yes, it was painful on their husbands, and very frustrating to all, but they put one of their greatest pleasures on hold for some time in order to stop the war, and bring their husbands and sons back to them in one peace. They decided to
  7. 7. put the power in their own hands, and in doing so they served not only their country, but also their families and communities by parting ways from violence, and embracing love. Just as the women from Lysistrata performed their duties, we all have a duty. Our duty may be to our family, our country, or even to our own religious deities. It is possible to know what our duties are by the moral obligations we incur through our daily lives. We will never know for certain why we are moved to fulfill these duties or obligations; however, it never hurts to guess. For it was the great Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius that said, “One cause will not do; we must state many, one of which is true” (Montaigne 2658). I leave you with these words that have lasted over 2100 years, and with our help, can withstand 2100 more. We must continue our course, and demonstrate the knowledge we have acquired for ourselves in the hopes of fulfilling our duty for the wellbeing of others. Works Cited List Aristophanes, Lysistrata. The Norton Anthology of World Literature, Volume A. Ed. Sarah Lawall. New York: Norton 2002. 727-778. Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh. The Norton Anthology of World Literature, Volume A. Ed. Sarah Lawall. New York: Norton 2002. 10-41. Homer, The Iliad. The Norton Anthology of World Literature, Volume A. Ed. Sarah Lawall. New York: Norton 2002. 120-225. Michel De Montaigne, Essays. The Norton Anthology of World Literature, Volume C. Ed. Sarah Lawall. New York: Norton 2002. 2632-2671. Plato, The Apology of Socrates. The Norton Anthology of World Literature, Volume A. Ed. Sarah Lawall. New York: Norton 2002. 780-799.