Daily Archives: 5 June 2014

June 5, 469 B.C.E.

The Death of Socrates

Today is the estimated date of birth of the Greek philosopher Socrates. He is best known outside philosophy for being condemned to death by an Athenian people’s court and choosing to die by drinking hemlock. He had been charged with impiety and with corrupting Athenian youth through his teachings and had been given the opportunity to go into exile. However, he chose to die as sentenced because he believed he would otherwise dishonor the agreement he had willingly made to abide by the laws of Athens.

Perhaps his most important contribution to Western thought is his dialogical method of inquiry, known as the Socratic Method or method of elenchos, which he largely applied to the examination of key moral concepts such as the Good and Justice, concepts used constantly without any real definition. It was first described by Plato in the Socratic Dialogues. For this, Socrates is customarily regarded as the father of political philosophy and ethics or moral philosophy, and as a fountainhead of all the main themes in Western philosophy in general.

In this method, a series of questions are posed to help a person or group to determine their underlying beliefs and the extent of their knowledge. The Socratic method is a negative method of hypothesis elimination, in that better hypotheses are found by steadily identifying and eliminating those which lead to contradictions. It was designed to force one to examine his own beliefs and the validity of such beliefs.

My Favorite Quote (recorded by Plato in The Apology):

The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.

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June 5, 1989 (a Monday)

A Beijing demonstrator blocks the path of a tank convoy along the Avenue of Eternal Peace near Tiananmen Square.

On this date, one day after the 27th and 28th Armies of the People’s Liberation Army brutally crushed the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, a single, unarmed young man stood his ground before a column of tanks on Chang’an Boulevard (Avenue of Eternal Peace) in front of the Beijing Hotel. Captured on film and video by Western journalists, this extraordinary confrontation became an icon of the struggle for freedom around the world.

Photo taken on June 5, 1989

About midday, as a column of tanks slowly moved east along Chang’an Boulevard toward Tiananmen Square, an unarmed young man carrying shopping bags stood defiantly in front of the approaching tanks. Instead of running over him, the first tank tried to go around, but the young man stepped in front of it again. They repeated this maneuver several more times before the tank stopped and turned off its motor. The young man climbed on top of the tank and spoke to the driver before jumping back down again. Soon, the young man was whisked to the side of the road by an unidentified group of people and disappeared into the crowd.
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To this day, who he was and what became of him remains a mystery. He is known simply as the “Tank Man,” or the “Unknown Rebel.”

Yet, the struggle for freedom in the People’s Republic of China continues today.