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Philosophy 373
Naomi Long

1. How do Plato and Xenophon incorporate the issue of old age into their discussion of
philosophical practice?
Even though both Plato and Xenophon are Socrates students, their discussion of
philosophical practice has provided us with the difference relating to the issue of old age.
While Socrates is one of the most famous philosophers in the world history, he did not write
any work that can provide us with the understanding of Socratics school of thoughts. As the students
of philosophy, we are fortunate enough to learn more about the fundamental of philosophy through
the works of Plato and Xenophon. The Apology or the defense of Socrates is indeed significant for
us in understanding the trial of Socrates. Although both Plato and Xenophons accounts have the
same title Apology, Platos work is highly regarded by scholars because Plato surely attended
Socrates trial.
On the other hand, many scholars believed that the Apology or the Apology of Socrates was
only Xenophons understanding of the trial through Hermogenes who claimed to attend Socrates
trial. While the Apology by Plato was considered the first dialogue providing information about
Socrates, Xenophon in his work disagreed with some details and issued that were discussed in
Platos work.
One of Xenophons focus when he wrote the Apology was arguing that Socrates had chosen
to die now before the unjust abuse against him rather than to face the pain of old age. Xenophon
wrote, And now if my age is still to be prolonged, I know that I cannot escape paying the penalty of
old age, in increasing dimness of sight and dullness of hearing.

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Socrates, according to Xenophon, continued to explain that advancing in age would limit
many activities in life for him. Socrates would not find the joy of living anymore because he found
himself difficult to learn any new lesson in life. To the great philosopher like Socrates, living without
learning is worth than the death penalty that he was facing because of the unjust system. Socrates
was not arguing with the unjust trial against him; indeed he believed the death penalty for him was
good for him as well as for those who brought the case against him as the explained,
For if at this time sentence of death be passed upon me, it is plain I shall be allowed
to meet an end which, in the opinion of those who have studied the matter, is not only
the easiest in itself, but one which will cause the least trouble to ones friends, while
engendering the deepest longing for the departed.
Socrates quoted by Xenophon concluded that dying of poor health was such as waste and
living without enjoying life was worse than the death penalty which was sentenced to him. He
protected his view by arguing, It is clear I should have prepared for myself, not that surcease from
life which is in store for me anon, but to end my days wasted by disease, or by old age, on which a
confluent stream of evil things most alien to joyousness converges.
Plato, through his highly regarded work narrating Socrates defense at the unjust trial, had
provided us with another philosophical view. According to Plato, Socrates was not afraid of the death
penalty but willing to challenge the unjust trial and to live his philosophical righteousness of the law
of ancient Athens. Socrates was a brave philosopher commenting on his death sentence in front of
Athenian public, For often in battle there is no doubt that if a man will throw away his arms, and fall
on his knees before his pursuers, he may escape death, if a man is willing to say and do anything.
If Socrates was willing to give up his belief, he might avoid the death sentence. However, it is
not the issue for him. The challenge for Socrates was how to live up his belief and go against his
accusers who condemned him before the unjust persecution. Socrates told the public the lesson in
life,

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The difficulty, my friends, is not in avoiding death, but in avoiding unrighteousness; for
that runs faster than death. I am old and move slowly, and the slower runner has
overtaken me, and my accusers are keen and quick, and the faster runner, who is
unrighteousness, has overtaken them.
As he was sentenced the death penalty, he believed so does the Truth. Through the Apology
by Plato, we can find another Socrates who was advancing in age and brave to live with his belief
rather than to choose to live unrighteously.
2. In Chapter 3 of the Coming of Age, Beauvoir analyzes literary, poetic and artistic depiction of
old age. What representations of old age do you find in your immediate cultural environment?
In the Coming of Age, Simone de Beauvoir focuses on old age by discussing about the
biological process as well as examining the cultural fact. Growing old is a challenging subject to
discuss especially it means how human beings are dealing with changes and the challenge of facing
death is apparently unavoidable. In the preface, Beauvoir wrote,
Old age is not mere statistical fact; it is the prolongation and the last stage of a certain
process. What does this process consist of? In other words, what does growing old
mean? The notion is bound up with that of change. Yet the life of the fetus, of the new
born bay and of the child is one continuous, change. Must we therefore say, as some
have said, that our life is a gradual death? Certainly not. A paradox of this kind
disregards the basic truth of life life is unstable system in which balance is
continually lost and continually recovered; it is inertia that is synonymous with death.
While Beauvoir had discussed the biological process of old age by examining the scientific
studies in chapter 1, it is interesting to learn how historical societies value the elders. Indeed, how a
society behaves towards its old people shows the hidden truth about its own principle. In Chapter 3,
Beauvoir discussed how the Eastern society treats its old people different from the Western world.

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Therefore, the naked truth has revealed as the old are killed; they are left to die; they are given a
bare minimum to support life; a decent end is provided for them; or they are revered and cherished.
As Beauvoir introduced us with her study mainly focusing on the Western societies, she
pointed out that the study on Chinese culture is an exception. Though the East Asian countries
including Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam, Singapore and others, the Chinese culture has influence
strongly on other cultures for thousand years. Of course, my immediate cultural environment in
Vietnam is not an exception.
According to Beauvoir, the reason why the old people are highly respected is because of the
long static historical and strongly hierarchical society. China, in the world history, has always been a
centralized society where the elders who are considered as the wise men in society. In all villages
and regions in the East Asian countries as well as in China, the most senior are always at the top
and the public always respects them. This notion has strong support from individual life. As Beauvoir
mentioned, this tradition was introduced by Confucius three thousand years ago and the whole
society has chosen its way of life. Beauvoir provided with more details saying,
The entire household owed obedience to the oldest man. His moral prerogatives met
with no practical dispute, for Chinas intensive agriculture called more for experience
than for strength. This was of life provided the family with no questions or
contradictory element, for the wife owed obedience to her husband and she has no
appeal against him. The father had the right of life and death over his children, and he
often did away with daughters at their birth, or he would sell them later as slaves. The
son had to obey his father, and the younger brother the elder. Young people were
married by parental authority, without ever having met one another, and they
remained under the rule of the bridegrooms elders.
In Vietnam, there are many folk proverbs that have been taught to children about respecting
the elders, such as:

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Knh gi gi tui cho.
Knh lo c th.
Cha m t u con ngi y.
Those proverbs are translated as:
You will be blessed when you respect the elders.
Respect old people and you will live a long life.
Parents decide who your spouse will be.
Those proverbs have been living up for many generations and people are still using these
teachings to set the standard moral life in Vietnam nowadays.
Not only being respected by others, old people are cherished of themselves because
becoming old is becoming a holy being. Another Eastern philosopher, Lao Tzu, taught the society
that growing old is a virtue itself. In fact, he sets the age of sixty as the moment at which a man
may free himself from his body by ecstatic experience and become a holy being. A man of sixty
years of age is truly respected by his family and the society in general. Everyone considers the age
of sixty of a human life as the long life and apparently it is understood that living the long life is as
important as being wealthy and happy. Beauvoir concluded, old age was therefore life in its very
highest form.
Growing old in fact is not as gloomy in the Eastern world than the Western society.
Respecting the elderly is being taught to every student at a very young age. And that cultural
practice has being carried on for many centuries.