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The Apology; A Defense of Socrates Against the Four Alleged Accusations

Updated on June 26, 2012
Socrates, or by his original Greek name, Aristocles
Socrates, or by his original Greek name, Aristocles | Source

The defense of Socrates

Plato's Apology is a representation of the trial of Socrates. The title comes from the original Greek, apologia. It was translated as a cognate, but a more literal translation would be 'defense'. This is the famous work that leads to Socrates facing a guilty verdict with the choice of leaving Athens forever or drinking the poisonous cocktail, hemlock. In this article, I aim to show the charges brought against Socrates and how Socrates accurately defended against them.

The Charges

It is comforting and frightening to think that long before our country was even dreamed of by the Europeans; people still alienated and hated those who annoy us and make us look stupid. Socrates did just that. When his friend, Chaerephon, asked the oracle if any man was wiser than Socrates, the answer came back that no man was. Socrates could not accept that because he felt he knew nothing. He felt so sure that there were many who knew more that he tested this against some of the ones who were considered wisest. It ended in public humiliation for some of the most influential people in Athens. He was accused with four charges carried by rumors: that he was a physicist, a sophist, corrupted the youth of Athens, and that he did not believe in the gods of his land. One can logically infer that all these statements are false, and that Socrates is not guilty.

Athens
Athens | Source

Was Socrates a physicist?

Today, if someone called you a physicist, the most ready emotion might be honor or, depending on the tone, anger. Being a physicist today, we think of intelligence, an effort towards truth, and helping the goals of the common, scientific good. Some of the most highly regarded intellectuals we know today practiced physics like Albert Einstein or Steven Hawking. In Socrates’ time, being a physicist meant that you inquired about the world and beyond with the practice of cause and effect; the idea that it might not just be the gods’ doing when the weather is stormy, or when there is a deposit of diamonds in a cave. To follow this principle would be to discredit the gods. Athens was rare in that it allowed other cities and conquered lands to worship their gods as long as they paid tribute to the gods of Athens. Most rulers of countries trace back their right to rule by their gods or a country their right to existence and strength. If one does not pay tribute to the gods, they are undermining the legitimacy of the country. So by calling Socrates a physicist, they are saying he does not respect Athens, or its right to be a state. To this charge, Socrates asks anyone in the court room whether they have known him to practice, inquire or speak of the natural sciences, and one can infer from the reading that he has not. If he does not practice and does not claim to know anything of physics, he cannot be a physicist!

Was Socrates a sophist?

A Sophist was a person who travelled many lands and taught rhetoric, the art of unscrupulous persuasion, which is extremely important in a democracy. They usually taught the rich young men tricks of their trade, specifically because they could afford their fees. Socrates could very well seem like a Sophist to those that do not know him and have only heard rumors. Sophists disregarded the gods of the lands they were in. They believed that if the horses had gods, they would be in the form of horses and the same with dogs. Many also held the belief that morality was a system of customs that differed from each land. The rhetoric they taught was particularly devious; they boasted they would teach how to make the weaker argument the stronger. Socrates often made it seem that the inverse of an argument was right, when what he really proved was that the original argument was incomplete if not false. Socrates believed and respected the gods of Athens, he did not claim to teach people anything but their own ignorance, and he never collected a fee. He reportedly said that he lived in poverty due to his devotion to the oracle’s statement, and his love of Athens. Socrates was not paid to teach anything. Sophists have generally travelled to far places; Socrates had barely left Athens at all. Socrates did not claim to know anything to teach. Certainly it follows that to teach something, one must know something of it to teach.

Source

Was Socrates a corrupter of the youth?

The Sophists taught the young, and those that followed around Socrates began to imitate and mimic his style of speech. Those that followed him around were the rich youth who had nothing better to do than watch Socrates publicly humiliate passersby. Now many of the people of Athens already found Socrates to be annoying, but here there are young boys who can hardly be called men making you feel utterly stupid. Only one person can be said to have taught them this manner of language, Socrates. He did not claim to teach them but they to have picked it up as he went along. Those that know the boys have to point the finger at Socrates when it is really the boys who are to blame. They say Socrates is the one who corrupts the youth of Athens. Socrates calls the man who engineered the affidavit to the stand, Meletus. He then inquires certain things, and declares that Meletus never cared about the state of the youth. In the inquiry, Socrates comes to find that Meletus is full of self contradictions and generalizations. He says that all of Athens improves the youth and Socrates is the only one who corrupts them, which is quite ridiculous. If out of all of Athens there is only one person who corrupts, the youth should be very pure and happy indeed. Socrates also states that no creature in its right mind would harm itself, and that by his age he can see that if he harms his neighbor it will bring ill to himself. So if he harms the youth of Athens, he is really harming himself, which is something he would not do. Socrates would not knowingly corrupt the youth.

Was Socrates an atheist?

Meletus claims that part of corrupting the youth was teaching them false gods, those not of Athens, but at the same time calls him an Atheist. To this effect he questions Meletus as to whether he claims he is a complete Atheist or a teacher of other gods. This proves that Meletus only wants to convict Socrates, for he claims that Socrates is a complete Atheist. However, Socrates has reportedly have said that he has a daemon that speaks to him when he is about to do something wrong, which is the reason he never went into politics. Socrates Illustrates that a man cannot believe in horsemanship and not horses, or the works of men and not humans. Therefore, if Socrates believes in his Daemon, which is a product of the spiritual world, he must believe in gods. In extension, the entire reason he lives in poverty and neglects his own safety by making enemies is due to the fact that the oracle declared him the wisest man. He believes his mission in life is to be a gadfly to the great state of Athens. He would not be willing to die for his cause if he did not think he was commissioned by one of the gods of Athens, Apollo. Socrates not only believed in the gods, but whole heartedly in the gods of Athens.

The death of Socrates
The death of Socrates | Source

Conclusion

The courts judged him guilty even though he very well seemed to be accused falsely. In my humble opinion of the accounts given by Plato of the case, Socrates is not guilty. The only thing he could even remotely have been accused of is corrupting the youth, and that is a matter of opinion. Had Socrates been any different, we may not have heard of him today, and he may not have touched so many lives.

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