Plato's Apology

UC Davis Philosophy 21

G. J. Mattey

  • Philosophy 21
  • Fall, 2004
  • G. J. Mattey
Socrates on Trial
  • Socrates was defending himself against two charges brought forth by Meletus
    • Corruption of the youth of Athens by turning them against religion
    • Innovation in religious matters
  • The real complaints against Socrates were:
    • Being a wise man who claimed knowledge of religious matters beyond the earth
    • Making the worse argument appear stronger
The Sophists
  • It was the Sophists who claimed to make the worse argument appear better
  • Their goal is mere persuasion, even it this requires eloquent falsehood
  • The goal of Socrates was to speak the truth in a plain way
  • The Delphic Oracle had stated that no one is wiser than Socrates
  • Since Socrates did not think he was wise, he unsuccessfully sought out someone wiser
  • The more prominent the person, the less wise Politicians are especially deficient in wisdom
  • The conclusion Socrates drew was that wisdom is worthless, which perhaps no one else realized
  • By exposing pretensions to wisdom, Socrates was serving the Oracle
Corruption of Youth
  • Bad people do harm to those around them
  • So by corrupting the young people around him, Socrates was endangering himself
  • But he is not so ignorant as to do this deliberately
  • So either he does not corrupt youth, or he does not do so willingly
  • Meletus charged Socrates with not believing in the gods of Athens
  • But Socrates tried to work in service of the gods, so he must believe they exist
  • He was following a divine voice (his "dæmon")
  • Socrates also does not fear death, as is befitting for someone in divine service
  • Fear of death is a sign of pretended wisdom, and the wise person recognizes our ignorance about what follows life
Excellence of the Soul
  • It is wicked and shameful to do wrong
  • Socrates's mission is to teach that each person should attain the best possible state of the soul
  • Excellence of the soul yields wealth and other goods, rather than vice-versa
  • The soul of the better man cannot be harmed by the acts of the worse
The Jury
  • The jury can bring no harm to Socrates
  • But by condemning a man carrying out a useful mission of the gods, they can harm themselves
  • There would be no one left to expose their pretensions to wisdom
The Mission
  • Socrates's mission, to teach the Athenians to care for virtue, is unnatural
  • He has neglected ordinary affairs
  • He cannot participate in public affairs, as the path of virtue only got him into trouble
  • He is not a teacher, gaining nothing material from his open discussions
  • None of those whom he allegedly corrupted brought any charges against him.
  • It is shameful to beg for mercy from the jury, so Socrates does not do so
  • The jury responds by finding him guilty
  • Meletus asks fro the death penalty
  • Socrates ironically proposes that instead he be rewarded for the benefits he has bestowed upon the Athenians
  • Recommending a punishment would be recommending that evil be done to him
  • Socrates does not want to be imprisoned
  • He has no money to pay a fine
  • If exiled, he would meet the same fate again
  • Finally, he proposes to pay a fine from funds provided by his friends, including Plato
  • The jury sentences him to death
  • The jury will bring shame upon themselves for executing a man widely thought to be wise
  • They have only convicted and sentenced him to death because he refused to beg
  • It would be shameful to live under such circumstances
  • The jury will create a greater problem by eliminating Socrates
  • His followers will be emboldened
  • They will miss the opportunity to improve themselves, if they discredit him instead
  • The divine sign has not opposed Socrates's defense, so it is a good thing for him to die
  • Death is either a dreamless sleep or a passage to another life
  • A dreamless sleep is desirable
  • In an afterlife, Socrates would be judged by upright judges and join the company of the dead sages
  • A good man cannot be harmed in life or death

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