Philosophy -- Plato's The Apology The Apology  Essay

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Philosophy -- Plato's "The Apology"

"The Apology" is Plato's recollection of Socrates' trial, conviction, sentencing and last words to the jury. The Apology is divided into three parts. The first part, Socrates' principal speech to the jury, is his argument against old and new accusations. The second part, Socrates' "counter-assessment," is Socrates' rebuttal of the prosecutor's recommendation of the death penalty. The third part, Socrates' final words to the jury, consists of his speeches to the jurors who voted for his conviction and to the jurors who voted for acquittal.

Socrates' Principle Speech

Socrates first takes on the people who have slandered him over the years with "lying accusations" against him: that he is "a student of all things in the sky and below the earth" (Plato, Grube, & Cooper, 2000, p. 22) which is a physicalist or atheist; that he "makes the worse argument the stronger" (Plato, Grube, & Cooper, 2000, p. 23); and that he "teaches these same things to others" (Plato, Grube, & Cooper, 2000, p. 29). These first accusations have grown and been lodged against him over the years. As to the first charge, Socrates claims that he has nothing to do with such things and that even his jury should know this by being witnesses to his talks in the past (Plato, Grube, & Cooper, 2000, p. 23). Socrates then goes on to say that knowing this charge is false should also convince them that the other charges are also false. Socrates also mentions the fact that he does not charge a fee but thinks it is fine for people who do teach and charge fees. Socrates claims that his "bad" reputation has probably come from having a human wisdom but that those who are physicalists, sophists and charge a fee for teaching have wisdom beyond human wisdom. Whatever kind of wisdom they have, Socrates does not have it. Socrates then speaks of the oracle at Delphi who said that Socrates was the wisest man. Socrates was puzzled by this because he believes he is not wise (Plato, Grube, & Cooper, 2000, p. 24). However, he also believed that he was wiser than two men who were considered wise because he does not believe that he knows what he does not know. According to Socrates, this observation caused those two men and many other people to dislike Socrates long ago. Disturbed by being disliked, Socrates investigated the oracle's statement about him with politicians and found that people who were supposed to be the wisest were the least and those thought to be unwise were the wisest. He also investigated the oracle's statement with poets and found that because poets have some inborn talent to write poetry, they falsely thought they were wise in other areas. He also investigated the oracle's statement with craftsmen and found that while they did know things that he did not know, they also falsely believed that their knowledge of crafts made them wiser in other areas. After seeing their ignorance in believing that they are wise in areas in which they are not wise, Socrates chose to be who he is (Plato, Grube, & Cooper, 2000, p. 26). All this investigation, along with his statements to the first two men considered wise, made him very unpopular. Socrates has continued in his investigations of supposedly wise people, as have the young men who follow him, and this has caused people to say "That man Socrates is a pestilential fellow who corrupts the young" (Plato, Grube, & Cooper, 2000, p. 26). Consequently, according to Socrates, these men continue to level charges against him, though they cannot really name anything specifically wrong that he has done.

Socrates then takes on his later accusers, including Meletus, who claim, "Socrates is guilty of corrupting the young and of not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in other new spiritual things" (Plato, Grube, & Cooper, 2000, p. 27). Socrates takes on these charges point by point. As to the first charge, Socrates attacks Meletus as someone who has never really cared about corrupting youth. Then, by question and answer, Socrates asserts that Meletus believes all Athenians except Socrates make the young men good. Then, by question and answer, Socrates asserts that if he does harm to even one young man, he does so against his own will, and since he does so unwillingly, Meletus should not bring him to court; rather, Meletus should instruct him privately, which he has not done. As to the second charge, Socrates engages in questions and answers again with Meletus, Socrates pins Meletus down in claiming that Socrates believes in no gods at all and teaches that disbelief to the young men by teaching them that Socrates "says that the sun is stone, and the moon earth" (Plato, Grube, & Cooper, 2000, p. 29). Socrates then claims that this charge is ridiculous because those young men can find those teachings in books and would ridicule Socrates if he tried to pass off those teaching as his own. Socrates then asserts that Meletus' charges are inconsistent because he claims that Socrates believes in no god but believes in other gods. Socrates then pins down Meletus through a series of questions and eventually asks, "Does any man believe in spiritual activities who does not believe in spirits?" (Plato, Grube, & Cooper, 2000, p. 30). Meletus is forced to answer in the negative. Socrates goes on to say that since he believes in spirits and Meletus acknowledges it, Meletus cannot logically say that Socrates does not believe in gods. Socrates reiterates that he is unpopular and states that if he is convicted, it will be because of his unpopularity and not because of the legitimacy of the charges lodged by Meletus or anyone else. Socrates then poses arguments for being a philosopher, though that might lead to his death, because he accepted that life when the god ordered him to do so and that fear of death should not and will not dissuade him from that life. Socrates goes on to say that if they convict and execute or banish him, they will harm themselves more than they harm him because his work is a gift from the god that will not be easily replaced, especially because he does so for no fee and is poor. Socrates then explains why he has never entered public life, because "A man who really fights for justice must lead a private, not a public, life if he is to survive for even a short time" (Plato, Grube, & Cooper, 2000, p. 34). Socrates then refers to the fact that nobody he supposedly corrupted, and nobody who could speak for them, has come forward to accuse him of corrupting young men; rather, they are there to support him because he has not corrupted anyone and is telling the truth, whereas his accusers are lying. Finally, Socrates maintains that he will not beg for his life, though he has a family, and that if they are to convict anyone, it should be the one who cries and begs for his life rather than Socrates.

b. Socrates' Counter-Assessment

After Socrates is found guilty and Meletus requests a sentence of death, Socrates gives his counter-assessment and alternate penalty. According to Socrates, the penalty should be something deserved. Rejecting possible punishments of imprisonment, fines and banishment, and since he has devoted his life to serving the people of Athens without charge, his sentence should be free meals in the Prytaneum (Plato, Grube, & Cooper, 2000, p. 38). Socrates also gives the possibility of a very small fine that he can afford or a small fine that Plato and some others are willing to pay (Plato, Grube, & Cooper, 2000, p. 39).

c. Socrates' Final Words to the Jury

After the jury maintains that the sentence should be death, Socrates addresses the people who convicted him and the people who voted for his acquittal. To the jurors who voted to convict, Socrates says: he would die soon naturally because he is 70 but now they will be responsible for his death and allow the condemnation of Athens for their condemnation of him (Plato, Grube, & Cooper, 2000, p. 40); he could have won if he played to their emotions but he decided to give the Truth instead (Plato, Grube, & Cooper, 2000, p. 40); other philosophers will come to take his place because it is philosophy and not really Socrates that was tried (Plato, Grube, & Cooper, 2000, pp. 40-1); they will be treating him and his sons justly by admonishing his sons if they believe his sons are more interested in anything other than virtue or think they are somebody though they are nobody (Plato, Grube, & Cooper, 2000, p. 42). To the people who voted for acquittal, Socrates says: his divine sign never tried to discourage him from saying exactly what he said to the jury and therefore the result is good (Plato, Grube, & Cooper, 2000,…

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