|THIS NEEDS A LOT OF EDITING!!!!!!
The Apology is the second in a
series of four sequential dialogues written by Plato relating the history of the trial and
death of his mentor, Socrates (Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo). We recall
that Socrates' trial occurs in 399 BC, at the very end of the fifth century BC, the end of
the Golden Age, the end of Athens' supremacy in the Aegean (she lost the Peloponnesian War
to Sparta and allies a mere five years before the trial, in 404 BC). The Athenian
political scene was in turmoil, and everybody was looking for someone to blame for their
great losses. And Socrates, because of his philosophy, demeanor, opposition to the forces
in power, as well as his general popularity among the young, was the perfect scapegoat.
Because of the trumped-up nature
of the charges, it is helpful to know why Socrates is targeted for such unfair treatment.
We begin with a brief overview of Socrates' own political record, which explains how and
why those in power might target him as a political threat. Socrates had proved himself to
be a rebel against unjust authority several times over: when The Thirty were in power, he
flatly refused to carry out an order to arrest an innocent man, flouting their tyrannical
authority. In the Apology, Socrates himself refers to another occasion when he
attempted to maintain good justice against majority opinion: he had been the only senator
to object to the unconstitutional trial and subsequent death sentences of the eight
generals present at the Battle of Arginusae in 406. At that time, Socrates spoke
righteously, with an understanding of the dangers of an assembly swayed by violent
emotion, and objected to the violation of their own rules by pronouncing sentence on all
the men together, instead of providing separate trials.
Ironically, Socrates himself falls victim to a similar injustice, pointing out in the Apology
that his accusers violate the rule disallowing a one-day trial, and suggests that this
violation contributed to his conviction and sentence. It is this historical background
that allows us to see how a new age of philosophy could develop - under the restored
democracy, patriotism ceased to be a man's highest virtue, and a cult of individualism
spread. Socrates himself is a good example of a man who began to question whether the
individual existed for the state, or the state for the individual.
Refutation of the Charges:
Let's go directly to the text and
see Socrates' refutation of each of the charges against him: "Socrates is an
evil-doer, and a curious person, who searches into things under the earth and in heaven,
and he makes the worse appear the better cause; and he teaches the aforesaid doctrine to
others." In response to this charge, Socrates claims that Aristophanes is partly to
blame for such a warped perception of him, and you need to know the basic premise of
Aristophanes' play, the Clouds:
a brief discussion of The
Clouds is in order. This naturally would lead into a discussion of the next charge,
that he was a teacher paid for his efforts, because Aristophanes portrays him as a
sophist, an assessment Socrates vehemently denies. The final accusation, that Socrates is
a "doer of evil, who corrupts the youth; and who does not believe in the gods of the
state, but has other new divinities of his own," was once before levied successfully
against the philosopher Protagoras, convicted of the same charge of impiety in 415.
In his Apology, Socrates
engages rather more in accusation than in defense, perhaps because even though the
particular charges brought against him are false, they are in spirit irrefutably true: in
the eyes of the assembly, he was a "corrupter of the young," urging them
to think independently and thus question authority, although those so-called corrupted
youth, now mature, will not speak out against him. Socrates thus does nothing to try to
appease his detractors, and pricks them with his own brand of arrogance. He claims that
his behavior is due to his desire to prove the Delphic Oracle's claim that "there was
no man wiser than Socrates." Socrates admits that at first he misunderstood the
riddle, assuming the Oracle thought him more wise than he was. But in his attempts to
unravel the oracle's mysterious message, through innumerable discussions with politicians,
tragedians, poets (cf. the Ion) and artisans, he came to realize that all men
believe themselves to be wiser than they really are, and that no man, including Socrates,
is wise at all. It is better to realize you are not wise, says Socrates, than to falsely
think you are: "an unexamined life is not worth living" is perhaps Socrates'
best epitaph, a tenet by which he both lived and died. By proving that no man's
convictions could withstand his examination, Socrates correctly suggests that he has made
enemies of those whose ignorance and arrogance he has revealed. This also stands as proof
against the charge of impiety, for Socrates claims that it is his very devotion to the god
that has brought about his downfall: by causing others to see the wisdom in the oracle's
pronouncement, by revealing the great lacks of "pretenders to wisdom," he has
earned only criticism, enemies and poverty.
In his explanation of why the
prospect of death does not discomfit him, Socrates uses mythical and literary allusions
(to be discussed) to suggest that death may very well be "a good" (cf. the Phaedo,
Republic): "the difficulty, my friends, is not to avoid death, but to avoid
unrighteousness." Socrates claims that men should strive to achieve the greatest
improvement of the soul, to seek virtue instead of petty attainments such as power or
wealth; after his fate is sealed, he asks his friends to watch out for this very flaw in
his own sons. Socrates claims not to fear being hurt by anyone, for "a bad man cannot
injure a man better than himself." Socrates here also coins the word
"gad-fly," claiming that the state needs someone removed from public affairs to
keep a reproachful, questioning eye on the state's leaders in order to keep them honest.
He claims they will be the worse off without him. We are reminded that since they break
their own laws in rushing to judge him, and there is no one to stop them, they are
convicting him unconstitutionally. Socrates ends his speech by stating that "no evil
can happen to a good man, either in life or after death."