Socrates, in his conviction from the Athenian jury, was both innocent and guilty as charged. In Plato’s Five Dialogues, accounts of events ranging from just prior to Socrates’ entry into the courthouse up until his mouthful of hemlock, both points are represented. Socrates’ in dealing with moral law was not guilty of the crimes he was accused of by Meletus. Socrates was only guilty as charged because his peers had concluded him as such. The laws didn’t find Socrates guilty; Socrates was guilty because his jurors enforced the laws.
The law couldn’t enforce itself. Socrates was accused of corrupting Athens’ youth, not believing in the gods of the city and creating his own gods. In the Euthyphro, Socrates defends himself against the blasphemous charges outside the courthouse to a priest Euthyphro. Socrates looks to the priest to tell him what exactly is pious so that he may educate himself as to why he would be perceived as impious. Found in the Apology, another of Plato’s Five Dialogues, Socrates aims to defend his principles to the five hundred and one person jury.
Finally, the Crito, an account of Socrates’ final discussion with his good friend Crito, Socrates is offered an opportunity to escape the prison and his death sentence. As is known, Socrates rejected the suggestion. It is in the Euthyphro and the Apology that it can be deduced that Socrates is not guilty as charged, he had done nothing wrong and he properly defended himself. However, in the Crito, it is shown that Socrates is guilty only in the interpretation and enforcement of Athens’ laws through the court system and its jurors. Socrates’ accusations of being blasphemous are also seen as being treasonous.
In the Euthyphro, Socrates is making his way into the courthouse; however, prior to entering he had a discussion with a young priest of Athens, Euthyphro. This dialogue relates religion and justice to one another and the manner in which they correlate. Euthyphro feels as though justice necessitates religion and Socrates feels the opposite, religion necessitates justice. Euthyphro claims that religion is everything, justice, habits, traditions, customs, cultures, etc. all are derived from religion. Socrates went on to question what exactly would be the definition of pious.
Euthyphro offered Socrates three definitions of pious and in all three Socrates was able to successfully find fault. The first definition Euthyphro offered was that piety is the life he lives (5e). Socrates disputed this definition because he said that Euthyphro’s way of life may be pious, but it is not the definition of pious. If it were the exact definition, only Euthyphro would be pious. He said that Euthyphro did not understand the difference between a definition and an example. Next, Euthyphro says that piety is found in things that are dear to the gods (7a).
Socrates again rejected Euthyphro’s definition of piety. The Greek gods were anthropomorphic; therefore, another may despise what would be dear to one god. This definition offered was not distinct. Finally, Euthyphro said that what is pious is what loved by the gods (9e). However, Euthyphro can’t answer whether something is pious because it is loved or it is loved because it is pious. He can’t conceive the difference between cause and effect. It is in the Euthyphro that Socrates begins his defense of his actions and principles to the reader.
A priest can’t give him a concise answer as to what is religious; therefore, how can anyone else, especially one less religiously guided than a priest, accuse him of blasphemous actions? In the Apology, Socrates aimed to do three things: defend his ideas and principles, continue to teach those who will open their mind and state that he knew regardless of what he said he was aware that all five hundred and one jurors knew who he was and disliked him. Socrates was well aware of the fact that he had made multiple enemies, he knew that the politicians, poets, rich and craftsmen all had reasons to dislike his actions.
Socrates went as far as to accuse the jury as not trusting the gods because they had not believed the oracle when it said that Socrates was the wisest in all of Athens (20d-e). If the jury and the people of Athens believed the oracle, the word of the gods, then Socrates would not be on trial. In the Apology, or defense, Socrates aims to legally justify his actions. He is accused of three things: corrupting Athens’ youth, not believing in the gods of the city and making up new gods. All three charges can be related back to treason and a large penalty. Socrates almost laughs off the first charge of corrupting the youth.
He made a sensible argument as to why that charge made no sense and had no base. He said that willingly corrupting the youth of Athens would only make his living there more difficult. Logically, no one would aim to make his or her home a more dangerous, corrupt place to live (25d). He then asks his accusers to present some sort of evidence, a corrupted youth. Socrates knew that none of his students would speak out against him. To defend himself against the second and third charges, Socrates simply says that his belief in any new gods would necessitate believing in the old gods because the new gods are derived from the old gods (26c).
In the Apology, conceivably, Socrates defended himself decisively against the three legal charges brought upon him. He was able to offer sufficient resistance, with a lack of prosecuting evidence, against the allegations. Plato uses the Crito, a discussion between Socrates and Crito, to display exactly why, even though innocent, Socrates accepted the penalties bestowed upon him. Socrates has thoroughly justified his own decision to obey the opinions of the majority and serve out the sentence that his own city has deemed appropriate for his crimes.
Throughout the dialogue Socrates is explaining his reasoning for not running from the government. Crito does not understand the madness of Socrates, Crito will do whatever it takes to help his friend to flee, instead of being exiled by the government. “I do not think that what you are doing is right, to give up your life when you can save it, and to hasten your fate as your enemies would hasten it, and indeed have hastened it in their wish to destroy you” (58c). Throughout the Crito, two major ideas are established in the discussion of the two friends.
The first being that a person must decide whether the society in which they live has a just reasoning behind it’s own standards of right and wrong. It is also examined whether or not the person has the option to leave if they don’t agree with the laws of the city. Socrates has lived his whole life in Athens; therefore, he feels that there is an implied contract between himself and the laws of Athens. “Not one of our laws raises any obstacle or forbids him, if he is not satisfied with us or the city, if one of you wants to go and live in a colony or wants to go anywhere else, and keep his property (63d).
Socrates states; that making a conscious choice or effort to remain under the influence of a society is an unconscious agreement with that society to live your life by its standards and virtues. The second concept established between Socrates and Crito is that a person must have pride in the life that he or she leads. If Socrates does not face the penalties enforced, it would be the same as him disrespecting his own morals and principles. He would have followed them until they led him to hardships, and then abandoned them.
In this, Socrates feels that escaping to survive would only result in the death of his teachings, the reason why he lives. “I am the kind of man who listens only to the argument that on reflection seems best to me. I cannot, now that this fate has come upon me, discard the arguments I used; they seen to me much the same (59b). In establishing basic questions of these two concepts, Socrates has precluded his own circumstance and attempted to prove to his companion Crito, that the choice that he has made is just.
He states that his decision is justified by the fact that the laws and governing agents of the society must command a certain degree of respect. Any person who would unjustly disobey these laws creates a deliberate attempt to destroy them, as well as, the society that has imposed them. “However, that whoever of you remains when he sees how we conduct our trials and manage the city in other ways, has in fact come to an agreement with us to obey our instructions (63e).
If the decisions of the city’s governing agents are not thoroughly respected as just and cohesive parts of society, the very structure by which the society stands is subject to collapse. Socrates was not guilty as charged; he had done nothing wrong, as seen in the Apology. Not even a priest could tell Socrates what he had done wrong religiously, Euthyphro wasn’t even able to give Socrates a precise definition of piety. It is then questioned by Crito why Socrates would remain to face a penalty for a crime he did not commit.
In the Crito, it is explained why, although innocent, Socrates must accept the penalties his peers have set upon him. It is his peers that will interpret and enforce the laws, not the law which will enforce it. Even if the enforcers don’t deserve attention and respect because they have no real knowledge to the situation, Socrates had put himself under their judgment by going to the trial. Therefore, Socrates must respect the decisions made by the masses because the decisions are made to represent the laws, which demand each citizen’s respect.
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