The Apology is Plato’s accurate depiction of the Socrates’ own defense at the trial provoked by Meletus. However, besides current accusers, Socrates has to speak out to defense against former accusers who have created prejudices of him for long time. Former accusers prosecute Socrates for “studying things in the sky and below the earth” and “[making] the worse into the stronger argument” (Plato 18b-c). Moreover, Meletus, who is one of recent accusers, charges Socrates of “[corrupting] the young and not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in new spiritual things” (Plato 24c).
The dialogue between Socrates and the jury as well as Meletus describes the true personality of Socrates and answers the question if Socrates is guilty or innocent of those charges. First, Socrates is accused of studying “things in the sky and things below the earth” (Plato 23d). In this time period, Athenian people believe that gods are the ones who create and rule the world. Everyone must believe in and worship with no doubt.
Therefore, if anyone tries to study and explain matters in terms of natural phenomenon instead of religious belief, he or she is immediately charged of not believing in gods and receives punishments from whole society. In this case, older accusers believe that what Socrates is doing is as same as other philosophers who trying to oppose religious belief and negatively impact the society. This is reflected by the comedy of Aristophanes depicting Socrates as a person who has ability to “walk on air” and present “a lot of other nonsense” matters (Plato 19c).
However, Socrates proves that he is not that type of person and he does not have any knowledge of those matters by saying “I do not speak in contempt of such knowledge” and asking if anyone has ever heard him discussing about these subjects (Plato 19d). In fact, Socrates’ occupation is a wisdom searcher who dedicates his life to find wise men and to discuss about virtues (Poage). Therefore, the first accusation is not true, and Socrates is not guilty because Socrates does not “[study] things in the sky and things below earth” to oppose the trust of gods.
Second, the earlier accusers prosecute Socrates for “[making] the worse into the stronger argument” as many Sophists do (Plato 18b-c). The accusers claim that Socrates is one of many Sophists who are “very good speakers. Indeed, they [have] reputations for being able to convince a crowd that up [is] down, that day [is] night, that the wrong answer could be the right answer, that good [is] bad and bad is good, even that injustice is justice and justice would be made to appear as injustice” (Pecorino). Furthermore, Sophists are paid for delivering speech and only care about winning debates and lawsuits more than anything else.
Thus, most of them are feared and hated by Athenian people. Nevertheless, Socrates distinguish himself from Sophists by giving evidence that he “live[s]in great poverty because of [his] service to the god” (Plato 23b). While Sophists such as Gorgias of Leontini, Producs of Ceos, and Hippias of Elis charge fee for their services, Socrates never asks or receive money from anyone whom he approaches and asks questions regarding to wisdom and virtue. Unlike Sophists who are wealth and famous, Socrates is so poor because of his free service.
In addition, Socrates’ intention is to help other people understand virtue and become wiser rather than teaching them how to become good speakers as Sophists do. Therefore, Socrates is not guilty of “[making] the worse into the stronger argument” (Plato 18b-c). Another charged brought by later accusers against Socrates is “corrupting the young” (Plato 23d). Socrates teaches his young men be wiser and think about themselves. This annoys the Athenian government and officials because they think those young could break the laws and create rumor among the society.
Hence, Meletus prosecutes Socrates for teaching the young to go against the government and emphasizes that all the Athenians make the young become better except Socrates (Plato 25b). In order to reverse that accusation, Socrates uses example of horse breeders who are trained and have experience to take care of horses and make them better while the majority lacking of skills and knowledge cannot. As a result, it is impossible for all the Athenians to know what benefits the young. Only Socrates who has knowledge and skills is able to teach the best for the young.
Moreover, Socrates indicates that no one wants to harm oneself; neither does Socrates. If he intentionally corrupts the young, he is putting himself at risk because “the wicked people do some harm to their closest neighbors while good people do them good” (Plato 25e). Therefore, it is impossible for Socrates to teach the young in the way to harm him. After Socrates disproves Metelus’ charge, he criticizes Metelus’ prosecuting procedure. If Socrates harms the young unintentionally, Metelus has to “get hold of [Socrates] privately, instruct and exhort [Socrates]” (Plato 26).
In contrast, Meletus brings Socrates straight to the court “where the law requires one to bring those who are in need of punishment, not of instruction” (Plato 26). As a result, Socrates again shows that he is not guilty. The last accusation brought against Socrates is “not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in other new spiritual things” (Plato 24c). In order to prove that Socrates does not trust in gods, Meletus states that Socrates “says that the sun is stone, and the moon earth” (Plato 26d).
If Socrates does say this statement, he denies the presence of Apollo the god of the sun and the presence of Selene the goddess of the moon. Nevertheless, Socrates claims that Anaxagoras of Clazomenae is actually the one who said those matters. Moreover, Socrates catches Meletus’s contradiction when he claims that Socrates does not trust in gods. To make Meletus admit his contradiction, Socrates asks Meletus “[d]oes any man believe in spiritual activities who does not believe in spirits? ” and Meletus answers there is no one (Plato 27c).
Socrates believes in the Oracle of Delphi which is related to spiritual activities, and everyone in Athens including Meletus knows that. This means that Meletus agrees that Socrates also believe in spirits which are “either gods or the children of gods” (Plato 27d). Now, Meletus contradicts himself by saying Socrates believe in gods. Consequently, Socrates successfully shows Meletus’s false and prove that he not guilty of the charge. In conclusion, Socrates is not guilty of the charges from the earlier accusers as well as the recent ones.
Socrates provides many evidences and uses his excellent argument skill to prove that he is innocent, but the jury still is not convinced and sentences him to death. What Socrates does is not harmful to anyone in Athens; he only try to question about wisdom and discuss about ethics in order to find the answer for the Oracle. Socrates teaches his students to realize that they are not wise as they thought and show them the way to better themselves by seeking more wisdom.
Unfortunately, jealous people and conservative culture does not understand his divine destiny and fallaciously accuse him like a criminal. Works Cited Pecorino, Philip A. An Introduction to Philosophy: An Online Textbook. Study Web. n. d. Web. 13 July 2013. Plato. Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. , 2002. Print. Poage, Nathan. Apology Outline. Behavioral & Social Sciences Department. Houston Community College. n. d. Web. 13 July 2013.
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