Critical Analysis of The Apology of Socrates by Plato

Categories: Socrates
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Socrates was an orator and philosopher whose primary interests were logic, ethics and epistemology. In Plato’s Apology of Socrates, Plato recounts the speech that Socrates gave shortly before his death, during the trial in 399 BC in which he was charged with “corrupting the young, and by not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, also being a busybody and intervene gods business”. The name of the work itself is not mean what it is appeared; here, Socrates is not apologizing, but merely speaking in defense of his beliefs and actions – the word apology is used in the context of its original meaning.

During this apology, Socrates attempts to explain himself and the decisions that led to his action, educating his audience in the philosophical questions he chooses to pose. Socrates does not try to avoid death in the trial; instead, his goal is to enlighten the public for the last time before his own passing. Socrates was always fascinated with the solving of questions, both big and small; his approach was to use the Socratic method of inquiry, wherein he would break the problem down into several questions, and then systematically find the answers to each question in order to find the larger answer.

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It was a methodical and practical approach to show his ultimate quest for seeking the true knowledge. He says, “His wisdom is truly worthless”; this is indicative of his unending search for more and more knowledge (Apology 23b). According to him, philosophy starts by admitting that you are ignorant of the truth, which is what he does here.

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It is with this approach to philosophical questions and dilemmas – the use of Socratic irony – that Socrates chooses to engage with his audience and demonstrate why he did what he did. The Socratic method of dialectical investigation utilized arguments to try and determine ethics and truth.

Two techniques were primarily used by Socrates: first, he would create a hypothesis, and then he would investigate any potential conflicts with that hypothesis. Assumptions and presumptions would be challenged in order to discover what was true. Socrates focused on valuing thought above all else. His primary method was asking questions, developing hypotheses, and testing them to see if the evidence supported them. Socrates, for the most part, values the integrity of society, and feels as though a group of people coming together to form a community should be respected by honoring the social contract.

At the same time, there are aspects of the self that are more important than a communal whole, and a society must be made up of individuals that follow the principles shared by the whole. One should not be forced to behave in a manner inconsistent with their beliefs; an ideal society is comprised of individuals who may all subscribe to the different philosophies but are able to listen and except others idea the same time. As Socrates mentioned in the text that a person should be judge by what he have down, not by his behavior.

It is only then that justice can be really served. Socrates’ approach to the trial is admirable; instead of expressing panic or desperation at the prospect of his life ending, the man instead maintains his calm and simply, effectively explains his position. He presents himself as the ideal philosopher, being unwavering in his justification for his actions and wishing to inspire his audience. Using his own use of figure of speech and his Socratic principles, he breaks down discussions he has with characters such as the Delphic oracle, Meletus, and more to expound his ideas.

The beginning of Socrates’ argument relies on the aforementioned acknowledgement of Socratic irony – the most philosophical man is the one who admits his ignorance, and is able to point out the ignorance of others. When the oracle of Delphi told Chaerephon that no one is wiser than Socrates, he chose to go on a journey to deal with this paradox; he knew he was ignorant, so he could not be wiser than everyone else. To that end, he questioned politicians, poets and craftsmen, it coming to the ineffable conclusion that none of them knew what they were talking about either.

At that end, Socrates claims he began to see himself as a representative of the oracle’s words; instead of pretending to know a great deal, he chose to profess his ignorance and be honest with himself about it (23e). To that end, he was able to act as himself and maintain his integrity. During the trial, Socrates holds everyone else to the same standard; when he talks about Meletus, his accuser, he calls him out on not actually caring about what he professes to care about – namely, the charges against Socrates.

Through the trial, Socrates has proved not only Meletus do not care about the matter he mentioned in the charge, also he has no idea what is he talking about either a lot or a little, Socrates cleverly seduced Meletus go into his trap, by using the anger that Meletus hold against Socrates. Because obvious there are some much better answers for Meletus to answer. Socrates had very specific ideas regarding what constituted ‘the good life. ‘ To him, the most important value a person has is virtue, and the good life is spent looking for the Good. This was known as the love of wisdom.

Socrates had little regard for worldly affairs, and the material or pleasurable things that many people might consider to contribute to ‘the good life’; instead, he thought that the best thing to do in life is to “pursue the love of wisdom,” instead of “money, and reputation, and public honor” (Apology 29d-30b). He defended this by living the philosophy, and emphasizing certain virtues that were purported to be the best things that humanity could offer itself. By avoiding the search for wealth and instead growing as people, Socrates attempted to build a community of better individuals.

Socrates firmly believed that a higher order should be followed when conducting one’s life; whenever divine authority conflicts with human authority, one must follow divine authority first. “Gentlemen, I am your grateful and devoted servant, but I owe a greater obedience to God than to you; and as long as I draw breath and have my faculties I shall never stop practicing philosophy” (Apology). He feels he has a duty, as a philosopher, to constantly question and examining the world around him to find answers, since his professed ignorance frees him from pretending he already knows said answers.

All of these arguments comment heavily on the charges against Socrates; in essence, people hated his questioning and argumentation, as well as the perception that he was insulting those whom he was interrogating. Socrates lamented the focus on material wealth and power, at the expense of eschewing internal exploration and philosophy. “Are you not ashamed that you give your attention to acquiring as much money as possible, and similarly with reputation and honor, and give no attention or thought to truth and understanding and the perfection of your soul? ” (Apology).

Here, he is condemning his audience (and the people of Athens) for not working toward the greatest good, which is the study of self and the world around them; this is the reason for his interrogating, and the very thing they are punishing him for. If he has to be irritating and annoying to his peers, so be it; he will not stop until he improves the lives of the people he lives with, “and all day long I will never cease to settle here, there and everywhere, rousing, persuading, and reproving every one of you” (Apology 30e). This is a bold statement that proves his use of his defense to educate the people of Athens as to their own problems.

In his second speech, after the jury voted guilty, He provided his version of penalty that he thinks he deserves. Obvious there could be a better way to persuade the jury, unfortunately it is not how Socrates wants it to down. He keeps denying the penalty and showed no respect to the jury. The conclusion to his action is Socrates knows the life he will have will never be the same, and if the life is not turn out as he wanted, then it is not worth to living. He believes what he does is the best life for human being, and he was tried to teach the audiences a lesson.

He notes that it might have been possible for him to save his life by begging the court’s mercy and appealing to them. However, he did not do this; this was not out of ignorance or ineffectiveness in his approach, but he wanted to be honest and truthful about his opinions – namely, that the jury and those who were charging him were afraid of his criticism. To Socrates, it is better to die as an honest man who is unafraid of his convictions than to live having sacrificed them. Because of that, he wants to make an example of himself to the jury, proving a life lived honestly is one which brings greater peace.

In his final argument, when the jury votes to execute Socrates, he regarding his impending death plays into his central thesis. According to Socrates, there are two kinds of death: death as annihilation (you go to sleep and feel and experience nothing more) and death as transmigration (where you have a soul which goes somewhere else). Definition is defended by Socrates; the annihilation should be looked forward to like you would finally going to sleep, and transmigration would simply allow him to talk to other great figures like Homer and Odysseus and learn from their wisdom.

Again he use this argument to reiterate his central idea, such as people think they know about death but they actually not, and people needs keep examining, questioning, until the end of their life. In the end, Socrates even wishing his enemy well; he feels that, if you are a good man, you have nothing to fear in the life or the afterlife. He does not begrudge or hate his accusers and merely wishes to teach others to place the human good over the materialism and that corrupting his peers.

His last words are, “Well, now it is time to be off, I to die and you to live; but which of us has the happier prospect is unknown to anyone but God” (42a). After all Socrates is one of the best philosophers in the human history, unfortunate he is fail to enlightening the most people in his age, the method of his is full of satirize, harsh, and direct to the sensitive position of people’s mind, it may solve the “problem”, but come with huge consequence. However, he understood it, he knows what he have down, may someday bring him to the trial even death, the determination of him pursuing the goodness is unparalleled.

Even many people thought his ideas is incomprehensible, and he said in the text that he is not a good citizen, still he is as good as a human being can be. After I read the Crito, his death sentence, to him, was the unfortunate but understandable result of living in a society that oversaw its peers. Despite his innocence, and the belief that the Athenian government was in desperate need of change, he still abided by its rules; he believed that one can change the system from within, but you must still adhere to the decisions that society makes.

In conclusion, Socrates’ defense at the trial, portrayed in Plato’s Apology, was simply another platform by which he sustain his philosophies about the virtue of thinking, self-improvement, and acting as a part of a greater whole of civilization. He was punished and put to death for asking too many questions and corrupting the young, when in fact he was simply wishing to point out the ignorance of his peers (which he also shares).

The principle of Socratic irony, wherein people are most philosophical when they admit they know nothing, was something that Socrates was trying to get other people to admit; despite their professed knowledge, they truly were ignorant, and so they were learning nothing by not reconciling this attitude. While the trial did not save his life, Socrates did not care – his intent was to show people the true meaning of living a human life, as well as demand greater examination of themselves.

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Critical Analysis of The Apology of Socrates by Plato. (2016, Nov 30). Retrieved from

Critical Analysis of The Apology of Socrates by Plato

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