The Apology of Socrates: Into Thy Hands of Athenian Democracy and Gods attempts to elucidate the philosophical underpinnings of Socrates in his apologia. This will also attempt to criticize the Socratic approach and make a conclusion on Socrates’ human nature as pervasive in every sense of the word in human beings.
Plato, who lived 427–347 B.C., was born into a prominent Athenian family and was one of Socrates’ apologists but never the greatest adherent. One thing they disagreed is on the being of a human soul. For Socrates, it is immortal (41c). Plato believes it is eternal.
Socrates, the most influential Greek philosopher who lived around 469–399 B.C., can be well-remembered and revered by most philosophers as the great “architect” of philosophy changing how philosophy itself is thought of and viewed.
The Apology of Socrates by Plato dramatizes Socrates’ act of his defense before the citizens (men) of Athens against the Athenian sophists’ indictments. Hence, the title itself denotes a defense speech against accusations or apologia in Greek. From Oxford Languages, the etymology of the word apology is from the Greek roots apo- (away from, off) and -logia (from logos that means speech).
Plato, the student of Socrates, wrote The Apology detailing the speech defense of his teacher against the allegations of the two classes of accusers: the general citizens of Athens that may likely be composed of sophists (not real sophists from Socrates’ view), and the specific citizens of Athens composed by names of Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon—the three main accusers of Socrates.
The speech defense made by Socrates before the Athenians was rooted in two primary claims: polluting the minds of the young and impiety.
Socrates endeavors to prove that the two classes of accusers made wrong charges against him as they slander him before the Athenians. He also attempts to convince Athenians, in his defense, that he is acting just and following the dictates of the “inner voice” he called divine wisdom.
Stirred by the prophetic prediction of the Oracle of Delphi, Socrates was moved, become curious, inspired, and too motivated to prove that the Oracle cannot lie. Thus, he attempted to test the artisans, the poets, and rhetoricians, or any man of his thought are sophos or have thought themselves sophos. In his attempts to challenge the Oracle’s counsel about him, he failed; the Oracle’s words hold water.
When it came the time for Socrates to defend himself against all the accusations, one of the techniques that Socrates employed to weaken the accusation of impiety that exposed Meletus for being considerably inconsistent in his charges against him (27c–28a) is structured logic coupled with the mastery of an art of argumentation that likely confuses the enemy on the subject of the argument making the enemy appear inconsistent—the Socratic Method.
The other technique that Socrates employed in his defense is a reverse psychology technique attempting to persuade the jurors to render judgment in his favor (28b–28d; 29c–29d; 30e–31a) for them to likely arrive at mitigating circumstances to reduce the capital punishment to a penalty of money: 30 coins (37a–38b).
Socrates, in his efforts to influence the decision of the jurors, made expository arguments, or more politically correct, a declaration about the god within him that dictates his day-to-day workings. He also emphasized the significance of an “examined life” that is worth living.
As the jurors’ votes for condemnation came nearly equal to acquittal votes, Socrates tries to convince the jury that staying in prison is rather just (37a). He also believes that he did not even deserve any punishment as what he only did is exercising his philosophy—inquiring about the very nature of things and conversing about virtues.
Then came the jury’s sentence to condemn Socrates to death. Socrates, with his lengthy articulation of how the verdict arrived and on what basis the conviction is anchored, submitted himself to fate (39b).
Socrates prophesies that those who condemned him will certainly suffer a more painful experience than his death (39c–39d). And to those who would have acquitted him, he reveals the meaning of the tragic event that happened to him. He impliedly declares that all that happened to him are within the province of the dictate of the inner voice he had since when he was a child (39e–40a). Socrates, also, expresses the wonder of death—that it should not be even feared. He supposes that there can be no bad things to happen to a good person either in his life or after death.
Finally, Socrates delivers his farewell address as he feels his time has come and that all men go ways. ”I to die, and you live,” he says. Which is better, only god knows.
The Apology of Socrates by Plato reflects the ancient Greece realities on how authoritative the mythical thinking and religious practice or customaries are. The trial and defense of Socrates echoes the political context of the Ancient Greek belief systems in gods and goddesses when it interplays with the status quo of their way of thinking and the influential Sophists’ dictum—the egoistic, powerful elites or religious dogmas as to what in modern times counterparts.
This reality continues to have been seen and observed even in contemporary times, especially in some religious communities, organizations, or cliques, or in some closely-knitted kingdoms and territories where dogmas are laws and politics is justice.
Looking through the lens of philosophical underpinnings elucidated in Plato’s The Apology of Socrates, there are four philosophical concepts revealed. However, one can able to figure out other philosophical concepts depending on how one would like to conceive the trial of Socrates.
- The concept is akin to religious cultural solipsism that plays by the dictum of the prevailing culture and tradition existing in a particular community. This can be viewed by the accusation made by Meletus against Socrates. Influential Athenians during that time are closely-knitted to their belief in god exclusive of their belief systems. It still exists nowadays in tribal, communal, and cultic living. This sort of cultural orientation opens doors to belief systems exclusive to theirs and even extends to selected outsiders.
- Self-illusion embodies the methodical approach of Socrates in dealing with day-to-day matters especially when Socrates became too absurd to believe that he has this “inner voice” that he made it as an internal compass to explore things even beyond imagination. Although Socrates believes that it is rather a divine gift that god (the god that Socrates thought about it) gave him, he seems to be paradoxical when he claims that no one can know the truth except god, yet making his assertions and claims that what he taught and told were truths. When Socrates employs a logical argumentation with Meletus, the former appears confused deviating from the contextual claim of Meletus against him. Instead, Socrates furthers his argument that weakens the impiety accusation by deducing the context of Meletus’ claim while overarching the context of it or employing inductive logical reasoning. To demonstrate, Meletus claims that Socrates believes in the gods that the state does not believes in (24c). Socrates, to utter his counter claim fires his oratorical questioning asking Meletus questions that are obviously and intentionally structured to confuse Meletus.
- The concepts of wisdom, courage, and belief in divine gifts describe Socrates’ view that there can be no sheer ignorance by accepting the truth that no one knows the truth and thus every one shall endeavor to know it—a paradoxical claim.
- The logical fallacy concept is also evident when Socrates engaged in an interrogational dialogue with Meletus proving the latter’s inconsistencies. However, Meletus, viewing from the perspective of what is just, is unarguably consistent with what he claims against Socrates.
Socrates can be viewed as conceited philosopher despite his claim otherwise. His absurd motivation to challenge the Delphic prophecy about him manifests a great amount of narcissistic perspective of individualism. Moreover, Socrates undeniably values the virtue of wisdom, courage, and belief in god (that is god in his own perception), making these virtues as his philosophical foundations.
Plato, The Apology of Socrates. (2020). Center for Hellenic Studies.
Editor’s Note: This article is graduate school work, an assignment submitted to the graduate class in Philosophy at the University of San Carlos. Readers are encouraged to express their opinions and philosophical thoughts relevant to the topic for educational purposes. Philosophy is not about providing absolute true answers but exploring questions to draw out answers that best serve the questions.
Regel Javines attempts to understand life and existence through the lens of gnostic spirituality and ontological mathematics. He has been blogging since 2011 writing news, commentary, and opinion about politics, law, and various pressing social issues of interest. Regel is a graduate student at the University of San Carlos taking up an M.A. in Philosophy. View his profile >>>