In Greek apologia is not an apology but a defense.
trial happened in 399 BC in Athens.
randomly chosen 501 free, adult, male Athenians.
- First vote: guilty: 280, innocent: 231 (source: The
- Second vote: death: 360?, fine: 141? (source: Diogenes Laertius,
a number of centuries later; in any case, more voted for death than for
guilt; Socrates obviously offended people with his post-conviction
suggestion of free meals for life).
was eventually executed by being made to drink hemlock. We’ll read about
What was Socrates accused of?
- Bias from “old accusers”. E.g., Aristophanes, 423 BC, The
Clouds. Probably Socrates is being ironical here (18c), because the
story goes that S. himself attended and enjoyed the play, and moreover
Plato is not at all mean-spirited towards Aristophanes in the Symposium.
The character S. in The Clouds is concerned with all kinds of
scientific things, like measuring how far a flea jumps and doing
astronomy. Moreover, he is an atheist, attributing everything that is
normally attributed to the gods to the Clouds, i.e., to forces of
nature. Many things there that S. does are things that S. famously
disliked. Astronomy. Payment for teaching. Rhetoric.
- Meddling with things in heaven and under the earth.
- “[M]akes the worse into the stronger argument” (19b).
This is what the Sophists specialized in. An art. (Lawyers do it
- And corrupting the youth (23c.)
- New accusers. Denying the gods and bringing in new
“spiritual things” (daimonia).
did he defend himself?
- He does not teach (19e). (So what does he do?)
- Chairephon went to Delphi and came back from the Oracle
having been told that Socrates is the wisest person. But Socrates knows
nothing. Socrates then sought those reputed wise. (Constant
interplay of reality vs. appearance.) (21c: “appeared wise) It turns
out that they, too, did not know, but they thought they knew. They
disliked him. Anyway, Socrates turns out to be wiser as he knows that he
does not know, while they do not know. Observe their hubris: they
go beyond what they know, thinking themselves better and more
knowledgeable than they are.
- Those with higher reputations less knowledgeable (22a).
- Then poets. What does S. say about the poets (22bc)?
- Quandary: Cannot accuse the poets too much. Homer’s
stature. “Inspiration.” Does S. mean this? Or is he being ironic? He
- Craftsmen. Do they know something? Yes. So what is
the problem? They think there are things they know which they don’t.
There is specialization in various things—but in matters of philosophy
everyone thinks himself competent. Doesn’t this phenomenon continue?
Take for instance how a scientist may think that just by being a
scientist he or she is entitled to make certain claims in ethics.
Thus, some scientists think they can speak out about the ethics of
cloning just because they are scientists.
- 23b: How is S. serving the god? Which god? (Apollo.)
- He (famously) believed in a spirit that spoke to him
when he was going to do something he shouldn’t—hence he is not an
- 23c: Corrupting the youth—no, just youth make
themselves annoying after learning S.’s method.
- S. points out ad hominem the absurdity of
the opponent’s position that everybody else manages to teach the youth
well but only S. corrupts them (24d-25c). The opponent holds to this
position so as to ingratiate himself with the jury. Here, S. may be
trying to highlight the dishonesty of his accuser.
- S. brings in analogy with care of horses. Not
everyone knows how to do it. By analogy, not everyone knows how to
teach excellence or virtue to people.
- People who would not dream of figuring out on their
own what to do about a tumor they have, and who would always see a
doctor about that, feel quite free to figure out, on their own, what to
do with their lives, even though this is more important. And many
people when faced with a moral dilemma feel no need to ask any expert.
- Socrates likes to raise paradoxes ironically. For
even though he has given this argument, the paradoxical fact is that he
has not found any experts in philosophy. Not even the Evenus he
- If S. knowingly corrupted the youth, then he would be
harming himself because he was around them (25d-26a). But surely no one
harms himself knowingly or willingly. (Really?) (35d)
- S. is a gadfly. (Why?)
3. Discussion: Central doctrine. “Neither Meletus nor Anytus
can harm me in any way.” (30c)
- Related doctrine: The evildoer harms herself more than
she harms her victim (30d) [Paradox: If the evildoer does not harm S.,
how is he an evildoer? Possible answer: He intends to harm S.]
- Related doctrine: Even if death be the cost, must do the
right thing. (28b and on)
- Related doctrine: Should prefer “the best possible state
of your soul” to everything (30a).
All this is, according to S., in obedience to a god, namely Apollo. (29d)
thus have three ideas for how one should act:
- Obeying the gods.
- Doing the right thing, e.g., avoiding injustice, no
matter what the cost.
- Doing what benefits you.
thinks that at least the last two, and quite possibly all three, come to
the same thing. Is he right?