The Apology of Socrates by Plato

Personal Notes

I really enjoyed reading the Apology of Socrates through the account of his student, Plato. For some reason, I had the impression that this Apology was much longer. Even at a casual pace, the Apology is so short that it would only take about an hour and a half to read.

If someone where to ask me the question, "Should Socrates have been executed?" based on the facts presented to me here, my answer would be a resounding: NO. Socrates should not have been executed.

If Socrates did commit a crime, they were not the crimes that he was charged with at this trial. Moreover, whatever crime Socrates did commit, those crimes were well below the need of a death penalty. 

The more I read about Socrates, the more I like him. There is a lot to talk about, and I will write my notes down in bullet points and someday fill my ideas out whenever I have free time.

The accuracy of Socrates' crime.

Socrates is defending himself against two crimes:
  1. asebeia (impiety) against the Athenian gods and 
    • "failing to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges"
    • "introducing new deities"
  2. corruption of the youth of the city-state
Both of which, he relayed that there was a big misunderstanding. Though, he did acknowledge that his practice of asking so-called Wise People difficult questions did annoy a lot of influential people. He even referred himself as a gadfly, a helpful gadfly, but a gadfly nonetheless.
Perhaps, Socrates is not guilty of these specific accusations but perhaps he was guilty of something tangentially related to these accusations.

The severity of his punishment.

Similar to how manslaughter is treated differently from murder, Socrates' intent plays a big role in the severity of his punishment.

The punishment of this trial is extreme. Socrates' life hangs on the line. This execution trial could not have been the first warning, but it was the result of multiple warnings which led to this trial. Socrates  probably told in many opportunities to stop.

Political undercurrents and Hidden Stories

The whole trial was very strange and extraordinary. We cannot look at this account from Plato, who was Socrates' student and who post-humorously venerated Socrates after his death, at face value. Could racism, a personal vendetta, or political intrigue be at play here?

I have an inkling that most people did not want Socrates to die. They were just trying to get Socrates to be quiet by using bureaucracy as a means to shut him up. Socrates had multiple chances to escape. He was told long before that the trial was going to take place. Socrates chose to stay and defend himself. Socrates' friends and disciples found a way to bribe the guards and sneak Socrates away at night. Still, Socrates decided to stay. As shown in the trial, Socrates was willing to die for his beliefs and his actions. The final tally of the trial as fairly evenly split: 280 jurors voted guilty, and 220 voted innocent).

There was also the whole 30 Tyrants, Battle of Phyle, and other recent events that definitely played a role. In addition, not all of Socrates' disciples were like the golden boy Plato. Of his many students, Critias was a brutal tyrant and Alcibiades became a traitor.

Socrates' Defense

One of Socrates arguments is that he speaks the truth. And if he speaks the truth, how can he be intentionally corrupting the youth?

Speaking the truth (and even entertaining a possible truth) does not automatically mean that the listener's will be uncorrupted.

First, certain truths may not be appropriate for a person.
- using computers at a young age
- talking to a suicidal person about methods of self-harm

There are certain ideas that should be known by all eventually, but there are definitely times when that fact provides more harm than good, especially for young children.

Second, not all truths should be intimately known. For example, we should understand abstractly about the basics of reproductive organs. Yet, we should not deeply investigate the landscape, every crevice and mole, of every genital we come across. This is regardless of age or life-stage.

In Socrates' case, he would ask the experts within a society about their mastery of a given subject. Then he would question them until they were unable to answer. He did this openly, and the youth would come to see the leaders, heroes, and wise leaders be made a public spectacle. Some would even imitate him.

The best modern analogy that I could give would be a talk show host inviting experts of their field to an open audience, and the host would keep asking ever-increasing questions about the expert's craft until the guest look stupid. The youth would go and watch these because they thought it was amusing. If you believe that the social media giants should be held accountable for their actions, then perhaps you may reconsider the innocence of Socrates as well. Yes, perhaps they had good intentions at the beginning, but medium itself was used and perhaps even cultivated an environment that resulted in the modern equivalent of 'corrupting the youth' and 'challenged societies gods".

Additional Notes

  • When seriously discussing the charge against asebeia, he would refer to a singular god. He was showing respect to one god. How did Socrates justify his actions and also his belief in that one Athenian god (Apollo)? He wholeheartedly listened to the prophesies concerning himself and tested these prophesies through logic, dialectic, and reasoning. 
  • Socrates was very "stoic" and accepting of his execution.
  • He is not a sophist. He does not like how they use persuasion as a tool to convince other people rather to pursue the truth.
  • The order of his argument wonderfully organized. Here is a good outline of how Socrates' Apology and Epilogue. Brilliant!


Popular posts from this blog

The Confessions of Saint Augustine Summaries

The Discussion Between Crito & Socrates – Plato

Initial Thoughts on Government Bodies