Being all deep and stuff: Plato’s Apology

posted by Dr. James G. Hood
Friday, May 28, 2010

Socrates begins his defense with an introduction explaining how he will proceed. Socrates speaks with eloquence insofar as he speaks the truth, and he will speak in his accustomed manner. The first matter Socrates addresses is the nature of his accusations. His indictment was brought forward as a result of both old and new accusers. The old accusers will be difficult to disprove since they have plagued him throughout his life, but he discusses the nature of these “shadows” and then goes on to discuss the present accusations. Miletus claims that Socrates does not believe in the gods, and he questions things in order to make the good seem bad and the bad appear good; Socrates also teaches others to do the same. In response, Socrates orates a proof which demonstrates that he is not wicked, but wise, and his wisdom, not his wickedness, gets him into trouble. The proof uses revelation by an oracle in the form of Modus Ponens to demonstrate Socrates’ wisdom. The god (through the oracle) said that there is no one wiser than Socrates (A). The gods do not lie; therefore, there is no one wiser than Socrates. In a more traditional format: If the gods do not lie and one said A then A is true. Socrates also uses an inductive argument to prove that he is wise. Since the oracle said nobody is wiser than he is, Socrates met with several wise people to see if any of them were wiser. None of them were, so each example strengthened Socrates’ claim.

            Having proved that he is wise, Socrates asserts that his own wisdom got construed against him because of biases and poor judgment on the part of the accusers. Specifically, Socrates demonstrates Meletus’ contradictions by illustrating their nonsensical nature. Why would Socrates corrupt the youth if he would then share in the negative effects of their transgressions? Furthermore, how could Socrates agree that gods reproduce and have children without believing in gods?

            Unfortunately, Socrates’ insightful defense falls on deaf ears, and he learns of his impending doom. Strangely, however, Socrates is nonplussed by the verdict because his death will prove the injustice of the system. He approaches death without fear because it can only be two things: a restful sleep or a continuation of his annoying gadfly tendencies. Neither according to Socrates is bad.  

Socrates’ death, therefore, gives the reader important insight into a common part of human existence, ignorance. More precisely, Socrates’ trial demonstrates that human beings are irrational and affected by biases, sometimes intentionally. Sometimes only through dramatic acts (such as the unwarranted death of Socrates) will people realize the irrationality and/or injustice of their actions.

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