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08/09/2009 15:23:00

← Plato’s “The Apology”

1) Background - Socrates
a) Socrates lived from 469-399 BC in Athens
b) Socrates never recorded his thoughts; only record of his thinking has
been passed on by his contemporaries or students, such as Plato
i) But, like any secondhand account, these recordings are mixed
biased by the author’s personal interpretations
c) Socrates led a simple life, and renounced things like wealth and
political ambitions
i) He preferred instead to hang out in public places and engage in
conversation with whoever would be willing to talk to him
(1) These conversations were with all types of people, but
when he proved the so-called wise people to be unwise, he
angered them, and gained poularity with the youth of Athens
(2) For this behavior, Socrates was charged with not
recognizing the gods of the state, with inventing new deities,
and for corrupting the youth of Athens
(a) Of course, ‘The Apology’ represents Socrates defense
speech during his trial
(i) But, Socrates was found guilty by a small margin and
sentenced to death
2) Background – Plato
a) Plato was a student of Socrates; he attended the trial of Socrates and
so this text is thought to be an accurate account of Socrate’s speech
b) Plato was born very wealth, and was expected to pursue a career in
politics, but after a period of Spartan rule in Athens and the death of
Socrates, he devoted his life to teaching and inquiry
i) Founded the Academy in 385 BC, and it lasted until 527 AD (912
yrs) and this school served as the prototype for what we now know
as western universities
c) Plato’s thought is most often recorded in the form of dialogues in
which Socrates is the protagonist
i) In the earliest of his writings, Plato offers the clearest pic of
Socrates and Socrates’ thoughts, while his later writings reflect his
own thoughts
(1) The Apology is one of the earliest writings, and it is
thought that Plato’s aim was to defend Socrates reputation after
his death
3) Background/Summary – ‘The Apology’
a) Socrates
i) On trial
ii) Speaks simply and plainly
(1) But, there is irony in this style. Socrates professes his own
ignorance and then engages with someone who claims to be an
expert (usually in moral matters). By asking very simple
question, Socrates reveals that the ‘expert’ really knows nothing.
(a) Known as the Socratic method
b) Summary
i) This text is the defense that Socrates offers in his own trial, against
charges of not recognizing the gods of the state, inventing new
deities, and corrupting the youth of Athens
ii) Socrates explains his behavior by telling the jury that the oracle at
Delphi proclaimed him to be the wisest man of all
(1) However, Socrates knows that he knows very little
compared to other men, and concludes that he is wiser insofar
that he knows that he knows nothing
(a) In an effort to spread this message, Socrates thought it his
duty to question the supposed wise men and show their
ignorance
(i) He earned many powerful enemies this way
iii) Socrates likens himself to a gadfly stinging the lazy horse, AKA
the state; without him, the state with drift into laziness, but with
him it can be moved to productive and virtuous action
iv) Socrates is found guilty and is asked to propose a penalty, but he is
sentenced to death
(1) He accepts this penalty claiming that no one but the gods
know what happens after dealth and so it would be follish to
fear what one does not know
(2) He also warns those who sentenced him that they have
done more harm than good to themselves
4) Themes and Analysis
a) This work is less concerned with asserting a particular doctorine than it
is with presenting the portrait of the ideal philosopher
b) Higlites the use of Socratic irony, the Socratic method, and higher
ethical concerns, all of which are connected
i) The prophecy proclaimed by the oracle has led Socrated to assume
his higly ironic stance of confessing his own ignorance, but showing
others to be even more ignorant than him
ii) This irony influences his method, ie identifying what one thins he
knows and then slowly diectiong those claims
iii) Important note – Socrates thought there to be a deep connection
between wisdom and virtue, and so he thought that his method was
doing society as a whole a good
c) response to first allegations, namely that he tries to provide physical
explanations for the works of god
i) Socrates claims to have neither knowledge or interest in these
matters and further claim that he is not an expert in anything
(meant to set him apart from the Presocratics and the Sophists)

Socrates held that the unexamined life is not worth living, but what did
those who failed to live the unexamined life fail to examine, why did it
matter?
• Meletus – has failed to examine who improves the youth
o This matters bc first, he has accused an innocent man (if
Socrates is innocent), but also bc Meletus uncritically believes
that the Athenian way of life is the way of virtue
• Callias – hirese Sophists to teach his sons, but Socrates disputes
that these tteachers can improve the lives of his sons, in the sense
that they can teach virtue
o Here, S is urging us to examine our beliefs about success
(Sophists thought that speaking well and achiving political
success was the good life); so callias has not examined which
ideals are not worth pusuing
• From these do we get a hint of what the good is for Socrates?
o Do no harm and pursue justice

Was he guilty?
Did he corrupt the youth? In what sense was he thought to corrupt the
youth? How does this relate to the purpose of Philosophy? Of liberal
education?
• Who today improves the youth?

What is the relationship between politics and piety? Why would someone be
put to death for not believing in what the State believes? Is truth always
good?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=yRnzrDpGN5A&feature=PlayList&p=73B5CC23F86B7A63&index=0&playne
xt=1