In Plato’s The Apology, the protagonist Socrates is placed under trial as he faces charges against corrupting the youth by teaching impious, ungodly beliefs. Before an audience, Socrates provides multiple examples and proposes theories and supporting concepts to prove his innocence. Throughout this paper, my aim is to present and organize relevant background information regarding the trial and and then analyze the consistently compelling and sound arguments used by Socrates to strongly and effectively refute the allegations he was under.
As I just previously mentioned, Socrates was being accused of corruptful teachings that allegedly encouraged atheism and rebellion to the youth of Athens. His accusers presented these charges against him as they believed his intentions where to undermine godly authorities and harm society with such radical teachings. Socrates’ main accuser in The Apology is named Meletus and many of this refutations are addressed to Meletus. Socrates begins his speech by clarifying one of the statements made by Meletus as he warned the audience to be weary of his eloquence and to not be easily persuaded by the beauty of his words.
According to Meletus, Socrates was esteemed as an eloquent, persuasive speaker and teacher. However, in his defense speech, Socrates uses a form of colloquial and basic vocabulary as he claims he is not accustomed to the formal expectations and environment of a court. A reoccurring theme or underlying technique used by Socrates to support his arguments throughout his speech is his simplicity and humility.
Socrates uses methods of clarification to persuade the audience that the root of his accusations are due to misunderstandings and misinterpretations of his character and role in society. The first accusation he attempted to disprove was the nature of his wisdom. I find that Socrates lays this as one of the foundations of his arguments because this alleged wisdom is perceived as one of the tools Socrates uses to corrupt society and undermine the government. In his speech, Socrates summarized his accusations as “ Socrates is an evil-doer, and a curious person, who searches into things under the earth and in heaven, and he makes the worse appear the better cause; and he teaches the aforesaid doctrines to others.
Later in the passage, he clarifies that based on a quest he embarked on to find the true meaning of wisdom he came to the realization that wisdom is not what you know but it is being able to acknowledge that one does not know. In his own words, “that whatever I do not know, I do not even suppose I know”. He acknowledges that human wisdom such as his own is worthless, and true wisdom belongs to the god. However, he is willing to seek knowledge and examine those who claim to be wise.
This argument is strong in showing that Socrates is not one to simply rely on his self for knowledge and he does in fact have reverence for the divine authorities. He proves that he is not trying to act as a rebellious leader because he even sees himself as someone who does not have all of the answers. As he shares his experiences with the youth, he encourages them to seek knowledge by proposing questions and doing research on those who claim to impose wise counsel over them. This clarified that he was not trying to force an atheist, rebellious ideology upon the youth but simply encouraging the youth to trust god’s wisdom over that of man’s wisdom that is not always correct.
Socrates attempted to disprove that he had any negative influence on the youth even before he began to clarify his concept of the nature of his wisdom. He uses an analogy of a horse trainer in attempts to illustrate the falsity of the claim of in being a negative contributor to the minds of the youth. In the analogy, he tells that horses only have one trainer. This trainer’s only motive is to work towards the improvement of that horse. However, there are many people willing to use and corrupt that horse based on their own anterior motives. He is implying that although the horse trainer has good intentions he is still in the minority.
The moral of this analogy is to suggest that there are many aspects of a society and many people that can corrupt the minds of the youth. Similar to those corrupting horses, people with opposing views to Socrates are in the majority, while he is in the minority. Socrates is put on trial for an allegedly teaching atheist principles. This shows that this was great offense and it was uncommon behavior. He argues that even if these were his true ideologies and beliefs they would would not have had a strong enough influence because they are not a part of the social norm construct.
Socrates is placed on trial for undermining godly authorities and imposing corruptful teachings upon the youth. He is known for being a wise teacher with problematic beliefs that go against the law. In The Apology Socrates presents compelling arguments to the audience using different methods of clarification such as lessons from his past experiences and an reflective analogy. These arguments revealed his true intentions as they allowed the audience to understand the perceptions he had of himself and his influence on society.