The Apology was written by Plato, and relates Socrates’ defense at his trial on charges of corrupting the youth and impiety. Socrates argues that he is innocent of both charges. His defense is ultimately unsuccessful, and he is convicted and sentenced to death. Socrates concludes the Apology by arguing that a just man should have no fear of death.
Socrates defends himself against the charges brought against him by his prosecutor Meletus in two ways. One way consists of a description of Socrates’ motivation and method, which he hopes will explain to the jury why some people, including his prosecutors, dislike him. The second defense consists of Socrates responding directly to the two charges brought against him: “corrupting the young” and impiety, or more specifically, “not believing in the gods in whom the city believes” (p. 28). I’ll address these two lines of defense in turn.
Socrates begins his defense by acknowledging that many people have accused him of “studying things in the sky and below the earth” and of “making the worse into the stronger argument” and teaching these things to others (p. 26). He replies that such accusations are “slanders”; the truth, he continues, is that he does not claim to have any special knowledge of anything in the sky or elsewhere. In support of this, Socrates relates the story of the Oracle at Delphi. The Oracle, who was thought to give voice to the Greek god Apollo, had told Socrates’ friend Chirephon that no man was wiser than Socrates. Surprised by this, Socrates surmises that the only reason the god said this is that Socrates seems to know only that he does not know very much. This, Socrates explains, makes him unlike most other people he meets, who “think [they] kno...
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...ng, or it is, as we are told, a change a relocation of the soul” (p. 34). If the dead have no perception, he says, this would be an advantage, for he thinks that the “most pleasant night of sleep” is the one that is sound and completely dreamless, as death would be. On the other hand, if death is a change of place, then this too would be a blessing. After all, Socrates claims, if one goes where the dead are, then one can, he assumes, speak with them. And what could be more enjoyable than speaking with Hesiod, Homer, and other great Greek poets, statesmen, and heroes? Socrates concludes his defense (p. 35) by remarking that his death penalty may actually be a blessing for him, both for the reasons he has just given and because his “divine sign” has not opposed him at any time during his defense, suggesting to Socrates that he has done no wrong in his own defense.
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