Plato and Socrates’ Apology (Summary)

Plato and the death of Socrates

One day in the year 399 BC, Socrates has been accused for impiety and corruption of youth. Socrates addressed some words to the court for his defense. Later, Socrate’s student, i.e.Plato, wrote the work that we call Apology, where Socrates once again address some words to the court for his defense.

He is accused of impiety and corrupting the young. Is he guilty or not guilty? And if guilty, what penalty should we impose? How would you vote if you were a member of the court in 399? How, in your imagination, do you vote today?

This is the challenge that offers this worl apology to the reader, because of the literary form that Plato has given him-the ordinary form of a speech delivered in court. The Apology of Xenophon, by contrast, is a direct narrative, a kind of account of the trial such as newspapers, noting the sharp fragments of the most moving moments of Socrates’ speech, and includes excerpts from interviews with various stakeholders. The Apology of Plato begins with the phrase: “Men of Athens …”, normally used to apply to a court or an Assembly and continues to the end in the form of judicial eloquence that we know well through the speech of Demosthenes or Lysias that have been preserved. This is definitely not a dialogue. So that we, readers, we are not invited, as is the case in the dialogues within the meaning of the word, to engage in a philosophical discussion about the virtue of science or reality. We are invited to a verdict about the case before us.

At the end of the first paragraph (18a), Socrates said that virtue (arete) of a juror, what a good jury can not fail to do is to focus on the rightness or wrongness of the case which is presented before him. The manner and rhetorical skill with which the case is presented should not be considered. In other words, the only thing that has to count for you if you sit real-or your imagination to this court, is whether the case is exposed is right.

Imagine, then, you’re a good jury in this meaning. You already know something of Socrates activities or for the hearing in person or to have read Plato’s Dialogues. Let me ask you how you would have voted that day: guilty or not guilty?

[At that time, the public in Geneva voted “not guilty” by an overwhelming majority, and only one against. Other audiences, Durham, Lille and London and Cambridge courses biennial, without exception, have voted “not guilty”, though with less striking differences.]

In 399, the result was of about 280 votes against 221 votes in favor of Socrates and he was enough of a shift of thirty votes for it to be paid (36a) Still, about 280 votes to judge him guilty, that’s a lot of people.

All these men were not exactly the same reasons to vote “guilty”. Some, perhaps, were motivated by political hostility towards Socrates, because of its relationship with Alcibiades and Critias the tyrant. Others may have acted out of personal enmity, which has been the unpleasant experience of being ridiculed by the questions of Socrates. Others have been influenced by the caricature of Socrates in Aristophanes’ Clouds, which Socrates said, 18a-19c that is the strongest he has to fight prevention. But how far these explanations still commonly accepted, will they lead us?

Socrates said that many members of the Tribunal attended his meetings and know the kind of things he says. Many of you have read his interviews in the Dialogues of Plato, and you know the kind of things he says. They know you know it is very different from Socrates and Aristophanes’ Clouds, which examines what happens “in the sky and under the earth,” and teaches his disciples to make the argument more than low (19 bc). Socrates was a character so familiar to the community, and for so many years, we have to look any further. Imagine a juror reasonably conscientious, who has attended the conversations of Socrates, which has recognized the difference between Socrates and the character of Clouds, which was not driven by the desire for political revenge or personal enmity, which, in good Justice, focuses exclusively on the rightness or wrongness of the arguments proposed by Socrates in his defense. A person really cares about the good of the city, wondering seriously whether it is a good or a bad thing for young people to be listeners of Socrates. I ask, is it possible that such a person has voted to declare Socrates guilty of impiety and corruption of youth?

I would suggest that the answer is “yes.” If not, we will not understand Socrates, nor the enormous and lasting impact it has had on human thought, if we do not understand that he was guilty of impiety which he was charged and for which he been convicted. But first a word of warning.


The impact on the thinking of Socrates, centuries later depends mainly on the writings of Plato, so it is the guilt of the Socrates of Plato’s writings that I intend to support. I will not support a historical thesis about the man of flesh and bones, flat nose, which was condemned in 399, but invite you to form a personal opinion about the literary Socrates which Plato wrote argument in the Apology, many years later, perhaps.

The exact wording of the charge is given 24bc Socrates adikei (“cause harm”, implying “the city”) by corrupting the young and not believing the gods (theoi) believes that the city but in other new divinities (daimonia kaina). I want to suggest that it is true that Socrates does not believe in gods which the city believes, and the charge of corrupting young men for the most part means that they will end up not believe either (see Example 26b and Euthyphro 3 ab). I rely in particular on the fact that, in its written argument, Socrates never tries to push this part of the charge. Nowhere in the Apology he says he believes in effect that the gods the city believes.

It demonstrates that if his accuser Meletus believes in daimonia (deities), he believes in the gods, as are daimones theoi (gods) (27 ab). Based on this demonstration, he argues that the indictment is contradictory: he says that Socrates does not believe in gods, but believes in the gods (27a). But the question was whether he believes in the gods whom the city believes, not if he thinks the gods. Socrates mocks Meletus (26) because it is confused with Anaxagoras and claims it says that the sun is a stone and the moon is made of earth, instead of the gods as most think men. But it does not expressly state that he believes the sun and moon are gods.

He constantly refers to ho theos, which can mean “god” in a generic sense, or “god.” This is ho theos which Delphi said that no one is wiser than Socrates (21b), which interprets Socrates ultimately mean that theos ho ordered him to philosophize in that test others and himself (28th-29a, see 33c). It is also ho theos is responsible for the “divine sign” of Socrates, the mysterious inner voice that from time to time the turn from something he is about to do (31cd, 40b). Since the first mention of ho theos is in the phrase “ho theos at Delphi” (20th), the court will assume he wants to talk about Apollo. But he never named Apollo.

Apollo, of course, is one of the gods whom the city believes the most fundamental. He chairs the basics of social structure. Each member of the court may speak of “my Patroos Apollo” (“ancestral Apollo”), which refers to the altar of Apollo, which is central to the organization of the phratry (a group of families and subdivision of a tribe) through which he has citizenship status. Apollo is also important to Athens to Delphi. But nowhere in the Apology he is mentioned by name.

When asked Meletus, Socrates is careful to swear by Hera (24th) by Zeus (25c, 26e), and “the gods themselves that we are talking about” (26b). In the speech to the court, on the other hand, it did happen once to name a deity when he mentions the fact that the mother of Achilles, Thetis was a goddess (theos, 28c). This is why she could predict what would happen if he avenged Patroclus, it has nothing to do with the fact that Thetis whether or not one believes the gods whom the city (in fact, n ‘there is no indication that Thetis has been an altar, or any role in the civic life of ancient Athens). All references to important deity in the Apology relate in a way unknown “the god” in the singular, and, once or twice, just to theoi (“gods”, plural, no article defined: 35d, 41d) <> 8. It may well be that he speaks of a god or gods in a sense quite generic. It could almost be monotheistic. There is little, or no, indications that the gods, that is to say the many gods individuals, very individual, that worships the city are anything to Socrates. Yet this was the main charge contained in the indictment, one that depends on everything else.

How the juror-conscientious reader will he interpret the silence of Socrates on this central point about which we have an opinion? Would it be wrong to interpret it as an admission that the charge, as presented, is true?

What Socrates says positively about the divinity is just as damning as it does not say. The core of his argument is that his philosophical activity was undertaken at the behest of ho theos, which is not allowed to disobey (23c, 28d-30a, 33c, 37th). Thus he interprets the oracle. Ho theos requires him to Athens goes through asking questions and showing people they do not know what they think they know. Socrates is a gadfly sent by the gods to prick the Athenians, and exciting to be concerned above all virtue (29d-31b, 36c, 41st). And the best way to show your concern for virtue is to spend every day of your life to the philosophical discussion about the virtue. “A life that does not examine is not worth living for a human being” (38). Ho theos requires that everyone, every day, working to ask: to review and reconsider the values ​​that directed his life.

In other words, what matters to the deity from Socrates is all about two things: (1) that men strive to be virtuous, (2) they realize that they do not yet know what it means to be virtuous, but need to find out. To put it differently, the divinity of Socrates posits that the values ​​received in the Athenian community must be challenged. In their private lives and in their public life, the Athenians do not live as they should, the Apology is a lengthy indictment returned against the Athenians the complaint of injustice endemic. Few modern commentators saw this as clearly as the author of the following lines, taken from an ancient treatise on rhetoric

“Since we are deliberative and judicial speeches, you can find in Plato as examples of several intertwined debates, which combine in some way every branch of rhetoric. The Apology of Socrates, as the title suggests, is to first (Protasis) an apology, but it is also an accusation of the Athenians, for having such a man dragged to court. And severity of the charge is hidden by moderation (you epieikei) of the apology, for what he says in his defense is an accusation of the Athenians. There are two guidelines  (sumplokai). And here’s the third: the speech was a eulogy of Socrates, made less inappropriate in that it appears as required by the needs of defense. This is the third guideline. The result is that there are two themes court (hupotheseis) linked together, the defense and the prosecution, along with a theme encomiastic: in praise of Socrates. The fourth guideline, which was in the spirit of Plato, the most important, with a hortatory or deliberative function, and a philosophical, is this: this book is a proclamation exhortative (paraggelma) the kind of man that the philosopher should be.

Ancient rhetorician was right to say that the charge is an issue as important as defense. The proof, in particular, Section 31d-32e, where Socrates says that it is impossible for a man who has the concern for justice to take part in political life of Athens not perish (see also 36 bc). The death sentence at the end of the Apology, remember the most striking how the vice and injustice dominate the city (see ad 39). But what Socrates says about the value of his philosophical mission involves an indictment of the Athenians, who resist the call to virtue. And, in making this indictment, Socrates claims to speak for the deity. What awaits his deity of the Athenians, that they care about justice more than anything else.

Now back to our honest and conscientious jurors, whether many or few, listeners or readers so today. After hearing everything that Socrates says of ho theos, they are forced to recognize that Socrates is not atheos. Clearly we can not say he does not believe in any sort of gods. It is not devoid of religious belief. But he believes the gods whom the city believes? He shares the religion of the Athenian community? Remember how the feeling that the Greek city has its own identity is closely tied to religious practices and myths that support them. If Socrates rejects the religion of the city, he attacks the city. Conversely, if he says that the public and private life of the city is totally perverted, he attacks the religion of the city, for his life and religion are inseparable. That our jurors are asking the question: what would remain of traditional religion (fifth century), and therefore what would be left of the traditional Athenian life (fifth century), when people rallied to the conviction of Socrates that what matters to the divinity that is not the propitiatory rites, sacrifices, festivals and processions, but the practice of moral philosophy? I argue that our jurors, in good conscience can not help but say, Socrates has a religion but it is not ours. This is not the religion of the Athenians.

The thesis that Socrates opposes to this view, of course, is not it possible that you lost your fortune or your children, or you are struck by the disease, etc.. But a good man and virtuous will behave in the face of everything that could happen to him, the best way possible, and turn it into a good “virtue does not come from what we have, but thanks to the power that we have and all things in general, become assets for individuals and for the city (30b). And it is clear that, according to Socrates, one becomes good by his own efforts in philosophy.


But it is a traditional view that humans can not thrive without the help of the gods, and the typical form of hubris (arrogant pride), is the conviction that we can. Lorsqu’Ajax boasted to succeed without the need of the gods, and rejected the help of Athena, the goddess’s anger struck him with madness and death (Sophocles, Ajax 756-778). The fact that the word eudaimonia, which we translate as “happiness,” originally meant “to be favored by a deity” (daemon), is related to that conviction. In the written speech, however, Socrates is dangerously close to declaring that we must and we can thrive, achieve eudaimonia, alone, without the help of god or gods. The role of the deity is reduced to an ancillary role and is to protect fair-or at least to protect Socrates, through the “divine sign”-some practical implications of their own unpredictable justice. If the “divine sign” is a gift reserved for Socrates (the implications of the Republic 496c), even then, the righteous will not suffer harm from lack of such protection. To be fair, they always prefer death rather than to commit injustice, and never regarded the death as an injury that matters. But the deity can not make men righteous and virtuous. It can only expect that men become virtuous by their own efforts, and then they have for it. But the question is whether our honest jury could not consider that this is the most appalling hubris, and hubris does not throw does not in trouble, not only the individual hubristic, but also his city? The city of Athens had just crossed a terrible misfortune. Jurors are not they threatened, directly or indirectly from having among them the philosopher hubristic?

I have argued that the God of Socrates requires a radical rethinking of community values ​​and religion. I would now like to lead the discussion on a more theoretical level, from which we can reach a better understanding of the contrast between the traditional Athenian religion and divinity resolved Socratic religion. The text that seems made to help us achieve this understanding, although we do not know if it was written after the Apology, at the same time or before, is Plato’s Euthyphro, in which publishers former gave the subtitle “of piety, like probation.”

Euthyphro, Socrates, which will test the opinions about piety, is suing his father. In their farm in remote island of Naxos, a farm hand killed one of the slaves of the house during a fight after drinking. Euthyphro’s father had tied up the man, threw him into a pit, and sent a messenger to Athens to ask what to do. When the messenger returned, the servant had died of hunger and cold. One of the questions that the reader of the dialogue is invited to ask is: “Euthyphro does it so pious by filing a complaint for murder against his own father in the name of a farmhand? “.

The magistrate before whom Euthyphro has come to file a complaint must hold a preliminary hearing about the trial of Socrates, who is accused, as he tells Euthyphro, to corrupt young people by inventing new gods and not believing elders. So another question that a reader of the dialogue is invited to ask is: “Is Socrates guilty of impiety? “.

It is clear that both questions should be considered together. They incite against the standards of the old religion, eagerly, even fanatically defended by Euthyphro, and those of Socratic religion. One could hardly imagine a more dramatic for the matter that is the subject of philosophical dialogue: “What is piety and impiety, against the murder and compared to other things? “(5 cd).

The first response made by Euthyphro correctly formulated the question: “What is piety? “Is” piety is what is pleasing to the gods “(6th). If you mean by “definition” that many modern philosophers mean by that is to say an analysis of the meaning of the word in its common usage, then the definition of Euthyphro is worth all those that are can be found in the Platonic corpus. Greek religion was very concerned to make the gods propitious and please them. The challenge was: How can humans know what the gods want? Worse, different deities often want something different and incompatible, as in the case of Euripides’ Hippolytus, caught in the crossfire of the virgin goddess Artemis and Aphrodite, goddess of love. Sometimes the conflict is religious obligations tragically insoluble.

Even more disturbing is the possibility of a conflict between different aspects of the same deity. In a difficult moment, when returning from his expedition, Xenophon sacrificed to Zeus Basileus (King Zeus) and performs strictly require that the entrails (Anabasis VII 6 44). Shortly after, when he is still fighting, he learns of a seeing that his difficulties arise from Meilichios Zeus (Zeus Merciful) has not sacrificed one (VII 8 4)

In the Euthyphro, Socrates simply rely on the first type of conflict. Not on the inconsistency of a god individual, but on the fact that the gods quarrel and disagree, at least from the stories that Euthyphro believes. Socrates once said his reluctance to admit the stories of his religious community (6 ab-a very telling admission for the issue at hand). But given the beliefs of Euthyphro, Socrates is permitted to argue as follows:

“It would not be surprising that in punishing your father as you do, your action pleases Zeus (who chained his father Cronus to have devoured his own children), but due respect to Cronos and Ouranos (grandfather of Zeus castrated by Cronos), she likes to Hephaestus, but due respect to Hera, and similarly for each of the gods that may be affected by this issue “(8b).

In short, the same actions can be both pious (because agreeable to certain gods) and impious (because hated by others).

There is no need to remember that these stories of gods and goddesses are doing violence to each other are the paradigmatic example of what should be censored by the authorities in the ideal city of the Republic (377C-378d ), which allows even an allegorical interpretation of these stories fundamentals of Greek religion. Plato knew he was proposing an ideological reconstruction of the Greek tradition as a whole. The Euthyphro, in his capacity as spokesman of the old fanatic religion, should have said, once before the Socratic conclusion that the same action can be both pious (because some pleasant gods) and wicked (because hated by others) is, “Yes, that’s life. Remember the story of Hippolytus. ” Instead, Plato relies on the omnipotence of the author, and Euthyphro Socrates agrees that changes the definition of piety, which now becomes, “Is this thinking that is pleasing to the gods. ”

This change is fatal. Why have many gods, if they think and act like one? If this definition of piety had corrected the approval of the Athenians, it would destroy the religion of the community, and the feeling that it has its own identity.

Socrates asks: do the gods love what is pious because it is pious, or is it pious because it is pleasing to the gods? This question is the ancestor of the theologians who held to more recent times and monotheism: is what God commands the good because it’s good, or is it because God commands it? A complex argument and abstract, but has had an enormous influence, it Euthyphro to accept the first member of the alternative and reject the other. He admits that what is pleasing to the gods is pious because it is pious, not the reverse. This is another blow to the traditional polytheistic religion. Piety is a moral quality, pre-approval or inconvenience divine and independent of them. Not only all the gods think and act like one, but all so determined, love virtue and hate vice.


Cite this article as: Tim, "Plato and Socrates’ Apology (Summary), May 23, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, May 23, 2012,

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