Analysis of Plato's Apology

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The Apology is Plato's recollection and interpretation of the Trial of Socrates (399 BC). In this dialogue Socrates explains who he is and what kind of life he led. The Greek word "apologia" means "explanation" -- it is not to be confused with "apologizing" or "being sorry" for one's actions. The following is an outline of the 'argument' or logos that Socrates used in his defense. A hypertext treatment of this dialogue is also available.

I. Prologue (17a-19a)

The first sentence sets the tone and direction for the entire dialogue. Socrates, in addressing the men of Athens, states that he almost forgot who he was. The speeches of his accusers had led him to this point. The dialogue will thus be a kind of "recollecting" by Socrates of who he is. That is to say, the Apology will become Socrates' answer to the question: "WHO IS SOCRATES?"

II. The First False Charges (19a - 24a)

A. The Charges and Their Assignment (19a-20c)

The first "charges" against Socrates arose from GENERAL PREJUDICES that surrounded him over the years. These general accusations were that Socrates was: (1) a PHYSICALIST and (2) a SOPHIST. The charge of "investigating things beneath the earth and in the skies" belongs to a physicalists like Thales and Anaxagoras. The charge of "making the weaker argument appear the stronger" belongs to sophists like Gorgias, Hippias, and Evanus. In truth, Socrates IS NOT a Physicalist and Socrates IS NOT a Sophist.

B. Socrates' Art and the Delphic Oracle (20c-23c)

The false images of Socrates arose because people misunderstood his true activity. Socrates explains this activity by relating a story about the Delphic Oracle.

The Saying of the Delphic Oracle -- A friend of Socrates' went to the Oracle and asked the priestess "Who is the wisest of mortals?" and the priestess replied: "Socrates is the most wise."

When Socrates heard this he was surprised, since he thought of himself as "most ignorant."

The Testing of the Delphic Oracle -- After some hesitation, he sought to show the saying wrong by finding someone wiser than he. He began to question various people, including politicians, poets, and craftsmen.

In each encounter the person made a claim that he was in possession of some kind of wisdom or absolute knowledge. The knowledge relates to the spheres of what might be called value e.g., the problems of God, the Good, and the Beautiful.

The Truth of the Delphic Oracle -- After "testing" the saying of the god, Socrates became aware of the truth of the saying that "Socrates is most wise" -- it can be expressed as follows: Socrates was most wise because he was AWARE of his ignorance. (This is how Socratic Wisdom is related to Socratic Ignorance.)

And, in a profound sense, those around Socrates, those who claimed a "knowledge" in the sphere of values, were ignorant of their ignorance.

C. How the Charges Arose (23c-24a)

In the course of Socrates' verification of the Delphic Oracle, many people had their beliefs and values questioned and cast into doubt.

The response of many to this experience was confusion and anger. Over the years, this anger took the form of a general RESENTMENT against Socrates.

III. The Specific Charges (24b - 28a)

The charges made by Meletus and Anytus were that Socrates was guilty of:

A. CORRUPTION OF THE YOUTH;

B. IMPIETY.

They demand the DEATH PENALTY.

Regarding the Charge of Corruption of the Youth -- Socrates begins a dialogue with his accuser Meletus. He defends himself by practicising his art.

1. Meletus says that Socrates is the person in Athens who is responsible for the corruption of the youth. Yet it is absurd to say that only Socrates corrupts the youth. This implies that everyone else helps the youth. But just as there are few horse trainers, so there are few who are in a postion to really "train" the youth. And, contrary to what Meleteus asserts, Socrates is one of these...
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