Analysis of Apology by Plato
The Apology is an account by Plato of Socrates’ speech given at his trial in 399 BC. Socrates was an Athenian philosopher accused of two crimes: corrupting the youth and not believing in the gods. In Socrates’ speech, he explains to a jury of 501 Athenians why he is not guilty of the crimes he is accused of. He uses a variety of logical arguments to refute his charges yet in the end he is still found guilty and sentenced to death (Grube 21). Socrates’ use of logos and his absence of the use of pathos makes for an extremely logical speech, however his guilty verdict raises questions about the legal systems and society of Athens at the time, the importance of ethos when defending yourself in the court of law, and even the society of modern day. For the majority of his life, Socrates spent a good deal of his time asking questions of the people of Athens. His goal was to arrive at a set of political and ethical truths. Contrary to many people at the time, Socrates did not lecture about the things he knew; he actually claimed to be rather ignorant. He claimed he was wise only because he recognized his ignorance and did not claim to know what he did not know (Grube 26). The questions Socrates asked forced his audiences to think through a problem and arrive at a logical conclusion. At times, the answers seemed so obvious his opponents often looked foolish. His “Socratic Method” of questioning as it came to be called later, was adored by Socrates’ followers but despised by others throughout Athens (“Socrates Biography.”). Five years prior to 399 BC, Athens had just suffered a defeat to the Spartans, bringing an end to the Peloponnesian War. Its once strong democracy was taken over by Thirty Tyrants for nine months who executed over one thousand Athenians. However, by the end of nine months, an army of democrats restored democracy to Athens, but not without losing significant power in the Greek world (Colaiaco 13). This political turmoil and fear of losing more power in Greece set the stage for Socrates’ trial. Socrates begins his speech by establishing his ethos, meaning his credibility as a speaker. However, he does so in an unconventional matter. Rather than boasting of his speaking abilities and asserting himself as a wise and reliable source of information, he instead begins by saying, “I show myself not to be an accomplished speaker at all.” He even says that he was almost “carried away” by his accusers during their speech due to their persuasive speaking (Grube 22). Socrates goes on to say that he does not know the correct way to speak in the court of law, so the jury will have to excuse his unusual dialect (23). Socrates’ opening statements probably seemed absurd to the 501 jurors. Why would a man on trial and facing death begin his speech by claiming to be a terrible speaker? Socrates set up his speech this way for a specific reason. Besides the main two accusations against Socrates, corrupting the youth and being an atheist, he was also accused of making the weaker argument into the stronger (24). Due to this accusation, Socrates may have felt the need to downplay his speaking skills to the jurors. The jury could have been biased going into the trial thinking that no matter what Socrates said they should not believe him because of his reputation as a “persuasive” speaker. By weakening his ethos at the beginning of his speech, Socrates could then go on to give an argument that would be less affected by the jury’s previous opinion of him. As the speech goes on, he begins to subtly build his ethos back up. Within the claims he makes to the audience, he references witnesses as proof to the claims rather than just his spoken word. For example, when explaining to the jury that he possesses “human wisdom” he says, “I will refer to a trustworthy source. I shall call upon the god at Delphi as witness to the existence and nature of my wisdom” (25). Rather than simply...
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