Plato is pretty much the first the first philosopher you study in Philosophy 101. He is how we meet Socrates after all, and Socrates is philosophy personified.
I love Socrates, or at least the Socrates I met through Plato’s dialogues. It’s true, like every man he is flawed but all the same I think everyone who seriously studies philosophy falls in love with Socrates at some point in their study because he’s the guy we wish we could be. He’s really just the right amount of smart ass to drive anyone crazy, especially anyone who considers themselves knowledgeable. The hypocrites he calls them. I suppose this is also the aspect of Socrates that drives many people away from philosophy in the first place but wachya gonna do?
The Apology is among those introductory pieces, it’s Socrates “apology” for those crimes which he has been accused and convicted, impiety and corruption of the youth.
Something very important about The Apology, and all the other dialogues for that matter, is that we remember that this is not actually the voice of Socrates. It is Plato and for all we know he made it all up. That doesn’t change his message though at all, it’s important that we see the Truth as universal. The Apology narrates for us Socrates’ attitude. He is on a quest for real knowledge and he wont be stopped by a couple of close minded bullies. He will not be afraid, not even of death. He believes in the democracy and does not wish to fight it, merely to see it work for the people.
In his first speech Socrates has not yet been convicted and so this is the hard sale. The first part of his speech is the introduction, he is addressing the jury as to why they should not kill him. His main argument is that he is neither an orator nor a teacher, at the age of seventy he is also too old to become a teacher. Being that Socrates is not a teacher he therefore did not teach anybody anything. Rather he spoke and the youth came to hear. If parent’s are so concerned about the whereabouts of their children it is up to them to parent better. He didn’t say that last bit, but I feel that it is implied.
Socrates goes on to give his refutations and defense of his life, which he loves. He claims that he is neither a physicist nor a sophist, and that he never spoke as an atheist because (quite simply) he was not an atheist. He goes on to conclude that he is not responsible for the actions of the youth no matter what they heard him say.
In the defense he goes on to explain in detail that Socrates is not afraid of death, Socrates is acting in obedience to Apollo as an investigator, Socrates cannot agree to cease his work for it would be impiety toward the god, Socrates’ mission to teach virtue is a great blessing for Athens, Socrates’ death would be an offense against Apollo, Socrates’ devotion to his work has meant that he is not politically active. So basically he isn’t so much denying what he believes in, he’s just letting people know that he doesn’t deserve to be killed for it. He after all did not hurt anyone. He just told it like it is.
Socrates was noble too, he didn’t bring forth his family to appeal to the juries emotions and he did not let his friends sneak him away. Socrates believed in Athens and democracy to do the right thing.
Unfortunately people are unreliable. 221 found him innocent but 280 found him guilty. Must have been a devastating disappointment but Socrates went forth bravely with his counter-proposal.
He couldn’t come up with an appropriate punishment for himself though because he didn’t see himself as guilty. He admitted that he had no money to pay a fine (as he was not a teacher and was never paid) and that he thought incarceration was a terrible waste. He did not fear death because he had done nothing wrong. He rejected exile to because he loved Athens and believed in it’s citizens.
This time a whopping 360 thought he deserved death while only 141 thought he ought to live. None the less Socrates held his head high in his address to the jury. At the ripe old age of seventy Socrates did not fear death, he had refused to compromise or plead for mercy out of principle, and he had confidence that there would be others like him in the future. He said, “Death is either an end (and thus ‘good’) or an immortality (and thus a ‘greater good’) for Socrates will be able to meet and talk with great men of the past who are reputed to have ‘wisdom’. Evil cannot happen to a good man.”
Socrates’ death is the most famous use of hemlock in history.