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Socrates’ Defence in Plato’s Apology

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Ancient Greeks’ worship of philosophy reflected  how literature was created. Plato’s Apology is an example of how these two genres can merge; hence, a literary work appears to have a didactic purpose. Plato uses his favorite character based on the personality of his respected teacher Socrates, to convey his ideas about honesty and justice. The peculiarity of a method applied in Apology is the arguments which Socrates uses to defend himself in the course of a trial. The work demonstrates the shift of values from the personal welfare to public morals and knowledge, which are worth dying for according to the philosopher.

The accusation of Socrates is based on fear on behalf of influential people in Athens. They are frightened of the man’s thinking which inspires  the youth by original  ideas and exposure of  the ignorance and corruption in the upper circles of the state. When staying in front of the jury, Socrates is well aware of the reasons why he is accused of blasphemy and creating his own gods, and of bad influence on younger generation. However, the specifics of his approach are that he avoids using direct denial in his defense speech and chooses ways to make his opponents look ridiculous and ignorant. He is well aware of his position as a respected philosopher who is apparently  dangerous  because of his honesty, so he behaves with dignity and calmness, like a perfect philosopher should behave.

The focus of his defense is not claiming his own innocence, however, but making people realize the truth about the vices of society. He does it in an unusual way by applying irony to himself in the first place. Socrates mentions Delphi’s oracles conclusion about him being the wisest man alive and suggests that this is because he recognizes that he knows nothing. By speaking out this claim, he implies that if the wisest man of earth is totally ignorant, than his critics and opponents are probably much more foolish. “Is there not here conceit of knowledge, which is a disgraceful sort of ignorance?” he says. Without saying this directly, the character, in fact, defeats his enemies with his stinging irony, so their accusations look ridiculous – so this is one of his ways to defend himself. It should be added that the word apology used in the text has a meaning that is different from its modern context. So, Socrates does not apologize for his actions and beliefs, but defends himself by remaining what he is and attempting to demonstrate the corruption of his opponents.

As a paradox, Socrates does not attempt to make sure that the court announces him not guilty. On the contrary, he believes that his personal freedom, and even his own life, are not so important compared to the importance of higher goals. His defense is quite unusual because he allows the jury to sentence him to death in the end, because he believes that this will illuminate and promote the truth: “Wherefore, O men of Athens, I say to you, do as Anytus bids or not as Anytus bids, and either acquit me or not; but whatever you do, know that I shall never alter my ways, not even if I have to die many times.”

Thus, one of Socrates’ points of defense is having the truth on his side and readiness to accept the verdict whatever it is if this helps him to make the truth visible to other people. Hence, Socrates’ defense is not aimed at defending himself in order to be set free, he rather defends his ideals. This is why all his arguments serve this purpose. Moreover, a conclusion can even been drawn that Socrates’ purpose is to receive the most severe sentence because he believes this will  be the most powerful argument in favor of his beliefs.

It is also important to consider the reason why Socrates chooses the path that leads him to death instead of proving his innocence. The philosopher realizes that this question might arise, so he explains his motifs in this way: “Someone will say: And are you not ashamed, Socrates, of a course of life which is likely to bring you to an untimely end? To him I may fairly answer: There you are mistaken: a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong - acting the part of a good man or of a bad.” It is also important to notice that Socrates realizes that these words are not addressed to the jury, and neither the rest of the monologue is. Instead, he uses the court as a tribune for addressing a wider circle of people, which he believes to be a more important mission than trying to save his life. He is sure that the major sign of a good philosopher is courage to put the truth as a priority that is higher than his personality. In fact, he believes that one cannot be a philosopher if he cares about choosing between life and death in the first place. So Socrates sets the example of a philosopher to society.

Further on, Socrates ponders on why fear of death can hamper  righteous actions, and here is what, in contrast, he offers to prove his innocence:  “For this fear of death is indeed the pretense of wisdom, and not real wisdom, being the appearance of knowing the unknown; since no one knows whether death, which they in their fear apprehend to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good…I do know that injustice and disobedience to a better, whether God or man, is evil and dishonorable, and I will never fear or avoid a possible good rather than a certain evil.” Thus, Socrates suggests that fear of death and absence of this fear is a borderline that makes a philosopher different from an ordinary person. Besides, whether a philosopher is ready to die for his beliefs is a criterion of whether he is honest or not. If a philosopher truly believes in what he says but does not use his position to achieve benefits in society, he should prefer death to disgrace of refusing from his ideals. On the contrary, if a philosopher defends himself in the first place, it proves the fact that his philosophy is either wrong or based on deliberate lies, which is clearly not the case with Socrates.

Thus, Socrates’ readiness to die is in fact the strongest argument in his defense, which proves his integrity and the fact that all his previous words and actions were not motivated by personal benefit. In order to prove that he has cared about the truth more than about glory and wealth for decades, he reinforces this point in his speech: “if I had been like other men, I should not have neglected all my own concerns, or patiently seen the neglect of them during all these years… not even the impudence of my accusers dares to say that I have ever exacted or sought pay of anyone; they have no witness of that. And I have a witness of the truth of what I say; my poverty is a sufficient witness.” Hence,  Socrates’ poverty is one of the arguments that he uses in order to prove that his activities have never been driven by desire of success or material wealth. In his opinion, a good philosopher should care about other people’s concerns more than about his own ones. Socrates mentions that he has never denied  help to anyone, and that he has acted like a father or brother to many citizens who needed a wise advice. So, he refers to his own good reputation in this to demonstrate that his arguments are not far-fetched but the same in years.

In conclusion, it is worth saying that Plato’s Apology is an example of a cross-genre work which unites philosophy and literature. It is interesting to the readers because of the unique defense approach that Socrates chooses to prove his point. Instead of defending himself as a personality, he chooses to defend the truth, which in his opinion is a more important focus of philosophy. A whole range of philosophical aspects are covered in the speech of Socrates, which remains one of peculiar justifications of philosophy as special code of ethics. Indeed, Socrates chooses to die as an argument in defense of his ideas, which he believes should be the main test for all true philosophers. He thinks that by making the truth superior to staying alive he sets example to other people, so he believes his mission is successful. Hence,  the paradox about Socrates’ defense is the definition of victory. From a layman’s  perspective, he obviously loses as he receives the severest sentence possible, but the main point of Plato is he is the actual winner because he manages to achieve his purpose by taking courage to defend  the most powerful argument –dying for the sake of truth.

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