PHIL 1F91 October 12 2012
Lecture Six: Plato and the Apology
There are Three Periods in Plato‟s Writing:
- The Early Period (the Apology, The Euthyphro etc…)
- The Middle Period (the Phaedo, The Republic, The Symposium etc…)
- The Late Period (the Parmenides, The Laws etc…)
The Historical Background and Context of Socrates before the Apology
- Socrates was a citizen of Athens – a Polis or city-state. He served as a soldier in many battles in
the Peloponnesian war (431-404 BC)
- Socrates‟ mother was a mid-wife and Socrates uses this image to understand his own
philosophical method: he helps others give birth to their ideas
- Socrates lived a life of poverty by choice
More about Socrates
- Socrates was extremely ugly. He was describes as a „monster‟, a crab, pug-nosed. Socrates could
only train one eye on a person; (the other eye looked in the opposite direction).
- What does Socrates „ugliness‟ have to do with his philosophy
- For the Greeks, beauty and intelligence were linked. An excellent (Arete) man was excellent in all
areas of his character
- Finally, Socrates has what he calls a daimon – an inner voice that guided his thought and actions
- What exactly was this daimon?
Finally We Have the Sophists
- At this time, there were groups of teachers that went around Greek cities to teach the young, noble
Greeks how to speak, act and to influence other people – these men were called Sophists
- One famous Sophist called Gorgias claimed that the Protagoras claimed that “all knowledge was
relative to each individual.” Such “teachers” were clearly not interested in truth and thus were
reviled for this very reason. But many of the elite recognized that the Sophists did teach valuable
skills: Oratory and rhetoric.
Socrates in Historical Context
- After Athens lost the Peloponnesian war to Sparta, many of the politicians and citizens of Athens
wanted a scapegoat: someone they could blame for their defeat. Socrates was an easy target
- Socrates has also angered and embarrassed many important Athenians
- Finally, Sparta was anti-democratic. Socrates, in many ways, was the very icon of democratic
- SAPERE AUDEL
PHIL 1F91 October 12 2012
- Socrates was brought to trial on three charges:
1. Corrupting the youth of Athens
2. Making the stronger argument appear to be the weaker
3. For worshipping false gods (impiety)
- Socrates was convicted and was „forced‟ to commit suicide by drinking poisonous hemlock
- The Apology (from the Greek Apologia which means defense) is Plato‟s account of Socrates‟ trial.
- The Apology, as we will see, is important for three reasons:
1) Socratic irony. Socrates claims to be the wisest man in all of Athens because he knows he is
not wise. This makes him wiser that someone who believes he or she is truly wise when
he/she is not
2) Socratic Method. The Socratic method or elenchus, is a way of imparting knowledge without
having the student learn anything new
Probably the most famous example of this method can be found in Plato‟s The
Euthyphro. Euthyphro was a religious expert (he may have been a temple priest but
we are not sure). Thus, Socrates asked Euthyphro: “What is piety”?
To which Euthyphro responded: “I should say that which of all the gods love is pious
and holy and the opposite which they all hate impious”.
To this Socrates retorts: “The point which I should first which to understand is whether
the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy (in and of itself), or holy
because it is beloved by the gods”.
Either option leads to further questions about what piety is. As the discussion
continues, the student comes to know something about piety (what it is not) but never
learns anything, positively speaking, as to what piety is.
3) Socrates‟ Ethos. The Apology is important for its portrayal of Socrates as a man of deep ethical
conviction. Socrates refuses to stop examining himself and others; he continues to pursue the
truth, in all of its myriad forms, even if this means he must die for his beliefs
- Socrates begins by asking the court if he may “speak in his usual way”.
- This usual way that Socrates speaks of his formerly called Elenchus -- a method of question and
answer. Socrates starts by asking for a definition of justice. (The Republic) piety, (The Euthyphro)