POL208Y1 Study Guide - Final Guide: Tyrant, Psychological Trauma, George Carlin
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On Plato’s Apology of Socrates
First of all, Socrates is a real person, however, we must keep in mind that the version of Socrates
that has been presented to us by Plato is Plato’s Socrates. Socrates was really sentenced to death
by hemlock. Furthermore, he did have a real impact on the minds of the young in ancient Athens.
He did not discriminate between young and old, rich and poor, or genders. He was a great talker
and master of discourse. The dramatic dialogue that Plato gives to Socrates is done on purpose
and is structured in such a way to illuminate us regarding the many characters that Socrates
Socrates is the main character, or the protagonist of the dialogues. We must also never forget that
Plato is here to teach us something about the world that Socrates and the one that he himself
lived. Luckily, most of the works of Plato has survived throughout the centuries. Plato, unlike his
mentor is much more systemic and structured, compared to Socrates who goes with the flow in
trying to understand the world itself. The fact that Socrates got killed or murdered by Athenian
democracy illustrates a certain kind of hypocrisy and even insecurity in what political dialogue is
all about, and its impact on our perception of public discourse.
Euphiro is the first person that Socrates gets to talk with as he awaits the bureaucratic procedure
he needed to go through before he can be tried in the court of law. Euphiro presumed that he
knew what the gods wanted by claiming to Socrates that he is going to prosecute his father for
murdering a murderer because he says the gods told him so. Socrates then questioned them and
asked him to get into a discussion about this issue with him as he would like to know very much
more about how the gods operate in the court of law, since the charges against him are that he is
an atheist, and that he is ungodly.
Socrates never believed that is a superior to others, but Euphiro believed that he had a special
God-given duty to prosecute those that commit murder. Socrates then uses Socratic irony to
examine the finer points of Euphiro’s argument that he knows what the gods wanted.
One thing that we have to watch out for is the perception that Socratic irony is used all the time.
This is not true as Socrates is very careful in what he can tease out from those who presume to
themselves that they know how the world works. Socrates is interested in a conversation, not a
conversion process. The purpose of Socratic irony is entirely pedagogical.
Of course, when Euthyphro took up the challenge of trying to educate Socrates about what the
gods wanted, Socrates was not really serious about since he probably knew that Euthyphro is a
Socrates wants to learn and understand how the real world works, not heaven or hell; since he
does not presume to know anything about what Olympus or Hades is like. He is much more
concerned and interested in understanding politics in the real world. Socrates is also not amused
by mental gymnastics either. Euthyphro’s argument is that firstly, even if one knew what the gods
wanted, there are still too many gods to count; and they all want many different things. Secondly,
how about sources that claims what the gods wanted? How valid are they? How much can the
different sources be trusted to be telling us the truth? How critical should we be when examining
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the evidence? Thirdly, do the gods love us for being pious because we love them, or, is it that
they love you for being pious?
Then the dialogue abruptly ends. The purpose of this is to show that the argument or discussion
has gone nowhere, and full-circle. It also illustrates the fact that Socrates never pretends to know
something that he does not know. The biggest impediment to our understanding of the world via
knowledge is that not of ignorance, but wilful negligence to question the many assumptions and
values that we have. When we pretend that we know something we do now know, we are risking
not only our own sanity, but also that of our own civilization as religious wars are based on so
many interpretations of religion and god’s orders.
At first Plato’s Apology seems to endorse, and even celebrate the Socratic way of life. Upon
a closer look, are there any indications that the Socratic life may not, in fact, be wholly
With regard to the Socratic lifestyle, is that of the paradox that Socrates says that he knows
nothing and the questions is how did he know that he did not know or presumed to know a lot
about anything? This sounds very much like, “I think, therefore I am” by Rene Descartes. The
Socratic lifestyle also seems very harsh and problematic according to Plato because one has to
spend a lot of time questioning everybody, but then again, the whole dialectal process can only
work if the people whom one is talking to are willing to challenge their self-vilified beliefs, and
values. It can also lead to a possible political rebellion amongst the youth, as the prosecutors of
Socrates feared so much. There is also a sense of cynicism and hopelessness for society, as even
with the best of logics and practical observations of the entire trial, one finds that Socrates is
really making a mockery out of the mob that is Athenian democracy itself. Democracy itself
seems to be no guarantee of minority rights, and so Socrates chose to die with honour.
Socrates is concerned about the 3D material life, but he stated quite clearly that he neither knows
much about what happens in heaven or Hades, as these areas are out of his area of concern. He
would like people to question their assumptions about human nature and political life, as well as
things as justice and liberty. The supposed charge that he was corrupting the youth illustrates a
sense that the conservative element of society is very strong in that time, and the respect for
ancient culture and beliefs such as in the gods of Olympus were taken to extremes.
Some of the broad features of Plato’s Socrates Apology are that it is not a real replication of the
debates that Plato heard Socrates say. They are Plato’s version of Socrates. Hence, he is free to
do as he pleases, and to do so with purpose. All of the repeated impasses between the
interlocutors – Plato and Euthyphro for example are complicated because of the nature of the
topic, and the subject-matter involved.
Socrates decided not to hire a speech writer, and to somehow give the Athenian court of 500
jurors an emotionally pleasing speech, then afterwards get off. Instead, Socrates will personally
defend himself. He wants to do it himself because he knows that he is old, and he wants to the
Athenians to understand what they are doing.
The real charges against Socrates – the ones that say that he has corrupted the youth and that he
does not believe in gods are all bullock. In short, the real heart of the matter is that the old
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accusers are very much afraid of him because he has shown them their weaknesses, and has
embarrassed their authority. Socrates is not a sophist who can make strong arguments weak, or
vice-a-versa. He is not a natural philosopher either in that he wants to know about the essence of
the sun, the moon, or any such things. Rather, Socrates is much more focused on the present
moment, and the life on this 3D world.
Because Socrates aggravated the public figures in public, as a member of the public, Socrates has
been able to gain a mass following. However, what he does is not because he is after money, a
house, or any kind of fame. Rather, he simply has a method. There is no curriculum or money
involved. The method of dialogue with an open, but discerning mind is crucial for Socrates in
order to understand the truth of topics and subjects.
When one of Socrates’ friends went to the Oracle at Delphi to ask her if there is anyone wiser
than Socrates, the oracle said no. Socrates, instead of telling himself that he is the smartest and
wisest person, was puzzled by this. Despite the fact that Socrates is well-read and well-versed in
a lot of knowledge, he is still curious to know much more about the puzzle that the god Apollo
had given him to resolve.
The elites of the Athenian society, who are the rich and powerful, highly reputable upper classes
were aggravated and insulted by Socrates’ methods. They became frustrated and angry at him by
pointing out the fact that these people know next to nothing about the world.
The second class of people that Socrates questioned were the poets and artisans. They know a
little bit, but they are largely inspired by the muses and the gods, hence are not the most reliable
source of information.
Finally, the third category known as the craftsmen knew a lot, but had a very large ego in that
because they know a little about something, they must also know a little about everything else as
well. They presumed to know what they did not know.
Socrates conclusions are twofold. Firstly, if truly nobody is wiser than Socrates, then all of
humanity is very much hopeless as we are all ignorant, because according to Socrates, all he
knows is that he does know anything.
Secondly, the other conclusion that Socrates is willing to entertain is that when both extremes –
the upper reputable class and the lower; one that knows nothing at all, and the latter whom
claims to know something about things that they know nothing about. Between these extremes is
the modest Socratic lifestyle of knowing that one does not know everything regarding what goes
on in Mount Olympus or Hades. This is what separates Socrates from the rest of the Athenians.
He is also very much a pest to the ruling elite.
To live such a Socratic lifestyle is not easy. This is because it requires humility, patience, and
much perseverance. It is not a lifestyle that is for the faint-of-heart. This kind of gnosis requires
human-interaction, dialogue, and conversation that is honest and willing to eliminate the
ignorance and bullocks that is so common in our learned assumptions and presumptions of how
the world works. Unless we question everything, we will never gain any more knowledge of how
the world works. Now, Socrates knows a lot, he is not completely sceptical, but nevertheless, the
act of questioning everyone is crucial to gaining control over your own ego.
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