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 ancientAthens.
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 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 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. What Socrates really wants is that people of Athens wake up. If they do not do so, they risk
losing their civilization. While acting is good, if we fail to appreciate or understand why, then,
we as a species are pretty much hopeless. People ought not to be like zombies and the living
dead who live their life without examining it. It is not so much about giving up the material or
the political, but to question all of our existence.
According to Socrates, when he was a child, his Daemon had always warned him about the
future when he was about to do something really stupid. Now, just before he die, the Daemon’s
voice is silent. This means that either death is purely material, or that secondly, there is a place
where the soul goes to. In other words, Socrates may then either sleep forever, seeing that he is
old. Or, if there is a Hades, he can question the heroes and poets of old.
There is no school or curriculum involved – just a life-style of questioning the nature of
democracy, and our entire existence.
In the end, Socrates was sentenced to be guilty. He mocked the court by saying that they ought to
feed him for the rest of his life. In the end, they did not so, and they did not exile or imprison
him. This is because he felt that the unexamined life is simply not worth living. Socrates also felt
that judges of the underworld are much wiser than human judges. In the end, Socrates accepted
his fate, knowing that death may either be a sleep or another process of gaining more knowledge
and more questioning of the heroes of old.
The difference between what is true and what is persuasive is often very confusing as the
distinction between them can often mislead the reader of the Apology of Socrates. Despite what
Socrates said about his declared ignorance, and the self-reflection that he is not a biased or clever
speaker, he is in fact lying about that. This is because he is a clever and eloquent speaker. Also,
one must be wary of the difference between what is logical, and what is seemingly rational.
The distinction between words and wisdom is also important as it demonstrates that what is true
in words may not be true in wisdom. The influence of Socrates over the city of Athens is crucial,
since if he did not have any influence, he would have been never heard of, and he never would
have gone to trial. It was his influence that led to such persons as Plato who was a former
politician and statesmen to begin to examine his life, and become a philosopher.
Socrates did know a lot; this is because he has had plenty of time to question everyone, and also
because of his unconventional method of asking everyone around him arousing and often-
provocative questions that test the limit of what they claim to know. It is about realizing what
your implied assumptions are – those that are a blinding force to knowing the truth and wisdom
of reality, at least the political reality of life, and the role of presumed knowledge.
After his systematic investigation of those who have the biggest reputation, the poets and
playwrights, as well as the artisans, he discovered that it is their presumed knowledge, or at least
their naiveté of presuming to know something they know nothing about that leads them to
trouble. It is about dialogue, and being engaged with fellow human beings, unlike the Buddhist
or even religious ideal of being alienated from others. When it comes to Socrates, and his
dialogue with Euthyphro, Euthyphro really did not know as much as he claimed about what the
gods wanted. And as Socrates stated in his sentencing, he does not fear death that is because his inner daemon
did not speak up during the entire trial. Death could either be a perpetual sleep or simply another
life in which he can question all of the heroes of old. Socrates also asserts that the gods of the
underworld are much wiser than men who are of this mortal world.
Essentially, then what Socrates is arguing for is that we should live the good life, and a just life,
because that is how the gods judge one’s fate if one goes to the Underworld of Hades.
Finally, in Plato’s Critas, Socrates argues that he is not dying by hemlock because of the
reputation of his friends, or of what public opinion thinks of him – rather, he is dying for the sake
of respecting Athenian law, and because he had played the game all of his life, and that he is
pretty content with living the life that he deserved to live, and that furthermore, there is no reason
why he should be able to flee. It would set up precedence for others to disobey the law, even if
the people involved in making and enforcing the laws are wicked or cruel people.
Considering that Socrates has a family in Athens, never really left Athenian territory except as a
soldier, and never stood up against the Court of law, had a lot of freedom to do as he pleased,
including trying to live the good and just life, then he at least owes Athens so much more than
simply trying to flee. Another major criticism that Socrates claims to his friend is that since he
told the Athenians that there is no need to fear death (Even though he did not really want to die,
but since he did what he had to do, he is pretty content with his legacy), and then he is willing to
die.After all, death is either an eternal sleep or another life in Hades.
It the contract that Socrates is unwilling to break. Without the Laws of Athens, he would not
have been able to do what he did. Therefore, according to Socrates, he must accept his fate, and
he had to agree to the institutions that are present. He did not say that civil disobedience and
rebellion are completely useless, what he is suggesting rather is that sometimes civil
disobedience will send out the wrong message to the next generation.
The Republic begins with a slave of Sephylus running up to Socrates and his friend in the city of
Athens after a religious ceremony. The slave wanted Socrates to go up to his master’s house for a
chat, and to catch up.
The first major dialogue of significance is when the younger men says that they want to force
Socrates to go, despite the fact that he did not really want to. Socrates response was that he could
use reason to if he wanted. The response was that the younger people had the greater number,
and therefore, might makes right – simply because whoever has the most power and numbers
wins – that is how, “democracy” works. Reason can also be drowned down the will of the sheep
that are more than willing to comply to whoever has the sovereign power to use force and might
to enforce his decisions. Fear, apparently and numbers go hand-in-hand.
Socrates goes to Sephylus’ home, and is curious to know what Sephylus makes of his life as an
old man. According to Sephylus, his old life is more of a temperate moderation. Socrates then
responds by saying that it is because Sephylus is wealthy. Sephylus’ response is that it is partly
because of his wealth, and also because of he sees old age as a combination of a blessing and
curse. This is because a life of youthful excess will lead to one of a cursed old age, being unable to do what you were once able to do as a youth. Sephylus inherited the wealth, but also added
more wealth to his family. The question then becomes whether or not a good life or a just life is
According to Sephylus, wealth is good because it allows you to pay back your debts, along with
the fact that you do not have to cheat or steal. Of course, having wealth is not necessarily just or
good in and of itself.
But there is a problem, according to Socrates – suppose that a friend gives you his weapons, but
then decides to kill someone, do you give him back his weapons? Do you create a noble lie to
justify it? Can you do something unjust to prevent something more terrible and unjust?
According to Sephylus, the basic definition of justice is that one ought to benefit one’s friends,
while harming one’s enemies. In other words, you are either with us or against us. But, then, the
problem is – how do you tell, and how do you know who is a friend, and who is an enemy? Your
friends – at least those that pretend to be usually end up being your enemy, and those that are
harsh and honest with you tend to be your friends. Hence, this is the one of the most conflicting
conundrums of this definition of justice: do well unto your friends, and do belligerent, harmful,
hurtful things unto your foes.
Next, Therymaseus, a public orator and no great fan of Socrates come in and say that it is the
strong that rules. It is about power, and might. In other words, whoever has the most physical and
material power reigns. Socrates then questions this theory by asking how do the small elites and
oligarchs know what is just, and do they not have to also cooperate amongst themselves in order
to rob and get what they want? After all, if there is no political order between thieves and
oligarchs, then it is very much useless to do anything. According to Therymaseus, the people are
generally like sheep. They admire the shepherd as long as he protects them. That is how the
common folk are: no matter how much philosophical dribble that Socrates may question and
inquire, the reality of politics is that it is those who are strong that leads.
According to Socrates, Therymaseus confused two things: first the true shepherd, and secondly,
the money-maker. Yet, they are the same thing, this is because they are one person. In the end
Book I went nowhere. Even Socrates admitted it as such.
In Book II, Glacon and Adametus questions Socrates and gets the rest of The Republic rolling.
According to Glacon, justice is unnatural in that one wants to do unjust things without getting
caught, while not being able to suffer the injustices of others that are inflicted upon oneself.
Secondly, Glacon also states that justice is a compromise between fear and greed. Rules and laws
act as a disciplinary force to keep the balance between those that want to do ill and those that do
not want to suffer any ills and misfortunes.
According to Adametus, he agrees with his brother that one will do evil if one can get away with
it, and avoid the injustice of others. He takes it further by claiming that we do what we perceive
to be just because we fear the gods. The second point is that most people do not understand how
power operates. Either the gods do not exist, or if they do, you can always buy your way into power, and share
the loot once you get into a position of authority. This is a very Machiavellian concept, because
that is exactly what he said in The Prince.
The ultimate question to Socrates then is this:
Suppose that you were to live the just life, and have to suffer the most unjust things in the world,
and have no external rewards, and be considered to be the most unjust – how do you justify such
a lifestyle that is condemned by many, because what is immoral and evil is seem as good, while
what is really good and honest is seen as bad? How do you justify the oppression that you will
have to go through with no reward? In other words – are you willing to live a life of justice for
the sake of being just?
The main challenge to Socrates is that he has to justify living the good and just life. That is, he
has to confront the challenges of never being materially rewarded or have the just life considered
to be unjust. This is the most important part of the entire book as the rest of it revolves around
this question. Socrates also asks Glaucon and his friend to help him make up this perfect city in
Socrates acknowledges that the first attempt at defining justice was a failure since they did not go
anywhere. Hence, from Book II onward, Socrates will try to define and examine the nature of
justice and the just life in relation to politics. Socrates emphasized the importance of dialogue,
and the need for an honest intellectual conversation regarding the formation of this perfect city,
and how this city will relate to the individual.
Socrates argues that we have to move from the macro to the micro, and from there derive what
the just life would mean for the individual. Plato however also tempts and moulds us into a
certain direction, and he does try to keep us focused on his pedagogical manner of teaching the
young and those who are old about the nature of the just society.
Socrates begins with the question of why people live in cities. His response is that shared
collective responsibility means that it is much easier on our own, and that the city provides us
with the basic necessities and sustenance material by which to live. It provides us with a kind of
social order and cohesion that if we were to live alone as hermits would prove to be impossible.
The distribution of labour simply makes our own life easier, and although Socrates wanted to
define justice using the simplest city, his friends interjected and stated that they need to have a
city of luxury and lavishness. So, to do this though, Socrates says that you need to have an army.
This means that one must not only have an army to defend what you have, but also to take what
others have. In other words, the city must also invade others, and invade itself in order to ensure
that society will always be intact and be safe from foreign invasion and interests.
However, to train this Army, says Socrates requires that they be trained from an earlier age –
infants, because that is when we as people are most susceptible the assumptions and implied
social conventions of society. In other words, what happened to us when we are younger, and our
ascribed status at birth plays a huge role in how we will play out our script in the real world. In
other words, it is our unconscious and subconscious mind that we must be able to penetrate
deeply into. Furthermore, the gods may also favour the wicked and the cruel, and are themselves not always
the most just there is. Hence, the gods would reward what is unjust because the unjust tend to
escape our notice especially if it is a really huge crime – and it takes longer for us to judge a
situation like that. However, we are much more concerned about small injustices – things and
events that are personal and that directly affect us.
But, then the question becomes – who’s going to be the army, and what kind of class structure
would be conducive to having a well-trained, loyal, domesticated, and trustworthy guardian class
of soldiers? And how we can justify the class structure of society if it is oppressive, or that it is
the way it is as Socrates described it?
According to Socrates – there are two kinds of lies – the first lie is the lie in words, verbal lies.
These are lies that are generally harmless. On the other hand, the lies of the soul are extremely
harmful because they are a detriment to the liar and the person being lied to.
These young soldiers would have to be prevented from accessing the more classical works of
society because they would not be ready for the most absurd and crazy ideas out there if they do
not have a good foundation. This is relate to The Apology where Socrates tells the audience that
unless he destroys their illusions of what he is in their minds by explaining his lifestyle of near
nihilism and cynicism, where the pursuit of happiness usually involves angering the mob, then he
would not have been able to in a just sense, live with himself.
Censorship would be necessary as the young minds are often too prone to suggestion and
manipulation. Hence, what needs to be done is gradual encroachment of the kind of content that
is more approachable and manageable for the young. Soldiers should not be afraid of death (as
Socrates stated), and be willing to serve and protect their own city.
Gymnastics and the arts are both necessary for the training of strong soldiers who are courageous
and loyal. Music, poetry, and the arts help to develop the mind, and the sharpening of the soul is
needed in order to test the limits of how well these children are.
Book II is all about children, and the need to domesticate them properly such that when they do
face the strange and the absurd, and think about their life purpose (or death), they are not scared
Out of the soldiers and the military, though says Socrates will also become the true guardians –
these will be the philosopher-kings.
To justify these whole social strata, though, a Noble Lie or the Myth of the Metals would have to
be created. According to Socrates this lie would justify the class structure of society by claiming
that the philosopher-kings are the gold-souled individuals. The silver metals are the soldiers and
the auxiliary. The iron and bronze people are generally the artisans and the craftsmen or farmers.
However, according to Socrates there is some upward and even downward mobility because the
entire perfect society is based on the balancing of the elements of the soul, and harmony that is
logical and consistent with the ideals of the just and good life.
Whether or not this Noble Lie is one of verbal or soul is difficult to tell. One could argue that the
Noble Lie is a lie that justifies the Divine Right of Kings, and the royal absolutist ancien regime. Consider this, if the greatest warrior in Greek history thinks that being the god of the underworld
is the worst; he would rather be in the sunshine and be the lowest of the low, this will really
hinder the image of military service for those that want to be serving in the military. Hence, the
old myths and stories must be dressed up, or even censored. This is for the collective good.
The best and the greatest would have to be refined and purified. The rich would have to be
moderated, while the poor can live in modest luxury with some property, family, and wealth. The
gold-souled elite, on the other hand are much more constricted, and are forbidden to interact with
one another in the same room – this is so that the collective good is retained. As for critics,
Socrates simply stated that it is the collective good that matters, not so much which particular
Justice, according to some is that of might – but also the authority of those to mislead and
misinform the lowly sheep. The sheep of course are not entirely stupid – they can see the benefits
of being herded by the sheep dog and the shepherd, but are strongly mistaken about the
motivations of the shepherd.
Great injustices are often disguised as great justices; while we squander our livelihood over tiny
injustices that in the end create a situation of lawlessness, the need for more laws, and the need
for more regulation and control. In the end, society will not become a utopia, but rather a
dystopia of a most horrifying and Orwellian kind. Ultimately, when a personal crisis turns into a
national tragedy that is when we know that something has totally gone wrong. It has everything
to do with the laws that have over-run our society.
In other words, Plato, through Socrates is teaching us that training and hard work matter in
determining who gets to go to which class of society. However, there is at least the chance of
upward and downward mobility. For the soldier though, this will be very difficult.
Ultimately, we have to ask where we came from, and where we are going if we are to have a
clear picture of what our modern political life means and the implications of our political
Book III of The Republic continues the discussion with regard to the topic of how to best educate
the guardians, and the common people in Plato’s Socrates’ ideal republic. Socrates emphasizes
that those myths that portray the gods as weak or fearful are not good for society and the state in
general, as it would make the citizens fearful, and that mythology must be crafted in such as a
way as to make people be not afraid of death.
According to Socrates, people ought to fear slavery more than death this is because slavery is
basically a living hell. Death, on the other hand has more uncertainty involved, and it is not
known what it is actually like. We all know what slavery is like. It is brutal and harsh. Death is a
natural part of life. Slavery is the opposite. Since Socrates emphasizes freedom and liberty so
much, as well as the good life, the good life cannot e obtained by enslaving others, or being
Mythology must be dressed up, this is not because of the fact that the poets and the story tellers
are bad, but rather, the truth has to be distorted in order to shape the citizens in the form that
Socrates or rather, Plato wants. If the people are scared by the power of the gods in heaven, or the underworld beneath them, then they are hopeless. Lying, or the noble lie as Plato describes it
is the necessary lie that is the basic foundation of the entire society, and sometimes, leaders have
to lie in order to get the people to behave. This relates to the Machiavellian theory that leaders
would have to lie and cheat their way into power; as without a little deception or deceit, politics
would not be what it is today. It would appear that Plato’s Socrates’ admits that politics is a dirty
game, and hence implying why he could not be involved in it.
With regard to poetry, and the art of imitation, Socrates says that imitation is only good in som