Introduction to Philosophy – Spring 2014
Short Answer Questions
1. Explain the charges brought against Socrates and how he defends himself against
them. What alternative punishment does Socrates propose when he’s found guilty
and, in your view, why does he suggest this, knowing what the likely outcome will
There are two principal charges that are brought against Socrates in “The Apology”
written by Plato (but of Socrates’ views). The main accuser is a poet Meletus. Socrates is
accused of impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens.
The first charge of impiety is that Socrates does not acknowledge the Gods of Athens as
he “ponders what is above the earth and investigates everything beneath it, and turns the
weaker argument into the stronger” (Pojman/Vaugn Pg. 36). The charge is brought on
Socrates because Meletus claims that Socrates doesn’t acknowledge any Gods and that he
only acknowledges spiritual beings. Socrates’ defense is that if he went around Athens
trying to see if the Oracle (who said he was the wisest man) was right or wrong, that
meant that he believed that the Oracle was spiritual. That is Socrates really was impious,
he wouldn’t even have acknowledged the Oracle’s statement. Socrates also says that if he
acknowledges spiritual beings, than that means he recognizes spirits, which is what Gods
The second charge is that Socrates is corrupting the youth. This charge is brought upon
him because he is teaching the youth how to question and crossexamine other citizens,
which ultimately makes Socrates intentionally trying to harm the youth. Socrates’ defense
is that the youth follow him on their own willingness and that they only do so because
they like to hear Socrates’ question others. Socrates’ also says that he doesn’t teach them
anything because he doesn’t tell him what to do since he just goes around the city trying
to see if the Oracle is wrong or right.
Socrates is voted guilty by a narrow margin. Socrates than suggests that people in the
court owe him free public meals in the town hall (just like Olympians) because he
devoted his life to public service. He suggests this because he knows everyone in court
will vote for him to die as he is demanding something only given to Olympic champions.
He is then convicted by a large margin in which he expresses that he is not afraid of death
as he doesn’t think it is worth living a life without asking questions and also because he
doesn’t know if death is as bad as everything thinks it is.
2. What is philosophy and how does it differ from other subjects studied in
university? Explain in your own words Russell’s three arguments for why
philosophy is valuable.
1 Philosophy is essentially questioning every aspect of what we think we know and by
doing this, we will expand our intellect through discovering other possibilities. However,
philosophy uses reason to understand the world, which means that providing an argument
without much reason does not mean it, is part of “philosophy. In this way, Philosophy is
unlike other subjects studied in college. Philosophy does not have definite concrete
answers like science or math even though historically, subjects with definite answers like
astronomy was considered part of philosophy. Now, subjects that have concrete answers
are considered to be science.
Russel has three arguments for the value of philosophy. The first is that there are
limitations of practical utility. For instance, society can value besides improvements. An
example would be poverty. Philosophy improves and changes the people who study it as
philosophy provides a way to think. The second argument is that there are “speculative
interest in the world”. There are always questions like “what is the meaning of life?” that
are difficult to answer since often there is not right answer. However, those questions
provide a spiritually rich life that is fulfilling to us even when there is no concrete answer.
Finally, the third argument is impartiality versus dogmatism. Dogmatism is laying down
principles without really considering evidence but instead believing in it just because. We
cannot just merely accept the dictates of custom and habit. Instead, we need to questions
every aspect of our lives in order to have a better grasp of the bigger picture. These three
arguments provide a good reason why philosophy is so important.
3. Explain the difference between being a Sophist and a philosopher according to
Socrates. How does Socrates show that he was not a Sophist? In your view, why was
he so concerned with showing this?
The difference between being a Sophist and a philosopher is that sophists are teachers of
rhetoric (art of persuasion). Sophists are able to make weaker argument the stronger, and
the stronger argument the weaker. They are not concerned with the truth because their
main goal is to just win. Socrates was accused of being a sophist. However, Socrates
believed that he seeks for the truth as he saw rhetoric as a battle. He believed that the
point of an argument is not to just win but truth. Knowing the truth in human affairs helps
us, humans, to live well.
Socrates probably wanted people to know that he was not a Sophist because otherwise all
his beliefs would not be valid as he only convinces people through rhetoric instead of the
truth. Socrates did not want people to believe what he said because he was persuasive. He
wanted people to see that he was right through the truth.
4. According to the Cave Allegory, philosophy leads not only to Truth but also to
freedom. Give the allegory and explain in your own words how Plato builds an
argument for this idea. Is it convincing to a 21 century audience or not (explain
2 The Cave Allegory, written by Plato, describes a cave underneath the ground where there
are prisoners who are shackled up and facing a cave wall. There is a fire behind the
prisoners and the people who are hold the other people as prisoners would create shadows
off of the fire, which would then project onto the cave wall at which the prisoners are
looking at. Because the prisoners only see the shadows in front of them, they believe that
those shadows are real since that is all the prisoners know about. The prisoners also
assume that the sounds they hear are coming from the shadows.
However, one of the prisoners is brought away from the cave and is lead outside the cave.
At first, the prisoner can only see the blinding light, which is very painful as the prisoner
is used to a really dark environment. The prisoner eventually gets mad, as he doesn’t
understand what is happening. He then sees vague shadows, then reflections in the water,
and then objects and people. Finally, he sees the sun and figures out that this was the
source of what can be seen. Because of all of this, he feels happy yet also pity for the
prisoners that were left behind. He wants to show them what he experienced and so he
returns back to the cave. But because he was exposed to such bright light, he does not see
very well and is considered “weaker” and different than everyone else. He attempts to
free the prisoners and bring them out of the cave. However, the people would then kill the
Plato’s argument is that the prisoner is essentially, us, humans. The chains that bind us
and force us to look at the shadows represent fear. The shadows that the prisoner see are
the people in power and that the only way for us to realize that the shadows are fake is
that some personal crisis or natural disaster must happen in order for that to take place.
We essentially need to be forced to take our eyes away from the shadow in order to
liberate ourselves. And the only way to get out of the cave, we need to do philosophy.
I think that Plato’s argument is very true and at first, it may not be very convincing to the
people in the 21 century since we are all essentially still in the cave. However, if
someone were to make us realize Plato’s argument is right, then we will be convinced. I
think it is hard for us to accept that we do not know much since all we know is what we
think we know but it is possible for us to eventually realize that we are in the cave and
that something must be done.
5. Give the various elements that make up the Cave Allegory (cave, prisoners, light,
etc.) and explain what they are analogies for in the contemporary world: what
“caves” in modern life “impris