Socrates is one of the leading ancient western philosophers who has made a great contribution to the field of ethics. The works of Socrates have mainly been presented through his student Plato and the plays by Aristophanes. Being one of the earliest Greek philosophers, Socrates has remained a legend of Western philosophy. His name has been portrayed in the major philosophical works introducing such notions as Socratic methods and Socratic irony as the leading concepts used in this field of philosophy and ethics. In the recent years, Socrates' works have been hailed by renowned scholars and philosophers who have recognized him one of the wisest scholars to have ever worked in Greece (Ap, 10c). Socrates was also one of the few philosophers known for his wisdom, as well as courage. He proved that not even death would deter him from believing in what he thought to be right and just. He is also hailed as a straightforward person who stood up for his beliefs despite the fact that what he stood up for would affect the high and mighty of the society. His firm belief in his ideas earned him many enemies, especially among the most respected leaders in Athens, who claimed him being corrupt as well as a public enemy whom they sought to persecute and eventually kill. This paper will focus on Socrates’s trial with specific reference to the presentation he made before the Jury and how his presentation might have in one way or another led to his execution.
Socrates’ trial can only be seen through the works written by his greatest student Aristotle who analyzes a number of issues that Socrates highlighted in the trail and how these issues had contributed to his eventual execution, as he was found guilty of the crimes he was accused of. These accusations are aimed at ensuring that Socrates stops poisoning the minds of the Athenians.
Socrates' accusers stated that he had violated the law of Athens by leading the youths of Athens in the wrong direction. They stated that the kind of lessons Socrates gave to the youths was wrong since they were meant to make the latter deviant and disrespectful to those in the position of power. In the their own words, “Socrates was making the youths lose respect for status quo” (Ap,19c). The argument behind this claim was based on the fact that Socrates had confrontation with some of most respected politicians, one of the things that made those in position of power want to prove that the philosopher was wrong. Socrates had caused much embarrassment to some leaders and people enjoying authority by testing their wisdom through the process of questioning. Using his command of language, proper oratory skills as well as a good knowledge on various issues, Socrates decided to question a number of respected leaders in Athens meaning to determine their level of wisdom. In these expeditions, Socrates was involved in corrupting the youths by allowing them to move around him as he was working towards ensuring that most people who were actually considered wise by the people were actually wise (Ap, 16a).
Corruption of the Youth
Many of the youths of Athens moved with Socrates as he questioned them on various issues. The leaders, who were mainly politicians and poets, saw this a hatched plot on the part of Socrates who portrayed them as foolish, thereby undermining to authority as well as showing the youths that they were not wise as they purported to be. The authorities looked at Socrates as an enemy of their leadership and progress, believing that he wanted the youths to disrespect them as leaders in Athens. The youths were also fascinated by the kind of wisdom and courage that a common person such as Socrates had, which allowed him to engage the most powerful people in the society. Thus, the leaders decided to accuse him of corrupting the youths to be disrespectful as well as to undermine the authority.
In defense against all these accusations, Socrates reiterated that the youths of Athens did not have anything meaningful to do and that was why they followed him everywhere around the city (Ap, 20b). The courage that Socrates expressed in the responses to his accusers is fascinating since he confronted most of those involved in accusing him with the facts they were not able to deal with. As he moves around the city to question most of the men who are presumed to be wise, Socrates confronts them with questions that they are unable to handle. The fact that people who are held with high esteem in the society cannot handle the questions raised by Socrates becomes a matter of great interest to the youths who decide to follow his methods (Ap, 16c). At this point, Socrates, by his own admission, agrees that he has indeed influenced the youths with his own deed so that the young men of Athens decided to follow his examples. In this respect, Socrates shows some amount of guilt since he has been able to change the way most of the youths think, thereby influencing them morally or corrupting their minds.
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Socrates further claims that as he works towards examining the levels of wisdom among the men considered wise in Athens, most of these men feel their own embarrassment for not being able to remain calm and handle the situation that has already exposed them in a bad light. Socrates states that most of the men he has examined and who proved to be unwise decided to direct their anger at him instead of directing it towards themselves. Socrates sees no fault in examining their wisdom and exposing them to the public as unwise. He, therefore, believes that instead of claiming that it is his fault that their lack of wisdom is exposed, they should be getting angry with themselves for pretending to be wise, thus creating a situation whereby they mislead people.
The accusation against Socrates for misguiding the youths towards disregarding status quo is seen valid in this regard. Socrates is first unapologetic about the way he has exposed the men considered wise in Athens; he goes ahead and embarrasses them by calling them pretenders of wisdom (Ap, 19b). Therefore, Socrates considers the men unwise, which is against the status quo, he is accused of violating. The fact that he has influence on the youths and that the youths are following his examples as well as adopting his methods means that he has indeed interfered with the status quo and has made the youths start considering the leaders and men who were once thought wise as unwise, thereby rendering their leadership in Athens impossible. Considering the fact that most of the people whom Socrates see as unwise are leaders and that it is the youths of Athens whom he makes to believe in this, it is very likely that these youths can easily cause a revolution to change the leadership of Athens, something that the laws of Athens consider illegal.
Socrates Introducing New Gods
Meletus was the Second Accuser of Socrates claiming that Socrates was an atheist who sought to introduce new God to Athens. The accusations against Socrates were meant to highlight the fact that he (Socrates) had been consulting some oracles who were not in any way related to the Athenian Gods. Based on the argument about consulting the Oracle of Delphi that he puts forward, these charges brought forward by Meletus are seen as valid. The validity of the charges concerning Socrates consulting other deities are further strengthened when the philosopher sates that the reason he has been moving around Athens trying to find out if there were other men wiser than himself was the fact that the oracle has earlier indicated that he was wiser than the other men. In Plato’s defense, he states that he had to go around to find out about other wiser men or other men who have always been considered wise, since he did not consider himself a wise man; yet, the oracle, who he says would never tell lies, has confirmed that he is the wisest. He, therefore, wanted to know the truth behind this issue despite the fact that he fully believed in the oracle.
Athenians were known to believe in their Gods and worshipping them diligently. The fact that Socrates was consulting an oracle meant that he had never believed in the Athenian Gods and was, therefore, introducing some kind of belief that was not acceptable for the people of Athens. Thus, he had to be dealt with as a person who was involved in serious violation of the laws of Athens. Socrates’s charges were brought forth by concerned people who felt that he was polluting the morality of Athens by making the people believe in other things other than what they (the people of Athens) had been taught to believe for years.
Considering the kind of influence that Socrates had on the people of Athens, it was right that certain actions were taken against Socrates since he was a major player in the social lives of the people of Athens. This means that he was an important person who would have a great deal of influence on the lives of the people and could easily affect the people negatively in terms of religion, thereby contributing to major disrespect for the Athenian Gods as well as making a major blow to the belief systems in the city of Athens.
Socrates Disrespect for the Old Athenian Gods
There are several things that indicate that Socrates had been disrespectful for the Old Athenian Gods. First, this belief is based on the fact that Socrates believed in an oracle who is not considered a god of Athens. This proves that he believes in something different from what the people of Athens believed in and, therefore, shows his disregard for the Athenian Gods by way of consulting the Oracle Delphi. Socrates further goes on with a mission to discredit the leaders of Athens who are believed to have been put in those leadership positions by the God of Athens (Euth, 15a).
In his conversation with Euthyphro, there is much skepticism about the belief in Gods, especially in the matters regarding the definition of piety. Socrates relates the definition of impiety, which is one of the charges he is facing, to the relationship with God and indicates that gods do not have a consensus on what is supposed to be right and things that are supposed to be wrong (Euth 12c). He claims that a particular god can endorse an action that another god will most likely refute. He, therefore, indicates that this proves that even the gods themselves do not trust one another. This Socrates' assertion is an indication that the Gods have trouble trying to make things right among themselves; therefore, men may not really trust God. It also shows to what extent Socrates undermines the gods and their powers, what makes it hard for him to be considered a lawful person (Euth, 13b). Hence, Socrates indicated that the he was one of the few people who could stand against the Gods of Athens and challenge them similar to the way he had challenged the leaders whom he believed to be unwise. In one of the conversations between Euthyphro and Socrates, Euthyphro indicates that piety is concerned with performing acts that are aimed at caring for the gods, a position that Socrates disputes by indicating that performing such acts of piety towards one God and not the other amounts to favoritism of one god and not the other, thereby contributing to a certain degree of unfairness in the way one treats a particular God and not the other (Euth 12e).
In this instance, Socrates uses his philosophy and wisdom in a way that is most likely to be questioning some of the most fundamental aspects about the way people relate with their gods. Socrates is involved in this conversation with Euthyphro since he is trying to understand the best way to defend himself from the charges of impiety, which, in this case, can also be an indication that despite being an Athenian, Socrates still has problems understanding the religious culture of the people of Athens and its respective meanings. What this can also serve to prove is the fact that Socrates has been indulging in the beliefs about other deities and, thus, does not understand what it means to serve and worship the Athenian Gods. Consequently, he is guilty of the charges of impiety that are leveled against him by Meletus as one of his accusers.
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When indicating how much respect he has for the authority, Socrates also stated that he had much respect for the latter and would be respecting the authority at all times. However, he reiterates that despite the fact that he has respect for the authority, he will always give more respect to God that he would ever give to nay the authority that is given by the human beings. He goes ahead and indicates that as long as he is breathing and alive, there will always be a deity that he professes loyalty to, and that god is called Delphi. He stated that he would always be a loyal servant of the oracle, and nothing would ever work against his service and belief in the oracle.
He also states that the belief that he has in the oracle is more important that any other belief he would probably have in anything. In his beliefs, he states that there is no other way that he would be loyal to another person or deity apart from the oracle Delphi, thus noting he will not stop his belief as long as he is still alive and breathing. He stated that he would always adhere to the teachings of ethics and philosophy, thereby inviting his accusers to join him in the goods teachings that originated from the oracle. The passion with which Socrates talks about the deity Dephi, the way he shows a high level of belief, and the value he attaches to the the belief in ethics and philosophy show the staunch belief he holds in the oracle; therefore, it is impossible to convince him otherwise.
Socrates claims that he is not scared even of death. He sees as a man who has no respect for the authority as a person who does not have respect for all the Gods of Athens except the oracle Delphi whom he swears allegiance to. During his trial, he further affirms his position stating that even if death might come as result of his belief in philosophy and ethics, it is one thing he is willing and ready to go through.
He further states that he is not afraid of death, an indication that he was willing to go through anything except giving up his belief for the purposes of pleasing the Jury so that the latter could either forgive him or give him a less severe punishment. To him, death was not something to be feared, and he indicates that people fear death without knowing what death is. Thus, he challenges the Jury and his accusers that death might after all be a good thing that needs not to be feared. The way Socrates talks at the trial makes him seem a person who is deviant and not willing to respect the authority at all costs.