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The Apology of Socrates
By George Dunn, Lecturer in Philosophy
and Ethics, University of Indianapolis;
Adjunct Lecturer in Philosophy and
Ethics, IUPUI; Revised and put in PP
format by Brian McDonald
Introducing George Dunn
George as expert in philosophy, ancient and modern
Particular strengths in the philosophy of early and late
Thus he is a “natural” to contribute to the selections for this
• The “Apology” of Socrates near the beginning of “antiquity” for
which he takes full responsibility
• New Testament Readings which are mostly my work and
• The Confessions of Augustine at the close of antiquity and the
beginning of the Middle Ages on which he has contributed
about two thirds.
As I will highlight in forum questions, we will see the
tensions between “Greek” and “Hebrew” trends of thought:
the former represented by Socrates, the latter by the New
Testament, with Augustine as a kind of tense synthesis of
the two.
The Apology of Socrates
An account written by Socrates’s
student Plato
“Apology” is not ‘I’m sorry’ but
Socrates defense before an Athenian
Jury on two charges
• Corrupting the youth of Athens
• Impiety
The Athenian Jury
Unlike ours was 500 people
Chosen by lot
Prosecutor not a public official but private
citizen(s) bringing charges: In this case
the citizens
• Antyus
• Lycon
• And, most prominently, Meletus
Majority vote will decide both guilt and
Socrates and His “Judges”
Significant that he calls his jury “Athenians”
instead of judges. Why?
The answer to this question will shape this
We must first discuss Socrates’ “lecture” on how
to give a speech
• His only eloquence is that he speaks the truth
• He says his accusers are eloquent but do not speak the
• The virtue of a good speaker is to speak truthfully; the
virtue of a judge is to judge justly.
Only the trial’s end will show whether his jury
deserves the title of “just”
Athens on Trial
His attitude toward “judges” is a clue on reading
the entire speech
The defendant Socrates is actually putting Athens
on trial!
Evidence that this is not ordinary defense shown
in the way he begins by speaking of “old” charges
• P. 729: “Socrates is an evildoer who searches into things
under the earth, and in heaven, and he makes the worse
appear the better cause.”
• The meaning of the “old charges”
• The harm they’ve caused
• The question they’ve raised: P. 730. “But what is the
origin of these accusations. . . there must have been
something strange which you were doing?”
The “Strange” Thing: Socrates’
Quest for Wisdom
The Delphic Oracle as Socrates’ “witness”
Tells Chaerephon, no one is wiser than Socrates
Unexpected difficulties arise when Socrates seeks
to find a wiser among
• Politicians
• Poets
• Artisans
Two Results:
• Positive: the nature of human wisdom: “God only is
wise; . . . . He, O men,is the wisest, who, like Socrates,
knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing” (732
• Negative: “those who are examined . . . Instead of being
angry with themselves are angry with me” (732)
The Cross Examination of Meletus
Socrates’ “indictment” of Meletus
• A jester pretending to be in earnest
• Eager to bring men to trial
• Pretends interest in matters in which he is not
truly interested (733)
Proof of 3rd Charge:
• Meletus’ ignorance of how youth are ‘improved’
despite feigned interest
• Scapegoating of Socrates rather than interest
in “improvement is his motivating force
Pressing the Other Two Charges
Proof of 2nd charge against Meletus
• Does any man want to live among bad
• If I “corrupt’ youth it must thus be
unintentional (important Soc. Principle)
• This is a matter of private warning not public
accusation and trial (734)
Proof of lst charge (“jest”)
• Am I guilty of believing in “new gods”?
• Am I guilty atheism?
• The fact Meletus accuses of both when both
can’t be true shows he treats high matters in
End Result
Socrates does not refute charges but
“presses” charges
Athens condemns Socrates but history
acquits him
Three immortal principles established:
• Human wisdom is to recognize ignorance
• The only true evil is not to endure injustice but
to commit it: It is better to “fulfill the
philosopher’s mission of searching” than “to
desert my post through fear of death” (737)
• “The unexamined life is not worth living”