ENGLISH 101. ACADEMIC WRITING
Discussion for Lesson 5
Student V. I enjoyed this reading better than "Euthyphro," and thought it an easier read.
Dr. G. The "Apology" is easy in the sense that Socrates explains himself in it. Of all of Plato's dialogues, this one is the best known.
Student R. I thought this reading flowed a little faster than "Euthyphro." The replies to his indictments kept me attentive and amused. I liked the beginning when Socrates was basically asking the jury’s forgiveness for his eloquence! He also proposed the idea that the people who thought themselves inferior were usually intellectual, when an individual may talk all day about wisdom and know nothing of it.
Dr. G. The folly of the wise, the wisdom of the fool: this is an interesting paradox. I believe that I see the truth of it in my English 101 classes from time to time. I've seen "know-it-alls" who believe that they know everything about writing or everything about college, so they don't need to read the book or go to class. These cases can be really hopeless, educationally. Whatever level the know-it-all is at, there's not going to be any new learning or improvement to a higher level. Give me students who understand their shortcomings and know that they have much to learn. They are open to education, and I hope that I can be.
Old guys like me are notoriously at risk for this "wisdom." We've seen it all already; there's nothing new to learn. The mind does not have to age in this way--as Socrates example demonstrates--but it often does.
Who can tell me about Socrates' character?
Student K. In the Apology Socrates seems confident in his arguments but can't understand why these charges have been brought against him. He challenges the courtroom members of being carried away by the polished speeches of his accusers. He also challenges Meletus about his reasons for bringing him to court. He makes no apologies for his work and at the end of the trial consoles his supporters even though he is the one facing death. He is not saddened by his fate but sees it as a good thing. He feels justified in his life's work and wants others to feel that justification also.
Dr. G. Good. Are his arguments effective, do you think? Or could he have defended himself better?
Student L. Socrates wasn't trying very hard to defend himself. On pgs 38-39 he takes a crack at all the swells who have dragged their families in front of the court to beg for mercy, saying that kind of behavior should extol greater punishment rather than less.
My take on the whole Apology is that Socrates figured the jig was up and he was old enough to die, so he decided to use his trial as an opportunity to get the whole town together and tell all the leaders what jerks they all were before he died.
Dr. G. Well said. I was looking for "swells" in my dictionary, but I don't know if it's up to date enough to catch all of the meanings. Is it a musical term?
Student L. You would want a dictionary of archaic slang. The "swells" in question would be the well-todo gentry and/or well-connected land holders and politicos, business folks, etc. Could also be a nautical term.
Dr. G. could also be a growth. . .
Student L. ...Eewww!
Student K. His arguments made sense to him but I think they could have been stronger for the benefit of the people who were judging him. Maybe that wouldn't have made a difference though because it seems like they would have found him guilty no matter how strong his defense was.
Dr. G. And yet Socrates seems to recognize that he can win, if he says that he's sorry and that he won't make trouble again.
Student T. Socrates character in the Apology is difficult to describe, there were times when he seemed defensive and also times when he seemed passive. I believe that he expected to lose the trial, and perhaps he had been expecting a trial for a long time. Because he was so wise, Socrates knew that there was no way for him to remain true to himself and be acquitted. If there had been a way to do both he certainly would have figured it out. On the other hand, I question the whole "oracle" thing. Devoting your life to a certain cause because a prophet told you to doesn't seem like something the wisest man in Athens would need to do. I realize that the gods and prophets played different roles back then but, if they were indeed that different his oracle/Apollo story should have had a little more clout with the jury.
Dr. G. You raise very interesting questions: should Socrates have believed the oracle and, if so, then why didn't the jury believe? Notice that when Socrates tells the story of the oracle, the jury suddenly gets rowdy, so that Socrates has to call for quiet so that he can continue. Did the noise-makers want to prevent other jury members from hearing this part of Socrates' testimony? Or did they think that he was being blasphemous?
Student T. I think that the jury was loud because they thought that Socrates was either crazy or that he was lying about the Oracle. People haven't changed so much in 2000 years, we are still afraid of what we can't see with our own eyes.
Student Y. Socrates refuses to pay for a written speech and defends himself. He believes he has done nothing wrong. Socrates is a wise man because he doesn't presume to know all. Those who think they know all have nothing to learn. He suggests that Meletus is contradicting and doesn't have anything to say. Socrates is not sorry for his actions and when he faces death still does not waiver. He contributed by fighting wars, and not participating in illegal activities, yet he is still be condemned. Socrates would be more afraid to live as a coward than to die. He also defends himself by saying he never taught anyone. If the people listened to him it was at their own free will. Even at the end when he is being sentenced, Socrates displays sarcasm because he suggests free food as a sentence which didn't help his case at all. I believe that Socrates knew that through his death that he would live on, that those who did him wrong would pay. He sees death as a peaceful sleep or trip to heaven. His reward in life for doing all that he has done.
Dr. G. You make an interesting point about Socrates foreseeing the future, knowing that no real harm will come to him but that the wrong-doers who have accused him will pay. Socrates believes that justice is administered by the gods in the afterlife. This gives him confidence that no mere mortal can harm him, as long as Socrates himself does no wrong.
Student J. You say, "Socrates believes that justice is administered by the gods in the afterlife." Yet wasn't Socrates on trial for not believing in multiple gods?
Dr. G. According to Meletus, Socrates is an atheist (Apology 26c). The complaint against Socrates alleges that he makes up his own gods and denies the existence of the officially recognized gods of Athens. This is a mish-mash of charges that don't fit the deeply religious character portrayed by Plato. My comment about Socrates' belief in gods comes from Apology 41c-d: "So, my good judges, be of good cheer about death, and know this to be true: [41d] that no evil can happen to a good person, either in life or after death. He and his are not neglected by the gods; nor has my own approaching end happened by mere chance."
Why should Socrates worry about his death if the gods are just and if they're in control of events?
Student A. Socrates seemed not to be afraid of death at all. He spent a lot of time trying to prove Meletus's accusations incredible, and to me, it seemed like he should have been able to, but they still said he was guilty. Socrates seemed to be very honest about everything, not caring if it made some people mad or not. He's a very honorable person for just telling the truth, when he knew that he could of been proven innocent if he would have cried and brought his family in and made them feel bad for him, but he didn't.
Dr. G. This is a key characteristic. It's discussed more in Phaedo. He's fearless.
Student A. Is he fearless because he knows he is following the god by being a philosopher and questioning how wise people are, so he is doing right by the god?
Dr. G. Bingo!
Dr. G. At points Socrates seems to be a Jesus-like street preacher warning of the spiritual dangers of materialism, as in the Apology: "O my friend, why do you who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, [29e] care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all? Are you not ashamed?"
"honor" he means military glory. By "reputation" he
means social acceptance. These views probably would have been quite
unpopular in Athens. I think that "the many" would have said
to him that, no, they are not ashamed to have money, power and status.
In fact they are proud of such things.