What are the persuasive techniques Socrates uses in Plato's Apology 39a-42a?

Expert Answers
thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The persuasive techniques employed by Socrates can best be analyzed in terms of ancient Greek rhetorical theory. Many extant Greek texts, including the Rhetorica ad Alexandrum and Aristotle's Art of Rhetoric analyze various forms of rhetorical appeal.

In looking at the persuasive strategies of Socrates, first you should ask yourself of what Socrates is actually trying to persuade an audience. Is he trying to convince them that death is better than  life? Or is this what was known as a "figured problem" in  ancient rhetorical theory, in which his overt arguments concerning the positive aspects of death were actually being deployed to advance covert arguments concerning how he wished the Athenians to act? This type of analysis, determining the "issue" or stasis around which a case resolved was the first step of rhetorical analysis.

Next, you might examin the three classical rhetoric proofs from ethos, logos and pathos. How does Socrates project his own character? How does his calm and bravery serve as a persuasive device? Next, is his refusal to engage in pathetic appeal, itself an appeal to a different type of emotion? Finally, what logical arguments does he make?

Also, you should look for standard rhetorical topoi such as his comparison and contrast of life and death, his definition of death, etc.


joshualharris | Student

-When Socrates appeals to the ease of traitorous action in war (39a), he is focusing his rhetorical critique upon the values of courage and honor. These are deeply held values that shaped identity in Ancient Greece, and Socrates' audience would have wanted passionately to avoided cowardice at all costs. This helps Socrates' case, of course, because he's associated cowardice with the fear of death.

-Socrates' language of near-death "prophesying" (39c) is compelling because he gives the impression that a dying man has nothing to lose. Therefore he has no reason to speak untruthfully.

-Socrates' association of fear with evil (41d) is important because he has already established that his cause is the cause of goodness. If he is good, then, he has nothing to fear.