How did Socrates defend himself against the charges brought against him?

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Socrates is charged with impiety. In Athens, this charge includes not believing in the Athenian gods, worshipping a false god or daimon, and corrupting the youth of Athens.

Socrates defends himself by saying he was prophesied to be a wise man by the Oracle of Delphi. Due to the prophecy,...

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Socrates is charged with impiety. In Athens, this charge includes not believing in the Athenian gods, worshipping a false god or daimon, and corrupting the youth of Athens.

Socrates defends himself by saying he was prophesied to be a wise man by the Oracle of Delphi. Due to the prophecy, he believes his spiritual mission is to question people. Through questioning, he hopes to illuminate the difference between true and false wisdom. He cannot be an atheist as Meletus says. His actions are under the guidance of an accepted oracle. Meletus accuses him of being an atheist, and of following different daimons or gods than those of Athens. Socrates ridicules this as a logical contradiction. He cannot be both an atheist and a believer at the same time.

Primarily, Socrates’s argument is that he is neither an atheist nor following false daimons. He is worshipping the Athenian gods by asking questions and seeking to live a virtuous life. He implies that he does not need to conform by participating in the normal rituals and sacrifices dedicated to the Athenian gods. His virtue puts him right with the gods from the start. This is a radical new way of interpreting religious faith. Athens's leaders are not willing to accept the change.

Socrates also disputes the charge that he was corrupting youth. Socrates argues that he is not being tried for corrupting youth. Instead, he is on trial for embarrassing prominent citizens in front of young people. Socrates does not consider this a crime.

Further, Socrates, defends himself by comparing himself to a gadfly. A gadfly draws blood from horses to feed itself. This is a symbiotic relationship: the gadfly rouses the horse, helps keep it active and healthy, and wakes it from its stupor. Some of what Socrates has done stung people, but it helped rouse Athens to seek true wisdom. Socrates, according to Plato, states that:

But you perhaps might be angry, like people awakened from a nap, and might slap me, as Anytus advises, and easily kill me, then you might pass the rest of your lives in slumber. . .

In the end, Socrates is found guilty and is condemned to death.



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Socrates's defense was unusual in that he wasn't so much defending himself against specific criminal charges as justifying his whole philosophical outlook. Right throughout the Apology, Socrates is keen to emphasize that doing the right thing is more important than saving oneself from death, however unjust that death may be. We shouldn't forget that Socrates's philosophy was based on the simple question: what is the good life? For Socrates, the good life was one lived according to the dictates of virtue. And as far as he was concerned, that was precisely the kind of life that he'd always attempted to live. Even if such a life ends in the ignominy of execution, it is still virtuous, nonetheless, as virtue cannot be harmed by evil, for evil is a privation, not a positive thing in itself.

Socrates's accusers are ignorant of virtue. When Socrates justifies his beliefs at his trial, he is setting out to expose that ignorance, not to flatter his accusers or plead with them in any way. This explains why Socrates's manner in speaking to the court often appears more than a little high-handed for someone who's on trial for his very life: Socrates has been doing everyone a huge favor by improving their virtue and knowledge; even if his accusers agree to let him go, on the condition that he ceases his philosophical activities, he'll still defy them anyway. Socrates doesn't deserve punishment—on the contrary, he should be thanked and given free meals for the rest of his life.

In the Apology, Socrates is living out his philosophy, a philosophy in which the unexamined life is not worth living, in which life should be lived according to virtue, irrespective of the outcome, and whose end, no matter how cruel or unjust, is never to be feared.

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First, we might note that Plato's Apology is not a verbatim transcript of the actual trial. Thus, although we can state the arguments Plato had Socrates use in the Apology, we cannot know the degree to which they resembled the actual arguments Socrates used in the real trial.

Socrates was accused of the crime of "asebia" or "impiety". Specifically:

[the accusation] asserts that Socrates does injustice by corrupting the young, and by not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in other daimonia that are novel ...

Socrates refutes the charge of corrupting the young in several ways. He argues that as he is just one person, he could not be solely responsible for corrupting all the young of the city. Next, he gives several examples of young men he has associated with who have improved because of his company. He also suggests, in the case of his young associates who were corrupted, they only became so when they stopped associating with him. Next, he differentiates himself from the sophists who take money from teaching.

For the accusation of impiety, he tries to explain the nature of his daimonion as a sort of inner voice rather than a god. He also does participate in the ordinary religious observances of the city.

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Socrates stood trial for impiety, fomenting treason, and "corrupting the youth of Athens" in 399 B.C., in the immediate aftermath of the Peloponnesian War, a disaster for Athens. Faced with these charges (which he denied on the grounds that his teachings did none of those things), Socrates refused to recant. He also refused to stop his teachings, or to leave Athens, which was the usual sentence conferred in similar cases.  In fact, Socrates, ever the gadfly, used his trial as a sort of platform for criticizing the government of Athens by questioning the moral foundations of Athenian democracy. He was sentenced to death by drinking hemlock, which he did, surrounded by his students and other admirers, including Plato, whose Apology, Criton and Phaedo are the only contemporary sources for Socrates's trial and death. 

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