What are the charges against Socrates in the Apology? Is he guilty?

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Socrates was found guilty of the charge that he studied things in the heavens and below the earth, he made the worse argument into the stronger, he corrupts the young, and he does not believe in the gods of the city. All four charges were false but motivated by fear and prejudice.

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The charges against Socrates as recorded in the Apology are that he studies things in the heavens and below the earth, he makes the worse argument into the stronger, he corrupts the young, and he does not believe in the gods of the city.

Of all these charges, only the...

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first one stands up to scrutiny. Socrates did indeed study things in the heavens and below the earth. Instead of drawing upon ancient mythology to make sense of ourselves and the world around us, he sought natural explanations. He believed that if we wanted to acquire knowledge, we had to use our reasoning faculties instead of resorting to traditional religious beliefs.

For many Athenians, this was deeply offensive, which explains why they accused Socrates of not believing in the city's gods. However, although Socrates sought rational, naturalistic explanations for things, it doesn't automatically follow that he didn't believe in the gods of the Greek pantheon. It's simply that he took the gods out of the chain of causation.

Socrates was further charged with corrupting the city's youth. Such an accusation was motivated by the fact that young men constantly flocked to the great philosopher in search of knowledge. As his numerous enemies believed Socrates's approach to knowledge was dangerous, they inevitably feared that his young followers would be corrupted by him.

One could argue that Socrates was not so much guilty of corrupting Athens's youth as encouraging them to think, which is surely no bad thing. It says a lot about Socrates's accusers that they thought that his actions in this regard were dangerous.

Finally, Socrates was accused of making the weaker argument the stronger. This was an accusation frequently leveled against the Sophists, philosophers who would, among other things, teach their students for a fee how to argue both sides of an argument, in some cases making the weaker case appear the stronger.

Of this charge, Socrates was completely innocent. Unlike the Sophists, he took no fees. And besides, he had an absolute dedication to the truth as he saw it, whereas the Sophists were more concerned with coming up with clever, superficially plausible arguments that didn't necessarily have to be true but gave the mere appearance of truth.

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