The Apology Essay Questions

Introduction to Philosophy

Plato, "The Apology"

Abstract: Plato's account of Socrates' defense elucidates some main princples of the Socratic philosophy: (1) the Socratic paradox, (2) the Socratic method, (3)tending one's soul, and (4) death is not to be feared.

  1. Notes are arranged in accordance with the reading questions from Plato's Apology in Chapters 4 and 5 in Reading for Philosophical Inquiry, Version 0.21.
    1. Questions from the chapter beginning: Chapter 4: "Just Do What's Right
      1. What are the specific charges brought against Socrates, and why do you think he was so charged? Is Socrates being charged with being a Sophist? Is he being accused of offering scientific explanations for religious matters?
      2. Why doesn't Socrates plead for a lesser charge? Why couldn't he accept exile?
      3. How does Socrates show that he does not corrupt the young people of Athens? Are his arguments convincing?
      4. Explain Socrates' defense of his belief in God. How persuasive do you find it?
      5. What is Socrates' philosophy of life? Why has it been called paradoxical?
      6. Explain why Socrates compares himself to a "gadfly." What does he mean when he uses this term?
    2. Questions from the chapter beginning: Chapter 5: "Seek Truth Rather than Escape Death"
      1. Why doesn't Socrates plead for a lesser charge in order to save his life? Why did he feel that he couldn't accept exile?
      2. Explain how Socrates' argument that death should not be feared rests on "the Socratic Paradox."
      3. Characterize as clearly as possible Socrates' conception of the soul. Does the existence of the soul presuppose an afterlife? Explain why or why not from a Socratic point of view.
      4. In what way do you think Socrates' defense exhibits irony? How is his irony related to his being a "gadfly"?
  2. Responses to the questions from Plato's "Apology."
    1. Answers from the chapter beginning: Chapter 4: "Just Do What's Right
      1. What are the specific charges brought against Socrates, and why do you think he was so charged? Is Socrates being charged with being a Sophist? Is he being accused of offering scientific explanations for religious matters?
        1. Summary of the charges against Socrates:
          1. Impiety: he does not believe in the gods whom the state believes in—he seeks natural explanations for natural processes
          2. He teaches people to disbelieve the gods—a charge suggested in Aristophanes's play Clouds, Socrates is protrayed as an atheist.
          3. He corrupts the young; he infuses in them a spirit of criticism—Socrates did attract attention from wealthy young men in Athens as he cross-examined prominent citizens in the marketplace. It's quite possible from time to time, he accepted some support from them. In his examination of politicians, poets, and philosophers, he reveals that they do not know what they claim to know.
          4. He is a wrongdoer; he speculates about the heaven and things beneath the earth—perhaps this is the basis of the charge of disbelief in the gods if Socrates seeks natural explanations for astronomical and geological phenomena rather than attributing natural events to the gods.
          5. He makes the weaker reason seem to the the stronger—Socrates here is being accused of being a Sophist.
        2. Originally the Sophists were known as the Seven Sages of Greece, early Greek philosophers, but later applied in a derogatory sense to teachers who taught rhetoric and spurious reasoning. Again Aristophanes's play portrays Socrates as a teacher or rhetoric and astronomy.
          1. The Sophists were itenerate teachers who were the encyclopedists, the polymaths, who knew a little about everything—in general, they were skeptical with regard to ethics and knowledge.
          2. Unlike philosophers, they took payment for their teaching and were accused of "corrupting the youth." Brief examples of sophistical arguments include:
            1. Your fourth finger is longer than your little finger but shorter than your middle finger. Thus, a finger is both long and short.
            2. Here is proof that you are on the other side of campus. Do you know where the Bell Tower is? Well, then you know that you are on the other side of campus from the Bell Tower.
            3. Consider the well-known story of Euthalus and Protagoras. Euthalus wanted to become a lawyer but could not pay Protagoras. Protagoras agreed to teach him under the condition that if Euathlus won his first case, he would pay Protagoras, otherwise not. Euathlus agreed and finished his course of study and but did enter the courts. Protagoras sued for his fee.
              • Protagoras argued: If Euthalus loses this case, then he must pay (by the judgment of the court). If Euthalus wins this case, then he must pay (by the terms of the contract). He must either win or lose this case. Therefore Euthalus must pay me.
              • But Euathlus had learned well the art of rhetoric. He responded: "If I win this case, I do not have to pay (by the judgment of the court). If I lose this case, I do not have to pay (by the contract). I must either win or lose the case. Therefore, I do not have to pay Protagoras.
        3. Why doesn't Socrates plead for a lesser charge? Why couldn't he accept exile?
          1. Socrates's understanding of himself is that life is not worth living is he cannot choose what is right (c.f., the Socratic paradox.
          2. Socrates notes that he cannot change and improve his soul; hence, if he went elsewhere, he would continue his questioning. Citizens of other city-states would probably tolerate his questionings even less well than his fellow Athenians. Undoubtedly, he would be continually expelled or worse.
          3. Socrates claims that he is following the god's order to examine his fellow citizens. Chaerephon asked the Delphic Oracle if there were any man living who was wiser than Socrates. The Oracle answered was "no." Yet, Socrates did not see himself as being wise, so through questioning of others, he realized the basis of the Oracle's statement of his wisdom was that he knew that he did not know.
          4. Socrates proposes the following dilemma:
            • If I drive away the young men, they will persuade their parents to expel me.
            • If I allow them to stay, their fathers will expel me [on account of the influence on their sons].
            • [Either I drive them away or I allow them to stay.]
            • ------------------------------------------------------
            • Thus, either they will persuade their parents to expel me or their fathers will expel me.
          5. The use of the dilemma is in a sense a sophistic rhetorical device which is effective in a courtroom but of little logical significance. Let's spend a moment analyzing the dilemma. There are three ways to refute a dilemma:
            1. Take it by the horns: i.e., show that at least one of the conditionals is false. For example, if Socrates drives the young men away, it's unlikely they could induce their parents to expel him.
            2. Escape between the horns: i.e., show that the disjunction is false. For example, Socrates could not control whether or not the young men stay and listen.
            3. Set up a counter-dilemma: negate the consequents of the conditionals and switch them for new conditional statements. Then draw the conclusion as in the following argument:
              • If I drive away the young men, their fathers will not expel me.
              • If I do not drive them away, they won't persuade their parents to expel me.
              • [Either I drive them away or I allow them to stay.]
              • ------------------------------------------------------
              • Thus, either their fathers will not expel me or they won't persuade their fathers to expel me.
      2. How does Socrates show that he does not corrupt the young people of Athens? Are his arguments convincing?
        1. Socrates's answer to this charge, more than any other, exhibits coutroom . He states that the charge of corruption of the youth is a "stock charge" against all philosophers. The charge may well be common against Sophists, but such a defense is irrelevant to Socrates's situation. The relevant question is not the ad hominem but is rather whether or not the charge is true in this case.
        2. Socrates professes ignorance: he states that he knows nothing so how could he possibly teach the young people anything? If somehow a young person were corrupted, then the corruption was unintentional. This is an odd defense for Socrates to make, since, as a result of the Socratic Paradox, Socrates believes we are morally responsible for knowledge or the lack thereof. An unintentional action results from ignorance, and a person is responsible for what is not known.
        3. .
        4. Finally, Socrates states the ad ignorantiam argument that there is no one present testifying that he was corrupted. In a court of law, of course, there is the burden of proof on the prosecution, and evidence or testimony need be offered for those charges. But from a logical point of view, Socrates's argument is the ad ignorantiam fallacy:
          • No proof has been placed into evidence that anyone has been corrupted.
          • --------------------------------------------------
          • Therefore, no one has been corrupted.
      3. Explain Socrates' defense of his belief in God. How persuasive do you find it?
      4. First, Socrates simply points out the contradiction between the two groups of accusers: he can't be an atheist and at the same time believe in false gods. But, of course, this response does not address the emotional effect of the charge of impiety.
      5. Second, Socrates presents the linguistic argument that if he believes in divine things, then he cannot be an atheist. Since there is evidence for the antecedent of the conditional, the truth of the consequent does follow.
      6. Socrates does not address philosophical reasons for his belief in the gods; he merely demonstrates the errors in the prosecution's charges.
    2. What is Socrates' philosophy of life? Why has it been called paradoxical?
    3. A number of statements in the "Apology" point to the heart of the Socratic philosophy: the Socratic Paradox.
      1. Socrates states at the beginning of his defense: "Give your whole attention to the question, is what I say just, or is it not?"
      2. He believes that you should only do what's right—irrespective of matters of life or death. (Socrates later offers a proof that no harm can come to a good person and death is not to be feared.)
      3. Your life should be spent on the improvement of your soul.
      4. The unexamined life is not worth living.
    4. The Socratic Paradox: People act immorally, but they do not do so deliberately.
      1. Everyone seeks what is most serviceable to oneself or what is in one's own self-interest.
      2. If one [practically] knows what is good, one will always act in such manner as to achieve it. (Otherwise, one does not know or only knows in a theoretical fashion.)
      3. If ons acts in such a way that it is not conducive to one's good, then that person must have been mistaken (i.e., one isignorant).
      4. If one acts with knowledge then one will obtain that which is serviceable to oneself or that which is in self-interest.
      5. Thus, for Socrates…
        • = (df.) virtue, good, arete
        • = (df.) bad, evil, not useful
      6. Since no one knowingly harms himself, if harm comes to that person, then that person must have acted in ignorance.
      7. Consequently, it would seem to follow we are responsible for what we know or for that matter what we do not know. So, then, one is responsible for ones own happiness.
    5. Examples of the Paradox explained in practice.
      • Cheryl and her friend Holly, both twelve years old decide to go to the movies. Cheryl, unlike her friend Holly, states that she is eleven so that she will not have to pay the adult admission and will have extra money for snacks. Holly refuses to do so since her parents have told her that if she cannot pay the admission of a twelve year old, then she doesn't have enough money to go the the movies.
        • Cheryl gives Holly some of her extra snacks as a way of showing Holly that Holly made a foolish decision.
        • If we asked Cheryl if she made the right decision, she would happily say, "Yes, of course!" If we were to ask Holly if she made the right decision, Holly would perhaps glumly say,"Yes, I did the right thing."
    6. Explain why Socrates compares himself to a "gadfly." What does he mean when he uses this term?
  3. Answers from the chapter beginning: Chapter 5: "Seek Truth Rather than Escape Death"
    1. Why doesn't Socrates plead for a lesser charge in order to save his life? Why did he feel that he couldn't accept exile?
    2. Explain how Socrates' argument that death should not be feared rests on "the Socratic Paradox."
    3. Characterize as clearly as possible Socrates' conception of the soul. Does the existence of the soul presuppose an afterlife? Explain why or why not from a Socratic point of view.
    4. In what way do you think Socrates' defense exhibits irony? How is his irony related to his being a "gadfly"?

    Further Reading:

    • Apology: An excellent discussion and introduction to the historical background and the life and character of Socrates at the Classics Technology Center provided by AbleMedia Curriculum Guides.
    • Famous Trials: The Trial of Socrates 399 BC. An extensive examination of various interpretations of the trial by Douglas Linder. Chronology, maps, images, bibliography, historical background as well as accounts from Lætius, Plato, Xenophon, and Aristophanes
    • are included. Especially interesting is an interview with I.F. Stone on why Socrates was put to death.

    Relay corrections, suggestions or questions to
    larchie at lander.edu
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    This page last updated 08/29/12
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English 240: Ancient Literature

Study Questions on Plato's Apology

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Journal Instruction Amendment: I had originally planned to write perhaps 8 questions and require a response to 5, but the 4 below are the ones I find most worthwhile. They call for somewhat detailed responses, so please choose three of them for your Plato journal.

1. How does Socrates characterize his accusers, and how does he interpret the charges they have made against him? Refer to relevant sections of the text in your response.

2. It has long been a point of contention whether Socrates is “guilty” of something, or whether we are to suppose him completely innocent of any offense against Athens. What do you think, and why? Refer to the text in your response.

3. Do you think that Socrates intends his remarks as a serious legal defense? Why or why not? What exactly are the main points of his defense, and what do you suppose he is trying to accomplish by means of his remarks?

4. We have spent a fair amount of time in this class discussing Greek heroic characters—Odysseus from The Odyssey, Aeschylus’ Clytemnestra and Orestes, and Sophocles’ Antigone. What picture of Socrates emerges from this dialog—to what extent does he resemble a traditional Greek hero? To what extent does he differ? Refer to the text in your response.

Edition: Plato. Four Texts on Socrates. Plato’s Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito, and Aristophanes’ Clouds. Translators West, Thomas G. and Grace West. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1998. ISBN: 0801485746.

 

 

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