Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Was Socrates Guilty?

Having read Plato's Apology I want to ask myself the question: was Socrates guilty? Obviously, being a lover of freedom and a hater of tyranny I at first say that Socrates was not guilty. The man expressed his natural right of freedom: to talk about the important things in life with his peers and to question their convictions. Is that a crime? Is that something to be put to death over? Well, after thinking some more about it, I came to my answer from my classical liberal mindset which is the incorrect mindset to have when reading a work like the Apology. It's a big mistake. So, I put myself in the time and place of Socrates. After doing that then the answer is different. My understanding is that Socrates was guilty of corrupting the youth and of impiety.

My short take on this is that Socrates corrupted the youth. I need to ask a few questions first: what is corrupting the youth? If one means that Socrates, through his method of conversation, corrupted the youth by showing the statesman of the time and the sophists to be fools then yes Socrates corrupted the youth. Did Socrates make fools out of the statesmen? From the historical accounts of Socrates' life we see that time and again through his conversations with statesmen, sophists, and elders he brings these people into accepting contradictions and tears down their convictions quite easily and humorously thereby making them look foolish to Socrates' students. Is that corrupting the youth? Well, it is corrupting, at least to the government at the time, because Socrates is influencing young men who may one day be statesmen with his philosophy; a philosophy that is different from the political philosophy of that time; a teaching that makes the government look foolish. This can be taken as corruption to the youth. If this is corruption then Socrates is clearly guilty.

Another charge against Socrates is one of impiety. Is Socrates guilty of this? I think it's reasonable to say that Socrates is guilty of this. He brings up the Delphic Quest to possibly show that he isn't impious to the gods, that he isn't an atheist, but the shiny nugget nested underneath the apparent piety in the Delphic story is Socrates. What I mean is that it seems Socrates is the hero of the apparent pious story instead of piety because he had to take this quest and test the oracle, or the god, instead of taking the god at the god's word. Through his testing, a.k.a "reason," Socrates found to be true what the oracle told him and then he submitted to the oracle. He didn't take the pious route which would have been to blindly listen to the oracle, instead he took the route of reason, the impious route and through reason found the oracle to be true. That isn't pious. What if reason had shown the oracle to be false? I'm persuaded Socrates would have stood by reason instead of the god. The Delphic Quest is a story of the triumph of reason and shows Socrates was more interested in the things of man than in the things of the gods which isn't pious, but is impious.

These two things stood out to me when I reflected on the Apology. Currently, I'm persuaded to think that under the law of his time Socrates was truly guilty because of the reasons above: by their definition of corruption Socrates did corrupt their youth and Socrates wasn't a pious man.

Obviously, this post cannot contain the amount of thought that can be put into this situation so if you have any thoughts pleas comment below.

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