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The Apology of Socrates


            As you read, look for the gems.  Are there any statements that light up the sky for you (or statements that, if slightly reworded, would well express insight)?

            Look for claims of fact, concepts, reasoning, and expressions of supreme value.

            Note the role of argument in philosophy.  One main philosophic technique of dealing with diversity in thinking is logical argument: to begin with premises on which the thinkers can agree and reason, step by step, to a conclusion that resolves the issue--or should resolve it, if both thinkers are honest and love the truth more than victory.

Structural analysis and summary of The Apology of Socrates

by Jonathan Ketchum (slightly modified)


Socrates, unlike his accusers, will speak the truth in his accustomed manner (17-18a)


I.  Refutation of the absent accusers who have poisoned S’ reputation for years (18a-24b)

            The charges: teaching cosmology, atheism, and making the weaker argument win (18b-c)

            There is no testimony in support of these claims

            S,  unlike the sophists with whom he is being confused, does not claim to teach virtue, and accepts no fees for his conversation.

            S’ notoriety is explained by his irritating wisdom, attested by the oracle at Delphi: that he alone recognizes that he is not wise.

            S set out to (dis)prove the oracle by finding a wiser person than himself and found:

            The politicians, the poets, and the craftsmen were found to overestimate their wisdom; and the proof of this roused hostility.

            S makes similar inquiries, privately, refuting everyone with false claims to wisdom.


II.  Refutation of present accusers (24b-35d)

            Meletus claims, absurdly, that everyone benefits the youth except S, who alone corrupts them.

            S would never intentionally do harm, which would make him live in a worse community.

            M falls into contradiction, claiming that S believes in divine things but not in gods.


            S is fearless in the face of death, having remained at his post in war.

            Though without knowledge of what comes after death, S does know that “to do wrong and to disobey my superior, whether God or man, is wicked and dishonorable (29b).

            S refuses to stop practicing philosophy; he will continue challenging those he meets to pay attention to “truth and understanding and the perfection of your soul” (29e). 

            A good person cannot be harmed by a worse one.

            S is dedicated to his divine mission—as evidenced by his poverty.

            A true champion of justice must confine himself to private life and leave politics alone.  This is shown by S’ risky refusal to participate in scandalous governmental actions.

            The alleged victims and their relatives support S.

            It would be hypocritical for S to defend himself by emotional appeals.


III.  Socrates’ response to his conviction: he proposes to be maintained by the state as a punishment fitting his “crime”; three friends propose thirty minas (35e-38c).


IV.  Socrates’ response to the announcement that he will be put to death (38c-42a)

            To those who voted for his execution: you have been overtaken by injustice, worse than death; and your critics will multiply.

            To those who voted for his acquittal: S was unopposed by his daimon (indwelling divine spirit); death is probably a blessing—either annihilation or migration of the soul to a place with better opportunities for philosophic conversation.

            The conviction is certain that “nothing can harm a good man either in life or after death, and his fortunes are not a matter of indifference to the gods.”

            Those living are to challenge S’ sons as S had challenged them.

            S separates from those who will live; and which of us has the happier prospect is unknown to anyone but God.



1.  What does "apology" mean in this context?

2.  How is Socrates characterized in the rumors that have circulated against him?  (18b-c)

3.  Ask yourself in this dialogue what concept of wisdom emerges as you put the pieces together.  For example, if S says that the poets he interrogated are not wise, since he asked them to explain the meaning of their finest writings, and they could not do so.  What concept of wisdom is implied by this critique?  Notice each passage that tells us, by implication, something of what wisdom is.  List the parts of the concept that you find in this way.  Gather them and organize your own presentation of the concept of wisdom that operates in this dialogue. Notice each passage that tells us, by implication, what wisdom is.  List the parts of the concept that you find in this way.  Gather them and organize your own presentation of the concept of wisdom that operates in this dialogue.  Several of the following questions specifically help you answer this question.

4.  What wisdom does S say he lacks at 19c and 20a?

5.  What kind of wisdom does S say that he has that the politician lacked (20d-21d)?

6. What kind of wisdom does S say that the poets lacked (22b-c)?  Is it clear that S lacks such wisdom?

7.  What kind of wisdom does S say that the craftsmen had (22d-e)?  Is it clear that S lacks such wisdom?

8.  Who, according to S, probably has wisdom; and what does this seem to imply about human wisdom (23a-b)?

9.  Briefly restate S's two arguments refuting Meletus' charge that he corrupts the youth.

10.  The questions that Socrates puts to Meletus (27b-28a) in refutation of the charge that S is an atheist can be reformulated as an argument.  Restate it, proposition by proposition (or sentence by sentence), as clearly as you can, so as to display the logical rigor of the reasoning that leads up to S's conclusion.

11.  When Socrates meets a fellow citizen, what values does he exhort him to care for (27e)?

12.  Why does fearing death presume wisdom that S says he lacks (29a)? 

13.  What does S affirm that he knows (29b)?

14.  Is S unhesitatingly obedient to his superiors?  Give examples.

15.  In what way(s) is Socrates wise?  Present evidence from the dialogue and add your own opinion.


What S claims:

·        To care only about what is right or just--what a good person does--not at all about the risks involved (28b)

·        To be supremely concerned with understanding and truth and the soul's growth toward perfection (29e)

·        No evil can befall a good person (41d)


S's refutations of Meletos, briefly put:

·        It is implausible that only S corrupts the youth; and no one would knowingly spoil his own neighborhood (24d-26a).

·        It is incoherent to charge S with (1) being an atheist and (2) giving new teachings about spiritual things (since spirits--e.g., S's inner divine voice--come from the gods) (26b-28a).


As Plato presents the figures in his dialogues, Meletos and Anytos represent dogmatism.  The atheists who teach seeming science and how to make the weaker argument win represent extreme skepticism.

Plato challenged popular opinions.  He held that that each person has the intellectual potential to recognize goodness and beauty and to gain knowledge of rightness (justice) and the truth of other forms and of sciences.