The Apology by Plato is mainly an account of Socrates speech at trial where he was defending himself against all the accusations put on him by Athenian leaders. Socrates was charged for corrupting the minds of the youths in Athens, for inventing many divinities in Athens and also for not recognizing and believing in the gods of Athens. However, he did not succeed in defending himself which led to his death.
For the most part of his life in Athens, Socrates used simple words to converse with Athenians until that day when Delphic oracle proclaimed him as the wisest man in Athens simply because he knew that he knew nothing (Plato 21d).
This paper explains the meaning of this statement and whether this famous statement is a contradiction or an apparent one. It also analyses Socrates’ wisdom or knowledge and his practice of questioning people. Lastly it addresses Socrates non-conventional and problematic relation with the divinities of his city.
Socrates changed the way he conversed with Athenians after Delphic oracle proclaimed him as the wisest of all men in Athens because he knew that he knew nothing. Immediately after this, Socrates assumed his stance of acknowledging and admitting his ignorance. He began to show that those who discussed him or talked ill about him were more ignorant than he was.
This is because they were not aware that they did not know anything and that is why Socrates questioned them but not out of self interests but out of concern. Socrates stated that “great wisdom turns out, contrary to expectation, to reside in a humble acknowledgment of ignorance (Plato 20e).”
Socrates believed that the fact that he humbled himself and acknowledged his ignorant made him recognize how much wise he was. After Socrates acknowledged his ignorance, he decided to pass his “wisdom” to those who could hear him out. Socrates greatest funs were the youths in Athens. This brings out the contradiction in Socrates’ famous sentence knowing that he knows nothing. After knowing that he is ignorant, Socrates decided to go ahead with his mission of passing his ignorance to other people.
He distinguished his ignorance in different affairs and concluded that his wisdom surpassed all human understanding since he was well aware that he did not know anything. According to Socrates virtue and wisdom are connected in some way and that is why his efforts were mainly to improve the society he was living in by impacting people with different knowledge based on what he knows best.
According to Socrates, human wisdom is having moral values. He believes that someone who is wise has morals and that is why they cannot do wrong. Such kinds of people are aware of who they are which leads them to living healthy and happy lives. Human wisdom entails acting in honesty and directness (Plato 20c).
The main reason why Socrates questioned people’s knowledge and wisdom was because he wanted to improve the society by questioning their actions and what drove them to act in a particular way. His practice of questioning people do not relate to Socrates’ wisdom or knowledge. Before realizing his wisdom, he too was like other people hence there was no need of questioning them; this action was not wise. Socrates should have taught the people first before questioning their actions.
He also thought that it was his duty as a person to question others since his wisdom surpassed theirs. He actually wanted to expose their ignorance and false wisdom. However despite it all, Socrates earned much respect and admiration among the young people in Athens though those who felt that he embarrassed them with his questions developed anger and hatred towards him. These people never liked Socrates actions, they thought he was acting based on self-interests.
If Socrates had human wisdom then Sophists and Presocratics whom he mentioned must have had something more. He claimed that his wisdom was greater than that of other humans which means that the judges and the accusers did not possess any of it for he believed that they were invented people who did not believe in themselves.
It is only the gods who are wiser than man and this shows that there was no relation between Socrates’ wisdom or knowledge and his practice of questioning people if he thought that he was the wisest man on earth yet he proclaimed of gods wisdom surpassing that of humans.
Socrates was then prosecuted, put to trial and found guilty of not believing in the gods of the Athens. Socrates thought that his accusers and Athenian superiors did not obey him. According to Socrates he owed his greater obedience not to man or the authority but to God only.
He also confessed in the courts that he will not stop spreading his thoughts and questioning people; only death will stop him from his practices. This shows how much stun Socrates was; nothing could change his believes whether its death or law. He claimed that the only person who could stop him was God.
Socrates also claimed that Athenians had never faced any good and that his actions were mainly based on his concern for the citizens of Athens. Socrates believed that there was no wealth in Athens because of lack of goodness among Athenians. He stated that “God does not permit a better man to be harmed by a worse, and that, in the strongest statement he gives of his task, he is a stinging gadfly and the state a lazy horse (Plato 21d).”
Socrates told the people in the court that unless the people changed, God will never settle in any part of Athens because their deeds drove him away. He therefore believed that by addressing and informing the court and the people about their wrong actions and questioning what they believed in was a way of fulfilling a religious task.
Socrates also saw that reminding the court about the truth was his task and that is why he considered it a supernatural experience. He told Athens that they were not fair since they believed not in truth but in invented beings and that is why they prosecuted him. He did not make any concession for his actions or situation.
Socrates claimed that he was never a teacher but instead he was imparting the right knowledge on other people. He blamed the court for holding him responsible for the change within Athenian citizens. He believed that lack of evidence was a clear show that he was not guilty of the charges. The relatives of the victims whom the law claimed that Socrates poisoned their mind could have easily stepped in as potential witnesses 19d.
Socrates disagreed with Euthyphro when he said stated that anything approved by the gods is holy. Socrates argued that “anything considered holy is approved by the gods, so it is the gods who approves what is determined as holy (Plato 23e).” He further reasoned that not everything holy is approved by the gods because one of the two determines gods’ approval while the other is mainly determined by what the gods decides to approve as holy.
When Euthyphro suggested that anything holy should be just, kind and anxious about looking after the gods, Socrates disagreed with him again. Socrates claimed that the gods were omnipotent and therefore humans cannot look after them. He stated that humans cannot help the gods in any way instead it is them who look after humans.
Socrates further disagreed with Euthyphro when he claimed that holiness is the way in which human’s trade with the gods whereby they offer sacrifice and in return their prayers are answered. According to Socrates, human sacrifice cannot help the gods in any way instead they basically gratify them.
In conclusion, indeed Socrates defence against the charge of being a non-believer is convincing despite his contradicting statements of being ignorant and at the same time not knowing that he knows anything. After being declared by the Delphic Oracle as the wisest man in Athens, Socrates decided to change the way he conversed with Athenians.
He publicly assumed his stance of acknowledging and admitting his ignorance and began to show that those who discussed him or talked ill about him were more ignorant than he was. However despite it all, Socrates stood for the truth and out of concern, he decided to question Athenians with a notion that he was fulfilling religious task.
Plato. Five Dialogues, G. A. (trans.). Indianapolis: Hackett publishing Company, 2002. Print.