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In the Apology, Socrates had to refute two groups of accusations brought against him by his accusers. First, he was accused of making constant inquiries into the earth and sky because of his immense curiosity. Secondly, he was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens and worshipping other gods other than gods commissioned by the state (Apology 18b-18c). The accusations were grouped into two classes. These included the old accusations and the new accusations. According to Socrates, the old accusations resulted from people’s hatred because of his immense wisdom. The new accusations were brought against him by Meletus. In this paper, I will argue that Socrates meant to be condemned. I will use his belief in other gods other than those commissioned by the state and his corruption of youth to make my argument. First, I will discuss Socrates’ belief in other supernatural gods, and then discuss how he corrupted the youths of Athens with his impiety, showing how they validate my arguments.
Socrates’ Accusations by Meletus
Socrates was sentenced to death after being found guilty on several charges (Brickhouse and Smith, 1989, p.62). The main accusations that played a significant role in Socrates’ death sentence were the accusations of impiety and corrupting the young people of Athens. Meletus accused Socrates of two wrongs. First, corrupting the young people of Athens with his impiety. Secondly, believing in other supernatural gods other than the gods commissioned by the state of Athens (Apology 24b-24c).
Socrates Impiety And Corruption Of Athenian Youths
The main accusation brought against Socrates by Meletus was that Socrates did not believe in the state gods, but other supernatural beings (Brickhouse and Smith, 1989, p.64). Meletus was not consistent in advancing this accusation against Socrates throughout the trial. However, that did not prevent the jury form convicting Socrates. The charges were severe because impiety was a serious crime in the state of Athens
The state of Athens had adopted a law that was used in prosecuting people who did not believe in the state gods or people who taught about other gods that were not recognized by the state (Russon and Fagan, 2009, p.69). When the jury decided to prosecute Socrates with a death sentence, they were referring to a law that was established during the commencement of the Peloponnesian War. The state of Athens treated victims of impiety with harshness because of two main reasons. First, impiety resulted in disasters that were a sign of the gods’ dissatisfaction with the actions of the people. Secondly, impiety resulted in immorality, which attracted severe punishment form the gods (Grube, 2002, p.73). Athenians considered immorality as a direct result of impiety (Apology 19c). For example, in the play “Clouds”, Socrates stated that:
“What gods do you intend to swear by? To start with, the gods hold no currency with us.” (Apology 19c).
This statement was proof enough that Socrates did not give adequate reverence to the Athenian gods. Since Athenians believed that impiety resulted in immorality, it was legally right for an Athenian citizen to be punished for impiety.
From the Apology, it was evident that Socrates was impious because he did not believe in the Athenian gods (Grube, 2002, p.76). He did not refer to any Athenian god in his entire defense. However, he only referred to other gods that he claimed were guiding him. Socrates references to gods in the Apology were general and did not refer to any specific Athenian god (Grube, 2002, p.77). There was no direct defense from Socrates on charges of impiety. Outside the Apology, Socrates’ impiety was evident in the Euthyphro. He stated that he found great difficulty in comprehending the different narratives of Athenian gods (Grube, 2002, p.78). After finding the impiety of Socrates, it then became easier to determine how he was corrupting the youth of Athens. In the Euthyphro, Socrates challenged the Athenian youth’s understanding of piety. He did not agree with their great reverence for the Athenian elders and the social structure that governed their lives at the time. Socrates defense against the charge of corrupting the youth was superficial. In his defense, Socrates stated that:
“If I make one of my associates wicked I run the risk of being harmed by him” (Apology 25e).
However, this statement was not convincing and did not reveal Socrates innocence. It revealed that Socrates was aware that, through his teachings, he was corrupting the youth. He failed to put that into consideration because he had other motives. Socrates stated that:
“If I corrupt some young men and have corrupted others, then surely some of them who have grown older and realized that I gave them bad advice when they were young should now themselves come up here to accuse me and avenge themselves” (Apology 33d).
Socrates’ claim was ironical because Plato stated that dialectical training corrupted the youth significantly. According to Plato, people who underwent dialectical training were full of lawlessness (Brickhouse and Smith, 2002, p.49). In the Apology, Socrates admitted that he taught people about various issues that were considered controversial (Apology 3a). It was evident from Plato’s description of the effect of dialectical training that Socrates corrupted the youths by his teachings. He was not sincere in his defense, which revealed his arrogance and disrespect. His impiety went against the Athenian way of life and warranted execution. His responses in the Apology revealed that he expected the punishment that he received.
Socrates’ Belief In Other Gods
In the Apology, Meletus accused Socrates of failure to believe in the Athenian gods and introducing other supernatural gods (Helm, 1997, p.56). In his defense, Socrates claimed that the charges were motivated by slander and hatred by his accusers. He claimed that:
“These people are ambitious, violent, and numerous; they are continually and convincingly talking about me; they have been filling your ears for a long time with vehement slanders against me” (Russon and Fagan, 2009, p.78).
Meletus accused Socrates of believing in other gods other than those of the city. This accusation resulted from Socrates’ claim of receiving guidance from another divine god other than the gods of the state. Socrates argued that his bad reputation did not result from being an atheist or from corrupting the youth of the city but from his immense wisdom. Socrates narrated a story of an Oracle that had told one of his friends that he (Socrates) was the wisest person in Athens (Helm, 1997, p.57). That motivated Socrates to question the wisdom of Athenian men who were considered wise. He questioned theologians, poets and politicians in search for someone who was wiser than he was.
He found out that the people who thought of themselves wise were the most ignorant, and those who thought of themselves ignorant were the most knowledgeable (Russon and Fagan, 2009, p.83). Socrates believed in god, which was the main reason why he withstood great suffering. In addition, he believed in existence of other gods other than those commissioned by the state, and believed that he was a messenger that God had chosen. Socrates claimed that since he believed in a divine being that guided him, that was enough proof that he believed in supernatural beings. This was contrary to Meletus’ claim that Socrates did not believe in any gods. In his defense, Socrates claimed that it was impossible for anyone to believe in human things without believing in human beings. In addition, he claimed that it was impossible for anyone to believe in divine matters without believing in divine beings. Therefore, according to Meletus’ accusations, Socrates believed in supernatural beings even though not those commissioned by the Athenian state.
He considered himself as a blessing among the people of Athens that was sent by the gods (Helm, 1997, p.58). To illustrate that he was a blessing from the gods, he compared himself to a Gadfly. He claimed that just as a Gadfly prevented a horse from becoming sluggish, so did his teachings prevent the people of Athens from becoming corrupt, intolerant and sluggish. Socrates service to the city of Athens had resulted from his response to the commands of the city’s gods. However, his belief in other gods resulted in accusations against him. Socrates expressed his belief in other gods and showed little respect to the gods that Athenians believed in. Socrates claimed that Meletus had little understanding of his worship practices, and that was the main reason why he brought the charges against him. The main reason why Socrates advanced his inquiry into the wisdom of the people of Athens was that he believed that god was using him to deliver important messages to the Athenian people (Helm, 1997, p.61).
Socrates was sentenced to death after being found guilty on several charges. The main accusations that played a significant role in Socrates’ death sentence were the accusations of impiety and corrupting the young people of Athens. Meletus accused Socrates of corrupting the young people of Athens with his impiety and believing in other supernatural gods other than those commissioned by the state of Athens. The state of Athens treated victims of impiety with harshness because of two main reasons. First, impiety resulted in punishment from the gods who brought disasters to the people.
Secondly, impiety resulted in immorality, which attracted punishment form the gods. Athenians considered immorality as a direct result of impiety. Socrates believed in god, which was the main reason why he withstood great suffering. In addition, he believed in existence of other gods other than those commissioned by the state and believed that he was a messenger that gods had chosen. There was no direct defense from Socrates on charges of impiety. His impiety went against the Athenian way of life and warranted execution. His responses in the apology revealed that he expected the punishment that he received. Socrates was found guilty and was sentenced to death.
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