A Critique of Socrates' Guilt in the Apology

Essay by Chris BenedettiUniversity, Ph.D.A+, October 1995

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In any case of law, when one is considering truth and justice, one must first look at the validity of the court and of the entity of authority itself. In Socrates case, the situation is no different. One may be said to be guilty or not of any said crime, but the true measure of guilt or innocence is only as valid as the court structure to which it is subject to. Therefore, in considering whether Socrates is 'guilty or not', we must keep in mind the societal norms and standards of Athens at the time, and the legitimacy of his accusers and the validity of the crimes that he allegedly committed. Having said this, we must first look at the affidavit of the trial, what exactly Socrates was being accused with: 'Socrates does injustice and is meddlesome, by investigating the things under the earth and the heavenly things, and by making the weaker speech the stronger, and by teaching others these same things.'1

In breaking this charge down, we see that it is two-fold. Firstly, Socrates is charges with impiety, a person who does not believe in the state gods of Athens and, not only that, but by its literal meaning, does not believe in the authority of gods at all. To this, Socrates seems baffled. He states that the reason behind the 'criminal meddling', the questioning of people's wisdom, was commissioned to him by the gods through the Oracle of Delphi. As Socrates said, '...but when god stationed me, as I supposed and assumed, ordering me to live philosophizing and examining myself and others...that my whole care is to commit no unjust or impious deed.'2He even seems to win a victory over one of his accusers, Meletus, in questioning this point. As Socrates points out, it is impossible...