Socrates’ Trial Defense in Terms of His Values
In his Apology, Plato recounted the trial that led to the execution of his friend and mentor, Socrates. The account revealed that values of Socrates’ accusers and his own fundamentally differed, and that they had been angered because he tried to prove that they had misplaced theirs. Those differences created conflict between the two parties that culminated in his trial. With the understanding that a jury condemned Socrates to death and his defense nevertheless pleased him because he gave it truthfully, it is most sensible to call it a good defense because he felt it was the best that he could do.
In reply to the first charge against him, Socrates effectively recounted the reason that he had been privately questioning Athenians and claiming that some of their personal beliefs had been ill-founded. The affidavit read, “Socrates is an evil-doer, and a curious person, who searches into things under the earth and in heaven, and he makes the worse appear the better cause; and he teaches the aforesaid doctrines to others.” (Plato, 2) The abstractness of that accusation made it an odd one to refute, so Socrates attempted to do so by explaining how he became unpopular with his accusers.
Socrates established very early in his defense that he knew he had no wisdom, and he based his investigations of Athenians’ wisdom on finding at least one person wiser than he was. He recalled a story of Chaerephon, an old Athenian friend, who went to the Oracle of Delphi to ask whether anybody had more wisdom than Socrates did, and she “’…answered that there was no man wiser.’” (Plato, 3) Socrates explained that since he knew he had no wisdom, he began a search to find a man wiser than himself so that he could prove the oracle wrong. His questioning of Athenians during the search, however, generated an unpopular opinion of him among many.
Had people believed that Socrates in fact had no wisdom, his reputation would not have become so bad and his defense would have been more likely to succeed. He explained, however that individuals whom he criticized took offense at him and grew angry because they felt that he had more wisdom than they did. “’…I am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom which I find wanting in others: but the truth is, O men of Athens, that God only is wise; and in this oracle he means to say that the wisdom of men is little or nothing…’” (Plato, 5) While that statement would not have convinced many people that Socrates lacked wisdom, it succeeded at presenting the idea that the oracle meant the wisdom of people is little or nothing. That likely benefited him among his supporters and some neutral jurors because they could have believed that Socrates’ mission had been to show that people lacked wisdom compared to gods rather than that he had more wisdom than others did. Among people who disliked him or who took pride in...