Socrate’s First Accusers And Athenian Law Essay, Research Paper

Socrate’s First Accusers and Athenian Law

Of all confrontations in political philosophy, the biggest is the conflict

between philosophy and politics. The problem remains making philosophy friendly

to politics. The questioning of authoritative opinions is not easily

accomplished nor is that realm of philosophy – the pursuit of wisdom. Socrates

was the instigator of the conflict. While the political element takes place

within opinions about political life, Socrates asks the questionWhat is the

best regime and how should I live?” Ancient thought is riddled with unknowns

and can make no such statement as “how should I live.” The Socratic philosophy

offers an alternative and prepares the way for the alternative of absolutes.

This alternative is not without its faults. Socratic philosophy is plagued by a

destructive element. It reduces the authoritative opinions about political life

but replaces it with nothing. This is the vital stem from which the “Apology

of Socrates” is written. Because of the stinging attack on Athenian life, and

the opinions which they revere so highly, Socrates is placed on trial for his


The question now becomes why and in what manner did Socrates refute the gods

and is he quilty? Socrates, himself, speaks out the accusers charges by saying

“Socrates does injustice and is meddlesome, by investigating the things under

the earth and the heavenly things, and by making the weaker the stronger and by

teaching others these things” (Plato, 19b;c). This is the charge of the “old”

accusers. It is seen from an example in “The Clouds”. Strepsiades goes to

Socrates in order to learn how to pursuade his son by “making the weaker speech

the stronger” (Aristophanes, 112). Why does Socrates remind the assembly about

the old accusers? It appears improper for a man on trial to bring about his

other ‘crimes’. Aristophanes, in particular, is implicated by Socrates as an

old accuser. “For you yourselves used to see these things in the comedy of

Aristophanes” (Plato, 19c). The poets helped to shape Greek culture. Poetry was

passed on and perpetuated the city where thought constantly changed.

Philosphy begins in debunking what the city thinks they know in order to refute

the god. It is evident that Socrates is not guided by the gods of the city.

Socrates says “it is not part of the same man to believe in daimonian and

divine things” (Plato, 27e). Socrates is subtly admitting his guilt. Perhaps

Socrates believs in gods, but if so, they are not the gods of the city.

Socrates simply denies that he has had any part in celestial or subterranean

inquiry – he simply speaks “elsewhere”. Socrates goes on to say that those who

do are reported to be atheists. However, Socrates says that “Zeus does not

eveeen exist” (Aristophanes, 367). Socrates replaces Zeus with nature, the

permanent and necessary things accessable to reason. This is an outrage to any

Athenian. To deny the gods is to deny faith and ultimately the authoritarian

opinions on which their politics is based.

Why does Socrates think that he is being unjustly punished? Chaerophon had told

Socrates that the Pythian Oracle had said that Socrates was the wisest man.

Socrates admits that “I am conscious that I am not wise, either much or little”

(Plato, 20b). Socrates wonders what the riddle is and sets out to “refute the

divination” (Plato, 20c). This is a prime example of Socrates’ impiousness as

is his statement in “The Clouds” where he states “we don’t credit Gods”

(Aristophanes, 248). He is attempting to refute the god at Delphi. Socrates

tries to aid his own defense by charging that what he does is in devotion to

the god. “Even now I still go around seeking and investigating in accordance

with the god” (Plato, 23b). Socrates makes this brash statement yet it is

unfounded and untrue because it is not a devine order for Socrates to pursue

this line of investigation. In opposition, Socrates asserts that the daimonian

did not oppose him.

Socrates’ impiety is not the only thing that resulted in histrial. Socrates was

“the gadfly” stinging the city of Athens. When Socrates proposes that the god

sent him on his quest, he set out to prove it wrong. In the process, he

questioned “the politicians and those reported to be wise” (Plato, 21c). After

finding that no one reported to be wise, was worthy of being called wise,

Socrates investigated further “all the while perceiving with pain and fear that

I was becoming hated” (Plato, 21e). The artisans, poets, and politicians all

thought they were knowledgable in “the greatest things” but, in fact, did not

know anything at all. “They all say noble things but they know nothing of which

they speak” (Plato, 22c). Socrates, in affirming that he reanked above them in

wisdom, because he knew nothing, in fact became the oracles main supporter. It

must be noted that Socrates’ support of the cities god is based solely on his

‘testing’ of the oracle. Socrates accepts the oracles words, not on divine

authority but because it passes his test of reason.

The hatred of Socrates is extended, as the youth of Athens imitate him and make

the elders look foolish by engaging in Socratic dialogue and showing up their

ignorance. This led to the charge that Socrates corrupted the youth. This too

was added to the impiety charge. Socrates says that the youth follow him “of

their own accord” (Plato, 23c).

In any event, one concludes that the Delphic Oracle was a definite turning

point in Socrates’ life. Perhaps it changes Socrates’ interest from the

physical and astronomical studies with moral and political thought. This

turning point brings Socrates into conflict with the city of Athens. His doubt

of the opinions taken on authority also concerned the cities god and the cities

laws. That made him dangerous in the eyes of the leaders. Socrates’ thought was

a painful sting to the glorified convictions of human conduct that meant so

much to the city. Socrates made the political and moral questions the focus and

theme of his “second sailing” as he suggested in Aristophanes’ “Clouds”. By

virtue of Socrates’ turn, philosophy now becomes political. The “Apology”

presents a critique of political life from the view of philosophy. Socrates

disrupts prevailing opinions without providing a substantial opinion to replace

it. This may be intentional as to let man decide between his longings and the

necessity of political life. The problem now is how to make philsoophy friendly

to politics. Whether or not that can be done is not to be answered here.

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