Defense on Socrates
There are times in every mans life where our actions and beliefs collidethese collisions are known as contradictions. There are endless instances in which we are so determined to make a point that we resort to using absurd overstatements, demeaning language, and false accusations in our arguments. This tendency to contradict ourselves often questions our character and morals. Similarly, in The Trial of Socrates (Plato’s Apology), Meletus’ fallacies in reason and his eventual mistake of contradicting himself will clear the accusations placed on Socrates. In this paper, I will argue that Socrates is not guilty of corrupting the youth with the idea of not believing in the Gods but of teaching the youth to think for themselves by looking to new divinities.
The first main argument in support of the thesis is that it is society’s job to educate the youth and Socrates argues that it is impossible for just one man to corrupt the youth. This is the first mistake made by Meletus, as he makes the absurd overstatement that “every Athenian improves and elevates the youth; all with the exception of Socrates,” who alone is their corrupter. Socrates goes on to defend himself by alluding to a horse analogy. Socrates argues that (P1) trainers improve horses, (P2) all others who simply ride horses, injure or corrupt horses, (P3) there are fewer trainers than riders, (P4) therefore, those who corrupt horses are in smaller number than those who ride horses and we can conclude that (C) people are corrupted by a majority rather than a minority. Socrates believes that this analogy to horses must be true of all animals and furthermore, for all people. Socrates utilizes this analogy to point out that Meletus’ overstatement is rather ironic, since according to Meletus all other beings except for the youth in the world are more likely to be corrupted by a majority rather than a minority. For this reason, it is more logical that the youth have been corrupted by a majority like the judges, senators, and the Athenians rather than one man, Socrates. Meletus’ overstatement and inability to defend himself reflects poorly on his character and further gives more authority to Socrates as it seems that Meletus is only arguing for the sake of argument and that he has no true evidence to prove that Socrates is guilty of corrupting the youth.
The next step in the line of reasoning that supports the thesis of this paper is that Meletus contradicts himself by saying that Socrates both believes and does not believe in the Gods. Socrates begins by asking Meletus if he thinks that Socrates has corrupted the young by “teaching them not to acknowledge the gods which the state acknowledges, but some other new divinities,” and Meletus agrees that this is the reason for his accusation. However, Meletus further states that Socrates is a complete “atheist,” meaning that he does not believe in god at all. This inconsistency in Meletus’ answers refute the entire accusation that Socrates is an atheist because Meletus already has established that Socrates teaches “other men to acknowledge some gods, and therefore that he does believe in gods, and is not an entire atheist.” This can also be presented as an argument in which our first premise is (P1) that Atheists do not believe in Gods, our second premise is that (P2) Socrates believes in God, and our conclusion therefore is that (C) Socrates is not an Atheist. This logically proves that Meletus is incorrect in his reasoning and that Socrates is not guilty of teaching the youth not to believe in Gods as a whole, but has only attempted to broaden their minds by introducing them to divinities outside of the state.
A final argument that we can make in defense of this thesis is that Socrates does believe in Gods, which would refute any reason for him to corrupt the youth with atheistic ideas. Socrates begins by asking a series of question: “Did ever man, Meletus, believe in the existence of human things, and not human beings? Did ever any man believe in horsemanship, and not in horses? Or in flute-playing, and not in flute players?” Socrates does not understand how Meletus states that the answer to all these questions is that it would be impossible, yet when Socrates believes in spirits and demigods, Meletus thinks it is possible for Socrates to be an atheist. The basic argument we can look at is that (P1) if you believe in human things, you believe in human beings; (P2) if you believe in divine or spiritual agencies, you believe in divine or spiritual beings; and therefore we can conclude that (C1) since Socrates believes in divine or spiritual agencies, he too, believes in divine or spiritual beings. Socrates says he specifically believes in the spirits or demigods, who are none other than “gods or the sons of gods.” This argument completely objects to the idea that Socrates has polluted the minds of the youth with ideas of not believing in God, when he in fact believes in gods himself. Socrates has only opened the eyes of the youth in order to teach them not to be ignorant and take the beliefs of others as their own. Socrates has encouraged the youth to seek their own faith and find their own gods, whether they are the Gods of the state or new divinities. Socrates has only sought to educate the youth with the idea of individuality and thinking for themselves, but has never sought to corrupt them.
One possible objection to this argument is that Meletus was unfairly questioned in his cross-examination by Socrates, who some may say does not seem to have an interest in identifying the source of Meletus’ views. Instead, Socrates continuously dismisses Meletus as being “mean-spirited and ignorant.” Throughout the cross-examination, it seems that Socrates bullies Meletus by mocking him and pushing him to answer quickly and it seems that Meletus is not unable to answer but is instead intimidated by Socrates’ witty and bitter comments. Furthermore, Socrates seems to leave off questioning Meletus at times and decides to answer his questions for himself. For this reason, many may argue that The Apology is biased towards Socrates in that we rarely see the side of a speaker other than Socrates. They may further argue that if Meletus was able to testify his whole account of Socrates’ accusations without the interruption of Socrates’ derogatory remarks, that we may actually find Socrates to be an atheist and a corrupter of the youth.
Another possible objection that would refute this thesis relates to Socrates’ belief in the gods as his “proof” for believing in them is highly questionable. Socrates makes a giant leap from saying that he believes in supernatural beings to saying he believes in gods. Socrates asserts that all spirits or supernatural beings are either gods or children of the gods; however, spirits can include many others such as dead souls or ghosts. One may go on to say that if Socrates truly believed in a certain divinity, he would provide us with an example instead of continuously asserting that he believes in one god or some gods.
In response to the first objection, we could say that it is Socrates that is being put on trial and not Meletus and so Socrates should do everything in his power to defend himself and make sure that the jury does not find him guilty. Socrates may not have given enough time for Meletus to respond, however, he did give him the opportunity and the fact that Meletus was not ready to respond or accidentally said something he did not want to say shows that Meletus has no real evidence leading to the conclusion that Socrates has corrupted the youth and is an atheist. Instead, it seems that Meletus is trying to prove Socrates guilty for personal reasons rather than for the good of the youth. Once again, Meletus’ inconsistency in argument gives us more faith in Socrates’ side of the story. If Meletus is truly determined to prove that Socrates is guilty, then he would have spoken up instead of being intimidated by Socrates’ demeaning language. Furthermore, in response to the comment that Socrates dismissed Meletus with degrading language, the same could be said about Meletus, who continuously calls Socrates an “evil-doer” and an “atheist.” To someone who believes in the gods, being called an atheist could be one of the greatest insults. Therefore, the objection fails to refute the thesis since it is Meletus’ weakness in his ability to communicate that makes The Apology seem biased rather than Socrates being unwilling to allow Meletus to communicate his views.
In response to the second objection, Socrates does make a large leap from saying that he believes in the spirits to saying that he believes in the gods, however, this does not necessarily mean that his statements are false. In the objection we say that these supernatural spirits could include ghosts or other dead souls, but at the same time the spirits can include other divinities and gods. We are not trying to prove that Socrates believes in a certain god, but that he is not an atheist, or one who denies or disbelieves the existence of god. Furthermore, Socrates is already charged of teaching the youth to believe in divinities and unlike supernatural powers, divinities are deities or gods and goddesses. The fact that Socrates believes in divinities refutes any objection that Socrates may be an atheist.
It has been argued in this paper that the charges held against Socrates for corrupting