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So the new semester is underway and although I couldn’t get the math class I needed (damn my procrastination!) I did get a chance to work on some of the liberal studies requirements for my major. I’m taking an introductory philosophy class toward that end, and already I’ve learned more about philosophy than I thought I knew before. Which is a funny way of putting it but it describes it well.

We’ve started with Plato’s Apology– now previously I’ve not studied any more about Socrates than was necessary to complete high school but from this one dialogue I’ve found out that I’ve been missing a lot of keen insights into understanding ethics and virtues. If you are not familiar (don’t feel bad!), I’ve summarized the first half or so of it. I’ve added a couple comments which I’ve colored blue, so those who are already familiar with the work can skip past the summaries.

In Apology Socrates is defending himself against two charges brought by his enemies, old and new. The first group hates Socrates because they were at the blunt end of his philosophical wisdom detector (that is, his mind). Socrates explained that Chaeraphon had approached the oracle of Delphi and asked her whether there was any man wiser than Socrates. The oracle replied that there was no man wiser. Chaeraphon returned the news to Socrates.

Socrates was very puzzled by this, knowing that he was not wise he was curious about why Delphi had declared this. So Socrates decided to find the meaning of the god’s words by seeing for himself the wisdom of a respected Athenian, a wiser man than himself. He first selected a politician for examination who was reputed to be a wise and virtuous man. Socrates’ discussion with this man quickly lead him to the conclusion that his reputation was false. Socrates felt it his duty to show the man that his wisdom was founded upon the politician’s self-image, and he quickly made an enemy of him.

Still searching for a wiser man, Socrates then talked to one politican after the other but could find no man who’s “wisdom” was true. He then talked to poets of all sorts. He asked them questions about the meaning and significance of their verses. Although the poets acclaimed their own work beautifully, none of them could tell him the messages behind their most popular works. He concluded that the poets acted more on inspiration than deep thoughtfulness. He continued, talking to artisans, orators and many of other professions but still could not find a single man whose wisdom was true.

The second class of his accusers, led by Meletus, said that Socrates was a deceiver of youth and that he did not follow the religion of the State (Greece, so the Greek gods which I’m sure you are aware of).

Socrates questioned Meletus directly asking him firstly who was a man worthy of improving the youth of Athens. Meletus replied that the laws were their improver. Socrates then asked who would know the law to which he replied that the jury presently in the court knew the laws. Of course Meletus replied affirmatively and Socrates had him confirm that the jury was in fact capable of improving the youth of Athens. Socrates then had him confirm that the senators were capable of improving the youth. Finally he said surely the assemblymen must corrupt the youth then? And Meletus said no, the assemblymen also improve their youth. Socrates then stated that, according to Meletus, everyone improves the youth of Athens– except Socrates of course.

Socrates handling of the first charge is impeccable, certainly worthy of modern day practice of law, despite his admitted lack of experience in the field. In this part he showed that Meletus was not concerned with the guilt nor innocence of Socrates’, but merely that he is punished for his personal vengeance (as Meletus was at the sharp end of a wisdom assessment by one of Socrates’ followers). The fact (confirmed by Meletus himself) was that in his eyes, Socrates was incapable of improving youth merely because of his identity.

Towards the second charge, Socrates asked whether Meletus was implying that he worshipped different gods or was an atheist. Meletus confirmed it was the latter. He then asked Meletus whether a person can believe in divine actions without believing in gods. Meletus replied negatively, saying that no, a man who believes in divine actions must believe in gods. Socrates then pointed out the differences between Meletus’ testimony and the indictment which he swore by as his charges against Socrates, in which he says under oath that Socrates taught and believed in divine activites.

Once again, Socrates has nailed down another charge in a way that would probably result in a charge of perjury against Meletus and a quick exoneration of the second set of charges against Socrates in the modern legal system of the US. He shows his excellent reasoning skills which also seem to resonate the falsehood of the charge of his deception too, as he does no deceiving of any kind, presenting only the contradictions of his accusers.

I won’t cover the whole story as it is rather lengthy and Socrates points are many. In fact, I doubt I could express his arguments eloquently in my crudely insufficient hardly-philosophical way but it’s a story that by the end had made me regret not investigating the orations recorded by Plato and subsequently Plato’s student Aristotle. I can tell you that Socrates is found guilty, but the most amazing part of the story is the punishment which Socrates himself proposes to the court and Socrates final speech after the proceedings were finished. (in the legal system of ancient Greece both the offense and defense parties would propose punishment which the original jury would vote on).

So if you are currently an undergrad and need some liberal studies classes outside of your major, take a philosophy class. Many times requirements for even introductory philosophy classes can be intense, and of course there is lots of deep and abstract readings, but that’s a pro in my book! It’s not much worse than your average history or composition class anyway.

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