trial of Socrates, death of Socrates
[trial of Socrates, death of Socrates]
last days, trial, death, Socrates apology

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The trial and death of Socrates

Socrates Apology

  A friend, in consulting the Oracle at Delphi, asked was any man wiser than Socrates. The Oracle replied that there were not!!! Upon being told of this answer Socrates maintained that this implied that he, alone, had this claim to wisdom - that he fully recognised his own ignorance.

  From that time he sought out people who had a reputation for wisdom and, in every case, was able to reveal that their reputations were not justified. Socrates regarded this behaviour as a service to God and decided that he should continue to make efforts to improve people by persuading and reminding them of their own ignorance.

  What we now call the "Socratic method" of philosophical inquiry involved questioning people on the positions they asserted and working them through further questions into seemingly inevitable contradictions, thus proving to them that their original assertion had fatal inconsistencies. Socrates refers to this "Socratic method" as elenchus. The Socratic method gave rise to dialectic, the idea that truth needs to be approached by modifying one's position through questionings and exposures to contrary ideas.

  Socrates did not seek to involve himself in the political life of Athens as he felt that there would inevitably be compromises of principle that he was not prepared to make. As a prominent citizen he was called upon to fulfil minor political roles where his sense of principle had caused him to place himself in some personal danger by holding out alone against the unconstitutional condemnation of certain generals. He later refused to participate in the arrest of an innocent man that had been ordered by a corrupt body of "Thirty Tyrants" who ruled Athens in the wake of her defeat by Sparta. This refusal might have cost Socrates his life but for the overthrow of the Thirty Tyrants and a restoration of democracy.

  This restored democracy was however markedly traditionalist and reactionary in its religious views - this led it to see Socrates, as a teacher of novel ideas of morality and justice, with some disfavour. Socrates had also alienated many powerful men by acting as a relentlessly questioning Gadfly causing them to face their personal ignorance or own to shortfalls in office.

  In 399 B.C. Socrates was accused of "impiety" and of "neglect of the Gods whom the city worships and the practise of religious novelties" and of the "corruption of the young".

  The trial, last days, and death of Socrates are successively related in several works by Plato. These works are the Apology (i.e. Defence Speech), Euthyphro, Crito and Phaedo - links to more detail of events as recorded by Plato are set out below:-

Menu of links to key works


Apology
first speech
Apology
second and third speeches
Euthyphro &
Crito
Phaedo

Ancient Greece
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Pythagoras
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Socrates
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The last days
of Socrates
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Plato
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Aristotle

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