I read this back when I was in college, but since I have been listening to the Philosophize This podcast on my drives to and from work, I was inspired to read it again. And yes, I still have my copy of The Last Days of Socrates from school which includes this text.
This text is basically Socrates on trial and the three arguments he presents to the court. The first argument is his closing statement to the jury; the second is after the guilty verdict is returned; and the final section is Socrates addressing the court after they decided on the death penalty.
What struck me upon reading this again is that although the title is the Apology, Socrates never apologizes for his actions. He remains steadfast in his righteousness and asserts that history will prove that he was justified in his pursuit of philosophic truth. I could not help but thinking that the title was meant to be sarcastic or satire.
UPDATE TO POST: A fellow blogger at Earthpages pointed out that Apology as used here comes from the Greek apologia which translates to answer or reasoned defense. This makes more sense. Check out Oxford Center for definition of apologetics
Probably the most famous passage from this text is where Socrates asserts that the reason he is the wisest of all men is because he knows how little he actually knows.
However, I reflected as I walked away: ‘Well, I am certainly wiser than this man. It is only too likely that neither of us has any knowledge to boast of; but he thinks that he knows something which he does not know, whereas I am quite conscious of my ignorance. At any rate it seems that I am wiser than he is to this small extent, that I do not think that I know what I do not know.’
(Last Days of Socrates: p. 50)
We live in an age when technical knowledge is increasing exponentially, and this begs an important question: Does all this knowledge and information actually make us wiser? It’s a legitimate question for the information age. Socrates would say “No.” He asserts that technical knowledge does not equate to wisdom.
Last of all I turned to the skilled craftsmen. I knew quite well that I had practically no technical qualifications myself, and I was sure that I should find them full of impressive knowledge. In this I was not disappointed; they understood things which I did not, and to that extent they were wiser than I was. But, gentlemen, these professional experts seemed to share the same failing which I noticed in the poets; I mean that on the strength of their technical proficiency they claimed a perfect understanding of every other subject, however important; and I felt that this error more than outweighed their positive wisdom.
(ibid: pp. 51 – 52)
Socrates states that “…so long as I draw breath and have my faculties, I shall never stop practising philosophy and exhorting you and elucidating the truth for everyone that I meet.” (ibid: p. 61) Essentially, he is committed to being a life-long learner, something I also aspire to. The day we stop questioning and learning and exercising our mental faculties is the day our minds begin to atrophy. Following Socrates’ example, I plan on reading and writing and thinking for as long as I am physically and mentally capable of doing so, and I hope that you do the same.
15 responses to ““The Apology of Socrates” by Plato”
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” I think would sum it up as well. Realizing your ignorance to the sum of all wisdom is tantamount to (ironically) being the wisest, which could spark off a philosophical discussion in and of itself. I think I’ll have to add this one to my list.
Great comment, and anyone who quotes Yeats is awesome in my humble opinion.
He’s one of my favorite poets. I have several videos of me reading that poem and The Two Trees!
Mine too. I also love Coleridge, Blake, and Baudelaire.
Blake is another of my favorites and long with Byron and Tennyson. I’ve read Coleridge. I’ll have to check out Baudelaire.
I think you will like Baudelaire. I considered learning French to read his works in original language. Thankfully there are very good translations of his work.
I used to be much more adept at French in my high school and college days. Alas I’ve forgetter much so I’d probably go for the translations. I can understand/speak enough to muddle around if necessary, but I’d be embarrass by my lack of knowledge and certainly American accent.
I’m surprised theorists of non-violence don’t list this, and Antigone, more often. Theory often is said to start with Thoreau’s 1849 Civil Disobedience.
Yeah, same way that environmental literature is said to start with Walden, but actually goes back to the Romantics like Wordsworth.
Thought provoking. Got me thinking that it might have something to do with “apologetics.” But then, I thought, that didn’t make any sense as Xity came after. A little more digging brought the issue to light. https://www.theocca.org/what-is-apologetics
AHHH! Reasoned defense. That makes perfect sense. Thanks for that clarification. I like it when I learn something new. 🙂
Me too. Thanks to you and your article for prompting me to look that up!
BTW – I updated my post and included a link to your blog. Hope it gets you some traffic 😉
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Thanks for the shout out!!