In the retelling of his trial by his associate, entitled The Apology, Socrates claims in his defence that he only wishes to do good for Athens. Socrates is eventually found guilty for his actions and put on trial, which results in him being given the death sentence. For years now people have debated whether or not Socrates was guilty or not guilty, or if he is even trying to win the trial at all. Socrates was innocent of the accusations that Meletus against him, by showing he does in fact believe in gods of some sort, distancing himself from sophists, and proving he is not corrupting the youth.
From the above points, Socrates is able to prove that he is not guilty, but in The Apology, the jury decided otherwise. Socrates first addressed himself to the accusation that he “inquires into things below the earth and in the sky” (Apology 19b). He tries to provide physical explanations for matters that are normally considered to be the workings of god. From there, he addresses the accusation that he does not believe in gods endorsed by the state, but that he is introducing strange gods to the youth, not the gods of Athens.
Under Socrates’ questioning, Meletus assets that Socrates believes in no gods at all, and from that point, Socrates replies that Meletus is confusing him with Anaxagoras, a well-known Pre-Socratic, whose theories Meletus is ascribing to Socrates. To prove Meletus wrong, Socrates undertakes the task of showing that he must believe in gods of some sort. He suggests that it would be impossible to believe in human matters without believed in human beings, or in musical matters without believing in musicians, and so it much be impossible to believe in supernatural matters without believing in supernatural things.
But the testimony Meletus drew up against Socrates, and teaches others to believe in supernatural matters. Socrates goes on how it was the gods who gave him the task of philosophy in order to wake the city of Athens up and show them all the injustices the city is ridiculed with. Socrates states “[I am] attached to this city by the god-though it seems a ridiculous thing to say- as upon a great and noble horse which [is] somewhat sluggish because of its size and [needs] to be stirred by a kind of gadfly” (Apology 30e). With his, Socrates is able to disprove Meletus, as he does believe in gods of some sort, and that he is acting on the gods will to teach the ideas of philosophy. From which point Meletus brings up the idea of Socrates being a Sophist. Socrates then distances himself from the sophists (the men who are typically teaching their students how to make weaker arguments overcome stronger arguments). These men generally charge a fee for their services, and Socrates denies ever having charged anyone for engaging in conversation with him.
He ridicules such behaviour, saying that a sophist will persuade young men to “leave the company of their fellow citizens, with any of whom they can associate for nothing, attach themselves to him, pay money for the privilege, and be grateful into the bargain” (Apology 19e-20a). These sophists claim to tech their students about virtue and how to become better citizens and Socrates concedes that such teachings may well be worth a great free, but that he himself lacks any skill in teaching these matters.
Therefore, Socrates shows the jury he is not a Sophist. After proving he is innocent of the charge on him being a Sophist, Meletus brings another charge, one that states Socrates is a bad influence on the youth and is corrupting them. If Socrates has been such a bad influence on the youth of Athens, he asks, what is it that has a good influence? Meletus responds that the laws make people good. Socrates then urges Meletus to clarify which people might have this good influence, whose business it is to know that laws.
In response to Socrates’ questioning, Meletus first assets that the jurymen are responsible for knowing the laws, and then accepts both councillors and members of the Assembly as equally good influences. Because the Assembly is open to all adult males, Meletus find himself claiming that the entire population of Athens has a positive influence on the youth, with the sole exception of Socrates. Socrates then draws an analogy with horses, saying that only horse-trainers, very specialized people, have positive influences on horses, whereas most people would have a negative influence.
Surely, Socrates suggests, if it takes such expertise to improve a horse, it would be odd to think that pretty much anyone can improve a person. He states “either I do not corrupt the young or, if I do, t is unwillingly, and you are lying in either case” (Apology 26a). The statement proves that Meletus’ accusations are wrong, and that anyone in the city, not just himself, has the potential to corrupt the youth of Athens, therefore, Socrates is innocent of this charge.
What does him in is when the oracle tells Socrates he is the wisest out of all the men in Athens. Socrates believes this is not true and puts a test together to see if he can prove the oracles idea wrong. Socrates sought out and questioned Athenian men who were highly esteemed for wisdom. He interrogated a poet, a craftsman, and a politician. In questioning the politician, he found that they thought they were very wise, they did not in fact know much of anything at all.
The poet was next, though they wrote great works that were brilliant, they seemed incapable of explaining what they wrote. Socrates came to the conclusion that their genius came not from wisdom but from some sort of instinct or inspiration which was in no way connected to their intellect. Lastly, for the craftsman, he found the men who truly did have great wisdom in their craft, but invariably, they seemed to think that their expertise in one field allowed them to speak authoritatively in others.
He then comes to the safe conclusion “I am wiser that [these] men; it is likely that neither of us knows anything worthwhile, but he thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas when I do not know, neither do I think I know; so I am likely to be wiser then he to this small extent, that I do not think I know what I do not know” (Apology 21d). This insults all of the jury as this is what they are all made up, and therefore Socrates loses the trial.
In conclusion, it is easy to see that Socrates is not guilty of the charges put up against him; by showing he does in fact believe in gods of some sort, distancing himself from sophists, and proving he is not corrupting the youth. He is able to prove himself to the jury, and even won over almost enough to avoid losing his case, he is still given the death sentence, and is excuted at the end of his trial, leaving behind years of work, writing, and knowledge that his students would carry on after his death.