Thursday, April 21, 2011

Apology: ain’t too proud not to beg

This post looks at Plato’s Apology from 34b to 35e which encompasses Socrates’ closing defense statement. I’m going to quote and paraphrase Plato’s presentation based on G.M.A. Grube’s translation unless otherwise noted.

Socrates says he will not beg the jury for acquittal, nor will he bring family and friends to arouse all possible pity. But Socrates does this in a way to deliberately arouse anger in the jury—he say he will not do these things like some of the jurists who have “stood trial on a less dangerous charge” in court. He has to point out that he says this without contempt because his approach certainly sounds that way. His reason for not doing these things are with “regard to my reputation and yours and that of the whole city, … especially at my age”.

Has Socrates mentioned his advanced age? Why yes, at least three times. Has he mentioned his three sons, one an adolescent and two that are children? Right there in the previous sentence. Did he mention his military service on behalf of Athens in three critical battles? I believe he did. It’s a good thing he will not pander for pity, especially with more pointed statements toward the jury about to come. Reputation plays a major role in this closing section and I’m not sure Socrates helps his. Which, once again, may be the point.

Socrates believes people superior in any of the virtues should not beg or plead in front of a jury and he, “whether it be true or false,” is reported to be superior to the majority of men. “Yet I have often seen them do this sort of thing when standing trial, men who are thought to be somebody…”. Wait…pause here. How can that be reconciled with his statement in his introduction? "For I am more than seventy years of age, and appearing now for the first time in a court of law, I am quite a stranger to the language of the place” (Benjamin Jowett translation). It can't be, of course. For someone who was only going to tell the truth, we're about to hit a rough patch. The question of how much he contradicted himself, given that several versions are available of his defense, remains to be solved.

OK, we'll continue: “men who are thought to be somebody doing amazing things as if they thought it a terrible thing to die, and as if they were to be immortal if you did not execute them.” Socrates has talked about the impiety (using his definition) in the fear of death, but here he also refers to the timing of it. In addition, he points out there are many ways to die, such as old age if you are seventy, for example. Socrates then chides the jury, saying they should convict a man that acts hysterically in front of them because their behavior “makes the city a laughingstock.” He retracts this since he makes it clear here (and mentioned it in his opening) that a case should be tried on the law and by justice. He has taken pains to point out that justice and the law, at least as administered, are not always in harmony.

The final paragraphs elevate the discussion as Socrates reminds the jury that justice counts in the court, where perjury (by the accused or the jury…and by implication, the plaintiffs) would be impious conduct. Socrates asks the jury not to deem it right that he should act “in a way that I do not consider to be good or just or pious”. Note that he bases his behavior on how #he# considers these virtues, which may be at odds with that of the jury. In other words, don’t convict me simply because I was true to myself. Part of the proof of his piety, he says, lies in not influencing the jury with something other than the truth. In this manner, Socrates explicitly declares he believes in the gods, but then adds he believes in them “as none of my accusers do”, without explaining exactly what this means. In his speech Socrates has constantly pointed out that his understanding of certain virtues is different than common meanings and this addendum makes such an affirmation ambiguous.

His final sentence before the verdict is “I leave it to you and the god to judge me in the way that will be best for me and for you.” This echoes Socrates’ opening wish to succeed if it be for the good of him and the city, again raising the question of when or why they might be in conflict. It also adds that the god will be a judge of Socrates and (I may be wrong but) I read it to imply that the god will judge the members of the jury, too. This ends the defense part of Socrates’ trial and the Apology will pick back up after his verdict is read.

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