Socrates Trial: Guilty or Not Guilty?

Socrates (469 – 399 BCE) was a classical Greek philosopher, known as one of the founders of Western philosophy. Socrates’ trial and execution in 399 BCE still remain controversial to this day and divides historians. If I was a member of the Athenian jury hearing the case of Socrates, I would vote to acquit Socrates.

The basis of philosophy means to question. The people of Athens grew up being taught things and told exactly what to believe. Socrates gave a new perspective by teaching the people of Athens to be curious and question things.

In Socrates’ trial, Socrates has to persuade the jury and defend himself against the accusations made by Meletus saying “Socrates is guilty of corrupting the young and of not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in other new divinities” (Apology, 24 b-c). In Athens, their religion was a matter of public participation under law, so any judicial proceedings could be initiated by anyone that was a citizen there.

There were two types of accusers in Socrates trial: the earlier ones and the recent ones. Socrates made a lot of enemies early on in his life since he used to go to every man known as wise and question their wisdom. It makes recent accusers disliking him greatly easier from listening to what their elders tell in stories about him, rather than experiencing being around Socrates themselves. One valid point in Socrates defense for his trial was “if one asks them what he does and what he teaches to corrupt them, they are silent, as they do not know, but, so as not to appear at a loss, they mention those accusations that are available against all philosophers, about ‘things in the sky and things below the earth,’ about ‘not believing in the gods’ and ‘making the worse the stronger argument’; they would not want to tell the truth, I’m sure, that they have been proved to lay claim to knowledge when they know nothing” (Apology, 23 c-d).

Since most of the people of Athens developed a disliking of Socrates off stories from elders, when people like Meletus accuse Socrates of wrongdoing and are asked to show proof, they cannot provide evidence. As part of the Athenian jury I would see there is no specific evidence against Socrates to back up Meletus’s accusation and the accusation should therefore be deemed as unreliable. Another valid point in Socrates defense for the trial was when he questioned “Why then do some people enjoy spending considerable time in my company? You have heard why, gentlemen of the jury, I have told you the whole truth. They enjoy hearing those being questioned who think they are wise, but are not… If I corrupt some young men and have corrupted others, then surely some of them who have grown older and realized that I gave them bad advice when they were young should now themselves come up here to accuse me and avenge themselves. If they are unwilling to do so themselves, then some of their kindred, their fathers or brother or other relations should recall it now if their families have been harmed by me” (Apology, 33c-34b). Socrates has proven himself for the second time with Meletus’s lack of evidence for his accusation when no one had stepped forward to claim vengeance or harm from him. As part of the Athenian jury I would see substantial evidence that Socrates is not guilty, if no one in the huge crowd of people stepped forward to claim harm, therefore leading to the conclusion that Socrates should not be punished for any actions.

Although many of the people of Athens viewed Socrates as corrupting the youth and not believing in the Athens gods, Socrates brought lots of opportunities for growth in learning from their ancient ways. The people of Athens were angry that Socrates was questioning their habits and beliefs but when they tried to accuse him of wrongdoing, there was no valid evidence of corruption and no one would stand to show Socrates had harmed them in anyway. This is why if I was a member of the Athenian jury hearing the case of Socrates, I would vote to acquit Socrates.

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