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Socrates and Plato - Track 404

After I had finished with the politicians 1 turned to the poets, dramatic, lyric, and all the rest, in the belief that here I should expose myself as a comparative ignoramus.(ignoramus means one with ignorance) I used to pick up what I thought were some of their most perfect works and question them closely about the meaning of what they had written, in the hope of incidentally enlarging my own knowledge. Well, gentlemen! I hesitate to tell you the truth, but it must be told. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that any of the bystanders could have explained those poems better than their actual authors. So I soon made up my mind about the poets too: I decided that it was not wisdom that enabled them to write their poetry, but a kind of instinct or inspiration, such as you find in seers and prophets who deliver all their sublime messages without knowing in the least what they mean. It seemed clear to me that the poets were in much the same case; and I also observed that the very fact that they were poets made them think that they had a perfect understanding of all other subjects, of which they were totally ignorant. So I left that line of inquiry too with the same sense of advantage that I had felt in the case of the politicians.

Last of all I turned to the skilled craftsmen.(first he examined the politicians then he examined the poets in both the cases he found that he was wiser than all of them now he turns to the 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 had 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. So I made myself spokesman for the oracle, and asked myself whether I would rather be as I was — neither wise with their wisdom nor stupid with their stupidity — or possess both qualities as they did. I replied through myself to the oracle that it was best for me to be as I was.

The effect of these investigations of mine, gentlemen, has been to arouse against me a great deal of hostility, and hostility of a particularly bitter and persistent kind, which has resulted in various malicious suggestions, including the description of me as a professor of wisdom. This is due to the fact that whenever I succeed in disproving another person's claim to wisdom in a given subject, the bystanders assume that I know everything about that subject myself. But the truth of the matter, gentlemen, is pretty certainly this: that real wisdom is the property of God, and this oracle is his way of telling us that human wisdom has little or no value. It seems to me that he is not referring literally to Socrates, but has merely taken my name as an example, as if he would say to us "The wisest of you men is he who has realised, like Socrates, that in respect of wisdom he is really worthless."

That is why I still go about seeking and searching in obedience to the divine command, if I think that anyone is wise, whether citizen or stranger; and when I think that any person is not wise, I try to help the cause of God by proving that he is not. This occupation has kept me too busy to do much either in politics or in my own affairs; in fact, my service to God has reduced me to extreme poverty.  

There is another reason for my being unpopular. (So what is the first reason for his unpopularity? He investigated to find out one wise man in Athens. So he interviewed a large number of people and proved that none of them was wise. So all those people became angry with him because they believed that they were very wise people and here Socrates came and proved that they are unwise therefore Socrates became unpopular. Now he gives another reason.) There is another reason for my being unpopular. A number of young men with! wealthy fathers and plenty of leisure have deliberately attached themselves to me because they enjoy hearing other people cross–questioned. These often take me as their model, and go on to try to question other persons; whereupon, I suppose, they  find an unlimited number of people who think that they know something, but really know little or nothing. Consequently their victims become annoyed, not with themselves but with me; and they complain that there is a pestilential busybody called Socrates who fills young people' heads with wrong ideas. (Now this is an argument which I would like you to understand. You know pest, what is a pest? You build a crop and there is an insect which eats away the crop that is called a pest, right? Now Socrates according to these people is like a pest he eats away the crops. Here the young people, young people are very nice people but their heads are turned therefore their heads are eaten away by Socrates. So Socrates is now compared to a pest. So let us try to understand this argument. There are a number of young people in Athens whose parents are very wealthy and they have a lot of leisure, parents are very wealthy. They don't need to do much work so they have lot of leisure. Now these young people surround Socrates. Why? Because they enjoy Socrates' questioning some people, very amusing and Socrates displeased them so they even get a greater pleasure and as is it is the case with most young people they imitate, they imitate Socrates. So they also ask people questions just as Socrates does and those people when asked are proved to be wrong, so actually Socrates says they should congratulate themselves that they are shown to be wrong. But no, they feel that Socrates is at fault; we are proved wrong because Socrates has taught them how to question and they are successfully questioning us and proving us to be wrong therefore our reputation is gone. So who is at fault? Socrates. So this is another reason why Socrates had become unpopular.) If you ask them what he I does, and what he teaches that has this effect, they have no answer, not knowing what to say; but as they do not want to admit their confusion, they fall back on the stock charges against any philosopher: that he teaches his pupils about things in the heavens and below the earth, and to disbelieve in gods, and to make the weaker argument defeat the stronger. They would be very loath, I fancy, to admit the truth: which is that they are being convicted of pretending to knowledge when they are entirely ignorant. So, jealous, I suppose, for their own reputation, and also energetic and numerically strong, and provided with a plausible and carefully worked–out case against me, these people have been dinning into your ears for a long time past their violent denunciations of myself. There you have the causes which led to the attack upon me by Meletus and Anytus and Lycon, Meletus being aggrieved on behalf of the poets, Anytus on behalf of the professional men and politicians, and Lycon on behalf of the orators. So, as I said at the beginning, I should be surprised if I were able, in the short time that I have, to rid your minds of a misconception so deeply implanted.

There, gentlemen, you have the true facts, which I present to you without any concealment or suppression, great or small. I am fairly certain that this plain speaking of mine is the cause of my unpopularity; and that I have described correctly the nature and the grounds of the calumny which has been brought against me. Whether you inquire into them now or later, you will find the facts as I have just described them.

So much for my defence against the charges brought by the first group of my accusers. I shall now try to defend myself against Meletus high–principled and patriotic as he claims to be — and after that against the rest.

Let us consider their deposition again, as though it represented a fresh prosecution. It runs something like this: "Socrates is guilty of corrupting the minds of the young, and of believing in deities of his own invention instead of the gods recognised by the State." Such is the charge; let us examine its points one by one.

Now we must contrast this charge with the earlier charge. You must bring once again before your mind the charge that was read out by Socrates earlier. You remember affidavit which was read out by Socrates earlier. On page number 5…………..

"Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example."

This is the charge which he has been dealing with so far. Now comes the second charge. "Socrates is guilty of corrupting the minds of the young, and of believing in deities of his own invention instead of the gods recognised by the State." There are two charges in this charge. One he is corrupting the minds of the young people and secondly that he believes in his own Gods and not in the Gods of the state.  I think I will have to deal with this at length so we stop here today and next time when I come we will start with these two charges then we will deal with each one of them point by point. All right.


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