According to Plato's version of Socrates's Apology, he was present at the trial. However, I could not find any other historical source which says he either was or wasn't at the trial.
Are there such sources? Is there an agreement among researchers today as to whether he was there or not?
You are correct that there are no extant sources that corroborate Plato's claim to have been present at Socrates' trial. However, we also have nothing that contradicts it.
As others have already mentioned in the comments, our two main sources of information for Socrates' later life are Plato and Xenophon. Both were disciples of Socrates, although neither mentions the other.
Other significant sources for details about the life of Socrates are Aristophanes and Aristotle (although Aristotle was not a contemporary of Socrates). In addition, we have some surviving fragmentary works by Aeschines, Antisthenes, Euclid of Megara, Phaedo of Elis and Timon of Phlius. Sadly, none of these explicitly state whether Plato was present at the trial or not.
Of course, it is possible that there were further contemporary sources that do not survive, but in the absence of any evidence to the contrary I think most researchers accept that Plato was present at the trial. This is a particular aspect of the wider "Socratic Problem", and like many aspects of the historical Socrates corroborative evidence is hard to come by.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy contains an excellent article by Debra Nails on Socrates which includes an examination of the main sources for Socrates' life and also of his trial and execution.
Was Plato present at Socrates' trial? - History
The trial and execution of Socrates in Athens in 399 B.C.E. puzzles historians. Why, in a society enjoying more freedom and democracy than any the world had ever seen, would a seventy-year-old philosopher be put to death for what he was teaching? The puzzle is all the greater because Socrates had taught--without molestation--all of his adult life. What could Socrates have said or done than prompted a jury of 500 Athenians to send him to his death just a few years before he would have died naturally?
Finding an answer to the mystery of the trial of Socrates is complicated by the fact that the two surviving accounts of the defense (or apology) of Socrates both come from disciples of his, Plato and Xenophon. Historians suspect that Plato and Xenophon, intent on showing their master in a favorable light, failed to present in their accounts the most damning evidence against Socrates.
What appears almost certain is that the decisions to prosecute and ultimately convict Socrates had a lot to do with the turbulent history of Athens in the several years preceding his trial. An examination of that history may not provide final answers, but it does provide important clues.
Socrates, the son of a sculptor (or stonecutter) and a midwife, was a young boy when the rise to power of Pericles brought on the dawning of the "Golden Age of Greece." As a young man, Socrates saw a fundamental power shift, as Pericles--perhaps history's first liberal politician--acted on his belief that the masses, and not just property-owning aristocrats, deserved liberty. Pericles created the people's courts and used the public treasury to promote the arts. He pushed ahead with an unprecedented building program designed not only to demonstrate the glory that was Greece, but also to ensure full employment and provide opportunities for wealth creation among the unpropertied class. The rebuilding of the Acropolis and the construction of the Parthenon were the two best known of Pericles' many ambitious building projects.
Growing to adulthood in this bastion of liberalism and democracy, Socrates somehow developed a set of values and beliefs that would put him at odds with most of his fellow Athenians. Socrates was not a democrat or an egalitarian. To him, the people should not be self-governing they were like a herd of sheep that needed the direction of a wise shepherd. He denied that citizens had the basic virtue necessary to nurture a good society, instead equating virtue with a knowledge unattainable by ordinary people. Striking at the heart of Athenian democracy, he contemptuously criticized the right of every citizen to speak in the Athenian assembly.
Writing in the third-century C.E. in his The Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Diogenes Laertius reported that Socrates "discussed moral questions in the workshops and the marketplace." Often his unpopular views, expressed disdainfully and with an air of condescension, provoked his listeners to anger. Laertius wrote that "men set upon him with their fists or tore his hair out," but that Socrates "bore all this ill-usage patiently."
We get one contemporary view of Socrates from playwright Aristophanes. In his play Clouds, first produced in 423 B.C.E., Aristophanes presents Socrates as an eccentric and comic headmaster of a "thinkery" (or "thoughtery"). He is portrayed "stalking the streets" of Athens barefoot, "rolling his eyes" at remarks he found unintelligent, and "gazing up" at the clouds. Socrates at the time of Clouds must have been perceived more as a harmless town character than as a serious threat to Athenian values and democracy. Socrates himself, apparently, took no offense at his portrayal in Clouds. Plutarch, in his Moralia, quoted Socrates as saying, "When they break a jest upon me in the theatre, I feel as if I were at a big party of good friends." Plato, in his Symposium, describes Socrates and Aristophanes engaged in friendly conversation.
Other plays of the time offer additional clues as to the reputation of Socrates in Athens. Comic poet Eupolis has one of his characters say: "Yes, and I loathe that poverty-stricken windbag Socrates, who contemplates everything in the world but does not know where his next meal is coming from." Birds, a play of Aristophanes written six years after his Clouds, contains a revealing reference. Aristophanes labels a gang of pro-Sparta aristocratic youths as "Socratified." Sparta--the model of a closed society--and Athens were enemies: the remark suggests Socrates' teaching may have started to be seen as subversive by 417 B.C.E.
The standing of Socrates among his fellow citizens suffered mightily during two periods in which Athenian democracy was temporarily overthrown, one four-month period in 411-410 and another slightly longer period in 404-403. The prime movers in both of the anti-democratic movements were former pupils of Socrates, Alcibiades and Critias. Athenians undoubtedly considered the teachings of Socrates--especially his expressions of disdain for the established constitution--partially responsible for the resulting death and suffering. Alcibiades, perhaps Socrates' favorite Athenian politician, masterminded the first overthrow. (Alcibiades had other strikes against him: four years earlier, Alcibiades had fled to Sparta to avoid facing trial for mutilating religious pillars--statues of Hermes--and, while in Sparta, had proposed to that state's leaders that he help them defeat Athens.) Critias, first among an oligarchy known as the "Thirty Tyrants," led the second bloody revolt against the restored Athenian democracy in 404. The revolt sent many of Athens's leading democratic citizens (including Anytus, later the driving force behind the prosecution of Socrates) into exile, where they organized a resistance movement.
Critias, without question, was the more frightening of the two former pupils of Socrates. I.F. Stone, in his The Trial of Socrates, describes Critias (a cousin of Plato's) as "the first Robespierre," a cruel and inhumane man "determined to remake the city to his own antidemocratic mold whatever the human cost." The oligarchy confiscated the estates of Athenian aristocrats, banished 5,000 women, children, and slaves, and summarily executed about 1,500 of the most prominent democrats of Athens.
One incident involving Socrates and the Thirty Tyrants would later become an issue at his trial. Although the Thirty normally used their own gang of thugs for such duties, the oligarchy asked Socrates to arrest Leon of Salamis so that he might be executed and his assets appropriated. Socrates refused to do so. Socrates would point to his resistance to the order as evidence of his good conduct. On the other hand, Socrates neither protested the decision nor took steps to warn Leon of Salamis of the order for his arrest--he just went home. While good citizens of Athens were being liquidated right and left, Socrates--so far as we know--did or said nothing to stop the violence.
The horrors brought on by the Thirty Tyrants caused Athenians to look at Socrates in a new light. His teachings no longer seemed so harmless. He was no longer a lovable town eccentric. Socrates--and his icy logic--came to be seen as a dangerous and corrupting influence, a breeder of tyrants and enemy of the common man.
A general amnesty issued in 403 meant that Socrates could not be prosecuted for any of his actions during or before the reign of the Thirty Tyrants. He could only be charged for his actions during the four years preceding his trial in 399 B.C.E. It appears that Socrates, undeterred by the antidemocratic revolts and their aftermaths, resumed his teachings and once again began attracting a similar band of youthful followers. The final straw may well have been another antidemocratic uprising--this one unsuccessful--in 401. Athens finally had enough of "Socratified" youth.
In Athens, criminal proceedings could be initiated by any citizen. In the case of Socrates, the proceedings began when Meletus, a poet, delivered an oral summons to Socrates in the presence of witnesses. The summons required Socrates to appear before the legal magistrate, or King Archon, in a colonnaded building in central Athens called the Royal Stoa to answer charges of impiety and corrupting the youth. The Archon determined--after listening to Socrates and Meletus (and perhaps the other two accusers, Anytus and Lycon)--that the lawsuit was permissible under Athenian law, set a date for the "preliminary hearing" (anakrisis), and posted a public notice at the Royal Stoa.
The preliminary hearing before the magistrate at the Royal Stoa began with the reading of the written charge by Meletus. Socrates answered the charge. The magistrate questioned both Meletus and Socrates, then gave both the accuser and defendant an opportunity to question each other. Having found merit in the accusation against Socrates, the magistrate drew up formal charges. The document containing the charges against Socrates survived until at least the second century C.E. Diogenes Laertius reports the charges as recorded in the now-lost document:
The trial began in the morning with the reading of the formal charges against Socrates by a herald. The prosecution presented its case first. The three accusers, Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon, had a total of three hours, measured by a water clock, to present from an elevated stage their argument for guilt. No record of the prosecution's argument against Socrates survives.
Easily the best known and most influential of the three accusers, Anytus, is widely believed to have been the driving force behind the prosecution of Socrates. Plato's Meno offers a possible clues as to the animosity between Anytus, a politician coming from a family of tanners, and Socrates. In the Meno, Plato reports that Socrates' argument that the great statesmen of Athenian history have nothing to offer in terms of an understanding of virtue enrages Anytus. Plato quotes Anytus as warning Socrates: "Socrates, I think that you are too ready to speak evil of men: and, if you will take my advice, I would recommend you to be careful." Anytus had an additional personal gripe concerning the relationship Socrates had with his son. Plato quotes Socrates as saying, "I had a brief association with the son of Anytus, and I found him not lacking in spirit." It is not known whether the relationship included sex, but Socrates--as were many men of the time in Athens--was bisexual and slept with some of his younger students. Anytus almost certainly disapproved of his son's relationship with Socrates. Adding to the displeasure of Anytus must have been the advice Socrates gave to his son. According to Xenophon, Socrates urged Anytus's son not to "continue in the servile occupation [tanning hides] that his father has provided for him." Without a "worthy adviser," Socrates predicted, he would "fall into some disgraceful propensity and will surely go far in the career of vice."
It is a matter of dispute among historians whether the accusers focused more attention on the alleged religious crimes, or the alleged political crimes, of Socrates. I. F. Stone attaches far more significance to the political crimes, while other historians such as James A. Colaiaco, author of Socrates Against Athens, give more weight to the charge of impiety.
I. F. Stone argues that "Athenians were accustomed to hearing the gods treated disrespectfully in both the comic and tragic theatre." He points out that Aristophanes, in his Clouds, had a character speculating that rain was Zeus urinating through a sieve, mistaking it for a chamber pot--and that no one ever bothered to charge Aristophanes with impiety. Stone concludes: "One could in the same city and in the same century worship Zeus as a promiscuous old rake, henpecked and cuckolded by Juno or as Justice deified. It was the political, not the philosophical or theological, views of Socrates which finally got him into trouble."
Important support for Stone's conclusion comes from the earliest surviving reference to the trial of Socrates that does not come from one of his disciples. In 345 B.C.E., the famous orator Aechines told a jury: "Men of Athens, you executed Socrates, the sophist, because he was clearly responsible for the education of Critias, one of the thirty anti-democratic leaders."
James Colaiaco's conclusion that impiety received more prosecutorial attention than did political sins rests on Plato's Apology. Colaiaco sees Plato's famous account of the defense of Socrates as being--although far from a verbatim transcription of the words of Socrates--fairly representative of the major points of his defense. He notes that Plato wrote the Apology within a few years of the trial and must have expected many of his readers to have firsthand knowledge of the trial. Why, Colaiaco asks, would have Plato misrepresented the arguments of Socrates, or hid key elements of the prosecution's case, when his actions in doing so could so easily be exposed? Since the Apology seems to give great weight to the charge of impiety--and relatively little weight to the association of Socrates with the Thirty Tyrants--Colaiaco assumes this must have been a fair reflection of the trial. At the same time, Colaiaco recognizes that because of the association of Socrates with Critias "the prosecution could expect any Athenian jury to harbor hostile feelings toward the city's gadfly."
Piety had, for Athenians, a broad meaning. It included not just respect for the gods, but also for the dead and ancestors. The impious individual was seen as a contaminant who, if not controlled or punished, might bring upon the city the wrath of the gods--Athena, Zeus, or Apollo--in the form of plague or sterility. The ritualistic religion of Athens included no scripture, church, or priesthood. Rather, it required--in addition to belief in the gods-- observance of rites, prayers, and the offering of sacrifices.
Any number of words and actions of Socrates may have contributed to his impiety charge. Preoccupied with his moral instruction, he probably failed to attend important religious festivals. He may have stirred additional resentment by offering arguments against the collective, ritualistic view of religion shared by most Athenians or by contending that gods could not, as Athenians believed, behave immorally or whimsically. Xenophon indicates that the impiety charge stemmed primarily from the contention of Socrates that he received divine communications (a "voice" or a "sign") directing him to avoid politics and concentrate on his philosophic mission. A vague charge such as impiety invited jurors to project their many and varied grievances against Socrates.
Dozens of accounts of the three-hour speech (apologia) by Socrates in his defense existed at one time. Only Plato's and Xenophon's accounts survive. The two accounts agree on a key point. Socrates gave a defiant--decidedly unapologetic--speech. He seemed to invite condemnation and death.
Plato's apology describes Socrates questioning his accuser, Meletus, about the impiety charge. Meletus accuses Socrates of believing the sun and moon not to be gods, but merely masses of stone. Socrates responds not by specifically denying the charge of atheism, but by attacking Meletus for inconsistency: the charge against him accused him of believing in other gods, not in believing in no gods. If Plato's account is accurate, Socrates could have been seen by jurors offering a smokescreen rather than a refutation of the charge of impiety.
Plato's Socrates provocatively tells his jury that he is a hero. He reminds them of his exemplary service as a hoplite in three battles. More importantly, he contends, he has battled for decades to save the souls of Athenians--pointing them in the direction of an examined, ethical life. He reportedly says to his jurors if his teaching about the nature of virtue "corrupts the youth, I am a mischievous person." He tells the jury, according to Plato, he would rather be put to death than give up his soul-saving: "Men of Athens, I honor and love you but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy." If Plato's account is accurate, the jury knew that the only way to stop Socrates from lecturing about the moral weaknesses of Athenians was to kill him.
If I. F. Stone is right, the most damaging accusation against Socrates concerned his association with Critias, the cruel leader of the Thirty Tyrants. Socrates, in Plato's account, points to his refusal to comply with the Tyrants' order that he bring in Leon of Salamis for summary execution. He argues this act of disobedience--which might have led to his own execution, had not the Tyrants fallen from power--demonstrates his service as a good citizen of Athens. Stone notes, however, that a good citizen might have done more than simply go home to bed--he might have warned Leon of Salamis. In Stone's critical view, the central fact remained that in the city's darkest hour, Socrates "never shed a tear for Athens." As for the charge that his moral instruction provided intellectual cover for the anti-democratic revolt of Critias and his cohorts, Socrates denies responsibility. He argues that he never presumed to be a teacher, just a figure who roamed Athens answering the questions that were put to him. He points to his pupils in the crowd and observes that none of them accused him. Moreover, Socrates suggests to the jury, if Critias really understood his words, he never would have gone on the bloody rampage that he did in 404-403. Hannah Arendt notes that Critias apparently concluded, from the message of Socrates that piety cannot be defined, that it is permissible to be impious--"pretty much the opposite of what Socrates had hoped to achieve by talking about piety."
What is strikingly absent from the defense of Socrates, if Plato's and Xenophon's accounts are to be believed, is the plea for mercy typically made to Athenian juries. It was common practice to appeal to the sympathies of jurors by introducing wives and children. Socrates, however, did no more than remind the jury that he had a family. Neither his wife Xanthippe nor any of his three sons made a personal appearance. On the contrary, Socrates--according to Plato--contends that the unmanly and pathetic practice of pleading for clemency disgraces the justice system of Athens.
When the three-hour defense of Socrates came to an end, the court herald asked the jurors to render their decision by putting their ballot disks in one of two marked urns, one for guilty votes and one for votes for acquittal. With no judge to offer them instructions as to how to interpret the charges or the law, each juror struggled for himself to come to an understanding of the case and the guilt or innocence of Socrates. When the ballots were counted, 280 jurors had voted to find Socrates guilty, 220 jurors for acquittal.
Penalty Phase of Trial
After the conviction of Socrates by a relatively close vote, the trial entered its penalty phase. Each side, the accusers and the defendant, was given an opportunity to propose a punishment. After listening to arguments, the jurors would choose which of the two proposed punishments to adopt.
The accusers of Socrates proposed the punishment of death. In proposing death, the accusers might well have expected to counter with a proposal for exile--a punishment that probably would have satisfied both them and the jury. Instead, Socrates audaciously proposes to the jury that he be rewarded, not punished. According to Plato, Socrates asks the jury for free meals in the Prytaneum, a public dining hall in the center of Athens. Socrates must have known that his proposed "punishment" would infuriate the jury. I. F. Stone noted that "Socrates acts more like a picador trying to enrage a bull than a defendant trying to mollify a jury." Why, then, propose a punishment guaranteed to be rejected? The only answer, Stone and others conclude, is that Socrates was ready to die.
To comply with the demand that a genuine punishment be proposed, Socrates reluctantly suggested a fine of one mina of silver--about one-fifth of his modest net worth, according to Xenophon. Plato and other supporters of Socrates upped the offer to thirty minae by agreeing to come up with silver of their own. Most jurors likely believed even the heftier fine to be far too slight of a punishment for the unrepentant defendant.
In the final vote, a larger majority of jurors favored a punishment of death than voted in the first instance for conviction. According to Diogenes Laertius, 360 jurors voted for death, 140 for the fine. Under Athenian law, execution was accomplished by drinking a cup of poisoned hemlock.
In Plato's Apology, the trial concludes with Socrates offering a few memorable words as court officials finished their necessary work. He tells the crowd that his conviction resulted from his unwillingness to "address you as you would have liked me to do." He predicts that history will come to see his conviction as "shameful for Athens," though he professes to have no ill will for the jurors who convict him. Finally, as he is being led off to jail, Socrates utters the memorable line: "The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways--I to die, and you to live. Which to the better fate is known only to God." It is likely that this last burst of eloquence comes from Plato, not Socrates. There are no records suggesting that Athenian practice allowed defendants to speak after sentencing.
Socrates spent his final hours in a cell in the Athens jail. The ruins of the jail remain today. The hemlock that ended his life did not do so quickly or painlessly, but rather by producing a gradual paralysis of the central nervous system.
Most scholars see the conviction and execution of Socrates as a deliberate choice made by the famous philosopher himself. If the accounts of Plato and Xenophon are reasonably accurate, Socrates sought not to persuade jurors, but rather to lecture and provoke them.
The trial of Socrates, the most interesting suicide the world has ever seen, produced the first martyr for free speech. As I. F. Stone observed, just as Jesus needed the cross to fulfill his mission, Socrates needed his hemlock to fulfill his.
Socrates, the Founder of Western Philosophy
The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David. Public Domain
Socrates is the most important exponent of Western philosophy, with his ideas forming a continuum from Ancient Greece to today’s Western thought.
It has been said of Socrates that he “brought philosophy down from the stars to the earth,” because, thanks to his own personality, philosophers ceased to deal with natural phenomena and began to deal with man and society.
In fact, many philosophers before Socrates dealt with political problems, while Democritus grappled with ethical issues. However, it was Socrates who advanced these issues by applying philosophical thinking to them.
The reason that Socratic interests marked the history of philosophy is found in the Socratic way of thinking itself, in the fact that Socrates was not interested in the right way of living and action, either personally or socially.
Contrary to philosophers before him, Socrates sought the principle of every moral concept, which is not influenced by historical and social conditions nor by individual perception.
In other words, he sought the absolute and rejected the relative he studied the essence of morality and disregarded outward moral issues.
Socrates’ advanced ideas about morality brought him to the courts of Ancient Greece, where he was accused of disrespecting the gods, being a subversive and of corrupting young people.
The charges were very serious and the philosopher was sentenced to death, a sentence he received without complaint.
Life of Socrates
Socrates was born to Sophroniscus and Faenarete in Alopece, a deme of Athens. His father was a stone cutter and Faenarete a well-known midwife.
Socrates lived with his family in Alopece, somewhere near the border of today’s Ano Nea Smyrni and Palaio Faliro. Very little is known about his childhood however he had a natural intelligence for all things without having received any formal education.
It is said that as a child, Socrates lacked good manners and helped his father in the stonecutting business. According to historian Porphyrius, he was disobedient to his father’s orders.
Socrates began learning the art of sculpting but later abandoned it. According to Pausanias, in Athens there was a marble relief depicting the three graces, which was said to have been made by Socrates himself.
It is said that one time the philosopher Archelaus entered the workshop where Socrates was working and was impressed by the young man’s arguments in claiming payment from a customer.
At the time, Socrates was 17 and Archelaus invited him to become his student. However, Socrates had said that he had also been trained by Prodicus, to whom he paid tuition.
Soon Socrates abandoned sculpture to devote himself to philosophy. He spent the rest of his life teaching — not in school, but discussing morality, religion, social and political issues in every part of the city with people from all walks of life.
In 431 BC, when the Peloponnesian War was about to break out, Socrates fought at Potidaea – a city-state threatening to break away from Athens. Socrates fought in the battlefield and also in the subsequent siege of the city.
The philosopher fought in the campaign for three years, returning to Athens as part of a victorious army, while also distinguishing himself on the battlefield.
With the first phase of the Peloponnesian War raging, Socrates fought at the Battle of Delium. The battle, in 424 BC, provides the first recorded incident of what call today “friendly fire” casualties.
The reason was that confused hoplites began fighting each other, unable to distinguish fellow Athenians from their enemies, the Boeotians.
Despite some early victories, the Athenians were defeated. Nevertheless, Socrates seems to have maintained some order in his retreat.
The Athenian general Laches praised the philosopher, saying: “If all the Athenians had fought as bravely as Socrates, the Boeotians would have erected no (victory) statues.”
Socrates’ last military service was at Amphipolis. Approaching 48 by then, his role in the battle is unclear. Spartan victory at Amphipolis soon led to an armistice with Athens, and the first phase of the war was over.
After the war Socrates married Xanthippi, with some historians claiming that he later married a woman named Myrto. It is also said that since many Athenianms were killed in the Peloponnesian War, a special law was passed that allowed married men to have children with another woman.
Plato and Xenophon, however, mention only Xanthippi, a strong-headed, mouthy woman. In a dialogue between Socrates and Alcibiades, Alcibiades wonders how he can withstand the nagging of Xanthippi — to which Socrates answers: “Just as you withstand the croaking of geese, because they give you eggs and goose chicks, so Xanthippi gives me children, too.”
Regardless of whether there were two wives or one, Socrates had three sons: Lambrocleas, Menexenos and Sophroniscus.
All later philosophers and historians agreed that Socrates’ three sons were not distinguished in anything, while Aristotle even described them as lazy.
Xanthippi is mentioned by Xenophon in the play “Symposium”, where Antisthenes characterizes her as the most difficult to withstand of all women that ever existed.
Socrates, when asked how he endured living with such a woman, replied that just as those who wish to become the best horsemen choose the most wild of horses to tame, he chose Xanthippi so he could learn to deal with all people, even the most difficult.
Socrates’ marble portrait at the Louvre. Credit: Sting/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.5
The philosophy of Socrates
Socrates did not leave any written works. However, his student Plato recorded the dialogues he had with his teacher — and through them we see Socrates’ way of thinking.
Initially engaged in cosmological theories in the hope of discovering how the universe works but frustrated by the conjectures of the natural sciences, Socrates decided to embark on his own journey in search of true wisdom.
According to some sources, the iconic Greek philosopher was more interested in the moral development of man and his shaping as a good citizen.
However, according to the dialogues with Plato, he had an instinct for metaphysics and laid the foundations of a transcendental philosophy.
Plato’s early works on Socrates most certainly contain Socrates’ way of thinking, while his later writings most probably reflect ideas of Plato himself.
Aristotle attributed to Socrates the use of inductive logic or inductive symbolism aimed at discovering a universal and unchangeable definition. That is, the ability to achieve an accurate concept or definition in a subject.
Socrates seems to consider important a universal definition that is mainly related to moral behavior and considers it useful to keep man away from the vortex of the relativity of sophism, which has a strong presence in our time.
For example, if we have a universal definition of justice, we have a secure basis for not only judging the action of an individual but also for the solid construction of the moral rules of society.
By inductive reasoning, Socrates was not so much interested in solving problems of logic, but in discovering a universal or rather universal definition.
Using the dialectical method (i.e., dialogue) he started from a less precise definition and reached a more precise, valid and universal definition through intense dialogue with his interlocutor.
This method could be humiliating for many as it proved their ignorance but also because Socrates was particularly eager to provoke the debate. The humiliation of the interlocutor was not Socrates’ purpose. His sole purpose was to discover the truth.
Socrates called this method the “obstetric method”, as it aimed to lead to the birth of a true and absolute definition or an entirely true idea.
Socrates’ mission was to try to persuade people to tend to their soul and encourage them to be noble, and virtuous and to try to find the wisdom that lies within them.
He urged people to follow moral rules and always be just. For Socrates, justice is what helps man to achieve true happiness and to have balance in his soul.
Socrates believed that pleasure is good, but true and lasting happiness can only be achieved by moral people. Socrates argued to the end that there is a higher eternal human nature, with universal moral values that serve and guide human behavior.
The trial and death of the great philosopher
In 399 BC, the great Athenian philosopher was taken to court on two charges: asebeia (impiety) against the pantheon of Athens, and corruption of the youth of the city-state.
The accusers cited two impious acts by Socrates: “failing to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges” and “introducing new deities.”
The death sentence was the legal consequence of asking politico-philosophic questions of his students, which resulted in the two accusations of moral corruption and impiety.
At trial, the majority of the jurors voted to convict him of the two charges then, consistent with common legal practice voted to determine his punishment and agreed to a sentence of death by drinking a poisonous concoction of hemlock (conium maculatum).
Socrates had many followers who would gladly have acted to save him from the death penalty. Crito, a wealthy friend of Socrates, told the philosopher that he would bribe the guards so he could escape from jail.
Socrates, however, flatly refused to be rescued — possibly because he believed that a philosopher should not fear death.
Plato’s Apology of Socrates is an early philosophic defense of Socrates, presented in the form of a Socratic dialogue. Socrates asks the jury to judge him by the truth of his statements, not by his oratorical skill.
Although Aristotle later classified the dialogue as a work of fiction, it remains today as a useful historical source about the great philosopher.
Aristotle believed the dialogue, particularly the scene where Socrates questions the judge, Meletus, represented a good use of interrogation.
Except for Socrates’ two dialogues with Meletus, about the nature and logic of his accusations of impiety, the text of the Apology of Socrates is in the first-person perspective and voice of the philosopher Socrates.
During the trial, in his speech of self-defense, the ancient philosopher twice mentions that Plato is present at the trial.
Later historians suggest that the true reason behind Socrates’ prosecution and death penalty were political, as the government of Athens was turning away from democracy after the defeat in the Peloponnesian War.
Socrates’ famous quotes
The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.
True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.
There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.
When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.
The easiest and noblest way is not to be crushing others, but to be improving yourselves.
Wisdom begins in wonder.
When you want wisdom and insight as badly as you want to breathe, it is then you shall have it.
Remember that there is nothing stable in human affairs therefore avoid undue elation in prosperity, or undue depression in adversity.
Remember what is unbecoming to do is also unbecoming to speak of.
Be of good cheer about death, and know this of a truth, that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death.
He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.
The unexamined life is not worth living.
Think not those faithful who praise all thy words and actions but those who kindly reprove thy faults.
We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.
Not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued.
Only the extremely ignorant or the extremely intelligent can resist change.
I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing.
In childhood be modest, in youth temperate, in adulthood just, and in old age prudent.
The greatest blessing granted to mankind comes by way of madness, which is a divine gift.
He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature.
I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.
Contentment is natural wealth luxury is artificial poverty.
It is better to change an opinion than to persist in a wrong one.
Understanding a question is half an answer.
Prefer knowledge to wealth, for the one is transitory, the other perpetual.
The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.
Was Plato present at Socrates' trial? - History
Socrates, revered founder of the Western philosophical tradition, is better understood as a mythic philosopher than as a historical figure. He lived in Athens, from 469 until his execution in 399 BCE. He never wrote a word -- our knowledge of the philosophy of Socrates depends absolutely on the records of his students and contemporaries. Socrates was certainly a strange, eccentric personality: he wandered about in old, dirty clothes, without shoes, and played the part of the destitute vagrant. By all accounts, he was considered rather ugly. Though enormously respected by students and admirers, he also had powerful enemies, who accused him of two weighty crimes: atheism and the corruption of the youth.
"Euthyphro," the first episode in Plato's Trial and Death of Socrates, takes place outside the courthouse in Athens. On his way to trial, Socrates encounters Euthyphro, a confident Athenian preparing to sue his own father. Naturally, Socrates stops to question Euthyphro regarding the nature of piety.
In Plato's dialogues, Socrates draws out seemingly simple discussions, always in search of true forms. What is Socrates asking for then, when he asks "what is piety?" Or in the words of JAY-Z, Is Pious pious 'cause God loves pious? How would you characterize Socrates' method of seeking the truth?
In "Apology," Socrates speaks before the jurors of Athens. Whilst confronting the charges brought against him by Meletus, Socrates embarks on a famous discussion on the nature of wisdom.
What is human wisdom? How is Socrates wise?
In "Crito" and "Phaedo," Socrates and his disciples grapple with the jury's verdict. Faced with the opportunity to flee Athens and escape execution, Socrates discusses his relationship with the state.
Why does Socrates reject Crito's offer?
The life and death of Socrates are enshrined in the works of Plato, Socrates' pupil. Plato lived in Athens from 429 to 347 BCE, where he founded his Academy. Plato, in turn, trained another major figure of the Western Tradition: Aristotle. Teacher and student are depicted above, in Raphael's iconic The School of Athens. (Perhaps this setting looks strangely familiar). In his countless dialogues, Plato expresses an extraordinary fascination for forms -- the eternal, essential abstractions underlying all earthly objects.
If Plato wasn't present at Socrates hearing, is there anything reliable in the Apology?
I don't know if this belongs on askphilosophy, or askhistorians.
Is Plato's dialogue, or at least Plato himself well known to not make things up and ask present witness' what occurred? Or is his work more like Plutarch and/or Thucydides. Where if they didn't know something, they just inserted a story?
I'm wondering if Socrate's defense can be given any merit, or if his called out accusers can be given any merit?
Plato was present at Socrates' trial (it was a trial, not a hearing), I'm not sure why you think he wasn't. In the Apology Socrates specifically names him as being there during his mention of all of his followers that are present, and Plato is named as one of Socrates' guarantors when Socrates finally proposes a thirty-mina fine. Xenophon was not there, as he was at the time of the trial in Persia with the Ten Thousand, but Plato was, and Xenophon's Apology was based on the testimony of eyewitnesses.
Socrates' trial is mostly known from Plato's Apology and from Xenophon's work by the same name. The two accounts differ from each other on several points and for several reasons. First and foremost, Plato was a philosopher, not a historian, and he is largely uninterested in presenting actual history. The degree to which his Socrates really resembles the historic Socrates is a subject of no small debate among scholars, and there are arguments about whether specific statements and beliefs of Socrates as presented in Plato are really Socrates' own or Plato's. Plato wrote in dialogue, and was largely no more interested in presenting perfect historical facsimiles as Cicero was when using Scipio the Younger or Scaevola in his own Socratic dialogues. By and large Socrates' character seems to line up and is consistent, but precise statements and beliefs are not necessarily those of the historical person. Sometimes this is obvious, other times less so. In the Apology as presented by Plato there's a great deal of anti-democratic rhetoric towards the end that is generally considered to be largely Plato, although it's probably based on what Socrates himself said. The accounts also differ because Xenophon was not there, although I question how important this would have been since Xenophon routinely seems to have not fully understood Socrates.
On the whole though the two accounts generally agree with each other as to what actually happened. What precisely Socrates said is not known, although many of the passages in Plato are probably quotations of Socrates, particularly the ones that exhibit odd grammar or idioms peculiar to Socrates himself. In general Plato and Xenophon agree with the course of the trial, although Xenophon interprets Socrates as acting arrogantly whereas Plato presents Socrates as making a philosophical point, and then further uses it to press his project
The Socratic Legacy
Socrates is unique among the great philosophers in that he is portrayed and remembered as a quasi-saint or religious figure. Indeed, nearly every school of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, from the Skeptics to the Stoics to the Cynics, desired to claim him as one of their own (only the Epicurians dismissed him, calling him “the Athenian buffoon”). Since all that is known of his philosophy is based on the writing of others, the Socratic problem, or Socratic question–reconstructing the philosopher’s beliefs in full and exploring any contradictions in second-hand accounts of them–remains an open question facing scholars today.
Socrates and his followers expanded the purpose of philosophy from trying to understand the outside world to trying to tease apart one’s inner values. His passion for definitions and hair-splitting questions inspired the development of formal logic and systematic ethics from the time of Aristotle through the Renaissance and into the modern era. Moreover, Socrates’ life became an exemplar of the difficulty and the importance of living (and if necessary dying) according to one’s well-examined beliefs. In his 1791 autobiography Benjamin Franklin reduced this notion to a single line: “Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”
Death of Socrates
Plato welcomed the restoration of the democracy, but his mistrust was deepened some four years later when Socrates was tried on false charges and sentenced to death. Plato was present at the trial, as we learn in the Apology, but was not present when the hemlock (poison) was given to his master, although he describes the scene in clear and touching detail in the Phaedo. He then turned in disgust from Athenian politics and never took an active part in government, although through friends he did try to influence the course of political life in the Sicilian city of Syracuse.
Plato and several of his friends withdrew from Athens for a short time after Socrates's death and remained with Euclides (c. 450 B.C.E. ) in Megara. His productive years were highlighted by three voyages to Sicily, and his writings, all of which have survived.
The first trip, to southern Italy and Syracuse, took place in 388 and 387 B.C.E. , when Plato met Dionysius I (c. 430 B.C.E. ). Dionysius was then at the height of his power in Sicily for having freed the Greeks there from the threat of Carthaginian rule. Plato became better friends with the philosopher Dion (c. 408 B.C.E. ), however, and Dionysius grew jealous and began to treat Plato harshly.
An Athenian Juror at the Trial of Socrates
The trial of Socrates would have taken place in a large open area such as this one, called the Pnyx, near the Acropolis in Athens. (Image: Dimitris Koskinas/Shutterstock)
An Athenian Juror’s Opinion of Socrates
The Roman orator and philosopher Cicero said that Socrates brought philosophy down from the skies. He meant that Socrates made philosophy relevant to ordinary people. As the son of a humble stonemason, Socrates is one of the first persons of humble origins to burn his way onto the pages of history. But that’s in hindsight.
Socrates was a famous and familiar face to most Athenians at the time of the trial. (Image: Vatican Museums / Public domain)
But imagine you are an Athenian juror in 399 B.C. Everyone has heard of Socrates. He is one of the most famous Greeks alive. You’ve heard him many times in the agora, teaching for free. He’s that fat guy with a squashed nose, who looks like a satyr. He asks questions such as, “What’s the best way to live?” “What’s virtue?” “What’s justice?”
As far as you are concerned, Socrates is a busybody. For 50 years, he’s been making himself pretty obnoxious by telling people like you that your life has no value. Finally, a man called Meletus, along with a couple of his cronies, charges Socrates with “corrupting young people, ignoring the gods, and introducing his own daimonic beings”.
This is a transcript from the video series The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World. Watch it now, Wondrium.
Trial by Jury Without Lawyers
You turn up on the day of Socrates’ trial and are selected as one of the 500 jurors for the day. The proceedings are directed by a magistrate, whose job simply is to keep order. No witnesses will be called. Any depositions from witnesses will be read out in court. There are no lawyers.
Imagine that, trial by jury without lawyers! Socrates will speak on his own behalf. As Socrates and Meletus file into the law court where the trial is set to take place, the atmosphere is truly electric. You never know what to expect from Socrates.
The trial of Socrates begins when the prosecutor Meletus gets up and speaks first. As he begins, the clerk of the court, who is a slave, removes a cork from a water clock known as a klepsydra. A klepsydra is one of the simplest timepieces ever invented. It consists of two vases placed one above each other. The upper one has a hole just below the rim so that it can be filled only to that exact point. The water trickles at a steady rate out of this vase into the one beneath it.
If Meletus pauses for any reason—let’s say he asks that a deposition be read to the court—the clerk will replace the cork for as long as needed, in this case, for as long as the deposition is being read. As the water drains, the flow from the upper vase alters, so Meletus knows when he is coming to the end of his allotted time. In this way, both prosecutor and defendant speak for the exact same amount of time.
Meletus speaks for about an hour and then it is Socrates’ turn. He goes out of his way to antagonize you by suggesting he despises the whole process. He has the temerity to suggest that he is performing a valuable public service by lecturing you on your inadequacies. Then he abruptly sits down. The place is in an uproar. A lot of people are outraged.
The Verdict is announced
The arguments in the trial of Socrates are over. It is now time for you and the other members of the jury to vote. You don’t retire to consider your verdict. You simply take your place in line while you wait to cast your vote, which each of you does one by one by means of a secret ballot. Then, when the votes have been counted, you return to your bench and eagerly await the result.
After a few minutes, the magistrate announces that a majority of you have found the defendant guilty. Both the plaintiff and the defendant are invited to recommend a punishment. Meletus again rises to his feet first as is customary and solemnly recommends the death penalty. You’re expecting Socrates to recommend a more lenient penalty.
But Socrates never plays by the rules. He recommends that he should receive free meals in the prytaneum, the equivalent of the town hall, for life. That’s the honor that’s reserved for public benefactors! Pandemonium breaks out. So you, along with other jurors who had previously voted for his acquittal, vote for his death. On learning the verdict, Socrates delivers this memorable line, “And so we part. You to life, me to death. But which of us goes to a better destiny, only the god knows.”
The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David. The trial of Socrates resulted in his being sentenced to death by the Athenian jury. (Image: Jacques-Louis David/Public domain)
Hearing those words, you—like many other jurors—suddenly begin to have second thoughts. Did he really deserve to die? Everything happened so quickly and you got caught up in the general mood. You won’t admit this to anyone, but as you leave the law court, you’re actually hoping that one of his many friends will help him to escape—after all that’s happened many times before when an Athenian citizen has been condemned to death. But Socrates rejects that easy option, which means you will be left with your misgivings for the rest of your life.
To conclude, while ancient Greek society valued human potential, it wasn’t a good thing to become too noticeable, as the trial of Socrates demonstrates. Democracy came at a cost.
Common Questions About the Trial of Socrates
Socrates asked philosophical questions such as, “What’s the best way to live?” “What’s virtue?” “What’s justice?”
Trials in Athens were very different from modern trials. The proceedings were directed by a magistrate, whose job was simply to keep order. No witnesses would be called. Any depositions from witnesses would be read out in court. There were no lawyers.
During the trial, Socrates suggests that he is performing a valuable social service by talking about the inadequacies of the people of Athens .
Athenian jurors did not retire to consider a verdict. They cast their vote by means of a secret ballot. Then, when the votes had been counted, the result was declared.
On Our Obligation to Obey the Law – a short reading from Plato’s Crito
In the year 399 B.C., in Athens, Socrates was brought to trial on charges of impiety and corrupting the youth. He was found guilty and condemned to death. The Crito, written by Plato, is a dialogue between Socrates and his good friend Crito. It is set in Socrates’ jail cell the day before he is due to be executed. Crito has come at the break of dawn to persuade Socrates to disobey the law and break out of jail. He has already bribed the guards and made all necessary arrangements to allow Socrates to escape. But Crito ultimately fails to persuade Socrates and he remains in his cell to await his execution.
In this passage, Socrates argues that he has an obligation to obey the law and remain in his cell, even if he was unjustly sentenced to death.
The following reading is from the Crito by Plato, translation by Benjamin Jowett. The full text can be read online at Project Gutenberg or a audio version of this reading on Youtube.
SOCRATES: Ought a man to do what he admits to be right, or ought he to betray the right?
CRITO: He ought to do what he thinks right.
SOCRATES: But if this is true, what is the application? In leaving the prison against the will of the Athenians, do I wrong any? or rather do I not wrong those whom I ought least to wrong? Do I not desert the principles which were acknowledged by us to be just—what do you say?
CRITO: I cannot tell, Socrates for I do not know.
SOCRATES: Then consider the matter in this way:—Imagine that I am about to play truant (you may call the proceeding by any name which you like), and the laws and the government come and interrogate me: ‘Tell us, Socrates,’ they say ‘what are you about? are you not going by an act of yours to overturn us—the laws, and the whole state, as far as in you lies? Do you imagine that a state can subsist and not be overthrown, in which the decisions of law have no power, but are set aside and trampled upon by individuals?’ What will be our answer, Crito, to these and the like words? Anyone, and especially a rhetorician, will have a good deal to say on behalf of the law which requires a sentence to be carried out. He will argue that this law should not be set aside and shall we reply, ‘Yes but the state has injured us and given an unjust sentence.’ Suppose I say that?
SOCRATES: ‘And was that our agreement with you?’ the law would answer ‘or were you to abide by the sentence of the state?’ And if I were to express my astonishment at their words, the law would probably add: ‘Answer, Socrates, instead of opening your eyes—you are in the habit of asking and answering questions. Tell us,—What complaint have you to make against us which justifies you in attempting to destroy us and the state? In the first place did we not bring you into existence? Your father married your mother by our aid and begat you. Say whether you have any objection to urge against those of us who regulate marriage?’ None, I should reply. ‘Or against those of us who after birth regulate the nurture and education of children, in which you also were trained? Were not the laws, which have the charge of education, right in commanding your father to train you in music and gymnastic?’ Right, I should reply. ‘Well then, since you were brought into the world and nurtured and educated by us, can you deny in the first place that you are our child and slave, as your fathers were before you? And if this is true you are not on equal terms with us nor can you think that you have a right to do to us what we are doing to you. Would you have any right to strike or revile or do any other evil to your father or your master, if you had one, because you have been struck or reviled by him, or received some other evil at his hands? You would not say this. And because we think right to destroy you, do you think that you have any right to destroy us in return, and your country as far as in you lies? Will you, O professor of true virtue, pretend that you are justified in this? Has a philosopher like you failed to discover that our country is more to be valued and higher and holier far than mother or father or any ancestor, and more to be regarded in the eyes of the gods and of men of understanding? also to be soothed, and gently and reverently entreated when angry, even more than a father, and either to be persuaded, or if not persuaded, to be obeyed? And when we are punished by her, whether with imprisonment or stripes, the punishment is to be endured in silence and if she lead us to wounds or death in battle, thither we follow as is right neither may anyone yield or retreat or leave his rank, but whether in battle or in a court of law, or in any other place, he must do what his city and his country order him or he must change their view of what is just: and if he may do no violence to his father or mother, much less may he do violence to his country.’ What answer shall we make to this, Crito? Do the laws speak truly, or do they not?
CRITO: I think that they do.
The central question raised in this passage is: Do we have an obligation to obey the law, and if so, why are we obligated? Socrates speaks on behalf of the laws and argues that he must obey, even if this means he will be put to death, and even if he was unjustly sentenced in the first place.
First he argues that by disobeying the law he will harming the city by contributing to the destruction of it’s legal institutions. He goes on to say that he is obligated to obey the law in a similar way that a child is obligated to obey a parent. A son should never attack his parents he owes them for bringing him into this world, for educating and raising him. Without them, he would not even exist. Similarly, without laws around marriage his parents would never have come together to have a child, without educational laws he wouldn’t have received a proper education. And there are countless other laws from which he has benefited from living under. A citizen should never harm the city’s legal institutions because he owes them for bringing him into the world, for educating and raising him. Without the laws, he would not even exist. Socrates claims that to harm the state would be a greater crime than harming one’s parents.
This passage is an early example of the gratitude theory of political obligation. But it also raises problems about whether we are obligated to obey unjust laws. This is a topic that Plato will (partially) address in the next reading: On Consenting to Laws – another short reading from the Crito.
For a more thorough discussion, Dr. Gregory Sadler has several videos on the Crito. This one gives a general introduction to the dialogue, while this one focuses specifically on this section of the dialogue.
To learn more about the ideas of Socrates and Plato, please see the following links:
The Daily Idea aims to make learning about philosophy as easy as possible by bringing together the best philosophy resources from across the internet. To get started, check out this organized collection of 400+ articles, podcasts, and videos on a wide range of philosophical topics.
A Collection of the Greatest Philosophical Quotations
A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is a collection of the greatest thoughts from history’s greatest thinkers. Featuring classic quotations by Aristotle, Epicurus, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, and many more, A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is ideal for anyone looking to quickly understand the fundamental ideas that have shaped the modern world.
The Four Words on the Mace in the Scottish Parliament:
Wisdom - Justice - Compassion - Integrity
"Think critically act humanely" Education for a Better World
Socrates - Last Days and Legacy
It is to Aristophanes, Xenophon and Plato that we must turn for information about the life and teachings of Socrates. Perhaps the following conclusions are the nearest we can arrive at without speculation.
Socrates was born in Athens c. 470 BCE and died there in prison c. 399 BCE at the age of 71. In his youth, Socrates was a student of Archelaus. His father was probably a sculptor by the name of Sophroniscus. His mother was a midwife. Socrates used the term "midwife" as a metaphor to identify his method of asking critical questions, engaging in discussion and helping others to deliver the baby of new ideas, thereby rejecting old opinions in order to arrive nearer to truth. Although he questioned everything, his main interest was ethics and especially: What is virtue? And how do we apply it to the search for a better world, a better state and a better life for her citizens?
The docudrama Socrates - Last Days and Legacy as performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2006 is available to purchase from lulu.com for &pound9.72.
Buy this play
He served courageously as a hoplite, a heavy infantryman, at Delium and Amphipolisin in the Peloponnesian Wars. He considered a life in politics and spent some time working as a stonemason, but his father left him a sufficient inheritance to allow him with frugality to become an unpaid teacher. He had an early interest in the scientific theories of Anaxagoras who taught that there are an infinite number of different kinds of elementary particles (atoms) and it is the action of Mind upon these that produces the objects that we see. But Socrates came to regard the physical world to be deceptive because he believed that the senses of the body created difficulty for the thinking of the mind. The philosophers who came before him were mainly interested in metaphysics, particularly questions about the physical world around us. Socrates was not interested in what is (metaphysically or morally) but in what ought to be in justice and virtue, applying a moral critique which he believed was offered by the search for wisdom.
In appearance, Socrates was short and stout, with a flat nose, a rough beard, and protruding eyes which, according to Aristophanes, he rolled as he strutted about like a waterfowl. He was known for his robustness of body, self-discipline, simple lifestyle, perceptive intellect, and commitment to the search for truth and justice. Believing that the virtuous life was the best path to happiness and that virtue depended upon wisdom, Socrates sought to help others in the search for knowledge because he placed their well-being above his own and because he believed that a better world depended upon people of wisdom. He sought knowledge but believed that the road to its attainment was difficult. He believed that his work (which he sought to understand through critical questioning and dialogue) was given to him as a divine mission and, hence, was his duty. His total lack of interest in material possessions was evidenced by his always being seen barefoot and wearing an old cloak the whole year round. His habit of going barefoot even in winter showed his powers of endurance. To him, the aspiration for virtue was the highest aim anyone could have.
Socrates was a foe of the sophists, the professional teachers who claimed to have all the answers and who believed that "might makes right". The sophists were teachers of debate and rhetoric who took money for their teaching and in return gave accepted popular opinions and claimed to have all knowledge. Socrates believed that one should not accept someone's opinions but put everything to the test of critical reasoning. His tactic: Its so wonderful to be with so wise a man as you as I am so ignorant and can claim no knowledge. There are one or two questions, however, that I would like to ask you: Then by asking probing questions he would expose their teachings as misleading, unhelpful or even dangerous, irrationally held popular opinions. To him answers had no value to one who was asking the wrong questions, or no questions at all. But he had many loyal friends and followers who were devoted to him as he was to them and to his family. He married Xanthipp late in life and his third son was born shortly before he died.
After Athens lost the 27-year Peloponnesian War with Sparta for the conquest of Greece, the old democracy was replaced by one controlled by tyrannical Neo-conservatives and religious Fundamentalists. These political leaders of Athens felt threatened by the popularity of Socrates, his unorthodox views (at a time of political instability), and by the notoriety of some of his friends. (Critias and Alcibiades were extremists who contributed to the impending downfall of the Neo-conservative and Fundamentalist government of Athens). Refusing to compromise his principles or to disobey the law, at the age of 71 Socrates was brought to the Athenian court for prosecution by Anytus, a leading Athenian statesman who chose Meletus, a poet, to present the case. Socrates was charged with being an evil doer wrongfully teaching false doctrines to young people, being greedy by taking exorbitant sums of money for his teaching, and being an atheist by denying belief in the Greek gods. Although sentenced to death, according to Athenian procedure he could have appealed and probably would have received a lesser sentence. But he refused to appeal (on the principle of upholding the verdict of the court and the laws of the land) and drank the prescribed hemlock.
Socrates left no writings of his own, but his best known disciple, Plato, wrote at least 24 Dialogues giving accounts of the discussions his mentor held in Athens but also incorporating his own beliefs. Through Plato, Socrates influenced Aristotle (a student of Plato) and subsequent philosophers. Aristotle regarded Platos account of the life and teaching of Socrates to be essentially true and the Dialogues as offering a faithful account. Today there is a tendency to differentiate between the "Socrates of history" and the "Socrates of Plato". However, the only Socrates that can be detailed is the Socrates of Plato. It is questionable whether Plato who knew his beloved teacher well would have needed to falsify the record of his life, or would have wanted to abuse it by presenting it as something he knew was not true and to do this in the name of philosophy.
It is difficult to make a clear distinction between the teachings of Socrates and Plato because Plato at times may have included his own conclusions in his Dialogues as a tribute to his teacher who had so inspired and guided him. But this should not concern us because it is the critical method of Socrates - to question everything, to avoid sophistry and to seek justice and the good life through the search for wisdom - that is on offer.
Appropriately, we will examine the teachings of Socrates in the way he would want them taught: through dialogue, particularly through three of Platos dialogues, Apology, Crito and Phaedo, as we identify with Socrates in the last days of his life and with his method of teaching.
In short, we will use the Socratic method, a discovery method, to examine the wisdom of Socrates and to draw our own conclusions. To what extent was Socrates the father of the Scottish Radical Enlightenment? What is his relevance for us and for our world today? Is there an urgent need for every nation to know itself (including to see itself as others see it) as well as every person to know "himself" with the unexamined life not worth living? Is there an urgent need for dialogue to replace confrontation between all the nations and between all the people of all the nations? What contribution should the UN make towards this? What contribution should we make?
Our Philosophy plays & Philosophy Lessons on Socrates
Are you Interested in using our philosophy play on the life and legacy of Philosopher Socrates during your University Philosophy, High School Philosophy and College Philosophy class? We have advice for your philosophy lesson on the Philosophy of Jeremy Bentham.
We have had great feedback and reviews of our philosophy plays as performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2007, 2008 & 2009 as a resource for those wanting to learn about philosophy.
If you have found our summary of "Philosopher Socrates, life and legacy" valuable then please see our notes on how to use our philosophy plays, philosophy lessons and philosophy activities in your class.