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PHI210 Anthem Institute North Brunswick Wk 2 Socrates’ Defense Speech

Part 1: In the Apology, Socrates refuses to accept any lesser form of punishment (such as a fine or exile). As such Socrates is sentenced to death. (a) Why does he do this, and (b) what moral principle does Socrates draw upon in defending his choice for not pleading for a lesser charge in order to save his life? 300-500 words


From an environment in which the Sophist view of moral relativism was popular and accepted arose a figure who staunchly disagreed. Socrates (469 – 399 BCE) came from a middle-class Athenian background, and around the age of forty he began to become a prominent figure in Athens, engaging in philosophical dialogue with the Sophists and with people who had been persuaded towards their ideas. Strongly opposed the Sophist goal of conformity to the expectations of others, Socrates’ aim was to arrive at the truth of things, not to make others like him.

Common Theme

Socrates’ ideas reflect a study of pre-Socratic works. In a way, Socrates harked back to the Pre-Socratic philosophers, because he too wanted to be able to explain the world and our place in it.

Socrates’ Defense Speech

This is the cover of a translation of The Apology, an account of Socrates’ trial, published in 1883.

The speech given by Socrates in his own defense, as related by Plato, is often referred to as his Apology. In Greek, apology means “defense.” He used his own method to defend himself against his accusers, systematically discrediting their own arguments against him by asking logical, rational questions. During his Apology, he questioned one of his accusers, Meletus.

Do you want a good neighbor?

“And now, Meletus, I must ask you another question: Which is better, to live among bad citizens, or among good ones? Answer, friend, I say; for that is a question which may be easily answered. Do not the good do their neighbors good, and the bad do them evil?”


The Court’s Decision

Socrates was found guilty by the Athenian jury and was sentenced to death. As he learned his sentence, he kept his composure completely and accepted his fate, believing that death is preferable to betraying oneself. His conviction was entirely a symbolic gesture, and even after sentencing him to death the leaders of Athens were reluctant to kill a person who had been so important to the city’s intellectual climate.

In a dialogue with his friend Crito while imprisoned and awaiting execution, Socrates learned that if he wished to flee Athens he would not be followed or pursued and would be allowed to live the rest of his life in exile. Socrates responded that he could not in good conscience escape against the court’s will even though the charges against him were unjust. By doing what was right in all circumstances and remaining loyal to the city of his birth, Socrates stood true to his principles to the very end. To go against these principles, even to save his own life, would forfeit everything he stood for. Socrates died a peaceful death, drinking a cup of boiled hemlock in the company of his friends and followers.

Socrates’ Epistemology

Socrates’ epistemology was based on a simple tenet: our knowledge of the absolute reality is innate, imprinted on the human soul. To Socrates (and later his student and follower Plato), to know something is to grasp an eternal, universal principle or definition, and to understand something is to identify it as an instance of that universal. Hence, knowledge requires rationality, which can be defined as the ability to grasp and apply universals. Socrates used an inductive method of argumentation to develop these universals, basing his principles and definitions on observations rather than what was already established to be true.

For Socrates, sensory information in itself does not deliver knowledge because nothing is being grasped. All it delivers is an awareness that it is there. Knowledge requires understanding what a thing is, in particular, what universal concept it falls under. Unlike humans, subrational animals do not have knowledge because they do not grasp universal principles, only particular sensations.

In Socrates’ dialogue with Meno, the difference between knowledge and “true opinion” is discussed. While knowledge is based on absolute truth and can be justified by giving reasons, true opinion is “not tied down.” An example that Socrates gives in this dialogue describes the differences between a guide who knows the way to a particular city and another who merely believes that he knows the way. Although both guides may be capable of leading passengers to their destination, most would prefer the guide who knows rather than believes how to get there, showing that while true opinion is not without value, in most cases knowledge is superior. Socrates’ dialectical method of examining knowledge and rooting out ignorance shows that he thinks that the truth is knowable by those with the insight to grasp it.

Socrates proposed theories, just as the pre-Socratic philosophers before him had, and tested them with questioning to see if they could withstand scrutiny. He used the same dialectic method that he used to help others determine truth to scrutinize his own theories. “What happens if…” and “What conflicts with…” were the two main questions he would ask to determine if a hypothesis was true. In this sense, the Socratic method was not only imperative to the development of epistemology; it also had a foundational role in the advancement of the scientific method.

In the doctrine of “recollection,” anamnesis, no one actually learns anything totally new. When the intellect understands, it recognizes what was already there to begin with. Plato later identified three processes by which anamnesis could be achieved. The experiential process involved observing individual acts and gleaning understanding from them. In the rational process, which follows, one uses their reason to determine the relevance of the acts they have witnessed; this process often involves a Socratic dialogue. Finally, the recognitional process occurs. Here, the individual understands the ideas produced and refined by the first two processes and recollects (or recognizes) their inherent truth.

Part 2: What influence does public opinion have on health care policy? Provide a recent (last eight weeks) poll or news article on healthcare policy illustrating the power of public opinion to affect policy. 300-500 words

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