A Brief Comment on the Query: "Is Socrates Guilty As Charged?"


In any case of law, when one is considering truth and justice, one must
first look at the validity of the court and of the entity of authority itself.
In Socrates case, the situation is no different. One may be said to be guilty or
not of any said crime, but the true measure of guilt or innocence is only as
valid as the court structure to which it is subject to. Therefore, in
considering whether Socrates is 'guilty or not', we must keep in mind the
societal norms and standards of Athens at the time, and the legitimacy of his
accusers and the validity of the crimes that he allegedly committed. Having said
this, we must first look at the affidavit of the trial, what exactly Socrates
was being accused with: "Socrates does injustice and is meddlesome, by
investigating the things under the earth and the heavenly things, and by
making the weaker speech the stronger, and by teaching others these same
things."1 In breaking this charge down, we see that it is two-fold.
Firstly, Socrates is charges with impiety, a person who does not believe in the
state gods of Athens and, not only that, but by its literal meaning, does not
believe in the authority of gods at all. To this, Socrates seems baffled. He
states that the reason behind the 'criminal meddling', the questioning of
people's wisdom, was commissioned to him by the gods through the Oracle of
Delphi. As Socrates said, "...but when god stationed me, as I supposed and
assumed, ordering me to live philosophizing and examining myself and
others...that my whole care is to commit no unjust or impious deed."2He even
seems to win a victory over one of his accusers, Meletus, in questioning this
point. As Socrates points out, it is impossible for him to be both atheistic and
to believe in demons, or false gods, for if he believes in the latter, then that
would contradict his not believing in gods at all (since even demons are
considered to be at least demi-gods).
The second part of the charge was that Socrates was attacking the very
fabric of the Athenian society by corrupting its citizens, namely the youth. In
other words, Meletus and the other accusers are accusing Socrates of a crime of
'non-conformity' - instead of bowing to those who are held in places of
authority and those who have reputations of being wise, Socrates believes that
it is his role in life to question these people in their wisdom, and to expose
those who claim that they are knowledgeable and wise, but who really are not.
This nation of questioning the legitimacy of those in power would certainly not
be called a 'crime' by today's standards, nor would it really have in Athenian
time. The true nature of this charge was vengeance carried out on the part of
the power-holders of Athenian society: the politicians, poets, manual artisans.
Socrates, in effect, made fools out of these people, exposing their speeches are
mere rhetoric than actual wisdom and knowledge. By being a teacher as such, but
never collecting any fees and therefore innocent from profiting from such
ventures, he was said to have been corrupting and citizens of Athens into
believing that these so-called people of wisdom were not actually wise at all.
As Socrates says, "...and this is what will convict me, if it does convict me:
not Meletus of Antyus, but the envy and slander of the many. This has convicted
many other good men too, and I suppose it will also convict me. And there is no
danger that it will stop me."3 Another point to be made is that
Socrates proves that if what he has done has actually been corrupting society,
and could be considered a crime, then he has not caused any harm voluntarily. In
any criminal charge, the fact of the accused's mens rea, or 'guilty mind', would
be compulsory to prove on a guilty charge. But Socrates states that, at least
for him, voluntarily corrupting any human being would simply be impossible,
"...I am not even cognizant that if I ever do something wretched to any of my
associates, I will risk getting back something bad from him?"4 Although his
'guilty mind' was never proved, Socrates does realize that he will be found
guilty of this charge, although he does say that justly this would never have
been a criminal charge, but could have been dealt with privately, "...and if I
corrupt involuntarily, the law is not that you