Socrate\'s First Accusers and Athenian Law


Of all confrontations in political philosophy, the biggest is the conflict
between philosophy and politics. The problem remains making philosophy friendly
to politics. The questioning of authoritative opinions is not easily
accomplished nor is that realm of philosophy - the pursuit of wisdom. Socrates
was the instigator of the conflict. While the political element takes place
within opinions about political life, Socrates asks the question "What is the
best regime and how should I live?" Ancient thought is riddled with unknowns
and can make no such statement as "how should I live." The Socratic philosophy
offers an alternative and prepares the way for the alternative of absolutes.
This alternative is not without its faults. Socratic philosophy is plagued by a
destructive element. It reduces the authoritative opinions about political life
but replaces it with nothing. This is the vital stem from which the "Apology
of Socrates" is written. Because of the stinging attack on Athenian life, and
the opinions which they revere so highly, Socrates is placed on trial for his
life.

The question now becomes why and in what manner did Socrates refute the gods
and is he quilty? Socrates, himself, speaks out the accusers charges by saying
"Socrates does injustice and is meddlesome, by investigating the things under
the earth and the heavenly things, and by making the weaker the stronger and by
teaching others these things" (Plato, 19b;c). This is the charge of the "old"
accusers. It is seen from an example in "The Clouds". Strepsiades goes to
Socrates in order to learn how to pursuade his son by "making the weaker speech
the stronger" (Aristophanes, 112). Why does Socrates remind the assembly about
the old accusers? It appears improper for a man on trial to bring about his
other \'crimes\'. Aristophanes, in particular, is implicated by Socrates as an
old accuser. "For you yourselves used to see these things in the comedy of
Aristophanes" (Plato, 19c). The poets helped to shape Greek culture. Poetry was
passed on and perpetuated the city where thought constantly changed.

Philosphy begins in debunking what the city thinks they know in order to refute
the god. It is evident that Socrates is not guided by the gods of the city.
Socrates says "it is not part of the same man to believe in daimonian and
divine things" (Plato, 27e). Socrates is subtly admitting his guilt. Perhaps
Socrates believs in gods, but if so, they are not the gods of the city.
Socrates simply denies that he has had any part in celestial or subterranean
inquiry - he simply speaks "elsewhere". Socrates goes on to say that those who
do are reported to be atheists. However, Socrates says that "Zeus does not
eveeen exist" (Aristophanes, 367). Socrates replaces Zeus with nature, the
permanent and necessary things accessable to reason. This is an outrage to any
Athenian. To deny the gods is to deny faith and ultimately the authoritarian
opinions on which their politics is based.

Why does Socrates think that he is being unjustly punished? Chaerophon had told
Socrates that the Pythian Oracle had said that Socrates was the wisest man.
Socrates admits that "I am conscious that I am not wise, either much or little"
(Plato, 20b). Socrates wonders what the riddle is and sets out to "refute the
divination" (Plato, 20c). This is a prime example of Socrates\' impiousness as
is his statement in "The Clouds" where he states "we don\'t credit Gods"
(Aristophanes, 248). He is attempting to refute the god at Delphi. Socrates
tries to aid his own defense by charging that what he does is in devotion to
the god. "Even now I still go around seeking and investigating in accordance
with the god" (Plato, 23b). Socrates makes this brash statement yet it is
unfounded and untrue because it is not a devine order for Socrates to pursue
this line of investigation. In opposition, Socrates asserts that the daimonian
did not oppose him.

Socrates\' impiety is not the only thing that resulted in histrial. Socrates was
"the gadfly" stinging the city of Athens. When Socrates proposes that the god
sent him on his quest, he set out to prove it wrong. In the process, he
questioned "the politicians and those reported to be wise" (Plato, 21c). After
finding that no one reported to be wise, was worthy of being called wise,
Socrates investigated further "all the while perceiving with pain and fear that
I was becoming hated" (Plato, 21e). The artisans, poets, and politicians all
thought they were knowledgable in "the greatest things" but, in fact, did not
know anything at all. "They all