Plato’s Apology and Socrates’ conduct analysis

Your first assignment will be to write a textual analysis on the excerpt of Plato’s Apology which is an account of the trial and death of Socrates. Since Socrates did not write anything down it fell to others, such as his most famous pupil Plato, to record his thinking which remains a cornerstone of Western philosophy. The name of the dialogue derives from the Greek “apologia,” which translates as a defense, or a speech made in defense. Thus, in the Apology, Socrates attempts to defend himself and his conduct—certainly not to apologize for it.

Your assignment is NOT to write a summary of the text. If you write a summary you will receive no higher than a C+. Rather, you must interpret and analyze the document and use it to make an argument. Therefore, you will want to think about and incorporate the major questions of deconstructing any text.

  1. Who is the author’s audience?
  2. Who (or what) is he writing against? (either individuals or larger ideas)?
  3. What is his argument? What is he trying to convince the reader of? What is the point?
  4. Why is this important and what does it tell us about Athens in the 4th century BCE?

Again, you are not reporting to me what Socrates was saying but rather more along the lines of what you think he meant. In order to make an argument (as opposed to writing a summary) you will need to pose some specific questions about the text and then answer them, i.e. you must have a thesis. Choose one or two questions that you would like to focus on and answer (which will be your argument). NOTE: YOU CAN’T GET TO EVERYTHING SO DON’T TRY. You may assume that I have read the text so again, I do not want you to rehash his argument but rather to formulate your own argument about his argument. I will give you some examples of possible questions since this is your first assignment. You may or may not wish to focus on the following, which integrate the larger themes of the course that we discussed on the second day of class.

  1. What is knowledge according to Socrates and how does a human being establish wisdom? How and why is his method (later known as the Socratic method) important to obtaining knowledge? Think about how different this worldview is from earlier attempts at explaining the unknown.
  2. What are the charges against Socrates? What are Socrates’ main arguments of defense (apologia)? Why do you think Socrates was accused of “disbelief in the gods”? What aspects of his philosophy clash with the notion that the gods are in control of human destinies?
  3. What is Socrates’ position on the contradictory notions free will and fate? Why is his philosophy so threatening to the existing establishment in Athens? Was his conviction a (fateful) foregone conclusion according to Socrates? Why does he take such care to avoid securing his own acquittal? He could have begged for clemency, used his family to get a pity vote, offered a reasonable alternative sentencing, promised to behave differently?

Again, the answers to these questions are not “facts.” There are no right and wrong answers—just well-argued papers that are supported by the text or…summaries and weak arguments without support. Use direct quotes from the text to back up your argument. You may use in-line citation since this is not a research paper but you must cite the text you quote directly. Your paper should at about 3-4 pages (ca. 1000 words), double-spaced, 1 inch margins

 
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