I’ve written a sample short assignment using Plato’s Apology as the text. You will be writing short assignments for subsequent texts starting next week.
Remember that these short assignments are to be typewritten and 1-2 pages single spaced (or 2-4 pages double spaced, which I prefer). Use a normal font size (10-12 point) and margins.
This sample assignment is under two pages. It looks longer because I’ve added, in boldface, some extra comments describing what I’m doing. You won’t need to do this.
The Apology was written by Plato, and relates Socrates’ defense at his trial on charges of corrupting the youth and impiety. Socrates argues that he is innocent of both charges.1 His defense is ultimately unsuccessful, and he is convicted and sentenced to death. Socrates concludes the Apology by arguing that a just man should have no fear of death.
[Note that this introductory paragraph concisely does two things: it sets up the issue to be discussed, and it briefly presents the position of the Socrates on the main topics (his innocence and his view of death). Long background histories and so on are not needed in these papers – get straight to the point.]
Socrates defends himself against the charges brought against him by his prosecutor Meletus in two ways. One way consists of a description of Socrates’ motivation and method, which he hopes will explain to the jury why some people, including his prosecutors, dislike him. The second defense consists of Socrates responding directly to the two charges brought against him: “corrupting the young” and impiety, or more specifically, “not believing in the gods in whom the city believes” (p. 28). I’ll address these two lines of defense in turn.
[I wrote this second paragraph to clarify the argumentative structure of the paper. I could have also combined this second paragraph with the first one, but it seemed more natural to separate it in this case.
When I thought about Socrates’ defense, it seemed to me that it had two main parts: the part where he explains why he has a bad reputation, and the part where he responds directly to the charges against him.
The first paragraphs are usually the hardest ones to write. You have to stop and think about what the main thesis or theses of the paper are, and also think about the main argument(s) for them. Fortunately, once you’ve thought about these things, the rest of the paper usually falls into place.]
Socrates begins his defense by acknowledging that many people have accused him of “studying things in the sky and below the earth” and of “making the worse into the stronger argument” and teaching these things to others (p. 26). He replies that such accusations are “slanders”; the truth, he continues, is that he does not claim to have any special knowledge of anything in the sky or elsewhere. In support of this, Socrates relates the story of the Oracle at Delphi. The Oracle, who was thought to give voice to the Greek god Apollo, had told Socrates’ friend Chirephon that no man was wiser than Socrates. Surprised by this, Socrates surmises that the only reason the god said this is that Socrates seems to know only that he does not know very much. This, Socrates explains, makes him unlike most other people he meets, who “think [they] know something when they do not” (p. 27). Others frequently fail to know what they claim to know, at least when questioned by Socrates. This leads other people to dislike him, Socrates claims, and is behind his unpopularity. Nonetheless, he insists that questioning others is a part of his “service to the god” (Apollo) (p. 27).
Later in his defense, Socrates makes repeated reference to the idea that he it is his duty to the god Apollo to question peoples’ claims to knowledge. He points out that he has never received pay for his services, and presents his poverty as proof of his service to the god (p. 30). Finally, Socrates claims that the god has given him a “divine sign” which warns him when he is about to do something wrong. It is this sign, he says, that has prevented him from leading a “public” life of politics.
Socrates responds to the charge that he is guilty of corrupting the youth, in two ways. The first way (p. 28) attempts to show that Meletus’ charge is “frivolous” on the grounds that it does not conform to plausible examples of how creatures become corrupted. Under questioning from Socrates, Meletus grants that all of the citizens of Athens except Socrates benefit the youth of Athens; Socrates alone corrupts them. Yet this is implausible, Socrates implies, for in other cases of corruption, such as the corruption of horses by bad owners, the contrary is the case, with only one or a few individuals benefiting them, and most people corrupting them.
Socrates’ second argument against the charge of corrupting the youth presents a dilemma. Although Meletus asserts that Socrates corrupts the youth deliberately, Socrates vehemently denies this (p. 29). Assuming that the alleged corruption is not deliberate, Socrates then presents Meletus with two possibilities: “Either I do not corrupt the young or, if I do, it is unwillingly, and you are lying in either case” (p. 29). If he doesn’t corrupt the young, then he is innocent of the charge. But even if he corrupts the young unwillingly, Socrates continues, he ought not to be brought to trial, for the proper response to someone who is unwillingly doing harm is to instruct the wrongdoer, and not to avoid them, as Meletus has done.
Socrates’ defense against the charge of impiety is more direct. He points out that the entire defense he has given so far rests upon his belief in the Greek god Apollo, who Socrates believes has given him a divine sign, and who he has spent his adult life serving. “Clearly”, he says, “if I convinced you by my supplication [to the god] to do violence to your oath of office, I would be teaching you not to believe that there are gods …. This is far from being the case, gentlemen.” (p. 32)