The Destructive Cross-Examination of Socrates

Last Updated: 20 Apr 2022
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Socrates spent most of his life in Athens. During his life he witnessed the rise and glory of Athens and the rapid decline of Athens during the Peloponnesian war. Socrates met and talked with a variety of people such as politicians, statesmen, sophists, poets, architects, and ordinary citizens. He taught philosophy to the youth of Athens, devoted friends, and pupils like Crito. Plato was one of Socrates’ students, and he is considered to be most brilliant student of Socrates. In fact, Plato is the major source of knowledge about Socrates’ life.

Socrates questioned and cross-examined Athenians about their moral, religious, and political beliefs. People found it difficult to understand him. His habits were strange, and his arguments were hard to understand. Socrates created a revolution in Greek philosophy. Plato portrayed this revolution in Defence of Socrates, Euthyphro, and Crito. Socratic Method is characterized by asking questions. When Socrates talks, he asks the questions all the time. He teaches and refutes with questions. He talks to people with questions.

The central element that upset the Athenians was the destructive cross-examination of the principles and beliefs that Athenians lived by, which consequently led to Socrates’ death because his contemporaries did not want to admit their own ignorance. Socrates was searching for the meaning of things; he wanted proof of what was defined which would give logical reason for itself. The fact that really hurt Athenians was the attack of the most fundamental principles of Athenian life. Socrates did not recruit people to follow him; rather he went out and asked them their views.

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His lectures were not characterized by forcing his ideas onto other people. The individuals brought their point of views on particular subject in dialogues set up by Socrates. Socrates’ way of testing or challenging a belief is by seeing what believer is committed to. A man, who makes a statement, especially in debate with Socrates, must be careful what he claims to know. One of the examples is a dialogue between Euthyphro and Socrates. They both have pending lawsuits. Socrates is accused of impiety, and Euthyphro is going to prosecute his own father.

Euthyphro’s father is charged with killing a day-laborer. According to Euthyphro his actions to prosecute his father is a model for piety. It doesn’t matter if the guilty one is a relative or a stranger, murder is murder. Euthyphro justified his actions by saying that he knows what holy or unholy is. Socrates wants to know what is holy or unholy since he was accused of impiety, and it seems that Euthyphro has exact knowledge of religion. The discussion between Socrates and Euthyphro illustrate an alternative approach to answer.

Euthyphro’s answer to what is holy is in a form that lists individual actions. Socrates presents the questions that are mutually exclusive. For example,”…is the holy loved by the gods because it is holy? Or is it holy because it is loved? ” He asks plenty of questions like that. Euthyphro (the respondent) has to make a choice between the alternatives presented. Socrates accepts what is a false answer to his question. The dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro demonstrated the untruth. The definition of holy was not discovered. This cross examination made Euthyphro very uncomfortable.

As Socrates demonstrated, Euthyphro did not have exact knowledge of religion and what holy or unholy is. If Euthyphro, who is professionally devoted to religion, cannot produce an adequate answer or some valid criterion of holy, it is hardly to be expected that Athenian citizens will provide intelligent answers to such questions. Socrates was charged with irreligion, impiety, and corruption of youth. The Defence of Socrates is divided into three speeches. The opening is the criticism of the peroration in the court, and Socrates is carried away by the speeches of his accusers. His defense is based on the word “truth. At the beginning of the speech he makes it clear that he is interested only in truth: “… my accusers have said little or nothing true; whereas from me you shall hear the whole truth…” The speeches in court generally have no relation to truth. The speakers aim to persuade others in believing what the speaker is saying. Socrates is compelled to make speech in court to defend himself. Socrates replaces the speech that is common in Athenian courts and exercises his own kind of cross-examination, whenever law permits him to do so. He proceeds according to his method of examining by questions and answers.

Also, he wishes to converse with judges for more than one day and perhaps convince them that his accusers are wrong. Socrates acquired a bad reputation because he has some special wisdom as his accusers are saying. This is based on the account of Chaerephon, Socrates’ friend. Chaerephon asked the Delphic oracle who is the wisest. The oracle’s answer was that Socrates is the wisest. When Socrates heard the story, he was perplexed how this possibly could be the truth. Socrates went and questioned poets, craftsman, and politicians. He made enemies for himself during his quest for wisdom. Socrates realized and …formed opinion that, although the man thought to be wise by many other people, and especially himself, yet in reality he was not. ” Through this process Socrates came to conclusion that only god is truly wise, and Socrates’ wisdom is worth nothing. With this confession Socrates sets up tension against the absurd charge of impiety. For Socrates, piety refers to his mission based on the conviction that he and others are ignorant. Socrates exposed through examination the ignorance of others. They claimed they knew something, when in fact they did not know anything. Socrates made people think and find the truth.

Once they were exposed to Socrates questioning, they realized they were ignorant and no truth was found. Because Athenians had a reputation to protect, they brought absurd charges against him. Next, the whole populations of Athens, the judges, the members of the Assembly are claiming to be educators, except Socrates. This absurd exaggeration expresses the sophistic relativism and is ironic, since Socrates is accused of being a sophist. We must make a clear distinction between the two. First, sophists charged fees for their services, next sophists in Athens were not citizens and they traveled throughout the Greek world.

Finally, the sophist would use or find the argument that worked the best and did not care whether they uncovered the truth. Socrates did not charge fees, was an Athenian citizen, and believed in uncovering the truth. Additionally, there is another absurdity concealed in Socrates’ indictment. Socrates asks Meletos if he is corrupting youth intentionally or unintentionally. Meletos replies without hesitation-intentionally. Socrates said that his wrongdoing is impossible. If Socrates is so stupid that he does not realize that he harms other, then he must do it unintentionally.

Also, Socrates makes a clever remark towards Meletus: “Are you so much smarter at your age than mine as to realize that the bad have a harmful impact upon their closest companions at any given time, whereas the good have a beneficial effect? ” Socrates explains that if he is corrupting youth he must do it unintentionally, and according to the law he should not be brought to court based on such a mistake. To add, he explains other reasons why alleged corruption of youth might be happening. Since all others are teachers of the youth, they should teach the youth justice and what is right.

Evidently, they failed to do so, since Socrates has so many loyal followers. Finally, there is Socrates’ defense against the charge that he does not honor gods. According to Socrates, this charge is too vague. He asked his accuser to make the point more precisely and explain it. Socrates begins to ask Meletos a series of questions. One of the Meletus’ charges is that Socrates does not acknowledge gods and claims that the sun and the moon are made of rocks. Socrates exclaims that this is mistaken identity. It is Anaxagoras of Clazomenae who made such a claim in his books which you can get anywhere for a cheap price.

Socrates makes another clever remark that he does not believe that members of jury are illiterate and therefore they should know that Meletus’ charge is absurd. Furthermore, Socrates questioned Meletus and came to conclusion that according to Meletus, Socrates believes in some sort of spiritual being. Socrates ends with the question: “ How could you possibly persuade anyone with even slightest intelligence that someone who accepts spiritual beings does not also accepts divine ones, and again that the same person also accepts neither spirits nor gods nor heroes? Socrates refuted the charge of impiety by showing through questioning, that he could not be a despiser of gods since he believes in spiritual beings and descendants of gods. Socrates exposed Meletos self-contradiction, ignorance, and ignorance of the judges and jury, since they allowed charges to be brought to the court. In addition, Socrates takes unmistakable delight in the process of uncovering one’s ignorance. Following the custom, Socrates must propose the proper penalty for himself. Socrates considers a variety of punishments. He examined his own life.

He believed that he fulfilled the duty towards the whole community by examining others and himself and did not wrong anybody. The exile would not be appropriate punishment. Socrates proposes that his penalty should be free meals, since he is doing a good thing in Athens. Socrates stands his ground as is portrayed in the third part of his speech. He accepts his death penalty, but also he warns his executioners that putting people to death will not prevent anyone from living unjustly and in ignorance. Socrates is convinced that his philosophical life of examining his own and other Athenians beliefs and actions is his duty.

He does not fear death. He does not know if death is good or bad. Socrates warns Athenians not to value wealth, power, and prestige more than moral excellence. The moral excellence is the best possible state of one’s soul. Socrates commitment to reasoned argument is evident in Crito. There, in conversation with Crito, Socrates justifies his decision to remain in prison. Crito listed the reasons why Socrates should escape. First, Crito does not want to lose a friend, next what will other think that Crito doesn’t want to make sacrifice for his friend.

Socrates begins with the reply that he must follow the logic: “I cannot reject the very principle that I previously adopted, just because this fate has overtaken me; rather they appeared to me much the same as ever, and I respect and honor the same ones that I did before. ” This principle is within him and appears to be the best, regardless of situation. Additionally, Socrates examined his own morality. For Socrates, the greatest good is to be prudent and evil is to be imprudent. Prudence is the ability to act by use of reason and allows to distinguish when acts are reckless, cowardly or courageous.

Socrates, also examined other of his principles such as not to do injustice, not to do bad things to other human beings, obey the laws of Athens, which he voluntary accepted. Yet again through the questioning of his own principles and in dialogue with Crito, Socrates comes to conclusion, that one shouldn’t care what other people think, but think what is just or unjust. If Socrates would escape, he would violate the sacred laws of Athens. The escape would be unjust. Socrates reasoned that if he would escape, the life time of his work would be destroyed.

He dedicated his life to justice, to the state, and the law. Socrates must confirm his teachings trough his actions. On the whole, Socrates during his lifetime pursued the truth. For Socrates, the truth was the only moral anchor in uncertain world. His method was direct. He asked questions in dialogues with anyone who would engage in conversation. This dialectic process was a purifying process. Similar to water filter, removing all the scum and sediment until results were pure. Socrates revealed through this process what is untruth.

For Socrates, the inner truth is covered by the layers of untruth, and he tried to peel them away. This method is also known as negative method-eliminate what leads to contradiction. Socrates forced his contemporaries to re-evaluate, reflect and reconsider their beliefs. He did this in the ways that left people with uncertainty, in the state of unease, and realization of their own ignorance (but not admitting to it) as Plato portrayed in Euthyphro, Crito and Defence of Socrates. Furthermore, the Oracle of Delphi response to Chaerephon, who is the wisest man, provided Socrates with insights to education.

The most powerful motivation to learning is acknowledgment of own ignorance. Next, Socratic Method seeks to find universal definition. Socrates believed that all things have something essential within them which can be uncovered by reason. The essential properties can be summarized in definition. For example, he seeks to find the definition what is holy or unholy in Euthyphro. The results of Socrates enquires in search for truth, knowledge, and wisdom through cross-examination, led to his death, because his contemporaries did not to want admit their own ignorance.

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The Destructive Cross-Examination of Socrates. (2017, Feb 17). Retrieved from

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