Socrates' Convictions

Stated in or Suggested by Socrates' Remarks in the Apology

Revised: September 14, 2012

Contact: Dr. Garrett

For a discussion of the conceptual metaphors operating in this belief system and being taught through The Apology, see the end of this web page.

If you come across this web page while in the process of composing a paper on the defense speech, it would be improper to borrow heavily from this. If you can find in the text itself confirmation of these views, and refer to those passages explicitly, then it might be appropriate to attribute one or more of these views to Socrates.

1. There is an important distinction between the essential person and his or her body.

2. The essential person is one's thinking and choosing faculty, the "soul."

3. Bad actions corrupt the soul (the essential person), good ones improve it.

4. The soul's corruption, like a sickness, is undesirable. (It is in one's own interest to be more virtuous rather than less.)

5. There is a correlation between wisdom and moral goodness: The worst ignorance on matters related to human conduct corresponds to the most wicked individuals.

6. Humans can become relatively better (and better off) by recognizing ignorance and examining themselves and each other on ethical matters. (partly based on 4 and 5)

In other words, it is better to recognize the limitations on our knowledge than to pretend to know when one does not know.

7. Trying to get others to examine their beliefs, especially those related to human excellence, is doing them a great favor. (based on 6)

8. The most important subject is not what is in the heavens or under the earth (about which Socrates claims no knowledge) but human life, in particular human conduct, human happiness, and related matters. (See 5, 6, 7)

9. Wisdom worth having—most likely the wisdom Socrates is seeking—is wisdom concerned with the nature of virtue or the specific virtues, such as courage, justice, and moderation (the Greek term is also translated as temperance).

[In Plato's Socratic dialogues, Socrates is portrayed seeking knowledge of these things. It is assumed that if somebody has this knowledge, or wisdom, he could provide a definition of the thing known that could stand up to cross-examination; such a person, who would be wise, would also correctly apply his or her knowledge as a standard for action and evaluation.]

10. The unexamined life is not worth living. (See 6 and 7)

The pursuit of wisdom (philosophia) is another name for the examined life.

11. The gods are good and wise, most mortals are far from it.

12. The gods wish well to humanity, especially to those humans who are most like them. (based on 11)

13. In morality as in horse-training or athletic training, experts are few and far between.

14. Nobody wishes to injure himself.

15. Whoever makes his associates worse would put himself in danger.

16. The (relatively) good person is to the gods as a subordinate craftsman is to the mastercraftsman (architekton) and as a good soldier to his commander.

17. Virtue is illustrated by justice, which is concerned with respecting the legitimate interests of others.

18. One person's true interests are not in competition with another's. (Follows from 17 and 4)

Whereas the "virtue" of Achilles is associated with military prowess, i.e., boldness and strength, and is quite compatible with being prone to anger, spiteful refusal to cooperate, and social discord, the sort of virtue modeled by Socrates points toward social harmony.

19. To fear death is to assume that we know what death is, but we don't.

20. Nothing can injure a good person, i.e., her essential self.

21. A good person does not fear death. (The gods look out for good persons. See 11 and 12.)

For the view of the gods shared by philosophers like Socrates and Plato, and its differences with the viewpoint of the poets' stories about the gods, see Homer's Gods, Plato's Gods and the corresponding chart.

Conceptual Metaphors at Work in The Apology

Socrates is operating with at least one important folk theory, the Folk Theory of Essences, in this speech.

At least the more obvious of the major conceptual metaphors at work here are:

  • the soul as object metaphor, of which there are at least two variants:
    (a) soul as artifact (deliberately made object),
    from which it follows that the soul may be improved or corrupted, perfected or deficient;
    (b) soul as animal,
    from which it follows that the soul can be trained, made sick, restored to health
  • self-awareness (in later philosophical writing, knowledge) as health
    from which it follows that self-deception and certain forms of ignorance are (metaphorically) forms of illness and that philosophy is a sort of medical practice

  • gods as master-craftsmen, mortals as their subordinates
    Master craftsmen are wise about producing things of a certain type. Their characteristic aim is to complete or perfect these things in a certain way. An ignorant master-craftsman or one who does not normally aim to produce excellent products is an oxymoron. Moreover, master craftsmen direct their subordinates so as to promote the completeness or perfection of their characteristic artifacts.

    Subordinate craftsmen are considered servants of the master-craftsman. That is the sense in which we are servants of the gods. A military commander or general is a specific kind of master-craftsman; lower-level officers and ordinary soldiers are subordinate craftsmen, in the art of war.