Apology Philosophical Commentary

In Socrates’ Apology, Socrates attempts to defend himself against accusations. The problem with the accusations is that the punishment that he could face if found guilty at his trial is death. As Socrates describes why many people dislike him he cites a visit to the craftsmen. Despite trying to prove that he was not the smartest he learned that he was because of the ego of the craftsmen. He was going to visit the craftsmen to see if there was a man smarter than him. Socrates goes to many different kinds of people to see what their level of knowledge is. It is a logical response in his pursuit of proving the oracle wrong. Socrates assumes that there has to be someone smarter than him. He knows that there are subjects in which he knows very little to nothing in that field. With this belief he goes to the craftsmen. Socrates reaches a conclusion through his own lack of knowledge, ego of others, and his state of being content with what he was knowledgeable about.

While seeing the craftsmen Socrates learns that he was right but also wrong at the same time. He was right in believing that there were things he did not know such as how to build things. However, in the bigger picture he was wrong. When the craftsmen spoke of their trade he knew that he was overmatched. The craftsmen’s skill actually brought them down. Being good at in their field of work led them to believe that they were good at everything when they were average at best. Socrates says this when he said, “… the good craftsmen seemed to me to have the same fault as the poets: each of them, because of his success at his craft, thought himself very wise in other most important pursuits, and this error of theirs overshadowed the wisdom they had…”.

The ego of the men was so high that they did not realize their limitations. This egotistical view the craftsmen had given Socrates the indication that he was in fact smarter than them because he was not ignorant in his lack of knowledge as they were. This ego problem can still be seen today with someone is very good at one thing. Success in one area can mislead people to be overly confident in their abilities of other area.

Socrates does not have an egotistical mindset. He knows his own limitations, this is evident when he says to the jury, “… I asked myself, on behalf of the oracle, whether I should prefer to be as I am, with neither their wisdom nor their ignorance, or to have both. The answer I gave myself and the oracle was that it was to my advantage to be as I am.” The Athenian craftsmen were ignorant in their belief that they were good at other things than their trade. Part of Socrates’ knowledge comes from being enlightened. If he was in the dark about his abilities he would be in the same position as the craftsmen. His realistic philosophy of his skills would seem to be a confession that he was not the smartest man. On the contrary, this is what sets Socrates apart from the common man. Socrates admitting that he does not know much that is the most essential factor in confirming that the oracle was correct.

Socrates told the jurors at his trial that he was despised by many because of his belief that they were not smarter than him. Socrates knew that he was the most knowledgeable man because of his lack of knowledge, the craftsmen’s egos, and most importantly his own enlightenment of his abilities.

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