Summary and Analysis
The Apology is believed to be the most authentic account that has been preserved of Socrates' defense of himself as it was presented before the Athenian Council. It is in essential harmony with the references to the trial that occur in Plato's other dialogs and also with the account given in Xenophon's Memorabilia. It appears to record, in many instances, the exact words used by Socrates while making his speech in defense of himself. To be sure, the words were not recorded at the time they were spoken, but we know that Plato was present at the trial, and hence we may conclude that the account given in the Apology contains the words of Socrates as they were remembered by Plato. However, we should bear in mind that Plato had been both a pupil and an ardent admirer of Socrates, and for this reason his version of the trial may have been somewhat biased in favor of the one whom he regarded as a truly great hero. At any rate, we may be fairly certain that, even though Socrates has been to some extent idealized by his pupil, the account given represents what Plato believed to be true about his teacher. It is also possible that Socrates' defense of himself was even stronger than what has been reported.
The contents of the dialog include a number of different parts. The first one consists of an introductory statement that Socrates makes concerning the manner of his speaking. This is followed by an account of the specific accusations made with reference to his life and daily activities. Socrates replies at some length to each of the charges brought against him. After making his defense, an account is given of his attempt at mitigation of the penalty imposed on him. Finally, Socrates makes a prophetic rebuke of the judges for supposing they will live at ease and with an untroubled conscience after pronouncing sentence as a penalty for his crimes.
The dialog begins with Socrates making a short speech in which he offers an apology for the colloquial style in which he will be making his defense. His accusers have warned the judges to be on their guard lest they be deceived by the eloquence of Socrates in his attempt to convince them of his innocence. Socrates insists that he makes no claim of being eloquent in his speech. He is not a rhetorician, and they should be ashamed for suggesting that he would try to lead them astray by the force of his eloquence. The only kind of eloquence for which he has any use is that which sets forth the truth in language so plain that they can all understand. That is a very different kind of eloquence from the one they have implied in their warning to the judges. Socrates tells them that he will indeed speak the truth, and he implores the judges not to be thinking of the manner of his speech but only of the justice of the cause for which he pleads.
In making his defense, Socrates will reply to two kinds of accusations. The first one is referred to as the older or more ancient accusation, and the second one is the contemporary charge being made by Meletus, Anytus, and others who are present at the trial. It is the first, or older, accusation that he dreads most of all. The reason for this dread is that his accusers are many and he cannot call them all by name. Most of them are not present, and thus he is unable to give them the opportunity to reply to what he has to say. The accusations go back over a period of many years and may be summed up in the following words: "Socrates is an evil-doer, and a curious person, who searches into things under the earth and in heaven, and he makes the worse appear the better cause; and he teaches the aforesaid doctrines to others."
Asserting that these accusations are based entirely on falsehoods, Socrates points out that they have given him a bad reputation over the years. As an example, he mentions the fact that Aristophanes in his comedy play called The Clouds has referred to a man called Socrates who goes about claiming that he can walk on air and pretending to a lot of other nonsense concerning matters of which there is no element of truth. While it is quite possible that Aristophanes did not intend these statements to be taken seriously, they have nevertheless contributed toward the unfavorable opinion that has been formed about him. Another factor that has been working against him is the rumor that has been circulated concerning his investigations of things in heaven above and in the earth beneath. These, too, are based on falsehoods, for he has had no interest in the physical sciences and has never claimed to have any wisdom about matters of this kind. This does not mean that he has any quarrel with the physical scientists. He recognizes the legitimacy of what they are doing, but he has preferred to give his attention to other matters, especially the ones that have to do with moral conduct and the welfare of the soul.
A further explanation of the way in which these rumors were started can be seen in the account of the wisdom that Socrates is said to claim for himself. The story came about in the following manner. A certain man called Chaerephon had inquired of the oracle of Delphi whether there was anyone wiser than Socrates. The oracle had answered the question in the negative, thus making it clear that Socrates was indeed the wisest of all the men in Athens. When this was reported to Socrates, he was amazed, for he had never considered himself to be a wise person. To determine whether the assertion made by the oracle was true, he began a series of inquiries and investigations. He went to a number of different persons, each one of whom claimed to be wise and was so regarded by his fellow citizens. In each case, the reputation of the individual was an ill-founded one, for upon being questioned and examined by Socrates it became evident that they did not possess the wisdom attributed to them. He went to one man who was a politician and who had the reputation of wisdom, but when Socrates began to talk with him, it became clear that he was not as wise as he had supposed himself to be. When Socrates pointed this out to him, the result was that the politician began to hate him, and his enmity toward the one who had exposed his ignorance was shared by several of those who were present and over-heard the conversation. Nevertheless, Socrates concludes that he is better off than the individual whom he has just examined, for that person knows nothing but thinks that he knows, while Socrates neither knows nor thinks that he knows. The oracle at Delphi was correct in his statement. Socrates is wiser than any of the others because he is aware of his own ignorance and they are not.
After his encounter with the politician, Socrates went to one man after another, trying desperately to determine whether the statement made by the oracle was indeed the truth. He went to the poets, and after asking them to explain some of the most elaborate passages in their own writings, he found they had no understanding of the things they had written. They even insisted that their poetry was not the product of wisdom but of a kind of inspiration like that of the diviners and soothsayers. Leaving the poets, he went to the artisans, but again he observed they fell into the same error as the poets, for while they did have knowledge of some things, they were ignorant concerning matters of the greatest importance. As a result of his investigations, he reports to the Athenians that he found the men most in repute were all but the most foolish and that some inferior men were really wiser and better than those held in high esteem. Although his mission had convinced him that the oracle had spoken the truth, it nevertheless had the unfortunate consequence of making for him a large number of enemies, which has given rise to a whole series of calumnies that have befallen him.
Again Socrates points out another source of the prejudice against him that has developed over the years. Some of the young men of the wealthier class have been attracted to him because they enjoy listening to the way in which he exposes the ignorance of those who claim to be wise. They observe that those who are examined and found to be wanting in wisdom instead of becoming angry with themselves become angry with Socrates and call him a villainous misleader of youth, a dangerous character, and one whose influence should be brought to an end. Their accusations arouse a great deal of curiosity on the part of people in general. When they inquire of the youth who have been listening to the discussions what the evil teaching is of which Socrates is accused, these young men are unable to tell. However, in order to appear that they are not at a loss to know what it is all about, they repeat the charges they have heard about philosophers teaching things up in the clouds and under the earth and making the worse appear to be the better cause. Because the people making these charges are numerous and energetic and have persuasive tongues, they have filled the ears of many with their loud and inveterate calumnies. This is the reason why Meletus, Anytus, and others have charged him with crimes and are bringing him to trial.
Having made his defense against the first class of his accusers, Socrates proceeds to reply to the specific charges that are now being made against him. Meletus has stated that Socrates is a doer of evil in that he corrupts the youth, does not believe in the gods of the state, and has introduced new divinities of his own. To defend himself against these charges, Socrates asks Meletus to come forward and answer some questions. Socrates is especially skillful in the questions he asks of his adversary, with the result that Meletus is shown to be contradicting himself and making accusations that are utterly absurd. His statements imply that Socrates is the only one in the city of Athens who is corrupting the youth. Everyone else is working for their improvement. At the same time, he admits that no one would intentionally make the people worse so long as he is obliged to live among them. From this it follows either that Socrates is not making the people worse or he is doing so unintentionally. In either case, he is guilty of no crime and ought not be punished. Obviously, Meletus does not understand the nature of the charges he is making, nor is he able to see the logical consequences implied in the statements he has been making.
Socrates then asks Meletus to state how it is that he is corrupting the youth. Is it that he is teaching them not to acknowledge the gods that the state acknowledges but some other divinities or spiritual agencies in place of them? Or does he insist that Socrates is an atheist and does not believe in any god at all? Meletus replies that Socrates is an atheist inasmuch as he does not believe in the godhead of the sun or moon but teaches that the sun is stone and the moon earth. Socrates then reminds Meletus that he was not the one who taught these things about the sun and moon. It was Anaxagoras the Clazomenian who stated that the sun and moon were only material substances. Meletus must have a very poor opinion of the judges at this trial if he thinks they will not be aware of his mistake. Furthermore, Socrates points out that Meletus has involved himself in a self-contradiction: he accuses Socrates of introducing new and strange divinities and at the same time asserts that he is an atheist who does not believe in any god.
Having replied to the charges made by Meletus, Socrates proceeds to other matters related to his trial. The question has been raised as to whether it is proper for him to continue in a manner of living that could cause him to experience an untimely death. His answer is that he has no fear of death. Anyone in his circumstances ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying. He ought only to consider whether what he is doing is right or wrong. As a soldier in the army, he did not desert his post when facing the danger of death. He would choose death in preference to disgrace, for it is better to die honorably than it is to live in dishonor. As he has explained before, his manner of living is in response to a command from God to fulfill the philosopher's mission of searching into himself and other men. Therefore, to disobey this command in order to save his own life would be a disgraceful thing to do. Addressing his hearers, Socrates spoke the following words:
If you say to me, Socrates this time we will not mind Anytus and will let you off, but on one condition, that you are not to inquire and speculate in this way any more, and if you are caught doing this again you will die. I will reply "Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting anyone whom I meet after my manner, and convincing him saying: O my friend, why do you, who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, you never regard or heed at all?"
He concludes this part of his defense by saying, "For I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or your properties but first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. . . . This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, my influence is ruinous indeed. . . . Wherefore O men of Athens, I say to you, do as Anytus bids or not as Anytus bids, and either acquit me or not; but whatever you do, know that I shall never alter my ways, not even if I have to die many times." That he has not been guilty of corrupting the youth is evidenced by the fact that many of the ones who were associated with him years ago have now reached maturity and are therefore in a position to know if they have been corrupted. If that had been the case, they would now be among his accusers. Instead, they are among his most devoted friends and loyal supporters. Socrates recognizes several of them in the audience before him.
Socrates is aware of the fact that persons who have been accused of some crime will often try to win sympathy for themselves or to influence their judges by bringing in members of their own families to plead in their behalf. Socrates will not resort to any such tactics. He feels that conduct of that kind is discreditable both to himself and to the state. There is something wrong about petitioning a judge and thus procuring an acquittal instead of informing and convincing him. It is the duty of a judge not to make a present of justice but to give judgment, for he has sworn that he will judge according to the laws and not according to his own good pleasure.
After the vote had been taken, Socrates expressed surprise that the size of the majority voting against him had not been larger than it was. Without the assistance of Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon, the opposition would not have amounted to more than a fifth of the votes, and Socrates would have been acquitted. It was customary in Athens for a prisoner who had been condemned to death to have the opportunity of proposing an alternate sentence, which would be accepted if approved by a majority of the judges. The penalty might be changed to the payment of a sum of money, banishment from the city for a period of time, or a number of other things, any one of which would be preferable to a death sentence.
Socrates stated that he had no money with which to pay a fine, and although any one of a number of his friends would have been glad to supply him with whatever amount was needed, he could not accept it, for by so doing he would be admitting guilt of something about which he was entirely innocent. Neither was he willing to be exiled from the city in which he had always lived and where he had carried on his activities in obedience to a divine command. The only alternative to the death sentence that he proposed was that of being provided for at public expense in a manner that would be appropriate for one who has dedicated his life to the service and welfare of his fellow citizens. No more suitable reward could be offered a poor man who is a benefactor of the public and who desires leisure that he may use for the purpose of giving instruction.
It had been suggested that Socrates might escape the death penalty if he would cease carrying on the type of conversations that had aroused so much suspicion and controversy with reference to his activities. He would then be free to go to some foreign country, and no one would interfere with what he was doing. Socrates replies to this suggestion by saying that it would be disobedience to a divine command for him to hold his tongue. He believes that the greatest good of man is daily to converse about virtue, examining both himself and others, for the unexamined life is not worth living. He has one favor to ask of his judges after he is gone: that they will be watchful of his sons when they have grown to manhood and punish them if they seem to care about riches, or anything more than virtue, or if they pretend to be something they are not.
Having finished with his defense, Socrates concludes with a final note of warning to those who have condemned him. They may think that because they have gotten rid of their troublemaker they will be at peace with themselves and will be honored by those who come after them. This, however, is not what will happen. The truth is that in putting Socrates to death, they are harming themselves far more than they are doing harm to him. That which one should regard as most important is not the avoidance of death but rather the avoidance of unrighteousness.
This is what Socrates has to say:
And now, O men who have condemned me, I would fain prophesy to you; for I am about to die, and that is the hour in which men are gifted with prophetic power. And I prophesy to you who are my murderers, that immediately after my death punishment far heavier than you have inflicted on me will surely await you. Me you have killed because you wanted to escape the accuser, and not to give an account of your lives. But that will not be as you suppose: far other wise. For I say that there will be more accusers of you than there are now; accusers whom hitherto I have restrained; and as they are younger they will be more severe with you, and you will be more offended at them. For if you think that by killing men you can avoid the accuser censuring your lives, you are mistaken; that is not a way of escape which is either possible or honorable; the easiest and the noblest way is not to be crushing others, but to be improving yourselves. This is the prophesy which I utter before my departure to the judges who have condemned me.
The Apology is in one sense a historical account of Socrates' defense of himself at the time of his trial. It is generally believed to be the most reliable record of the event that has been preserved. Nevertheless, we must bear in mind that there are certain limitations necessarily involved in all historical writing. History is never a complete and exact account of what has taken place. It is always a record of what the historian believed to have taken place. It is necessarily his interpretation of the event as it is viewed from the perspective of the time and place of the writing, which does not mean that the historical account is unreliable but only that it partakes of certain limitations that cannot be entirely avoided. In this particular instance, it allows for the fact that Plato's conception of Socrates may be idealized to some extent, and it is quite possible that in some cases he may have reported what he thinks ought to have been said rather than what Socrates did say. Even so, after allowing for these limitations, we must recognize that Plato's understanding of Socrates and the manner of his defense is probably as close to the actual facts as it is humanly possible for one to attain. This is indicated by a number of different facts. In the first place, the Apology is the one dialog in which Plato is referred to as one who was present at the trial. This makes his writing the testimony of an eyewitness. Again, the account appears to have been written shortly after the trial, in which case any in-accuracies or falsifications would have been detected by others who were familiar with the circumstances. Finally, the account in the Apology is in harmony with the reports given by Xenophon and other writers, and it is also consistent with references to the trial found in the other Platonic dialogs.
There is a bit of irony in Socrates' reference to the manner of his speech. The so-called rhetoricians of his day were noted for their eloquence, which usually consisted of an emotional appeal designed to win the approval of the audience rather than an attempt to make a clear presentation of the relevant facts. In claiming that he is not a rhetorician, Socrates wants to make it clear that he does not employ speech for the purpose of swaying the feelings of his audience. The only kind of rhetoric for which he has any use is that of making a presentation of facts in language so clear that all can understand.
Plato's purpose in writing this dialog included something more than a historical interest. He wanted to present Socrates in the role of a martyr, using that term in the very best sense of the word. It was the character of the man as seen from within that was especially noteworthy. In the case of Socrates, martyrdom was an exaltation, something more than an untimely death of one who had been treated unjustly. Here was a man who, in obedience to a divine command, had spent his life in devotion to the public good and who would not stoop to save his own life, if by so doing he would have to compromise with his own conscience.
In making his defense, Socrates says that he will reply to each of two kinds of accusation. The first one is general in character and has to do with much of the public opinion that has arisen in opposition to him. The second one is more specific and seems quite probable that this is the one for which he has been indicted and brought to trial. The first one is related to the actual trial only in an indirect way. It is, however, necessary to deal with it at some length in order to prepare the way for a proper understanding of the case that is under consideration by the jury. It is also true that Socrates' reply to the first accusation throws a great deal of light on the situation as a whole inasmuch as it reveals certain predominant traits of character of both the accuser and the accused.
As a result of Socrates' manner of living, a number of popular stories had arisen concerning him. Some of them were of a humorous nature and were never intended to be taken seriously but were regarded as nothing more than a joke about some of his peculiarities. This seems to have been the case when Aristophanes caricatured him in the comedy called The Clouds. Socrates had accepted it as good fun and even appeared to be amused by it. Nevertheless, stories of this kind do have some effect on popular opinion, and there are always some people who put a wrong interpretation on them. Other stories are of a more serious nature in that they contain inaccuracies and are often confused with data that are entirely irrelevant to the activities of the person to whom they are attributed. This is what happened when Socrates was credited with certain doctrines that had been taught by Anaxagoras, the physical scientist. It had also been rumored that Socrates was one who charged fees for his instruction and was, therefore, interested in making money for himself. Socrates had no difficulty in replying to rumors of this type. He had never been interested in the physical sciences, although he was familiar with the theories of Anaxagoras. Anyone who was well informed would not have attributed theories about the sun and moon to Socrates, whose interests had always been along other lines. Certainly Meletus was foolish to suppose the judges would not be aware of his mistake. As to the rumor that Socrates charged fees for his instruction, any one of those who had listened to him could testify to the fact that he never made any charges for his services. In fact, he had good reasons for refusing to take money for what he was doing. He did not believe it was proper to place a money value on truth or the process of teaching people to think for themselves. Further than this, he did not want to exclude anyone from his services because they did not have the money to pay for them. Teaching people to improve themselves by learning how to think clearly and correctly was in his judgment the most valuable service that he could render, and he would have it available for all who would take advantage of it, regardless of their ability to pay, their social position, or any other consideration. This did not mean that he believed it was wrong for any teacher to charge for his instruction if he felt the need for so doing. Socrates even commended Evenus for charging so modest a rate of his pupils.
The story about the oracle of Delphi and the statement attributed to it concerning Socrates being the wisest man in Athens is another example of Socratic irony. Whether the story is to be regarded as literally true may be doubtful, but the purpose for which the story is used is clear enough. It was designed to expose the false claims of those who pretended to be something that they were not. Because the Athenians did not have an authoritative book comparable to the Bible for Christians and Jews or the Koran for the followers of Mohammed, it was customary to consult the local divinities concerning matters of importance that could not be settled by ordinary means. Except at Delphi, there was no caste of priestly interpreters. In order to obtain answers to religious questions, intellectual Athenians would consult the popular poets, with their many stories having to do with the activities of the gods recognized by the state. Socrates did not accept these stories about the gods. One reason for rejecting them was the fact that the gods were credited with immoral acts of a type that would never be tolerated among human beings. Socrates believed the gods were good. He did not believe in the dark and disturbing legends that were being circulated about them. At any rate, he was distrustful of the poets and had little if any faith in the local divinities, although he did take seriously the voice, or daemon, that would speak to him on certain occasions, telling him what not to do. Regardless of Socrates' personal convictions, the majority of Athenians did believe in the oracle of Delphi, and so it was possible to use this story as a means for exposing the false pretenses of those who claimed to have great wisdom but actually understood very little, if anything, concerning some of the most important problems pertaining to human life. The statement attributed to the oracle of Delphi could be made to harmonize with Socrates' admission of his own ignorance by pointing out that he was aware of his own ignorance, while those who claimed to be wise were not conscious of their own limitations.
Having dispensed with some of the false and idle rumors that had been in circulation concerning him and having exposed some of the false pretenses on the part of his accusers, Socrates proceeds to make his reply to the main charge that has led to his indictment. Meletus appears to be the chief prosecutor, although Anytus was in all likelihood the one who instigated the charge. They accused Socrates of being an evil person who does not believe in the gods of the state and who corrupts the youth by causing them to lose confidence in the government that has jurisdiction over them. Insofar as the charge against Socrates was that he did not believe in the gods recognized by the state, there can be no question about his being guilty. By his own admission, he did not accept many of the popular views concerning the Athenian gods, but this was by no means the only reason or even the main one for his being brought to trial. Although it was the stated reason for his indictment, the actual reason seems to have been the fact that his teachings were regarded as dangerous to those who were in positions of power. Athens was being ruled at this time by a democratic form of government, and if it could be made to appear that Socrates was an enemy of democracy, this would go a long way toward arousing popular sentiment against him. It would indicate that his teachings might constitute a threat to the conventional standards and customs of the day.
In making his defense, Socrates did not attempt to prove that he was innocent of the charge of disbelief in the Athenian gods. Instead, he addressed himself to the larger implications involved in the so-called crimes of which he had been accused. So far as corrupting the youth was concerned, he made it plain that he had never attempted to indoctrinate his listeners or to coerce them into accepting a particular set of ideas. He did not claim to have arrived at the final or absolute truth himself, nor did he insist that his pupils should hold the same views that he held. His only purpose was to stimulate and encourage each of them to think for himself. If that constituted a threat to the conventional standards and customs of the day, so be it. He was quite willing to accept responsibility for it. The charge that Socrates had corrupted the youth was based in part on the fact that some of the ones who had been associated with him had committed acts that were offensive to the state. This may have been true, for these persons were all free moral agents and, therefore, responsible for whatever they might do. Any misconduct on their part could not be attributed to Socrates. In fact, he was ready to summon the parents and elder brothers of the young men who have been associated with him as witnesses that none of them have been made worse by his companionship. Insofar as they have been influenced either by his teachings or his example, it has always been for the good.
That Socrates was a law-abiding citizen and not an enemy of the state is indicated by his conduct throughout his entire life. While serving as a soldier, he remained at his post of duty under circumstances in which his own life was in great danger. Only on two occasions had his actions been in conflict with the constituted authorities of the land, and in both of these he had been commanded to do things that were either unconstitutional or in direct violation of the demands of justice. Although he believed the laws of God should be obeyed in preference to the laws of men, he never tried to escape the punishment demanded by the state for violation of laws that he believed to be unjust. He would not attempt to escape from prison in order to save his own life even though he had ample opportunity to do so. He was not afraid to die. What he feared most of all was that he might do something that was morally wrong.
The opposition to Socrates on the part of Meletus and his associates was based to some extent on religious grounds. Because Socrates did not believe in the gods recognized by the state, it was inferred that he did not believe in any divine being. Meletus, in fact, when questioned about it, insists that Socrates is an atheist. The charge, of course, was a ridiculous one, and Socrates makes this clear by pointing out that Meletus has contradicted himself by saying that Socrates has introduced new and strange divinities and yet does not believe in any deity. Actually, Socrates, while not accepting many of the popular conceptions of religion, was a deeply religious person. He had a profound faith in the spiritual meaning of life and the world, along with a firm belief in God as the source of our moral obligations. Any prayer that he would address to the deity was never a plea for bodily comfort or material welfare but a petition for the humility and courage to live righteously under whatever circumstances might exist.
Socratic irony can be seen again in the argument to prove to Meletus that if Socrates had corrupted the youth it must have been done involuntarily and for that reason ought not to be punished. The reason given is that no one would voluntarily do harm to the people among whom he would have to live. The argument was a weak one even if it did reflect Socrates' belief that ignorance is the one thing that causes people to do wrong things. It was, however, an effective means of exposing the shallowness of Meletus' thinking and his inability to understand the logical implications of his own position.
As a further defense of his manner of living, Socrates mentions that he has avoided a political career because he believed it would have been futile for him to attempt any reform movement through a legislative process. Any attempt that he might make to remedy unfair conditions would arouse the antagonism of those who were gaining material benefits from these practices, and they would put an end to his career. As a public official, in order for him to fight for what he believed was right, he would have been opposed by the many, who would put him to death and thus make it impossible for him to do any good. This had been the experience of many good persons in the past, and in this respect he did not think conditions had changed. Twice in his own lifetime he had fought for the cause of justice in opposition to popular demand, and in both instances he had done so at the risk of his own life. When told that it might still be possible for him to save his life if he would agree to change his manner of living and stop talking to people about controversial issues, Socrates replies that death is not necessarily an evil thing. There are certain advantages to be gained by it, and while he has no positive assurance of a life after death, there is a possibility of continued existence under conditions that are far more pleasant than the ones that are now being experienced. Furthermore, his manner of living has been in obedience to a divine command, and for this reason he would, if given the opportunity, continue to preach to all men of all ages the necessity of virtue and improvement, even if a thousand deaths should await him.
It is quite possible that Socrates' judges did not really desire his execution inasmuch as that would place the responsibility for his death on their hands. Evidently, they expected him to take advantage of the opportunity to propose an alternative sentence, such as the payment of a fine or banishment from the city. A proposal of this kind would enable him to escape the death sentence and at the same time provide some justification for the verdict they had rendered. The alternative sentence that Socrates did propose was so contrary to what the judges had expected that it might seem to have been made for the purpose of irritating them. Although he probably had no idea that his proposal would be accepted, Socrates explained his reasons for making it. Since it was generally understood that the function of the court was to make justice prevail, nothing less than what he had proposed would be a just compensation for his lifelong services to the state.
Evidence that Socrates was sincere in his professed loyalty to the cause of justice can be seen from the way in which he has conducted himself throughout the entire course of his life. The favor he asks of the judges to watch over his sons after he has gone and they have grown to manhood is in keeping with his devotion to what he believes is right. He wants his sons to follow the path of virtue as he has done, and so he asks that if they should seem to care about riches or anything more than virtue, or if they should pretend to be something they are not, measures should be taken to correct them. Again, it was his desire to do nothing that would hinder the cause of justice that led him to dismiss the members of his own family, so that their presence would not cause the judges to be moved by feelings of sympathy and pity in place of reasoned judgment.
The Apology ends with the speech in which Socrates utters a prophetic warning to his judges concerning the verdict that history will pronounce upon them for the actions they have taken in condemning him to death. It is a remarkable speech and one that illustrates Socrates' deep conviction that it is far better to suffer injustice than it is to practice injustice. What one needs to fear most of all is not what happens to one's body but what happens to one's soul. Injustice may appear to be triumphant at the time, but eventually evildoers will be given a just recompense. Whether this speech was actually given by Socrates at the time of his trial or is merely one that Plato believed would have been appropriate for him to give at that time is a question that cannot be answered with certainty. If the Apology was written shortly after the death of Socrates, as we have good reasons for believing, the prophetic warning had not been fulfilled at that time, nor was it accomplished during the years that immediately followed. It is, however, quite possible that either Plato or Socrates had in mind the distant future, and certainly from the long-range point of view the prophecy has been abundantly fulfilled. For many generations Socrates has been regarded as a hero and classified with those individuals whose martyrdom has contributed much to the cause of freedom and justice in the world.