28 March 2007

The Apology Difficulty--A Resolution I Favor

The distinction crucial for resolving the Apology difficulty, I think, is that between 'someone' and 'what belongs to someone':

I tried to persuade each of you not to place care for what merely belongs to himself over care for himself--viz. that he be the best and wisest he can be--nor to place care for what merely belongs to the city, over care for the city itself; and to show care for others in just the same way (36c).
e0pixeirw~n e3kaston u(mw~n pei/qein mh_ pro&teron mh&te tw~n (5) e9autou~ mhdeno_j e0pimelei=sqai pri\n e9autou~ e0pimelhqei/h o3pwj w(j be/ltistoj kai\ fronimw&tatoj e1soito, mh&te tw~n th~j po&lewj, pri\n au)th~j th~j po&lewj, tw~n te a1llwn ou3tw kata_ to_n (d.) au)to_n tro&pon e0pimelei=sqai
Socrates intends this, I think, as a distinction between the soul (which is what he thinks each person is), and everything that pertains to someone besides his soul. This is especially clear from the way that distinction is wielded in Alcibiades I, 128a-133e. Some exemplary passages from that dialogue:
Well then, what does it mean to care for (epimeleisthai) ourselves? --I'm afraid we often think we're caring for ourselves when we're not. When does a man do that? Is he caring for himself when he cares for what belongs to him? (128a)

Since a man is neither his body, nor his body and soul together, what remains, I think, is either that he's nothing, or else, if he is something, he's nothing other than his soul. (130c)

We were afraid that we might make a mistake about caring for ourselves and unwittingly care for something other than ourselves. ...And the next step is that we have to care for our soul and look to that... and let others take care of our bodies and our property. (132c)
Thus the good or bad of 'someone' is the good or bad condition of his soul, which would consist in his having, or lacking, the virtues; the good or bad of 'what belongs to someone' would be the better or worse state of those things that are commonly accounted good or bad.

Senn is right to notice that Socrates draws an implicit distinction between 'harming' (blaptein) and 'bringing about bad' for someone. The former would involve actions, and especially speech, which are designed to encourage people to be bad: a harm is something that makes 'someone' worse. The latter would involve taking away or preventing good things, or producing or hindering the removal of bad things, as regards 'what belongs to someone': doing bad is doing something that makes 'what belongs to someone' worse (than would have been the case otherwise). (What is important for Socrates is in the first instance what is made worse off, not how this happens; hence Senn's distinction between 'damaging' and 'obstructing' is not to the point.)

Thus the resolutions:

"You would not injure me (blapsete) so much as yourselves" (30c). That is: 'You can make me worse only in what belongs to me, and in doing so you make yourself worse in what you are.'

"It's not permitted that a worse man should injure (blaptesthai) a better" (30d). Suppose someone aiming to be good (a better man) and someone who does not care about being good (a worse): the latter cannot, just by what he does or says, make it so that the former does not care about being good, or make it so that the former is less good.

"Bad people are constantly working something bad in those around them...", and thus bad people are "harmed (blaptesthai) by those they associate with" (25d). Socrates here compares groups of companions who are bad (who encourage corruption in one another), with groups of companions who are good. He actually never talks about the case (fantastical, surely, for him) where a good person is surrounded by bad companions.

"Since I am convinced that I never wronged any one, I am certainly not going to wrong myself (adikein), and say of myself that I deserve anything bad, and propose a penalty of that sort of myself" (37b). Here I think adikein=blaptein. This is a moral injury Socrates will refrain from because he aims to be good.

"Shall I choose instead a penalty which I know to be an evil?" (37), viz. in what belongs to me--it being assumed by him that, all other things being equal, if he were to choose a greater over a lesser evil in what belongs to him, then this would be moral badness, which he must avoid above any badness in what belongs to him.


jack said...


I think your resolution is excellent and well thought out. I am wondering about some finer points. It seems Socrates makes a point of differentiating between what he says to the Jury and what he says to the Accusers. He says to the jury, "If you kill such an one as I am you will injure yourselves more than you will injure me." I do not think that he meant that they will make themselves worse in what they are by the sole fact that they take something from him, but that they, by condemning such a one as he is, would unwisely be losing the best hope they had for ever being better than what they are. A true lover of men tries to win over the men who have not hardened their hearts by the love he has for them. I think this is proven in two instances. The first one is by Socrates using the words, "If you kill such a one as I am" And the second one by what he said before and after the passages that we are concerned with, when he calls himself a type of gadfly. It seems to me that the two injuries are different. The jury is injured because they won't have Socrates anymore to arouse, persuade and reproach them and the accusers are injured because they killed Socrates. Socrates also said to the jury that he thought that what he had to say to them would do them good, however he refers to the accusers as bad men doing evil by unjustly taking away another man's life.

Michael Pakaluk said...


I think those are very good observations, and I accept them.

I've been looking at Guthrie's discussion in his Socrates and was pleased to see that the general tenor is well consistent with mine. Referring to the same passage in Alcibiades I, Guthrie says:

"Here we have the whole train of thought that lay behind the exhortation in the Apology to care for the psyche and for wisdom and truth, rather than for money or reputation, which it would have been inappropriate, or rather impossible, to unfold in a speech before the judges at his trial."


Anonymous said...

Michael may well be right that Socrates distinguishes causing a person to be bad or worse from causing a person’s “belongings” (ton heautou - the things that are his) to be bad or worse. This distinction doesn’t, however, correspond consistently with Socrates’ use of the expression “harming (blaptein)” and his use of the expression “bringing about bad (kakon ti ergazontai)”. For example, in Apology 25c-e, these two expressions are pretty clearly used synonymously (compare also the 37b passage Michael quotes):

“Don’t the base people (poneroi) produce something bad (kakon ti ergazontai) for the ones who are at the time nearest them, while the good produce something good (agathon [ti ergazontai])?” (25c)
“Then is there anyone who wishes rather to be harmed (bouletai) by the ones who are with him than to be benefited (opheleisthai)?” (25d)
“Are you, who are so much younger than I am, so much wiser than I that you have recognized that the bad people always produce something bad (kakon ti ergazontai) for the ones who are most near them, while the good produce something good (agathon [ti ergazontai]); but I then have come to such lack of learning that I am incognizant of even this: that if I make anyone of the ones who are with me be base (mochtheron), then I risk receiving something bad from him (kakon ti labein)…?!” (25d-e) (A lot of translators are evidently so confident that these terms are synonymous that they translate them similarly; so I’ve given my own, fairly literal translations.)

But it’s hard to tell whether Michael intended to suggest that for Socrates “blaptein” and “kakon ti ergazontai” differ in meaning. So I’m not (yet) necessarily objecting to Michael’s resolution - just trying to clarify.

Anonymous said...

I mistakenly gave the wrong Greek word for "harmed" in my rendering of Apology 25d above. It isn't of course "bouletai", but rather "blaptesthai".