17 March 2007

An Apparent Contadiction in Plato's Apology

Once again I am reviewing a volume of Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy: and once more I look for it to provide a rich source of discussions and posts. This is volume XXVIII, Summer 2005 (only two years behind!).

The first paper, by Scott J. Senn ("Virtue as the Sole Intrinsic Good in Early Plato"), poses a difficulty that's perfect for a blog. I'll state the difficulty today. How do you think it should be resolved? I'll eventually give Senn's resolution, and then my own.

The difficulty is an apparent contradiction in the Apology. Socrates says at one point that the jury is not capable of harming him; at another point he seems to concede that certain punishments the jury might assign to him would be bad for him. How should we reconcile these statements?

It's a nice difficulty, definite and well-circumscribed. Again: I have my own view, different from Senn's, but how would you deal with it?

You are familiar with the texts which present the difficulty, but here they are, fyi. (They're long, so I'll highlight the most important bits.)

, that the jury cannot harm Socrates:

eu} ga_r i1ste, e0a&n me a)poktei/nhte toiou~ton o1nta oi[on e0gw_ le/gw, ou)k e0me\ mei/zw bla&yete h2 u(ma~j au)tou&j: e0me\ me\n ga_r ou)de\n a2n bla&yeien ou1te Me/lhtoj ou1te 1Anutojou)de\ ga_r a2n du&naito. ou) ga_r oi1omai qemito_n (d.) ei]nai a)mei/noni a)ndri\ u(po_ xei/ronoj bla&ptesqai. a)poktei/neie ment' a2n i1swj h2 e0cela&seien h2 a)timw&seien: a)lla_ tau~ta ou{toj me\n i1swj oi1etai kai\ a1lloj ti/j pou mega&la kaka&, e0gw_ d' ou)k oi1omai, a)lla_ polu_ ma~llon poiei=n a4 ou(tosi\ nu~n poiei=, a1ndra a)di/kwj e0pixeirei=n a)pokteinu&nai (30c-d).
I would have you know that, if you kill such a one as I am, you will injure yourselves more than you will injure me. Meletus and Anytus will not injure me: they cannot; for it is not in the nature of things that a bad man should injure a better than himself. I do not deny that he may, perhaps, kill him, or drive him into exile, or deprive him of civil rights; and he may imagine, and others may imagine, that he is doing him a great injury: but in that I do not agree with him; for the evil of doing as Anytus is doing - of unjustly taking away another man's life - is greater far (Jowett).
Senn also cites 41d: "nothing bad can come to a good man either when he is alive or after he is dead" (ou)k e1stin a)ndri\ a)gaqw|~ kako_n ou)de\n ou1te zw~nti ou1te teleuth&santi).

Second, that the jury could harm Socrates by assigning certain punishments, including exile, which was specifically mentioned above:
pepeisme/noj dh_ e0gw_ mhde/na a)dikei=n pollou~ de/w e0mauto&n ge a)dikh&sein kai\ kat' e0mautou~ e0rei=n au)to_j w(j a1cio&j ei0mi/ tou kakou~ kai\ timh&sesqai toiou&tou tino_j e0mautw|~. ti/ dei/saj; h} mh_ pa&qw tou~to ou{ Me/lhto&j moi tima~tai, o3 fhmi ou)k ei0de/nai ou1t' ei0 a)gaqo_n ou1t' ei0 kako&n e0stin; a)nti\ tou&tou dh_ e3lwmai w{n eu} oi]da& ti kakw~n o1ntwn tou&tou timhsa&menoj; po&teron desmou~; po&teron desmou~;
(c.) kai\ ti/ me dei= zh~n e0n desmwthri/w|, douleu&onta th|~ a)ei\ kaqistame/nh| a)rxh|~, toi=j e3ndeka; a)lla_ xrhma&twn kai\ dede/sqai e3wj a2n e0ktei/sw; a)lla_ tau)to&n moi/ e0stin o3per nundh_ e1legon: ou) ga_r e1sti moi xrh&mata o(po&qen e0ktei/sw. a)lla_ dh_ fugh~j timh&swmai; i1swj ga_r a1n moi tou&tou timh&saite. pollh_ menta1n me filoyuxi/a e1xoi, w} a1ndrej 0Aqhnai=oi, ei0 ou3twj a)lo&gisto&j ei0mi w3ste mh_ du&nasqai logi/zesqai o3ti u(mei=j me\n o1ntej poli=tai/ mou ou)x oi[oi/ te e0ge/nesqe e0negkei=n ta_j e0ma_j diatriba_j kai\ tou_j lo&gouj, a)ll' u(mi=n baru&terai gego&nasin kai\ e0pifqonw&terai, w3ste zhtei=te au)tw~n nuni\ a)pallagh~nai:a1lloi de\ a1ra au)ta_j oi1sousi r(a|di/wj; pollou~ ge dei=, w} a1ndrej 0Aqhnai=oi. kalo_j ou}n a1n moi o( bi/oj ei1h e0celqo&nti thlikw|~de a)nqrw&pw| a1llhn e0c a1llhj po&lewj a)meibome/nw| kai\ e0celaunome/nw| zh~n. eu} ga_r oi]d' o3ti o3poi a2n e1lqw, le/gontoj e0mou~ a)kroa&sontai oi9 ne/oi w3sper e0nqa&de: ka2n me\n tou&touj a)pelau&nw, ou{toi/ me au)toi\ e0celw~si pei/qontej tou_j presbute/rouj: e0a_n de\ mh_ a)pelau&nw, oi9 tou&twn pate/rej de\ kai\ oi0kei=oi di' au)tou_j tou&touj.(37b-38b)
As I am convinced that I never wronged another, I will assuredly not wrong myself. I will not say of myself that I deserve any evil, or propose any penalty. Why should I? Because I am afraid of the penalty of death which Meletus proposes? When I do not know whether death is a good or an evil, why should I propose instead a penalty which would certainly be an evil? Shall I say imprisonment? And why should I live in prison, and be the slave of the magistrates of the year - of the Eleven? Or shall the penalty be a fine, and imprisonment until the fine is paid? There is the same objection. I should have to lie in prison, for money I have none, and I cannot pay. And if I say exile (and this may possibly be the penalty which you will affix), I must indeed be blinded by the love of life if I were to consider that when you, who are my own citizens, cannot endure my discourses and words, and have found them so grievous and odious that you would fain have done with them, others are likely to endure me. No, indeed, men of Athens, that is not very likely. And what a life should I lead, at my age, wandering from city to city, living in ever-changing exile, and always being driven out! For I am quite sure that into whatever place I go, as here so also there, the young men will come to me; and if I drive them away, their elders will drive me out at their desire: and if I let them come, their fathers and friends will drive me out for their sakes (Jowett).
Senn puts the difficulty in this way (p. 8):

Based on 30C-D, therefore, Socrates would appear willing to assent to
(SN1) Socrates does not risk being injured in any way by his inferiors.
Based on 41D, he would appear similarly willing to assent to
(SNB) Socrates does not risk receiving anything bad from his inferiors.
But given 37B-38B (and 25D-E), Socrates appears not to be prepared to assent to SNI or SNB.


Anonymous said...

I would (begin to) alleviate the difficulty by distinguishing what is good from what is beneficial, as well as what is evil from what is harmful; of course some thing(s) can be both. We then move into territory familiar from posts and comments at the start of this year. Making things harder for Socrates is not the same thing as making him worse.

jack said...

Plato does not have Socrates contradicting himself in the Apology, but on the contrary he has Socrates confirming the exact opposite of that position. Socrates is emphatically saying that he will absolutely not contradict the Truth that he has always taught to others and that by which he has lived his life, The well-being of Man is equal to the virtue in Man and the ill-being of Man is equal to the lack of virtue in Man. Socrates knows that to act cowardly and speak falsely would do harm to man and be a great evil. He realized the simple truth that the greatest potential enemy of man is not other men but is his very self.


Dr Pretorius said...

In the first excerpt Socrates says that Meletus and Anytus can't injure him. But he doesn't say that the court can't injure him (just that they will injure themselves more than him - but this is consistent with his also being injured). In the first excerpt generally it looks to me like Socrates seems to be assuming that who is harmed in some interaction is the person who is worst off at the end (despite intentions). So the evil person who attempts to kill the good person does do evil by attempting to kill the good person, but is more harmed by that then the good person is by a potential loss of life.
(This is strange - wouldn't we just say that they both are harmed? But he does seem to repeatedly slide between "you shall harm yourselves more than me" and "I will not be the one harmed" ways of talking without really adding "You can't actually do anything bad to me", or at least not in the sense that would make the first two trivial.)

Anonymous said...

RE: dr pretorius' comment:

30c-d does indeed imply that even the court can't injure him. Surely Socrates cannot allow that the court (its members collectively) are his equals or his betters; after all, in the end (Ap. 41b), he concludes that the court has "unjustly" convicted him (cf. Crito 50c), and that the members are to be "reproached" even for their *attempt* to injure him (Ap. 41d-e); Socrates, who has done no injustice intentionally (Ap. 33a, 37b) and who is "wiser" than all Athenians (Ap. 23a-b), is surely that much "better" than the Athenian court. And in 30c-d he asserts that no bad/unvirtuous man can injure one who's better (more virtuous).

It can't be that in 30c-d all Socrates means is that, as long as the victim of an act is "better off" than the agent of the act, the victim is therefore "unharmed". This would indeed be strange; for it would imply that I can do you no harm as long as I wind up worse than you as a result of my action. (Obvious counterexamples leap to mind.)

Nor can Socrates in 30c-d merely be implying that no matter what is done to him (by his accusers or by the jury), he will wind up better off than those attempting to do him harm. While it's true that he does seem to be interested in making the point that no matter what is done his attackers will be no better off than he, that's not *all* he is saying: he explicitly says at 30c-d that his accusers "cannot" injure him -- that "it is not in the nature of things that a bad man should injure a better than himself". And if we consider the other passage Senn highlights (41d), we will find it hard to explain how that claim - "nothing bad can come to a good man" - can be consistent with the idea that Socrates could be injured *at all* by his accusers or the court; the only way it could be consistent is if Socrates didn't consider himself a "good man" or (as Anonymous suggested above) if an injury isn't something "bad"; neither of those alternatives is very appealing.

Michael Pakaluk said...

RE: Second Anonymous

I wonder if 30c-d doesn't have a significance that is quite distinct from the 41d.

The former looks like a philosophical principle or law (not unlike Socrates' view in the Polus refutation).

The latter looks like an appeal to (some notion of) Providence. Thus Socrates advises the sympathetic jurors to nourish good hopes (elpidas); he assures them of divine care; he mentions the behavior of his own guardian spirit. Presumably Providence could either in some special way protect the good, or even compensate them for any harm they endure--perhaps as Palamedes and Ajax are compensated in Hades for having been unjustly executed (41b).

If this is so, then shouldn't we exclude 41d as a matter of 'philosophical faith', which is not being quite relevant to Senn's difficulty?


Anonymous said...

His claim at 41d seems to be not based on philosophical faith, but on his deepest philosophical conviction for which he evidently thinks - if we can believe the Gorgias - there are good philosophical arguments. The conviction is virtually the centerpiece of the Gorgias; it is voiced, and argued for, throughout that dialogue, particularly at the end (527c-d) in reply to Callicles' prediction that Socrates will suffer terribly as a result of steadfastly persuing philosophy rather than conventional politics (486a-d, 511b-c).

Michael Pakaluk said...

I would link 41d to the Phaedo rather than the Gorgias. The claim that 'no evil can befall a good man ... after death' seems to go beyond any principle along the lines of that argued for in the Gorgias.

Look, suppose the soul does continue to exist after death--as Socrates does not rule out in the Apology and perhaps even endorses. Then on what grounds could one rule out (say) that the soul of a good man is capriciously tortured, or doomed to some kind of futile existence? (There are innumerable bad continued existences that one can imagine.) I can't see that a philosophical principle ("it's always worse to do harm than to suffer it") can rule such things out. It seems to me that Socrates, rather, is relying here on a conviction that everything is ultimately governed by good beings (who wouldn't act unjustly, and who would even reward the good).

Now the good lot of the soul of a good man after death is something that gets argued for in the Phaedo.


Anonymous said...

But the fact that Socrates gives no argument for the idea that after death a good man will suffer nothing bad doesn't mean that we should not take too seriously all of what Socrates claims at 41d; for he does also claim there that during life a good man will suffer nothing bad, and there's no similar reasons for thinking he has no argument to support this idea.

I don't think, Michael, that the resolution you present in your 28 March post explains this part of Socrates' claim at 41d. You've tried to explain that Socrates thinks that a good man's soul is "unharmed" by things like fines, imprisonment, etc. But how do you explain why a good (virtuous) man suffers nothing bad during life, as he says at 41d?

Michael Pakaluk said...

On the reading I favor, I would resist understanding 41d as having the same sense, and quite the same grounds, as what Socrates says earlier in the dialogue (or elsewhere, in the Gorgias). I take this closing claim of the dialogue to go beyond what Socrates has said earlier: now he additionally expresses his confidence in (as one might put it) the 'good government of the cosmos'.

So then it seems that the question you should pose to me is whether, on that interpretation, one can give a sense to Socrates' saying that there is 'nothing bad' for a good person in this life. And clearly one can: this could mean, for instance, that, in view of the 'good government of the cosmos', one gets compensated, either in this life or the next, for anything one has to give up (among the 'goods that belong') on account of one's steadfastness in doing what is good.

By the way, if what others may do to us affects only goods that 'belong to us', it seems that there would be nothing untoward in Socrates' thinking of injuries here as in principle admitting of (fairly ordinary) restitution.

But perhaps I misunderstand you. Please continue pressing your point if you are not satisfied!