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How Socrates Acts As A Gadfly Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 2839 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The “Apology” is the speech given by Socrates in court to defend him against the accusations facing him both tacit and formal charges. It is an interpretation and a description arranged by Plato of what happened in the trial. In his speech as Socrates defends he also tries to clarify what life he had lead, who he was and his duty in life. 

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The famous metaphor Socrates used in the apology: “as upon a great noble horse which was somewhat sluggish because of its size and needed to be stirred up by a kind of gadfly.” He is comparing himself to a gadfly and the state of Athens to a sluggish horse, his presence may be irritating but with his constant buzzing he awakens the state to the wider truth surrounding them. A gadfly defined by the dictionary is “any various flies, as a stable fly or warble fly, that bite or annoy domestic animals”, therefore he annoys and provokes Athenians with his examinations of the and his investigations that triggers people into considering virtue. He argues that he being a gadfly is a gift given to them by the gods. His prosecution they will fin no other man to replace him but they will never be able to prosecute all those other mere critics. He constantly insists throughout his speech that he is helping the citizens. 

Gadflies are likely to become killed by whomever surrounding it no matter their purpose; likewise Socrates at court wasn’t far enough from being killed by the state. After the Athenians have rejected Socrates and accused him of being a harmful human to their society as well as wanting him dead, he brings up this metaphor that in some way sums up his life. He professes that he has been giving a lot to the city. He keeps them thinking and allows them to ponder on various matters with his philosophy and his wisdom. He persuades them to care for virtue and justice. The other figurative meaning in the dictionary for gadfly is “a person who persistently annoys or provokes others with criticism, schemes, ideas, demands, requests, etc.” Socrates keeps provoking the men of Athens who have been believing what they were asked and allowed to believing leaving some people to claim false wisdom. He does so by criticizing them to try to awaken them, for he believes they are becoming lazy in the search of the truth, which on his account is the key to a happy life, so he persists on keeping them thinking as much as possible. 

Like Socrates Gadflies act not to help the horses, but for their own interest. Socrates keeps on claiming that he helps the Athenians, while on the contrary he isn’t; he makes them doubt all their knowledge by his clever way of cross-examination. He says if Athenians kill him they will be suffering a great loss as well as they will be greatly harming themselves, for he is a gift from god “I am far from making a defense now on my behalf, as I might be thought, but on yours, to prevent you from wrong doing by mistreating god’s gift to you by condemning me.” However, when coming to think of if, what is it does Socrates really does for them? He keeps examining people well respected by most Athenians to see if they posses virtue or wisdom; that is not what concerns them nor will help them in any way. Here he is just showing everyone that those people they highly appreciate are ignorant men, he embarrasses them for their ignorance in certain domains to show he is the only one who is invincibly right but yet cannot be examined as he claims he doesn’t posses any wisdom thus leaving no way for an interrogation. 

Socrates has developed his reputation of being the wisest from an insight by the oracle at Delphi: his friend asking if there were any man wisest than Socrates and the oracle denied. Socrates claims that even this highest of level of wisdom is limited relative to human capacities and not a super-human level of wisdom but allows him to converse with people and argue with it. Socrates was confused he knew the oracle didn’t lie but he also knows he has no special wisdom, instead he went out and questioned all the people who though were experts in their fields and proving they were not by his famous way of cross-examination. As he says “I never cease each and every one of you, to persuade and reproach you all day long and everywhere I find myself in your company.” He first interrogated the politicians who thought they were wise and had much knowledge turned out to know nothing at all, not even sufficient understanding of politics. Then, he questioned the poets, who wrote magnificent work, that was vary deep to be understood from everyone, although somehow these outstanding poems and lovely pieces of work were in fact a result of instinct and inspiration but did not come from any wisdom. Moreover, Socrates also found out that these poets could speak eloquently and intelligently about all sort of subjects and matter that they knew pretty much nothing about. Lastly were the craftsmen, whom Sorates found men of true wisdom in their craft; however their wisdom was limited only to their domain of expertise that did not stop them from speaking in other matters with the same attitude and confidence in their speeches in which they knew nothing about at all. Socrates, tells the jury that he thinks staying the way he is knowing nothing at all is better than assuming being wisdom falsely. This is what makes him the wisest in his opinion not having to claim being wise but accepting one’s wisdom as deficient. He feels questioning people is his job since the oracle chose him in order to show people that are claiming false wisdom. 


In conclusion Socrates claims in his metaphor that he has been attached to the city of Athens and by its god. He was there to show them knowledge about virtue. Socrates spent his life trying to impact Athenians since he thought philosophy was his duty by the gods. As long as he has the capacity to do good for them, he shall do so. 

The “Apology” is the only record of the actual speech given by Socrates in court to defend him against the accusations facing him. Thus this makes it a crucial piece of writing in the history of Socrates life. This is the most authentic of all the dialogues because unlike the others, that were dialects between Socrates and others seemed somehow fictional because of the absence of a witness to record the incidence. Many Athenians remembered the speech after the trial making it easier to vindicate. However, some liberties were left during the transcripts without changes in the arguments and the general tone of defense. Plato, Socrates disciple was present in court during Socrates trail; he transmitted everything on paper combining his beauty of language and style with Socrates’ serene spiritual and moral beauty of character. Since, Athenian juries were very large, similar to this case a large body of 501, they combined the judge and jury but were incapable of discussing various penalties and reach the perfect one. Hence, after the conviction the prosecutor is left to assess a penalty he though was convenient and appropriate. Following that, they are left with the counter-assessment given by the defendant. That way they leave the jury with only two options available to debate. Socrates defends himself in his famous speech from formidable and entrenched unspoken accusations against him as well as formal ones. However, there exists a connection is there between the formal and tacit charges he faces. I will discuss his defense against the tacit charges, then against his formal charges, leaving at last the relationship between them.

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In the apology, Socrates is being accused of various charges and was asked to show in court for an interrogation; these charges are divided into two kinds. The unspoken or tacit charges, which are the ones from his early accusers and the formal charges, which are the later ones: Meletos, Anytos, and Lycon. Their two main unspoken accusations facing him were being “a student of all things in the sky and below the earth, who makes the worse argument stronger”. The formal charges however accuse Socrates of not believing in the gods whom the city believes in and to be corrupting the youth. Socrates in then asked to defend himself with a speech in front of the jury and presents in the courtroom. To start with Socrates begins his speech by how surprised he is from his accusers, that warned the jury they “should be careful not to be deceived by an accomplished speaker like me”; those accusers should feel ashamed “unless indeed they call an accomplished speaker the man who speaks the truth.” he will speak the truth and his thoughts as they come to his mind because he thinks “It would be not fitting at my age, as it might be for a young man, to toy with words when I appear before you.” He then apologizes for he will use the language he is accustomed of using in the market place as he language of the place is strange and unfamiliar to him therefore asking for their patience; although his opponents’ false speeches were well structured and prepared. Then, he directly moves to the main matter, by represents himself: for the seventy years he has lived this is his first time in a courtroom and that “Many have accused me to you for years now, and none of their accusations were true” but now it is easier to believe his accusers as they are near the same age group as the jury and of the youth he accused of corrupting. He asks them to pay attention to the arguments he will give in his defense ignoring his language to be able to evaluate what he says is true or not.


Socrates afterwards begins to defend himself against the unspoken charges he is known for. He claims that these accusations are rumors, they are spread around and they grow and stating since his old accusers are unknown, he cannot cross-examine them thus making these accusations very deep, the only solution is answering them is the best way he can. His defense was that he has never opened these subjects before -investigating things beneath the earth and in the skies- and that these are things of which he knows nothing about as these matters are considered done by the gods. He then asks if all of them have heard him conversing or if any of them has heard him discussing it at all as these are all arguments available against all philosophers. Socrates is also accused of being a sophist -making the weaker argument appear the stronger- though the difference between sophists and Socrates is that sophists don’t value right and wrong. Socrates however has a strong sense of right and wrong but does not have a formula for it. Socrates is much more serious while defending himself from the unspoken charges it is his priority. There are two reasons for that: first of all, he prefers to defend himself from the chares that are unfair to him which proves two things, either he does not consider the formal charges unfair, or he knows Meletus has proof so he doesn’t care. Second, we assume that he does care, but knows that Meletus is not aware of anything. He knows that he is capable of turning the table around and demonstrates how Meletus contradicts himself. He concludes that they in fact help their students become better citizens and what they do is worth a great value but that he doesn’t do it as he lacks the knowledge to do it. Socrates has developed his reputation of being the wisest from an insight by the omniscient oracle at Delphi: his friend Chaerephon asked her if there were any man wisest than Socrates and the oracle denied. Socrates was confused he knew the oracle didn’t lie but he also knows he has no special wisdom and thinks of himself as the most ignorant. As a result he goes to question all the people who thought were wise and proving they were not by his famous way of cross-examination. Socrates, tells the jury that he thinks staying the way he is, knowing nothing at all, is better than assuming being wisdom falsely but accepting one’s wisdom insufficient. He feels questioning people is his job since the oracle chose him in order to show people that are claiming false wisdom and absolute knowledge. This has caused him the admiration of the youth on the other hand deep hatred by those who have been questioned and embarrassed, which later lead to deep resentment of his part. Moreover, put many of the citizens of Athens in doubt as some of their original beliefs and values where shattered.


Starting from 24b, Socrates defends himself against the late or formal accusations made by Meletus, Anytos, and Lycon. One of the charges is that he does not believe in the gods in whom the city believes in. Now that his accusers are present and known, he calls on Meletus and cross-examines him. He begins then questioning Meletus about his accusations in order to show him that he is not making sense. He has two arguments to prove his points first, he asks Meletus if he is accusing him of not believing in the city gods, or if not believing in the gods of the city at all in 26c. His second argument is how he can be accused of teaching others about the gods, when he himself is considered as an atheist. He questions Meleus in 27b “Does any man, Meletus, believe in human activities who does not believe in humans?” It is obvious that Socrates wants to prove that what Meletus is saying does not stand to reason and illogical; that way he is making Meletus’ accusations look ridiculous and not well thought through. Socrates proves spiritual things, and therefore believes in gods, but he did not prove that he believes in the right gods either! As a defense to his second charge of corrupting the youth of the city “that man Socrates is a pestilential fellow who corrupts the youth.” Socrates also questions Meletus to embarrass him not in order to prove his point. His argument, in a sarcastic way, was that it was impossible for everyone in Athens to be improving the youth except for him. His defense was not to show that he was innocent, but to prove that there are others who are also corrupting the youth. He then gives the example of horse breeders only them can train the horses, the same goes for the youth only a few can “train” and improve them and Socrates makes part of them contrary to Meletus’ asserts. The questioning continues to Socrates being a harmful man to the society, Socrates replies as being part of the society he would be harming himself as well and no one would want to hurt themselves and even if he is, he should not be punished rather educated and shown the right way. And if he has corrupted the youth why haven’t they learned their mistake and moved along, why are they here in the courtroom supporting him – naming Plato being present – and by his side?


To conclude we notice that the relationship between the charges is that they are all exaggerations and lies; these accusers have charged Socrates because he thinks he is superior to all of them. He believes he is wise and that he possesses human wisdom, which is the open awareness of his own ignorance. He claims to be wiser than a lot of people, because he is aware he knows nothing. Socrates goes around examining people to prove they know nothing about virtue. This has lead Meletos, Anytos, and Lycon to lie about the charges and gain recognition for standing and accusing the wisest man in Athens as the Oracle has stated. Over and above, the tacit charges have influenced the jury decision on the formal charges: him being accused of what all the other philosophers are accused of: that he investigates things beneath the earth and in the skies and making the weaker argument appear the stronger in addition to that, Socrates’ reputation of being the wisest man in Athens arising from a trustworthy Oracle at Delphi put him a position of hatred and resentment from everyman in Athens. These reasons are enough to make a jury have a background of the man they will deal with but, that is not it, he was also faced by formal charges making his case sound unsolvable before its commencement. Finally, we can say that Socrates defense was inadequate, for he knows how to play with words and is capable of turning the table around. He is always in control of the conversation. What has also helped him was that his accuser was not serious and had no proof of anything for which he accused Socrates as he has proved it during his defense. Socrates however gives effective argument and examples, and rather than to prove he’s innocent, he demonstrates the wrong doing of his accusers. As a deduction, he was found guilty by the jury at first by a small margin then hearing his counter-assessment their decision was sentencing him to death.


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