Why was Socrates put on trial

The official charges on which Socrates was tried were impiety and corrupting the youth. Meletus, his chief accuser, claimed that Socrates was subversive, undermining the authority of the state and its Gods with his unorthodox philosophizing. Furthermore, he encouraged other young citizens to follow his example with disrespectful questioning of established truths and figures.

Reader: You say 'official' charges. I suppose that this means there were 'unofficial' reasons that you will tell us about? Do you mean that the official reasons were not the real reasons?

However, as Socrates states in his defence, it is not logically possible for him to be impious. He cannot believe in divine actions and not believe in divinities; this is a contradiction. He frequently refers to his own 'God' [and. ..] Socrates always participated in the city's religious ceremonies. Also it is not sensible to accuse Socrates of knowingly corrupting the youth. This is based on the assumption that no intelligent person would ever wish to corrupt those around them because, among other things, they would be causing themselves harm. Either he does not corrupt them at all or he does so unwittingly.

Reader: So, since you are suggesting that Socrates was a great and intelligent philosopher only concerned with getting at the truth (and you assume that your reader would agree with that), who would not want to harm anyone, then you want us to agree that, of course, these charges were false. So I see what you are about to say . . .

Socrates clearly was not put on trial for these reasons alone.

Reader: No, of course not. Obviously, as your reader I agree with your 'clearly'. So what were the real reasons?

The motives of those responsible for the trial of Socrates were not documented in the official charges. It was rather the controversy that Socrates aroused and the instability that this threatened that caused his trial. Athens having just recovered from the prolonged war with Sparta, in which they were defeated, was a very delicate democracy. A man with as much influence as Socrates was too dangerous to keep within a community that was struggling to rebuild itself.

Reader: Oh I see. As you suggested at the beginning, there were other reasons for his trial. But I don't understand quite why he was considered 'dangerous'?

The reasons for Socrates' trial therefore cannot be confined to any acts of civil disobedience that he may or may not have been guilty of, but rather the convincing way in which his philosophical attacks (which he considered to be innocent) destabilized an already fragile society, fearful of further disintegration and unrest.

Reader: Oh I see, so there might have been a bit of truth in the 'official' reason but that certainly wasn't the real reason he was put on trial. Obviously, no city in that situation can put up with being undermined. Thank you for explaining it so clearly!

This essay sets out the 'official' position for the trial. It goes on to refute this position and ends with a statement that sums up the writer's claim to know the truth about this question.

Here we have been imagining a reader who tries to understand what you want to say and it is always worth thinking about different kinds of readers, those you can imagine as well as the actual reader - who will be the tutor who also marks your essay. In the next section we see how a writer imagines and then constructs the 'reader' of his work, as a means of persuasion.

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