Plato's 'Apology': Summary & Concepts

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Bertrand Russell's 'The Problems of Philosophy': Summary & Ideas

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 On Trial for Your Life
  • 0:40 A Life of Philosophy
  • 1:40 The Charges
  • 2:54 Who Is the Wisest?
  • 4:13 The Sentence
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed Audio mode

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies, the study of American history/society/culture. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer.

Learn about the life of Socrates from the account of his trial, recorded by Plato. Consider how Socrates refuted the charges against him using the same approach he took to his craft.

On Trial for Your Life

Imagine you are a philosopher, and you are on trial in a legal system you find to be unjust. At your trial, you make your best effort to defend yourself. You feel you've been living a life of service by contributing to the search for knowledge, but you're ultimately deemed a criminal just for practicing your craft.

In this lesson, you'll imagine what it would be like to be in the shoes of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. An account of Socrates' speech at his trial is recorded in Apology, written by his follower Plato.

A Life of Philosophy

Since the name of Plato's text is Apology, you might assume that somewhere in the account of his speech, Socrates is sorry for his actions. This is not the case at all. In this context, the word apology has the meaning of an explanation or defense, not an apology where you confess your guilt and say you're sorry. Instead, Socrates defends the life he's led.

So, what kind of life has it been? Socrates was known for engaging those around him in dialogue; conversations in which he asked questions to shed light on topics like, 'What does it mean for something to be good?'. He encouraged the other person to question their own assumptions as they considered these topics. Socrates particularly wanted his students to learn to think for themselves. To top it off, he provided these services at no cost.

The Charges

So, what were the criminal charges against Socrates, who gave a lot of time to these conversations with those who wanted to learn from him?

He was accused of corrupting the youth and of impiety, a lack of respect for what is considered sacred. At this time in Greek history, his philosophical questions went against the grain of society. He also made a number of people look foolish in the process of his questioning them. Some people were not happy about this.

We use Plato's Apology here as an introduction to philosophical thought. This is because the actions of Socrates are what we now consider to be some of the main activities of philosophy, such as asking questions and considering all possibilities. Imagine all philosophy professors lined up to go to trial simply for engaging their students in conversations to get them to think more critically.

What's particularly interesting about his defense is that Socrates uses the trial itself as an opportunity to demonstrate his methods, asking questions and engaging in a dialogue with his accusers.

Who Is the Wisest?

You might be thinking that Socrates sounds like he was a pretty smart cookie, at least based on how Plato chose to represent him in his writing. So, did Socrates think he was wiser than other people?

He discusses this topic at length in his defense. Years before, an oracle had prophesied that no one would be wiser than Socrates. This prediction was strange to Socrates because he was not knowledgeable in a number of areas. In fact, Socrates thought he was ignorant in many respects. But as he learned over time, through conversations, most people wise in certain areas assume that they're also wise in areas about which they know very little.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it now

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 220 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account