Socrates was guilty.

Toward the end of his life, Socrates stood trial on the charges of disbelief in the gods, corrupting the youth, and (humorously) “making the worse argument seem the stronger”. The whole trial is recounted in one of Plato’s dialogues, (named ‘Apology’). Socrates was convicted of all charges, and the penalty was death.

It’s standard fare to hear that Socrates was wrongly convicted, suffered under an unjust ruling, and was martyred for the cause of philosophy. “He was innocent”, you hear.

Well, that’s wrong. Socrates was rightly convicted; he was guilty. Absolutely guilty of the charges, and I can prove it. I can prove that he even very likely lied in the courtroom.

Everybody has heard the line that Socrates is famous for: “I know that I know nothing”—his famous, seemingly contradictory, disavowal of knowledge. Of course, it’s not a contradiction because Socrates is equivocating on the word ‘knowledge’. Here’s what he says,

So, the equivocation is apparent. There’s two kinds of knowledge: (1) What we usually call “metaphysical” knowledge, and (2) what we usually call “moral” knowledge. And it is clear that Socrates’ disavowal is a disavowal of metaphysical knowledge—not moral knowledge. Herein lies the snub to the gods. To know that you know nothing about the gods is to know that you don’t certainly believe in them.

Charge of impiety: Guilty.

Next charge: corrupting the youth…

Socrates makes multiple claims in the same dialogue to have been bestowed various truths by the gods. If you want to look them up, here’s the references to paragraphs: 30a5, 31d, 33c4. He even claims to have a divine voice in his head, that he calls a “daimon”. What do you make of someone who claims divine inspiration, but also has been shown not to believe in the gods? —A faker.

Charge of corruption: Guilty.

I am a river.

I think anyone willing to die for a belief system is usually retarded.

I’d think it’s possible to believe in Gods while not presuming to know anything about them. That is, to believe, rather than know, they exist. Lots of theists seem to treat God and his behavior as incomprehensible.

Anyway, I always kind of took his “I know that I know nothing” quote to imply a lack of certainty rather than a lack of belief.

I pretty much agree with this. I think you’ve vindicated Socrates from my renewed attacks. I was going to say that you can’t very well believe in the gods if you don’t know anything that’s said about the gods. But I think that would confuse knowing what’s said about the gods (by people) with knowing what the gods actually do. Socrates can know all of the stories about the gods, but not know if they’re true, but believe that they are. And the difference between belief and knowledge is degree of certitude.

Although, Socrates does claim to be divinely inspired, and yet claims to have no metaphysical knowledge (i.e., knowledge of the gods). Either he’s lying about being divinely inspired, or not justified in claiming that he is, or he is snubbing the gods by either making himself one, or putting them on our level. I just don’t think this is enough for a conviction on impiety.

However, why would someone who has no metaphysical knowledge claim to believe in a metaphysical claim—namely, about the existence of gods. It’s not justified, even if ‘belief’ requires less certitude. If you know nothing about the realm of the gods, then you surely don’t know if there are even such things as gods. More importantly, you haven’t even the slightest reason to believe one thing rather than another. Hence, I think he’s corrupt—and corrupting the youth for that matter.

That’s surely false. Many people died fighting for the belief that the Nazis were in the wrong.

The last is a humorous charge, but I agree with it. I don’t see it as an issue for the courts, but I have always found him guilty of this - at least as he is presented in texts he did not write.

Thanks for this. I actually did not know the context of this quote that has always bothered me, especially how it is used these days.

Is a lack of certainty, however, a disbelief?

It seems to me he is disvowing knowledge of said deities, but not necessarily belief in them, which is generally distinguished from knowledge.

Of course he was rightly convicted of the charges! He was guilty of them, it’s just a few thousand years later he was not, hell a few hundred.