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Notes and Fragments PROBABILITY AND TRUTH IN THE APOLOGY by Steven Nadler Kenneth SEESKIN claims in "Is the Apology of Socrates a Parody?" that Socrates does indeed parody Gorgian rhetoric in his defense against the charges brought against him by the Athenians. Despite the similarities of structure and content, Professor Seeskin argues, the "true" rhetoric of Socrates is to be distinguished from the "base" rhetoric of a Gorgias or a Tisias. The Athenian jurors, however, were unable to make this distinction and catch the parody, and thus wrongly determined the rhetoric of Socrates to be that of a "verbal wizard" attempting to charm them. The basis of Professor Seeskin's claim is that Socrates, as a "true" rhetorician, is concerned with the truth, and puts the Gorgian "tools" to work for a purpose opposite of that for which they were originally intended . The "base" rhetorician, such as Gorgias, is concerned with inducing belief by means of probabilities. In his discussion of Gorgias' defense of Palamedes (who was falsely accused of treason) Seeskin notes, "Although the Palamedes strikes us as a ponderous speech, its basic line of argument became so widespread that it is possible to view it as a paradigm of sophistical oratory. Again and again, the speaker tries to show that it would be implausible to suppose that anyone in his position did what he is accused of doing. How could I? Why would I?"1 The "crux" ofbase rhetoric, according to Seeskin, is its appeal to probability . The base rhetorician will ask thejury members to weigh, in accordance with their prejudices and beliefs, the chances that the accused might have done in the circumstances what he is accused of doing. The jury is supposed to decide that it is unlikely that such an act was committed by such a person under such conditions. 198 Steven Nadler199 The "clue" that Socrates' rhetoric is not an example of this kind of oratory, despite the technical similarities, is that Socrates is not concerned with what such a rhetorician would be concerned with. "If Plato had imitated Gorgias to the letter, he would have written a defense of Socrates which made ample use of the argument from probability. . . . [Socrates] employed Gorgias' techniques but did so not to establish the probability of his innocence, but the truth about his life."2 I wish to argue, however, that Socrates does, indeed, often appeal to probability as a means of inducing belief on the part of his accusers, and that he does so with the aim of proving that it is highly unlikely, given the circumstances, that he is guilty of those "crimes" of which he is accused. Indeed, it is only with regard to the expressed charges brought against him that he employs this method. When it comes to what appear to be the real reasons behind the resentment that brought him to trial, it is here that he turns to the "truth about his life." The immediate pretexts on which Socrates is being tried are those brought forth by Meletus: "Socrates is guilty of corrupting the young and of not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in other new divinities."3 With regard to the first charge, Socrates makes use of the same appeal to probability that Seeskin insists is characteristic of base rhetoric. After having Meletus admit that it is better for a man to live among good, rather than wicked, fellow-citizens on the grounds that the wicked do some harm to those who are closest to them; and that no man would rather be harmed than benefited by his associates, Socrates argues that it is thus improbable that he would deliberately try to corrupt the young and "make them worse": What follows, Meletus? Are you so much wiser at your age than I am at mine that you understand that wicked people always do harm to their closest neighbors while good people do them good, but I have reached such a pit of ignorance that I do not realize this, namely that if I make one of my associates wicked I run the risk of being harmed by him so that I do such a great...


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pp. 198-202
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