Socrates’ discussion with Meletus stems from Meletus leading the prosecution against Socrates. Socrates is charged with “corrupting the youth and of not believing in the gods in who the city believes, but in other new spiritual things. ” During his trial, Socrates is given the chance to defend himself against the accusations. Socrates argues that the charges against him are contradictory and incoherent. Socrates begins by attacking Meletus, using Meletus’ charge that Socrates is the only person in Athens who is not beneficial to the youth, that he is the only corrupter.
Socrates points out that Meletus had never show any concern for the youth until he had the opportunity for a big trial. This is a valid point that Socrates makes and it points out the ridiculousness of the proceedings. Socrates then traps Meletus into confirming that a man is better off living among good people rather than wicked, corrupted people. He does this by saying that wicked people do harm to the people closest to them while good people do good to those closest to them.
Meletus agrees with this which leads Socrates to the point that no person would willingly choose to live among the wicked as it would cause him harm. With this being the case Socrates argues that he cannot be validly charged with willingly corrupting the youth as it would only do he harm. And if he is corrupting the youth, he is not doing it willing. IF this is the case, there is no need for a trial and punishment. Socrates states that if he is unwillingly corrupting the youth, it is necessary to correct him rather than punish him. Socrates gives Meletus too options.
Either he is not corrupting the youth (as that would cause him harm, or he is doing it unwillingly. Either way, neither option is a crime worth of death. With this argument, Socrates is able to invalidate the charge of corrupting the youth. It is clear by Socrates description of the wording of the charges that the charges are illogical and serve no basis for a conviction. Socrates then moves to the charge of not believing in the gods in who the city believes, but in other new spiritual things. Socrates points out that Meletus is accusing him of atheism.
The problem with this accusation however, is that the charge is of teaching “new spiritual things”. How is Socrates to teach of spiritual things if he himself is an atheist? Logically, teaching spiritual things requires knowledge of those things. If Socrates was an atheist as accused, he would not be teaching things he had no knowledge of. Therefore, it is contradictory to accuse Socrates of both teaching spiritual things and not believing in them. Meletus was trapped by this argument because if it was true, and Socrates is an atheist, there is no basis in the charges.
However, if Socrates was teaching spiritual things outside of the Athenian gods, Meletus would have to avoid the atheist label completely. He could have defended the charge by saying that Socrates did believe in the gods, both the Athenian and other gods. Teaching of other gods could be considered corrupting the youth because they are not gods recognized by the Athenians who make the laws. While it was a lost cause, Socrates was able to logically prove that there was no basis for the charges against him and that they were just a spectacle put on by Meletus. The discussion definitely helps Socrates case for innocence.