An Apology for Lawyers: Socrates and the Ethics of Persuasion

By Clark, Sherman J. | Michigan Law Review, April 2019 | Go to article overview

An Apology for Lawyers: Socrates and the Ethics of Persuasion


Clark, Sherman J., Michigan Law Review


Apology of Socrates, in Six Great Dialogues: Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Phaedrus, Symposium, and The Republic. By Plato. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. New York: Charles Scribner & Co. 1871. (Tom Crawford ed., Dover Publications, Inc. 2007). Pp. v, 460. $5.

I. The Modern Relevance of an Ancient Speech

The work we know as Plato's Apology might better be called Socrates' Self-Defense. It is Plato's account of what Socrates said to the Athenian jurors when he, Socrates, was on trial for his life. The term ánoXoyla (apologia) means not so much apology as "speech in defense" or even "explanation." But whatever we call it, I do not suggest that we read this speech for practical advice on criminal defense strategy-and not just because Socrates lost his case. Although Socrates does offer indirect illustrations of the art of persuasion, much of what he says makes little sense if seen merely as an effort to secure acquittal. This Review is not "practice tips from Plato." Rather, I suggest that contemporary lawyers and political actors should read the Apology to help us appreciate the risks and responsibilities that attend persuasive speech. In particular, Socrates can help us think better about not just what we persuade people to do but also what it is we do to people when we persuade.

I recognize that a Review like this, in times like these, may seem to come from a particularly remote ivory tower. Not to put too fine a point on it, but American democracy is at risk under a troubling administration, hatred and xenophobia are on the rise, and severe long-term problems are going largely unaddressed. And I suggest that lawyers read Plato? Yes. Because one thing exacerbating these pressing problems is the way we speak to and argue with one another. I do not mean mere civility. The impact of speech is not primarily a consequence of the gentility with which it is delivered; and strong words sometimes suit. Nor do I mean simply honesty-although the truthfulness of what we say matters more than the politeness with which we say it. I hope here to highlight a set of concerns about the impact of our speech that are deeper than mere civility or even honesty. Following Socrates, I suggest that the way we speak, particularly when we seek to persuade, can play a role in forming the character of our listeners. Arguments are, in that sense, potentially constitutive. As Socrates describes and demonstrates, how we speak to people can influence how they think about themselves and their world. And that in turn can influence whether and how they thrive.

An obvious contemporary case in point is how our current president may be nurturing hatred and xenophobia-engendering traits as harmful to the holders as to the larger community-through how he speaks and argues. But this is not just about Trump. All of us should consider how our arguments may influence our listeners. This will not be easy. One of the bracing lessons of the Apology is just how difficult and potentially intractable the problem is-how the occasions for our speech often make it difficult to attend to the constitutive consequences of what we say and how hard it is to figure out how to address those consequences. But if we listen carefully, Socrates can help.

One obstacle to listening carefully is that Socrates spoke in Ancient Greek. There are of course numerous English translations available.1 But some phrases have layers that matter; so some of what follows will require attention to the original Greek.

II.With Great Persuasive Power Comes Great Responsibility

The formal charges against Socrates were corrupting the youth and not believing in the right gods (APOLOGIA, p. 24b8-c1; Jowett Translation, p. 7)-serious charges potentially punishable by death. Socrates' speech, however, is not merely a defense against these specific charges. Rather, he offers an account of how he lived and why. In the process, he eschews some arguments and strategies that might have gotten him off the hook-or at least enabled him to escape death. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

An Apology for Lawyers: Socrates and the Ethics of Persuasion
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.