Unforgettable speeches: the Apology of Socrates #

The Apology of Socrates is not about saying sorry but it is one of the great speeches in the history of philosophy. The Greek philosopher defends himself against his accusers and ultimately invites them to condemn him to death. Why does he do that? Find out this week on The Philosopher’s Zone.

Transcript #

Alan Saunders: Hello, and welcome to The Philosopher’s Zone; I’m Alan Saunders.

Reading: The Apology of Socrates

How you, O Athenians, have been affected by my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that they almost made me forget who I was, so persuasively did they speak; and yet they have hardly uttered a word of truth. But of the many falsehoods told by them, there was one which quite amazed me; I mean when they said that you should be upon your guard and not allow yourselves to be deceived by the force of my eloquence. To say this, when they were certain to be detected as soon as I opened my lips and proved myself to be anything but a great speaker, did indeed appear to me most shameless, unless by the force of eloquence they mean the force of truth; for if such is their meaning, I admit that I am eloquent. But in how different a way from theirs! Well, as I was saying, they have scarcely spoken the truth at all; but from me you shall hear the whole truth: not, however, delivered after their manner in a set oration duly ornamented with words and phrases. No, by heaven! but I shall use the words and arguments which occur to me at the moment; for I am confident in the justice of my cause: at my time of life I ought not to be appearing before you, O men of Athens, in the character of a juvenile orator, let no one expect it of me. And I must beg of you to grant me a favour. If I defend myself in my accustomed manner, and you hear me using the words which I have been in the habit of using in the agora, at the tables of the money-changers, or anywhere else, I would ask you not to be surprised, and not to interrupt me on this account. For I am more than seventy years of age, and appearing now for the first time in a court of law, I am quite a stranger to the language of the place; and therefore I would have you regard me as if I were really a stranger, whom you would accuse if he spoke in his native tongue, and after the fashion of his country. Am I making an unfair request of you? Never mind the manner, which may or may not be good, but think only of the truth of my words, and give heed to that: let the speaker speak truly and the judge decide justly.

Nobel Prize Winner apologises: #

In a remarkable display of humility, Dr Frances Arnold, who won the Nobel prize in chemistry in 2018, came forward herself to let her followers know that a 2019 paper of hers had been retracted.

“For my first work-related tweet of 2020, I am totally bummed to announce that we have retracted last year’s paper on enzymatic synthesis of beta-lactams,”

It is painful to admit, but important to do so. I apologize to all. I was a bit busy when this was submitted, and did not do my job well.

In doing so, Arnold has mastered the art of a good apology: one that doesn’t veer into excusing oneself; that gives context where relevant; but accepts full responsibility and moves on.

In return, she has been thanked for her honesty.

Dr Betül Kacar, an astrobiologist from the University of Arizona, tweeted: “This is the hardest thing, and what a true scientist does. Thank you for setting the record straight.”

Jonathan P Dowling, an academic from Louisiana State University, replied: “You did the right thing! All we scientists are human. What makes us scientists is our means to find our mistakes.”