Q:

Why was Socrates charged with impiety?

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Quick Answer

Socrates' enemies charged him with impiety because they saw him as a political liability; his philosophy contradicted the foundations of Athenian democracy, and two of his disciples were the primary instigators of revolts against the democracy in 411 and 404 B.C. Many of the notable men of the city detested Socrates because his manner of dialectical conversation caused them public embarrassment. Socrates also held religious views unorthodox for the time.

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Full Answer

Part of the charge against Socrates was his alleged disbelief in the gods of Athens. Contrary to what many of his detractors asserted, Socrates was not an atheist. But he did not believe in the traditional view of the Greek pantheon. Socrates believed that there was a single God, and he did not believe in a flawed, reproachable God like those depicted in Greek mythology.

Despite the claims of impiety, Socrates' indictment was politically motivated. Socrates did not believe in democracy. He believed that the wise should govern, and he did not think that the people at large had sufficient virtue or wisdom.

Socrates felt that it was democracy that led to Athens' downfall during the Peloponnesian War. He viewed Sparta as having a more exemplary form of government. Two of Socrates' disciples, Alibiades and Critias, led insurrections against the Athenian democracy. Athens' democratic leaders saw Socrates as a cause of political unrest.

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