A Note on Apologetics

One of the first exercises I was given when I began learning Greek was to practice my pronunciation by reading aloud the opening lines of Plato’s 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 is 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 (Or, I am certain that I am right in taking this course.): 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 excuse 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. 

Thus (reportedly) begins Socrates in his defense before his Athenian audience. True to his Greek form, Socrates’ opening is long and verbose, but also clever. 
Over the weekend I read the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre‘s fascinating lecture “Existentialism is a Humanism.” It was interesting reading, to say the least, but I couldn’t help but notice how Sartre began his lecture. It’s one sentence, but it sets the tone for the entire discourse.

My purpose here is to defend existentialism against some charges that have been brought against it.

Thus Carol Macomber translates Sartre’s opening line in the 2007 Yale edition of his text. But Sartre does more to begin than merely saying he’s going to defend existentialism. He then immediately describes specific criticisms of existentialism that he’s encountered from both philosophical and religious opponents. The rest of the lecture is then spent by Sartre answering these objections and further explaining his ideas.
So, we have two famous and important philosophical discourses some 2000 years apart that both begin with the speaker basically saying, “I am here today because I feel obliged to defend my ideas from criticism.”
For reasons best explained by Daniel C. Peterson, I think Latter-day Saints should also not be reticent to defend their beliefs.

1 thought on “A Note on Apologetics

  1. I would love to learn to speak like what you posted. And use the older language over modern language. I have not been able to put much time into it. One day.

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