One might ask; how can injuring an attacker not be harmful to him? To answer this, we must remember two things:
- Although, if given the opportunity, Socrates would have preferred to convince an attacker that his attack was unjust, in actuality, in a self-defense situation, there are only two options: either defend yourself or suffer the unjust attack.
- For Socrates, harm consists of comparing the various available options. Those options that fail to maximize a person's happiness over a lifetime are harms.
Since Socrates believes that the psyche is more precious than the body, ruining one's psyche by doing an injustice is worse than ruining the body. So, if it comes down to whether one should ruin an attacker’s body by injuring it or ruin an attacker’s psyche by doing an injustice, the harmful option is to not defend yourself and thus injury the attacker’s psyche.
Therefore, according to Socrates' theory of harm, if the attack is unjust, then physically wounding the attacker, perhaps even killing him, is not a harmful since life is not worth living with a corrupt psyche. If one believes he is no doing anything unjust, it follows that he believes he also not doing anything harmful.
Socrates thought that his physically engaging the enemy was unjust, but because he felt a stronger obligation to do as the state commanded, he did what he believed to be the lesser injustice. From the Apology, we see that Socrates believed that the dictates of the state do not take precedence over the dictates of justice. When commanded by the thirty tyrants to arrest Leon, Socrates disobeys, fails to explain his refusal to the tyrants, and simply goes home. However, he tells the jury that he did not arrest Leon because he believed it to be an unjust act and that "it mattered all the world to me that I should do nothing unjust or unholy."