Persons of the Dialogue : Socrates and Crito
Scene : The Prison of Socrates
This dialogue takes place in the jail where Socrates awaits execution. The dialogue is a debate between Socrates and Crito about whether Socrates should escape. As the dialogue opens, Crito has arrived at the prison before dawn and sits by the bedside of Socrates, still asleep. When Socrates awakens, he tells Crito of a dream he has had. A woman in his dream implies that Socrates will soon find his home. Death is forthcoming. Crito tells Socrates that he can use his influence and money to help Socrates escape. Crito is afraid that other people will think he should have done more to save Socrates’ life. Socrates admonishes Crito no to value the opinion of the many, but of the few good men worth considering. Crito suggests Socrates is acting out of regard for him and other friends, and argues that Socrates is, en effect, committing suicide and betraying his children. Crito accuses Socrates of taking the easy way out and tells him that others will think him cowardly if he does not escape.
Socrates counters that he cannot disobey the laws of Athens after Athens has granted him certain rights and has protected him. He cannot defy the laws for his own convenience. He argues that he cannot put away the reasons he has honored for 70 years, unless there is good reason to do so. Socrates claims that one should only regard the opinions of the good, not the evil. He uses the analogy of the student of gymnastics that is supposed to listen to one man and ignore the many. Otherwise he will harm his body. The just man must only listen to the understanding. Otherwise, he will harm his soul. Socrates says that first they must determine if escape is the right thing to do. If Crito can convince him, he will escape. Otherwise, he will not. First, Socrates argues that one should never do wrong intentionally and return evil for evil or wrong for wrong. Therefore, just because the sentence is unjust, if escaping is wrong, he must remain in jail. Socrates imagines the government appearing before him to interrogate him. They charge him with overturning them that a State cannot exist if the decisions of law have no power but are set aside by an individual. They talk about an agreement between him and the State to obey the laws, regardless of whether he receives justice or not. Socrates then compares the laws to one’s parents. Just because a parent strikes a child, the child does not have the right to strike the parent. Further, he argues that the State is to be held higher and holier than mother or father. One must do what the State commands or change the State’s view of what is just. By remaining in the State and existing under its laws, one enters into an implied contract to follow these laws for three reasons…
(1) in disobeying the laws, one is disobeying one’s parents
(2) the State is the author of one’s education
(3) one has made an arrangement with the State to obey its commands.
Socrates could have had an agreement with the jury to fix the sentence at banishment but he said he preferred death to exile. Socrates tells Crito not to think of life and children first and of justice afterwards.
Socrates then asks Crito if he has any other argument to make. Crito responds that he does not. Socrates asks Crito to let him fulfill the will of God and to follow wherever he leads.
This dialogue reflects Socrates’ teaching on moral obligation and duty. Early in the dialogue, Crito expresses admiration about the fact that Socrates is at peace about his coming execution. He accepts his fate. When discussing the opinions of others, Socrates uses argument by analogy," where he compares two things that are different on the surface but, similar in some important areas. Socrates compares athletes who care about improving their athletic performance with those who care about the improvement of the soul. Socrates argues that he and Crito must only listen to those who are knowledgeable about the issues at hand, namely justice, fairness, and the ultimate good. Having established that the good life is equal to a just and honorable life, the justice or injustice of escaping the law’s judgment is the only issue to be considered and all of Crito’s personal arguments for escape are set aside. Socrates states that making a conscious choice to remain under the influence of a society, is an unconscious agreement with that society to live one’s life by its standards and virtues. We see throughout the dialogue that Socrates emphasizes that the law should be either followed or challenged, but never ignored…on the other hand, his contempt for public opinion and injustice is evident. At the end of the dialogue Socrates states that, if he refuses to die, he will be disobeying the law…but it is not the law that is unjust, it is the men. Socrates reinforces the importance of respecting the laws as the foundation of society. Otherwise our system of values and justice is subject to collapse.
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