Crito meets Socrates in his prison cell as he awakens early in the morning. He has been waiting for a fair time, not wishing to disturb Socrates's peaceful slumber, which he assumes based on his own feelings would be more pleasant than being awake and contemplating his own execution. Socrates says that he is an old man, and that it would be unbecoming of him to resent his fate.
Socrates is scheduled to be executed upon the arrival of a ship from Delos, and Crito has learned that it will arrive that very day, bringing on Socrates's execution the next day. Socrates says it may be for the best, pleasing the gods, but he has had a dream that indicates that the ship will arrive the next day, and that he would arrive the day after "at fertile Phthia." This is an allusion to the Iliad, where Phthia is symbolic of home.
Crito now tells Socrates that he can save him, and that it would be a discredit to himself if he were not willing to spend the money do do so, meaning that he values money more highly than his friends. He notes that it would be hard to convince people that Socrates would decide on his own not to leave.
Socrates asks Crito why he should be concerned about the opinion of the majority, since reasonable people would understand what really happened. Crito replies that there are practical consequences of disregarding what the majority thinks, as they can inflict the greatest of evils, as is happening to Socrates. Socrates responds by saying that if they can inflict the greatest evils, they can also capable of the greatest good. But the greatest good would be to make a man wise, and the greatest evil to make a man foolish. The majority can do neither.
Now Crito reassures Socrates that no harm will come to him if he gets Socrates out of jail. And even if it would, he and his friends would find the risk justified. Socrates says that he has these things in mind. Crito responds that it wouldn't cost much, and that he has plenty of money. And other of Socrates's supporters have offered money as well, so Socrates has no need to be concerned. He could be taken from Athens to Thessaly, where Crito's friends would keep Socrates safe.
Having said this, Crito turns his attention to the moral issue of Socrates's death, claiming that it is not right for Socrates to allow himself to be executed. It would be playing into the hands of his enemies and betraying his sons, whom he could otherwise bring up and educate. People should not have children if they are not going to bring them up if they can. Crito accuses Socrates of taking the easiest path, while he should, because of his concern for virtue, choose the path "a good and courageous man would choose."
Crito then returns to the consequences for himself and his friends. They would be thought cowardly for having allowed the trial to occur in the first place, having allowed it to be conducted as it was, and not saving Socrates. So a decision by Socrates to allow his own execution would be :not only evil, but shameful, both for you and for us." Crito adds that this is Socrates's last chance to get away.
Socrates discounts Crito's enthusiasm, wanting only to pursue what seems to him to be the best argument. He says that nothing has changed in that regard: the same arguments seem best to him. No threats by the majority would change his mind. Socrates suggests that they begin with the question of which opinions of men are sound, and which should be paid attention to. The answer is that it is the good opininons, of wise men, that should be valued.
Socrates makes an analogy with someone in physical training. He should take seriously only the opinion of his doctor and trainer, who know how he should be training. It brings harm to his body to disobey them and follow the opinions of the many. Now the comparison is made with actions involving values, just and unjust, shameful and beautful, good and bad. If there is anyone who knows of these things, we should follow that person's opinions and not those of the many. If we ruin ourselves, then life is not worth living, both with respect to the body and "that part of us" that is harmed by unjust action and benefitted by just action. In fact, that part of us is much more valuable, so we should not "think so much" of the opinion of the majority, but only about those who understand the values in the question. Socrates acknowledges that the many can put him to death. Here he states what is implicit in what was already said, that it is the good life, not mere life itself, that is the most important thing. The good life is the same as the beautiful and the just life.
Is it right for Socrates to escape against the will of the majority, given what has been agreed to above? Socrates says that if it is seen to be right to escape, then he will do it. First, he dismisses the practical concerns about money, children, reputation, etc. as the concern only of the majority. The only issue is whether the act of escaping is just or unjust.
Socrates calls to mind his past agreement with Crito that we must never do wrong willingly. This is true whether the majority agrees with it or not. A consequence is that one must not answer a wrong act inflicted on him with a wrong act of his own. One should never injure anyone, even in return for an injury inflicted on him. Injuring people is always a wrongdoing. Socrates notes that there is no common ground between people who disagree on this point, and that they "inevitably despise each other's views." Crito agrees that he will stick to his past agreement with Socrates.
The next point is crucial in the remainder. It is agreed that when one has come to a just agreement, one should fulfill it. Socrates personifies "the laws and the state" of Athens as a party to a just agreeement he has made. If he were to leave, he would be destroying the laws and the city. The individual would be nullifying the laws. The response would be that the city has wronged Socrates and the decision is not right.
Now the key question arises as to what is wrong in this case, the agreement between Socrates and the law or the judgments the city came to. Here Socrates, speaking on behalf of the laws and city, enumerates the terms of the agreement. The city gave you birth by marrying his parents; it nurtured him when a baby and gave him an education. So Socrates is the city's "offspring and servant." In that case, what the city does to Socrates is right for them to do, but it is not right for Socrates to do anything to the city, as they are not on an equal footing. Another analogy is made between the city and parents and masters. The city has even more right not to be retaliated against than they. Socrates's options are to persuade the city or obey its orders, whether it beats him, enslaves him, or sends him off to war to be wounded or killed.
The voice of the laws continues. Every citizen is free to go where he chooses, keeping his property. But if one remains, in full knowledge of how the city's business is conducted, one has entered into "an agreement with us to obey our instructions." So the only two options are to persuade or obey. Socrates has specifically made an even stronger commitment to the agreement, as he had always stayed there and had no desire to leave. He had children in the city. At the trial, he could have chosen exile, which is in effect what he would be choosing if he escaped. But he preferred death to exile. If he were to escape, he would be shamelesss, acting like "the meanest kind of slave, trying to run away, contrary to your undertakings and your agreement to live as a citizen under us."
It is not that the breaking of the agreement was under time-pressure, as Socrates lived in the city for seventy years. He always said the city was well-governed, and compared non-Athenians to handicapped people. This is by virtue of the laws, "for what city can please without laws?"
There would be practical consequences for Socrates's friends, and if he went to a well-governed city, he would be received as an enemy. He would also strengthen the belief in the minds of the jury that they did the right thing. Anyone who destroys the laws is indeed a corruptor of youth. If he goes to uncivilized cities, his life will not be worth living. Moreover, he could not say any more, without appearing to be an unseemly kind of person, that one must live virtuously and justly, obeying the laws. If he goes to Thessaly, he will find the most disorder. These people might enjoy hearing of his escape, but they would say many bad things about him if he annoyed them. What would the conversations with these people be about? Not virtue and justice. How will the children be brought up? In a bad place like Thessaly? And besides, Crito's friends would look after them if they stayed in Athens after Socrates's death.
The laws summarize their position. Value goodness more than you life or your children. If you escape, it will not be any better f here or for you in the afterlife. If you were wronged, it was by men, not the laws. If you shamefully return wrong for wrong and break the contract, the laws will be angry at you and their brother-laws in the underworld will be too.
Socrates concludes by saying that the words of the laws echo in his ears, and he can hear nothing else. Crito can say nothing against the arguments Socrates has brought forward. Socrates reiterates his decision and says that this is the way the god is leading them.
G. J. Mattey's Philosophy 21 Home Page