Plato's Crito

UC Davis Philosophy 21

G. J. Mattey

  • Philosophy 21
  • Fall, 2004
  • G. J. Mattey
  • Socrates will be executed in two or three days unless Crito and his other friends arrange his escape and exile from Athens
  • Money is no object, and he can take refuge in Thessaly
  • Crito says he would be thought shameful by the majority if he did not help Socrates when he had the means
  • He is willing to run the risk of reprisal
Who is to Judge?
  • Crito claims that the opinion of the majority is important, as they can do great harm
  • Socrates disagrees
    • We should pay more attention to the opinions of reasonable people
    • The majority can do no great harm because they can do no great good, since they cannot make a person foolish or wise, but only inflict things haphazardly
  • Crito says it would not be just for Socrates not to save himself as his enemies wish
    • He is betraying his sons, whom he could educate
    • Someone who is not committed to his childrens well-being should not have them
    • Socrates is choosing the easiest path, not the path that the courageous man, concerned with virtue, would choose
    • He is also making his friends look bad for not allowing them to save him
  • One should value the opinion of one who has knowledge over that of the many
  • The professional athlete should most value the opinion of the doctor or trainer
  • If he does not, he will suffer harm
  • This holds for all other matters, especially those regarding justice, shame, and good
  • Life is not worth living for us if we are corrupted by unjust actions
The Good Life
  • Still, the majority can put one to death
  • But the most important thing is not life itself, but the good life, which is also the beautiful and just life
  • So the issue of escape turns on whether it is a just act, not what the majority would think about it
Two Wrongs
  • The issue is not the consequences of escaping or not, but of its justice
  • To do wrong willingly is always harmful and shameful to the wrongdoer
  • So, one must never answer a wrong act with a wrong act
  • There is no common ground between those who disagree on this point
  • If two people make a just agreement, they should fulfill it
  • Leaving Athens would be an abrogation of an agreement that would harm the other party
  • The laws of the city would be undermined if the verdicts of its courts have no force
The Laws
  • Law must be followed, whether it is justly or unjustly applied
  • Socrates has been the beneficiary of the laws
    • He was born, raised, and educated in the city
  • So it would be unjust to turn against its laws
  • It is more impious to bring violence against the city than to do so against ones parents
The Choices
  • The laws of Athens allow a citizen to leave freely with is property
  • To stay is to make a tacit agreement to obey the laws of the city
  • The laws are not oppressive: it is open to Socrates to argue for better ones
  • Socrates above all has made a strong agreement with the city
  • If Socrates escapes, bad things will happen
    • His friends will be in danger of many harms
    • He will be received as an enemy of law
      • If he finds an outlaw state, his life will not be worth living
    • His conviction will be vindicated
    • He will be disgraced
  • On the other hand, no harm will come to his children, as his friends will look after them
The Decision
  • Crito must agree with Socratess argument on behalf of the laws of Athens
  • He recognizes that facing death is the best choice
  • Socrates concludes that he is led to this decision by the god

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