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Part of the series on:
The Dialogues of Plato
Early dialogues:
ApologyCharmidesCrito
EuthyphroFirst Alcibiades
Hippias MajorHippias Minor
IonLachesLysis
Transitional & middle dialogues:
CratylusEuthydemusGorgias
MenexenusMenoPhaedo
ProtagorasSymposium
Later middle dialogues:
The RepublicPhaedrus
ParmenidesTheaetetus
Late dialogues:
TimaeusCritias
The SophistThe Statesman
PhilebusLaws
Of doubtful authenticity:
ClitophonEpinomis
EpistlesHipparchus
MinosRival Lovers
Second AlcibiadesTheages

The Crito is a well-known dialogue by the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, between Socrates and his follower the rich Athenian Crito (or Criton), regarding the source and nature of political obligation. Set after Plato's Apology, in which Socrates was sentenced to death for charges of corrupting the young and for impiety, Crito tries in this dialogue to convince Socrates to escape his imprisonment and go into exile.

Summary

The dramatic action of the Crito begins just before daybreak, in the dark prison cell where Socrates awaits his execution. Crito, a wealthy friend of Socrates, has come to speak with him; but, finding him asleep, he waits patiently by Socrates’ bedside. On his waking, Socrates asks: “Why have you arrived at this hour, Crito? Or is it still early yet?” (43a Crito, Trans. Thomas G. West and Grace Starry West) Crito reports that he is in “great sleeplessness and pain” (43b) and finds himself wondering at the pleasant temperament of Socrates, who must die shortly. It seems peculiar that while Crito is suffering and dreading the arrival of the ship from Delos – the one which determines the day Socrates must be executed – Socrates sleeps peacefully. This contrast between the two characters establishes an important relationship between them. As Crito reveals his true intention for coming – to help Socrates escape – this relationship is explored and developed in the ensuing conversation involving justice and one’s moral obligation. Crito, a man of wealth and status, regards himself above Athenian law, a law controlled by the opinions of the many, i.e. the poor and uneducated. He finds it disgraceful that Socrates should be subjected to their mindless and unjust judgments. Crito is fervent in his desire to convince Socrates to escape; however, as the dialogue continues, Crito finds himself contradicting his arguments, and instead being persuaded by Socrates. Through this refutation, Socrates establishes himself as a moral authority, an expert on matters of justice and law. With his insightful knowledge, Socrates is able to persuade Crito to follow the laws of Athens, despite their being ruled by the imprudent many. His later use of what he calls “the laws and the community of the city” as a defender for lawfulness demonstrates Socrates’ skills as a politician. Such a demonstration suggests that Athens was highly mistaken in thinking Socrates’ corrupted the young. Instead, he shows a deep desire to strengthen the attachment of Crito to the justice of the law.

Comparison to the Apology

Such a desire for law sparks a sharp contrast between the dissonant feel of Socrates’ defense in the Apology with regards to Athenian law and his generally supportive attitude towards it in the Crito. Such a contrast might in part be explained by the nature of the two situations: the Apology being a formal defense in front of the whole of Athens, whereas the Crito remains a secretive and quiet conversation between two friends. In the Apology Socrates works to defend his way of life against the accusations of the court, which claim that he is both impious and a corrupter of the young. Socrates believes that his way of life, one dedicated to philosophy, is not only of the utmost benefit to himself, but to Athens as well. He does not shrink away from what he believes to be honorable and good, feeling that such cowardice is ignoble and shameful. He instead works to persuade the jury to honor him as good instead of punishing him as a criminal. Such a lofty goal seems utterly impossible, and Socrates himself admits to the difficulty of his task. Yet regardless, Socrates makes his defense, not out of hatred for Athens, but out of love. His conviction does not come as surprise, and he accepts his death mildly.

A few weeks later, days before the execution is to take place, Crito arrives to convince Socrates to escape. The two are alone together, and Socrates’ attitude changes from the grandiose style of his defense speech, to the subdued and calm temperament of a wise, old man only too happy to see his friend. The arguments he employs are in defense of the court’s justice, not in admonition. Since his desire to persuade the jury failed, it would seem useless to persuade one man to go against Athenian law. What good would he achieve by stirring Crito’s animosity and hatred for law and justice? Instead, Socrates works to strengthen a bond between these two: Crito and the apparition of the Laws. With no one around to hear such a discussion, Socrates does not feel it necessary to make such a display of lawlessness. He supports the Laws and helps strengthen their own arguments so that Crito may accept their justice. Whereas the Apology portrays the philosopher in opposition to the city, the Crito shows the philosopher working with the city, persuading citizens to justly adhere to the community.

Crito's arguments for escape

  1. Socrates is endangering the good reputation of his friends. If Socrates is executed, Crito will appear to honor money over friends. Crito considers this reputation shameful and damaging even though it will be the opinion of those who do not know Socrates and Crito adequately, namely, the many. One must respect the opinions of the many because they can bring about great evils. Socrates refutes this hypothesis on the basis that the many's ignorance do not allow them to have true choice, and therefore their opinions are of no value to the one who strives after the truth and the good.
  2. Socrates should not worry about Crito's reputation or money. Escape from death is more honorable.
  3. Socrates has support in other cities, including Thessaly and exile would not be a bad option, although Socrates said in his defense that he would rather die then be exiled.
  4. Socrates would be acting unjustly by not fulfilling his parental obligations.
  5. Socrates would be acting cowardly by not resisting injustices (implying that the court decision and Socrates' subsequent execution are unjust). He would be joining his enemies. He is choosing the "easiest path" instead of the courageous, honorable and virtuous path, which Crito feels is to flee from certain, unjust death.

Socrates' responses

  1. Public opinion is not important to the decision, because the public as a whole is not wise.
  2. The essential concern is whether to escape would be just.
  3. One should never do injustice. (doing evil to humans/human evil = injustice)
  4. Men, especially one so old as Socrates, should not fear death, but welcome it.

The Laws' arguments

  1. The Laws are more honorable than one's parents, for they too beget, educate, and nurture their citizens. Just as one shoud respect the decisions of one's parents, so should one respect the decisions of the Laws, but to an even greater degree. There is confusion as to whether this respect is due to the Laws or due to the fatherland.
  2. Socrates tacitly agreed to obey the Laws by remaining in Athens after reaching maturity and witnessing how the Laws are structured and how they work. (This is an early statement of Social Contract Theory).
  3. Socrates would be seen as a corrupting force wherever he went.
  4. If one has the ability to choose whether to obey a law, then he is destroying the power of the law. Destroying law is unjust, for men require a community and a community requires law.
  5. It would put him in a precarious position in the afterlife.

Text of Crito

See also

Trial of Socrates

Crito
Preceded by: Apology
Followed by: Meno

Plato's Dialogues, The Tragedy of Athens, and The Complex Domain





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