Sentence has been delayed one month because of a religious festival. The ship in Delos



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Dr. Ari Santas’ Notes on

Plato’s Crito

A. Preliminary Remarks and Overview

  • Socratessentence has been delayed one month because of a religious festival.

    • The ship in Delos

  • During this time his friends made repeated attempts to convince him he should escape into exile.

  • The practice was common, and the Athenians would not mind, since they just wanted him to leave town anyway.

  • This dialogue probably has some basis in fact, and it may reflect the last attempt by Crito, a long-time friend, to convince Socrates to leave.

  • Crito gives three different kinds of argument, and Socrates replies to all three.


The Story

  • Crito is trying to convince Socrates to escape into exile

  • He offers three sorts of arguments

      1. Selfish  I’ll lose a friend. / What will they think?

      2. Practical  We have the means. / There’s a place to go.

      3. Moral  It’s wrong to forsake a life. / It’s wrong to abandon your sons. / It’s cowardly to not fight back.


The Sections

  • Basically you can divide the dialogue into two parts:

    • Statement & evaluation of Crito’s position

    • Socrates’ dialogue with the laws


B. First Argument

  • Crito’s first argument is not very convincing

  • It has primarily to do with Crito’s own selfish (albeit understandable) concerns.

  • He gives two basic reasons here why Socrates can come with him and escape.

    • I’ll be deprived of a great friend who’ll never be replaced if you don’t leave here.

    • Most people will think that I could have saved you but chose not to because I was too stingy, if you don’t go.

  • Socrates has a reply to the latter but we’ll wait and discuss these later.


C. Second Argument

  • Crito’s second argument has to do with pragmatics.

  • Whether the deed is feasible.

  • This argument can be broken down into two main parts:

    • It can be done.

      • There’s money.

      • The bribes will be cheap.

      • There are strangers who are willing to help (so your friends won’t be ruined).

      • We won’t be endangered (worth the risk anyway).

    • There’s a place for you to go.

      • I have friends in Thessaly who will take care of you.

  • Socrates will also have replies to these.


D. Third Argument

  • Crito’s third argument has a moral content.

  • It’s not concerned with Crito’s desires or feasibility, but with what ought to be done.

  • It can be sketched thus:

    • It’s wrong to forsake a life when it can be saved, and if you stay, you’ll be committing suicide.

    • It’s wrong to betray your sons by leaving them, and you owe it to them to stay alive and raise them.

    • It’s cowardly to not face up to your enemies.

  • Socrates will rebut these & then provide an additional argument for not escaping.


E. Socrates and Rationality

  • Socrates reminds Crito that he has led a life where his actions have followed reason.

  • What he has done has always been a matter of what his inquiries led him to believe ought to be done.

  • And so, now, as always, he is not going to act on impulse, but by argument.

  • For if he were to act impulsively now, he would be throwing away all that he had lived for in the past.

    • He does not want to rationalize his escape.

  • So, he says, if I am able to take your advice and leave, it must be consistent with what I have always believed.

    • Importance of consistency – meaning what you say.

    • Talk is cheap!

  • With this is mind, we should consider the arguments.


F. Dialectical Rationality

  • You’ve seen the negative aspect of Socrates’ dialectical skills

  • There’s also a positive side.

  • In this dialogue, Socrates implores Crito to establish a common ground of agreement so they can decide together what ought to be done.

  • Recall that rationality is the movement from what you know, to what you didn’t know (but now do).

  • Dialectical Rationality can be construed as the movement from what we agree on (what we know together) to what we didn’t agree on (but now do).

  • This is precisely what Socrates wants to do with Crito.

  • This way, they can both be satisfied that the best course was taken.



G. Respecting Opinion

  • Crito has mentioned that he is concerned with what people will think.

  • Socrates asks him if we should really be concerned with what the majority of people think.

  • Do we do this with our health?

    • What would happen if we did?

  • What are we concerned with, any opinion, or good opinion?

  • And where are we likely to find good opinions, in the crowd?

  • Or with the specialists (e.g. a doctor, trainer).

  • And so we shouldn’t be concerned with the opinion of the majority.

  • Only with what a reasonable person would say.


H. The Good Life

  • Crito argued that it is wrong for Socrates to forsake a life when it can be saved.

  • Socrates’ response to this is that we must remember, it is not life itself that is valuable.

  • It is the good life that we must strive to achieve.

  • It is not proper to be greedy for life at all costs.

  • Remember certain things are worth dying for.

  • It is better to die and stay true to your beliefs than it is to stay alive giving up your ideals.

  • And so, before we judge that my life must be saved, we must judge that I could live a quality life in exile.


I. Socrates’ Basic Principles

  • Remember that Socrates believes that there are certain things we can know about morals.

  • He and Crito have always held these:

    • Basic Principle: One must never willingly do wrong

      • Regardless of what the majority think

      • Not even in retaliation

    • Derivative Principles:

      • One must never harm another

        • not even in retaliation

      • One must never break one’s agreements

        • this brings harm

      • One must never disobey one’s superiors


J. Destroying the laws

  • Socrates imagines that he escapes but is met by the laws at the city gates

  • In this dialogue, the laws tell Socrates that if he were to escape, he would be destroying the laws.

  • What he means is that there can’t be laws unless people follow them, unless they are legitimate.

  • But if we make the laws subject to our personal discretion and whim, the laws can no longer be legitimate.

  • By definition, a law must be independent of personal desire.

    • For example, a law that said: “Drive 55, unless you don’t want to” couldn’t be a law

  • Without this independence, it has no binding force and ceases to be a law.

  • So Socrates contends that by escaping (which is illegal) he would be a destroyer of the laws.

  • Hence he would be causing harm to the laws & the city.



K. Breaking the Agreement

  • In this dialogue, the laws inform Socrates that by leaving, he would be breaking an agreement with the city to obey its laws.

  • The basic rationale is this:

    • If someone lives in a society and benefits from it; (he lived there all his life)

    • And is not compelled to stay in that society; (he could always have left)

    • And has opportunities to change the laws; (he never tried to change the laws)

    • Then, he or she is obliged to obey the laws.

  • In Social Contract Theory this is called tacit consent.

  • In living in a domestic society, we implicitly (tacitly) agree to obey the laws of that society.

  • To break a law, then, would be a breach of an agreement, which is wrong.


L. Disobeying Superiors

  • The laws also point out that they are his superiors and that he must obey them.

  • It is impious to bring violence against us as it is to do so against your parents or gods. (Remember this principle from the Euthyphro?)

  • We have nurtured you and allowed you to marry and have children.

  • As your superior, we insist that you either must convince us to change the law, or leave, or endure the consequences of your action.

    • this idea will be central to the development of civil disobedience

  • It would be doubly wrong then, for you to escape into exile.

    • The charges would then be true.

      • Impious (disobeying superiors)

      • Corrupting youth (setting a bad example)


N. Bad Consequences

  • Furthermore, if you decide to leave, bad things are likely to happen to loved ones and yourself:

    • Your friends may very well be in danger if they aid in your escape

    • Any city will receive you as a destroyer of the laws.

    • Your sons will be vagabonds, known to have a father who’s a refugee from justice; better off in Athens with friends.

    • When you do die, you’ll enter Hades as a destroyer of the laws & won’t be well-received.

  • So he decides he must stay


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