“Crito” by Plato
Socrates is in prison waking to be executed from his trial in “Apology”. Crito shows up ready to spring Socrates after bribing the guard. Crito is amazed how calmly Socrates is taking the idea of being put to death. Socrates says old men know that death is coming soon one way or another. Socrates is not to be put to death until a ship comes in from Delos – it will probably happen in next couple of days.
Crito wants Socrates to escape not only for his own sake in losing a friend but also in his reputation from many people of having the ability to get him out and not actually doing it. Socrates says – don’t worry what the majority of people think about you. They can’t make a man good or bad.
Crito tries to persuade Socrates to accept in the case where Socrates is declining the offer due to the money involved or the danger. Crito and Socrates’s other friends value his friendship more than money or security. They want to take him to Thessaly or elsewhere where he will be safe. Socrates shouldn’t have to be a victim of his enemies or desert his children.
Socrates says if Crito is right, then his zeal admirable. If he’s wrong, then he’s being bad. Whatever we do, it has be done through logic and reason and unless he’s convinced otherwise, he doesn’t think Crito’s right. Even on death row, Socrates is going to do his routine quizzing about doing the right thing. He asks Crito if it’s right that some people’s opinions (the good/wise) are important and some people’s are not (the bad/unwise).
S: Is a gymnast supposed to listen to everyone’s opinion and praise/disapproval, or just one person’s (his trainer)?
C: The trainer.
S: And he should fear the censure and welcome the praise of his trainer? And train according to his trainer’s guidelines and not those of the many?
S: If he listens to the ignorant many and not to his master bad things will happen to him?
S: What sort of bad things?
C: His body will suffer.
S: Right. If we switch over to wisdom and being good and bad – should I listen to people who don’t know shit about being wise or being good or bad? Or should I listen to someone who actually knows what he’s talking about?
C: The wise person.
S: Should I listen to a doctor or a quack about health?
S: If I listen to the quack?
C: Your body will suffer.
S: And life wouldn’t be worth having?
S: And about the higher part of man. If I listen to an evil and unwise person, would my perverted sense of justice and morality make my life worth living?
S: It’s more important than physical health, isn’t it?
S: So, you’re wrong then that I should care what the vast majority of people think because they’re not only fucking idiots, the majority of them are bad people. I suppose that the great number of people care do us harm. That’s always been the oldest argument to listen to what they say isn’t it? But we’ve said that the good life is the one worth having and the bad one isn’t. So, if we listen to bad people we have a bad life and our lives aren’t worth living. And a good life is the one we want – full of justice and wisdom. Right?
S: OK. We’ve settled that. But I guess the question remains whether or not breaking out of prison is a just and honorable thing or a bad thing. Your arguments about my children, money and loss of public esteem are the majority’s way of thinking. And we’ve already established that they don’t know what’s right and wrong. I’m in the situation I’m in no matter what – rightly or wrongly. I can only react to these things. I must do it in a wise and just way – if breaking out is just, let’s do it. If it isn’t, then I’m staying put.
S: Is evil and injustice always wrong? And we should do our best to do what is good and just?
S: And when we are harmed, it’s not right to return it with another harm? Retaliation is bad, right?
S: A man should do what he thinks is right. If I leave the prison am I doing any wrong? The state/laws/gov’t could come up to me and ask: So, you’re overturning our ruling by running away? Don’t you think that a gov’t whose laws are overthrown or ignored can continue? How should we answer? What if I answered – I’m doing it because the finding and sentence are dead wrong, so I’m correcting it myself.
C: Sounds good.
S: The government could respond: by ignoring or defying the court, you’re attempting to destroy the state. We made you what you are. Your parents were made by the state, and so on. We make happen regulate the nurture and education of children in the state. You are a child and a servant of the state as were your parents and your parents’ parents. So, you are not on equal terms with the state. By defying the court, you are defying the state as a parent or a master. If you are struck wrongly by your father, do you have the right to strike him back? Are you justified in striking back at the state, even if we have made an error. If the state is wrong in trying to destroy you, do you think it’s right to try to destroy the state? The state is greater than any parent and punishment is to be accepted silently. You could have always tried to convince us that our findings we wrong. If you can’t lash our at your mother or father, then you definitely cannot lash out at the state. Would the state be right in saying that?
S: Then the laws could say – We’ve brought you up. We nurtured you and educated you and given to you what we’ve given to every other citizen. When you became of age you could’ve fucked off to somewhere else with all of your kit and caboodle. We wouldn’t have stopped you. Since you stayed, you implicitly agreed to do as the state tells you to do. If you disobey you are wrong for three reasons:
1. Disobedience to the state is like disobedience to one’s parents.
2. We’ve given you your education and you are revolting from it.
3. You’ve made an agreement to obey the state’s commands and you haven’t obeyed and you haven’t convinced us. that we were wrong. We’ve given you the option to appeal to us that we were wrong and you are right in our disagreement. Instead of doing that, you’ve disobeyed us. We are fair in given you the chance to discuss the matter. We’re not assholes in enforcing our command either.
S: You’ve been living here for 70 years. If you didn’t like it here, you had plenty of time and chances to leave but you never did so. In fact, the only time you’ve ever left was when you were on a military campaign. You married here and had children here. This is proof that you’ve chosen to live here and when you’ve chosen to live in a place, you implicitly agree to abide by its rules. Even during the trial, you could’ve asked for exile as a punishment and you didn’t ask for it – in fact, you explicitly said you’d rather die than leave the city. Now you’re breaking our implicit contract and our sentence?
C: We’re sort of stuck with that.
S: They’ll say – you’re breaking your contract with us after 70 years of thinking about the matter. All that time you could have left if you thought we were unfair. You would be a ridiculous hypocrite if you left now. If you leave, any of your defenders will be exiled and lose all their property. Any place you go to would consider you as an enemy because you’ve broken Athenian laws, and would be very suspicious of you coming into their city and doing the same thing there. If you left for another city, could you really go around talking about justice and laws, etc.? Would that be right? Any place that would accept you as a fugitive of justice in a proper city would be a place devoid of justice and virtue. Would that be a good place to raise your children? Think of justice first before life. If you believe there is a greater place beyond this world, you will be vindicated there and that sort of justice is higher than earthly justice. Running away will put that in danger. Those are the arguments that I hear. They are too convincing for me to run away.