Out of the many dialogues written by Plato, The Crito is one of the brief dialogues he had written which discussed an essential characteristic of state-society relationship. This dialogue served as a prologue to his greatest work – The Republic – where the covenant of the society with the state is further elaborated. A conversation is narrated between Socrates and his rich friend, Crito. Occurring on the night before Socrates’ execution, Crito sneaked inside the philosopher’s cellar to relate some news and to convince him to escape. As Crito’s persuasion started, this is followed by a debate where the two friends conveyed their moral differences.
After relating the bad news to Socrates about the rumor of the arrival of the ship for his execution, Socrates immediately told Crito about a dream he had which implied a delay for his death. This has been the ignition for their debate where Crito instantly persuaded Socrates to escape. There are three arguments which Crito mentioned for the exile of Socrates. First is regarding Crito’s concern about his reputation as a friend, who will be judged as someone who value his material wealth rather than saving Socrates’ life. Followed by Crito’s argument that if Socrates allowed himself to be executed because of an unjust cause, Socrates is tolerating the evil deeds of the enemies and his death will serve as an encouragement for the continuity of evil. Lastly, by choosing not to escape, Socrates is considered as a coward for failing to save himself when there is a clear opportunity. This cowardice is rooted from the fact that Socrates succumbed to the unjust execution instead of fighting against it.
Crito gives a high regard to the opinion of the majority which he expressed to Socrates. If Socrates will be executed, Crito and the rest of his friends will be condemned by the people because this gives the impression that they see money as more important than that of their friend’s life. They will be judged by the society as cowards for letting a friend be convicted, and no matter how hard Crito can convince them, people will still have the same views. Crito further elaborated that “the opinion of the many must be regarded, for what is now happening shows that they can do the greatest evil to anyone who has lost their good opinion” (Shrodes & Finestone 785).
He further reassured Socrates that he does not have to worry about escaping and living in exile. Since Crito is wealthy, it would be a breeze to resort to bribery because the officials can be bought inexpensively. The plan which Crito offered is that after getting Socrates out of his prison, his friend can proceed to Thessaly where Crito’s companions will welcome Socrates wholeheartedly. Crito presented this plan to be able to further convince Socrates. To accept his fate by means of the unjust execution, there would not be any way of seizing the wrongdoings of Socrates’ enemies. His death would be the success of the perpetrators of the injustices inflicted to Socrates.
According to Crito, succumbing to the injustices is a sign of weakness by being passive and letting it pass without defense. Being his good friend and the most intellectual person in Athens, Crito cannot bear to witness Socrates falling under an unjust execution without even putting up a fight especially if there is a possibility of winning.
No man should bring children into the world who is unwilling to persevere to the end in their nurture and education. You appear to be choosing the easier part, not the better and manlier, which would have been more becoming in one who has professed a life-long concern for virtue, life yourself. (Shrodes et. al. 786-787)
To accept the execution is to choose an easier way rather than the courageous process of fighting and struggling alive to distort the unjust accusation made against Socrates. From the preceding text, Crito further stressed to Socrates that his death will leave his children as orphans who will suffer because of a parent’s lack of courage to live and to fight for what is supposedly right.
Despite of Crito’s efforts to convince Socrates to come with him to escape, the philosopher remained undisputed with his decision of facing his execution. His main thesis for his arguments maybe divided into two major parts. Socrates highly emphasized that to retaliate against evil with an evil deed is not justifiable and will not do any good to save him. The philosopher further disagreed with Crito about escaping because for Socrates, the law cannot be called as such if it is bound to be disobeyed.
In legal perspective, a person convicted by the government shall and must face the punishment given to him. According to Socrates, to escape from that punishment no matter how unjust the cause might be, is illegal; and therefore evil since the law is established according to the moral code of the community. Socrates sees the escape as a means to aggravate and strengthen the false accusation that has been bestowed on him. There is no form of redemption in escaping and he views his death as the only way to maintain the virtue he had preached on his lifetime.
Socrates does not desire to be a fugitive who does not only break the Athenian law but also goes into hiding from the crime he never committed. He would rather chose death for he sees this as an honorable way to end his life, in which he told Crito “that not life, but a good life, is to be chiefly valued” (Shrodes 789). He further argued that people will be remembered by the deeds they did before their death, and to end up as a lawbreaker and a rebel – which completely contradicts the wisdom he used to spread – is something that he cannot allow to happen. To incur injustices to an unjust deed is simply not just at all.
In this dialogue, the side of the law materialized in Socrates. He firmly believed that the law is useless if it is meant to be disobeyed. His escape will be a form of disobedience and at the same time a betrayal. Socrates proceeded in acting out as a state official in order to justify his arguments for Crito. He stated that the law created by the state is the very reason for Socrates’ existence for his birth would not be possible if his parents did not undergo the ceremony of marriage made legal by the government. He will not be able to learn without the education provided by the state and all of his basic needs are not possible to attain without the jobs provided by the law to his parents. Therefore, he told Crito that he cannot bite the hands which fed him, clothed him, and educated him all is life.
Socrates openly said that the citizens are bound to follow the law for these laws are formulated by the people themselves. Since these laws are man-made, society enters into an implied agreement with the state in which they follow these laws. It may give an impression that the kind of government the Athens has is a tyrannical one. However, Socrates mentions as well that the citizens have the chance to change it.
He must do what his city and his country order him, or he must change their view of what is just…He neither obeys them nor convinces us that are commands are unjust…We do not brutally demand his compliance but offer him the choice of obeying or persuading us yet he does neither. (Shrodes 792-793)
From the preceding texts, this already implied the democracy in which the Athenians possess over their government. Socrates made it clear that while the citizens must adhere to the laws, an individual has his or her own responsibility of letting that state know what is just or not for the welfare of the society. Disobeying the laws will not establish order into a society, thus, being the reason why Socrates chose to face death instead. The Crito conveyed the early roots of democracy where the citizens and the state should cooperate for the sake of social order. By means of the arguments of Socrates, it clearly narrated the need for the citizens to obey the laws and how the role of the citizens to watch over the government is an essential participation in always upholding justice.
Shrodes, Caroline and Harry Finestone. The Conscious Reader. USA: Prentice Hall, 1995.