Crito Summary The dialogue takes place in Socrates' prison cell, where he awaits execution. He is visited before dawn by his old friend Crito, who has made arrangements to smuggle Socrates out of prison to the safety of exile. Socrates seems quite willing to await his imminent execution, and so Crito presents as many arguments as he can to persuade Socrates to escape. On a practical level, Socrates' death will reflect badly on his friends--people will think they did nothing to try to save him. Also, Socrates should not worry about the risk or the financial cost to his friends; these they are willing to pay, and they have also arranged to find Socrates a pleasant life in exile. On a more ethical level, Crito presents two more pressing arguments: first, if he stayed, he would be aiding his enemies in wronging him unjustly, and would thus be acting unjustly himself; and second, that he would be abandoning his sons and leaving them without a father. Socrates answers first that one should not worry about public opinion, but only listen to wise and expert advice. Crito should not worry about how his, Socrates', or others' reputations may fare in the general esteem: they should only concern themselves with behaving well. The only question at hand is whether or not it would be just for Socrates to attempt an escape. If it is just, he will go with Crito, if it is unjust, he must remain in prison and face death. At this point, Socrates introduces the voice of the Laws of Athens, which speaks to him and explain why it would be unjust for him to leave his cell. Since the Laws exist as one entity, to break one would be to break them all, and in doing so, Socrates would cause them great harm. The citizen is bound to the Laws like a child is bound to a parent, and so to go against the Laws would be like striking a parent. Rather than simply break the Laws and escape, Socrates should try to persuade the Laws to let him go. These Laws present the citizen's duty to them in the form of a kind of social contract. By choosing to live in Athens, a citizen is implicitly endorsing the Laws, and is willing to abide by them. Socrates, more than most, should be in accord with this contract, as he has lived a happy seventy years fully content with the Athenian way of life. If Socrates were to break from prison now, having so consistently validated the social contract, he would be making himself an outlaw who would not be welcome in any other civilized state for the rest of his life. And when he dies, he will be harshly judged in the underworld for behaving unjustly toward his city's laws. Thus, Socrates convinces Crito that it would be better not to attempt an escape. Analysis and Themes Though brief, the Crito is a confusing and somewhat muddled dialogue. The difficulty Plato faced in composing the dialogue was to somehow justify Socrates' decision to stay in prison rather than try to escape after his wrongful condemnation. To do this, Plato had to draw out a distinction between the just Laws, which Socrates must obey by staying in prison, and the unjust behavior of Socrates' accusers, who sentenced him to death. The problem, of course, is that Socrates' accusers have unjustly sentenced him by using the Laws. By giving the Laws their own voice, Plato hopes to distinguish them as a separate entity, making them something human toward which Socrates might be able to act unjustly. However, it is highly debatable how far one can truly separate the laws of a state from the people who apply them. In this instance, we have the people of the state condemning Socrates and the Laws of the state following suit and persuading Socrates that he must face death in order to avoid breaking them. But if both the people and the Laws have ruled that Socrates must be executed, either the people are siding with the Laws or the Laws are siding with the people. And regardless of which of these is the case, it seems odd to assert that the Laws are just and must be respected and that the people are unjust and should not be respected. It seems Crito, who is trying to persuade Socrates to escape, and Socrates are in a sense talking past one another. One of Crito's strongest arguments in favor of escape comes at 45c, where Crito suggests that Socrates would be abetting the wrong-doing of his enemies in following through with their wishes. Socrates' reply to this argument is that he would in fact be harming the Laws, which are just. If the Laws are just and the people are unjust, but both are willing the same thing, then it seems Socrates is in a quandary. If Socrates stays in prison, he will be siding with his unjust accusers, and if he escapes he will be acting against the just Laws. Ultimately, it seems that it is better to accord oneself with the Laws than to side against the people. The Crito's distinguished reputation rests largely on the idea of the social contract that Socrates introduces. It is the first suggestion in Western civilization that a legal system exists as a result of a kind of contract between the individual and the state, and this idea has had a tremendous impact on the modern world. Also, the very confusion a reader finds in wading through these arguments is a great motivation to sort through issues of justice and law oneself. After all, Plato's goal is not ultimately to present the final word on any particular issue. He chooses the dialogue form precisely because he wants to encourage us to think for ourselves.
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