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Crito

Plato

44b - 46a

43a - 44b

46b - 50a

Summary

Alarmed by Socrates' willing acceptance of his execution, Crito hastens to explain that he can and must help Socrates to escape. All it would take is a few appropriate bribes, which would not be at all difficult to manage. Crito explains that if Socrates does not escape, no one would believe that he had willingly faced execution. Instead, Crito would be accused of not having helped Socrates, and of valuing his money more than his friend's life. Socrates suggests that one should only take heed of the opinions of sensible people who will see things exactly as they turned out. To this, Crito replies that popular opinion is a powerful and dangerous force--that Socrates' own trial and sentencing are enough to suggest that the public has an unlimited capacity for doing harm. Socrates disagrees with Crito, suggesting that it is a great shame that the public does not have an unlimited capacity for doing harm, since they would then also have an unlimited capacity for doing good. However, Socrates suggests, the public cannot make a man either wise or foolish--what they achieve is determined by chance alone.

Crito next addresses the question of whether Socrates is unwilling to escape for fear of inconveniencing or endangering his friends. He makes it clear that he and all Socrates' friends are more than willing to face any kind of danger--besides which, the bribe is not an impossible sum, and there are quite a few wealthy men who can put up the money. Crito also argues that Socrates should not be afraid of living in exile, as he suggested in his defense speech (see ##The Apology##, 37a-38c): Crito has many friends, particularly in Thessaly, who would be delighted to take in Socrates and protect him.

Not only would it be easy to rescue Socrates, Crito suggests, but Socrates is acting unjustly by remaining in prison. In refusing to escape, he is treating himself as his enemies want to treat him, and so is wronging himself. Further, he will be deserting his sons before their upbringing and education has been completed. In accepting an unnecessary execution, Socrates is willingly abandoning his children and his responsibility to them. Without him, they will receive the second-rate upbringing and education that is normally reserved for orphans. A man such as Socrates, who has dedicated his life to pursuing the good, must surely not abandon his sons like this.

Lastly, Crito suggests again that Socrates' behavior will reflect badly upon Socrates himself as well as his friends, making them all appear to be cowards. Throughout, Socrates seems to have made no effort to resist his condemnation and execution: he came to court willingly, he defended himself in a brash and obviously unsuccessful manner, and now he is unwilling even to be rescued by his friends. Crito urges Socrates to agree to a ready plan to smuggle Socrates out of prison that night. If they don't act now, it will be too late.

Commentary

Crito is right in suggesting that Socrates has done absolutely nothing to avoid being executed. In fact, the authorities of Athens probably didn't want to execute him at all, hoping only to silence or exile him. Socrates could probably have avoided the whole affair by not coming to court to defend himself. And again, in court, as we witness in The Apology, he made no effort whatsoever to apologize for his actions. When found guilty, he firmly rejected the options of prison, exile, or censure, insisting that if they would let him live, they must let him live as he had always done. Thus, Socrates forced the hand of the Athenian jurors, putting them in a position where they must either execute him or let him go free. Though they may not have wanted to execute him, Socrates left them no choice.

Now, the authorities would probably be as eager as Socrates' friends to have Socrates escape and live out his years in exile. It is only Socrates' own principled stubbornness that leads to his death.

Many of Crito's arguments are quite sensible and convincing. In particular, his arguments that Socrates is behaving unjustly in allowing himself to be executed appeal precisely to some of Socrates' own thoughts. Central to Socrates' teaching is the association of goodness with knowledge and evil with ignorance. One of his more famous doctrines is that no one ever knowingly does wrong. Thus, Socrates' stated purpose in life is to bring people to greater wisdom by questioning them and revealing their ignorance. In improving people's wisdom, he makes them more virtuous. The very reason that Socrates rejects the suggestion that he abandon his teaching and live free is that he would then no longer be doing any good for the world at large, and would be abandoning his duty to the gods. Crito's appeal regarding Socrates' sons thus plays on that theme. If Socrates can improve people through his teaching and if that is his purpose in life, he would be letting his sons down unjustly if he died now, abandoning them to ignorance.

We could also read a kind of Socratic reasoning into the argument that, by submitting to his enemies, Socrates would only be helping them to do wrong. If Socrates is allowing himself to be punished just as his accusers would like, Socrates is harming himself in according himself with their intentions. If no one can knowingly do wrong, Socrates must be displaying ignorance, and therefore evil, in allowing himself to be wronged. Crito's attitude can also be understood in terms of a more traditional Greek notion, aired by Polemarchus in the first book of the Republic, that justice consists in helping one's friends and harming one's enemies. Crito here does not endorse harming Socrates' enemies, but certainly sees helping them as wrong.

One brief reply to Crito's arguments in this section comes early, in Socrates' and Crito's discussion of the public's capacity for doing harm. There, Socrates suggests that the people cannot make a man wise or foolish; they do not have an unlimited capacity for doing harm or good. Instead, he suggests, they act somewhat at random without any great capacity for good or evil at all. Thus, Crito's suggestion that the public is wronging Socrates, and that Socrates is therefore wronging himself in not fighting the verdict, becomes questionable. Socrates might be able to reply that he is not being wronged at all--that it is just fate and circumstance that have led to his execution.

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