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Study Questions

53a - 54e

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Where might you place the Crito in reference Plato's other works? Is it an early dialogue, a middle one, or a later one? What reasons might you use to support your answer? (Hint: early dialogues are characterized by Socratic irony, and absence of positive doctrines, and a cross- examination of a supposed expert regarding some ethical matter that ends with the interlocutor in a state of aporia, or perplexity. More mature dialogues tend to go beyond a state of aporia and advance positive theses. They also frequently deal with metaphysical and epistemological problems.)

The major difficulty in placing the Crito is that it lacks the standard form of cross-examination that leads to aporia. Though Socrates questions Crito regarding justice, Crito never makes any effort to present himself as an expert, nor does Socrates leave him in a state of bewilderment. Socrates is not trying to question Crito's knowledge so much as he is trying to convince Crito that he is following the right course. This sense of certainty and positive knowledge in Socrates is more characteristic of Plato's mature work, but there is much else to suggest it is an early work. Thematically, it is linked to ##The Apology## and the Euthyphro, which we know to be early works. Also, like an early dialogue, the Crito is very brief and deals with one focused question.

Compare and contrast Crito's argument that it would be unjust for Socrates to stay in prison--since that is what his enemies want--with Socrates' argument that it would be unjust for him to leave--since he would be destroying the laws. Is there a common ground between the two, or are they irreconcilable? What moral assumptions does each argument carry with it?

This question is obviously linked to the next one: whether or not Socrates' argument is consistent. Crito's argument seems to rest more heavily on the notion that justice consists in helping one's friends and hurting one's enemies, suggesting that it would be wrong to help one's enemies. Socrates seems to want to argue against that, suggesting that retaliation of any kind is wrong. For him, justice consists in obeying the Laws as they have been set down. So they do seem to have differing moral positions, and they do seem irreconcilable to the extent that both see the other's position as unjust. Crito does seem increasingly to agree with Socrates as Socrates clarifies his argument, but Socrates never directly addresses Crito's question of whether it would be unjust to help his enemies. Instead of refuting Crito, he simply side-steps him, giving priority to the question of whether or not one has a right to break the Laws.

Can Socrates consistently claim that he has been wronged by the people of Athens, but has no right to break the Laws that have sentenced him?

This is the main question of the dialogue, and more detailed answers have been given in the running commentary sections and the overall analysis. It does seem that there is some inconsistency here. Plato is committed to the claim that Socrates' accusers are acting unjustly, but that the Laws are just. Socrates is thus wrongfully imprisoned and will be wrongfully executed, but he cannot counteract these wrong judgments because they are secured by the Laws. But if the Laws are just, how is it that they permit such injustice? And if the Laws are unjust, what compulsion does Socrates have to abide by them? One might reply that the Laws are fixed in place and have been applied unjustly in this case, but that to go against them would be to attack them in an unjust manner. However, one could reply to this objection by saying that if the Laws are unjustly applied, Socrates is allowing the Laws to come to harm in complacently accepting this injustice.

Discuss and analyze the significance of the voice given to the Laws of Athens. If Socrates had simply presented an argument for staying in prison without creating this voice, how would that have affected his argument?

Socrates wants to treat moral issues between people and moral issues between the individual and the state as being on the same scale. Do you agree with his reduction? In what ways might moral decisions with respect to the state differ from those with respect to a friend?

Can the Laws of Athens commit injustice? If they do, what recourse does a wrongly accused citizen have? Why is Socrates unable to overturn his unjust condemnation?

The Laws tell Socrates that if they are wrong, they can be persuaded to change, but he must by no means break them forcefully. If Socrates has been wrongfully accused, why has he not managed to persuade the Laws to change?

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