Socrates vs. Crito:
A Decision of Life
Intro. to Philosophy
May 29, 2000
Socrates vs. Crito:
A Decision of Life
The dialogue Crito, by Plato, recounts the last days of Socrates, immediately before his
execution was going to take place in Athens. In the dialogue, Socrates’ friend, Crito, proposes
that Socrates escape from prison. Socrates considers this proposal, trying to decide if escaping
would be "just" and "morally justified." Eventually, Socrates concludes that the act is considered"unjust" and "morally unjustified." Socrates decides to accept his death penalty and execution.
Socrates was a man who would pursuit truth in all matters (Kemerling 1999). In his
refusal to accept exile from Athens or a commitment to silence as a penalty, he takes the penalty
of death and is thrown into prison.
While Socrates is awaiting his execution, many of his friends, including Crito, arrive with a
foolproof plan for his escape from Athens to live in exile voluntarily. Socrates calmly debates
with each friend over the moral value and justification of such an act.
"...people who do not know you and me will believe that I might
have saved you if I had been willing to give money, but that I did
-Crito (Plato 569)
Crito believed that by helping Socrates to escape, he could go on to fulfill his personal
obligations. Also, if Socrates does not follow the plan, many people would assume that his
friends did not care about him enough to help him escape or that his friends are not willing to give
their time or money in order to help him. Therefore, Crito goes on to argue that Socrates ought
to escape from the prison.
After listening to Crito’s arguments, Socrates dismisses them as irrelevant to a decision
about what action is truly right.
"Now you, Crito, are not going to die to-morrow-...-and therefore
you are disinterested and not liable to be deceived by the circumstances
in which you are placed."
-Socrates (Plato 571)
In the arguments that Socrates makes, what other people think does not matter. The only
opinions that should matter are the ones of the individuals that truly know. "The truth alone
deserves to be the basis for decisions about human action, so the only proper approach is to
engage in the sort of careful moral reasoning by means of which one may hope to reveal it"
(Kemerling 1999). According to Socrates, the only opinion that he is willing to consider would
be that of the state.
"...if you go forth, returning evil for evil, and injury for injury,...we shall
be angry with you while you live, and our brethren, the laws in the world
below, will receive you as an enemy; for they will know you have done
your best to destroy us."
-Socrates (Plato 577)
Socrates’ argument moves from one of a general moral decision to the morality of his
specific case. He basically says:
-One ought never to do wrong,
-But it is always wrong to disobey the state,
-Therefore, one ought never to disobey the state (Kemerling 1999)
Since avoiding the sentence handed down by the jury would be disobeying the state, Socrates
decides not to escape. Socrates chose to honor his commitment to truth and morality, even
though it cost him his life.
One of the main arguments made by Socrates,
"Think not of life and children first, and of justice afterwards, but
of justice first...For neither will you nor any that belong to you be
happier or holier or juster in this life, or happier in another, if you
do as Crito bids."
-Socrates (Plato 577),
is one of the most important and crucial in the Crito dialogue.
Socrates provides a very convincing argument of why he should not escape from the
Athenian prison. He states that if he does as Crito suggests and escapes, it will not be justifiable
nor true. Although his family and friends will be much happier if he escapes, he will not follow
the justice or moral code of the state in which he was born and raised.
Socrates also gives the idea that if he were to escape, his family and friends would be
happy for him, but their fellow citizens and their state in which they reside would not. The
government and citizens of the state may take their frustration of this injustice out on the friends
and family of Socrates.
In this argument, Socrates believes that the state would say, "think not of life and children
first, and of justice afterwards"(Plato 566). He says this as a counter-argument to statement made
by Crito saying that he