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The Speech of Laws in Platos Crito

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Plato’s Crito is centered in obedience of law. The Socrates discusses obedience of law with a man who admits that he has corrupted the law. The dialogue starts with Crito’s admission that he got access to Socrates because he did something to the prison guard. Crito’s main aim of coming to see the Socrates is to convince him to escape from prison and so as to avoid the death sentence despite the fact that there were options of avoiding the death sentence which were available to the Socrates. Crito is well conversant with this ways and if only the Socrates could have acted earlier he could have escaped the death sentence without violating the laws of Athens. Therefore if Crito has to persuade the Socrates to escape he must apply some professional tactics to change Socrates mind this would encompass breaking the law. When Crito gets to prison, Socrates is sound asleep. Despite the fact that the Socrates’ execution death is drawing near, he does not seem to mind about it. Crito is worried about the Socrates execution date nearing and he perceives it as if it were tomorrow. This paper seeks to analyze the conversation that results out of Crito’s visit while putting emphasis on the purpose of the ‘speech of laws’ in Plato’s Crito. The paper will also give attention to association between Plato’s Crito and the political preferences and opinions expressed in this dialogue.

Crito seems to think that this is the appropriate time for which to plan an appropriate escape. As Crito tries to present his ideas to the Socrates, the Socrates doubts Crito’s real intention which makes the escape a viable possibility. Socrates recounts a dream to Crito which implies that the execution will at least be postponed for one day. Crito is not interested in this dream his main aim is to see that Socrates accepts to escape from the jaws of death despite the fact the he is not sure whether he will be able to convince him. Crito’s first appeals to the Socrates that he does not want to lose such a good friend and he then appeals about his own reputation. Crito talks about how cheap it can be to help Socrates escape from prison. He tries to implore Socrates in a manner that does not imply change of his action but only provides a rationale for that course of action which upholds his reputation in the eyes of all those that he cares about. That among whom Crito cares his reputation is Oipolloi. Crito gives Socrates reasons as to why one should care about his own reputation many of which coincide with Socrates’ circumstances. Apparently Socrates tries to convince Crito that it is a mistake to care about a multitude’s opinions. Socrates puts his mind clear by repeating Crito’s reason as to why one should care about the many he says “…but it might, of course, be said that the multitude can put us to death”.  Socrates does not see to answer or even criticize this reason. Both Socrates and Crito share a common stand that after critically analyzing the question as to whether one should care about the opinion of many, the reason for doing these remains conspicuous. This implies the fact that both Socrates and Crito believe that no mater what on does it should be in accordance to societal norms and laws in order to uphold one’s reputation.

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Socrates continues to exhort Crito to consider the issue of whether he should exclusively avoid justice by escaping. Socrates contrasts Crito’s considerations of bringing up children, spending money and reputation with those of justice. Their previous conversation had just invoked the idea of considering the opinion of many about justice. It reflects on the capacity of the majority to reinforce a punishment on some individual who goes against the law. However Socrates could have said that this reason was no longer relevant to his circumstances due to the fact that he had already been sentenced to death. Despite this, Socrates still remains emphatic that he only has interest on what is for Socrates to do under such circumstances. He also considers what was just for his accomplices to do to help him out of this situation. Socrates perceives himself to be in a community with other his potential accomplices and Critico. He believes that both he and the accomplices should be bound by the same considerations for justice. This implies that law should not be meant to only bind a certain class of people while excluding others who are supposed to be bound by the same law.

The dialogue asserts that opinion of the many concerning justice should be upheld. Socrates suggests to Crito that they look into the justice of the matter ‘koine’ which means common or vulgar. In the dialogue that follows, Socrates makes some statements about the right and wrong, good and bad that encompass the characters of Socrates that even people who have had about Socrates would say. He asserts that the Socrates character and teachings advocate for lawful behavior even in circumstances when the cost of such lawful behavior costs an individual’s life. Apparently Socrates proposes a rule that asserts that an individual should never act unjustly. Socrates also asserts that one should never do an injustice to help recover an injustice which he/she has suffered. Crito fails to understand this statement and he hesitates commenting on it. According to him this statement is faulty in that many people don’t believe that one should do injustice to avenge an injustice act but they believe that an action which could amount to an injustice is may be justified or at least just if such an act is a punishment to a previous wrong act done.  Crito implies the fact that only if there existed no difference between legal punishment and revenge would Socrates is assumptions that an unjust initial act and the relevant response to it can be categorized as being morally undistinguishable injustices. Interpreting Socrates’ proposition would be subversive instead of supporting legal justice while putting in mind that legal justice call for just punishment.

Ideas of Socrates and Crito about harm another person

Socrates goes on to restate that an individual should never do harm to another. Crito is in conformity with this. Socrates embarks on his subject on justice, and he inquires “… having suffered harm (Kakos Paschonta) is it just or unjust to inflict harm on in return (antikakourgein)?” Crito answers assents that it is unjust but Socrates remains skeptical as to whether crito understands what he has supported. Socrates observes that there are only a limited number of individuals who believe this and those who do so lack common parlance for discussion with those who oppose. This culminates into Socrates giving Crito a chance to critically examine what he is showing support for. This provision is quite comic as if Crito does not agree with it, it he means that their conversation has to end there as according to Crito there is no common parlance for exchange between those who propose and oppose this. This implies the fact that Socrates expressly stipulates to Crito what he must agree to for him to inquire into justice with Socrates. Therefore, Crito has to concur with Socrates in order to look into justice with him despite the fact that he does not understand its consequences. The interdiction of causing harm now widens to self defense with clearly indicating that Crito has to accommodate what he had not assented to previously. Previously Socrates had been against retribution for harm suffered. He now seems to exclude the application of punishment or retribution as a source of self defense.  He insists that this would give way for harm to be inflicted in repelling an imminent attack although the whole dialogue takes place while in prison and in such a setting the city applies punishment to protect itself. Most probably what the city refers to as harm is meant to change the offender to make him better and as result can not be regarded as harm. According to Socrates the Principle of not causing harm only applies to individuals and not cities.

The Morality of the Law and its Limits

Socrates goes on to inquire from Crito about justice. He poses another question “Ought someone to do as agreed if it is just or may he go against what is agreed? (Hamilton 51)” Crito is of the opinion that he ought to do that which is agreed. If Socrates’ condition is unjust it should not be a routine that the case that negotiation should be done. Socrates had observed that, for instance, in a republic one could not be justified in giving back a weapon to a mad man if they were to strike an agreement for the mad man to return it. Crito endorses the element of keeping one’s promises while responding to Socrates’ question. This implies that Crito understands the importance emphasis on keeping promises if such promises are just. However Crito suspects that Socrates does not understand the effects of supporting the notion that it is always unjust to cause harm. One of the negative effects of this is it is a basic limit it imposes on morality of contract.

When Socrates feels that Crito has understood what just actions mean to him, he now poses a question to get his opinions as to whether the conspiracy for Socrates’ escape is just. He asks “then consider whether if we go away from here without the consent of the city, we are doing harm to the very ones to whom we least ought to do harm, or not, and whether we are abiding by what we agreed was right or not?” Apparently Crito can not respond to this question since Socrates has not stipulated to who harm would be done if they escaped and what sort of agreement will be broken. This question shows that Socrates wants to end the inquiry of which he can proceed through a common investigation with Crito concerning the justification of the plot to escape. What takes the place of this common inquiry is the conversation that emerges between Socrates involving laws and the element of Koinon in the city. Socrates seems to be persuaded and motivated by the laws and the element of Koinon of the city which also makes Crito seem persuaded. Although Socrates had previously objected Crito’s concern about the many, he seems to listen keenly when the Koinon of the City talks together with its laws. Law reflects the city speak by use of a common principle or rule. This law seeks to reconcile the pressing concern of a philosopher with the concerns of the multitude. This implies that Socrates can converse with the laws but he can not converse directly converse with Crito.

The impacts of the law on Socrates’ Plot to Escape

The laws and the koinon are concerned with the Socrates’ intention to escape. They indicate that Socrates’ plot must be that of violating the laws plus the city.  Considering the fact that how could law succeed in circumstances under which a decision by a court of law is invalidated by a private individual? This statement rejects that the element behind Socrates’ motivation to escape is due to fear of death such a motivating factor does not necessarily a motive to violet laws. The laws remain valid in these circumstances, in that had Socrates’ wished to preserve his life he could have behaved in an appropriate manner during his trial. Also while the laws lay an accusing finger at Socrates’ for attempting to violate them as well as the whole city, when they proceed to point out the general principle that validates this inference, the reference to these same laws is dropped while the threat to the city is upheld. This reflects a substantial common parlance between the Socrates and the laws in that Socrates has not sought question the validity of the laws under which he was sentenced. Lastly, the laws are characterized by universalizing the Socrates’ Choice.

They fail to inquire as to what could be the impacts of Socrates’ escape on the city. They only indicate on a Kantian manner the impacts that such a choice could have if reflected in a general manner. The question that remains unanswered is could the impacts of Socrates’ escape remain the same as that of a common criminal who escapes? Socrates answers this question with this response: “The state wronged me and did not judge the case rightly” Considering that Crito and Socrates had agreed on the fact that one should not respond to harm by doing harm, Socrates’ escape would be wrong it this principle is applied to cities and not only in human beings human beings. This completely invalidates Socrates behavior regardless of the fact that the verdict itself might be wrong. This implies the fact that either the principle is not applicable in the cities or that Socrates’ proportions inculcate some different moral structure other than that of avenging wrong by doing harm.

Legal Obedience

In responding to Socrates’ claim of unjust sentence, the laws attempt to bring in the notion of promise keeping as expressed in Socrates’ propositions. The laws are trying to bind Socrates not to reject the verdict in his alleged commitment to keep obey the city’s rules. Socrates indicates that he may be surprised by a response like that and therefore the laws should go on with other arguments. This is due to the fact that Socrates’ propositions only provided for promise endorsement when it is just. Therefore, suggesting that the laws’ assertion on morality of keeping promises is inappropriate as an answer to the invalidity of the verdict. The laws as presented by Socrates appear Comic. They assert that the city and the laws contributed a great deal into Socrates’ being considering the fact that it was in this city that his parents met, married and gave birth to him. Socrates has no bond of contention with the laws of marriage, but the chain of questions that he keeps asking seem to imply that he is inquiring whether it is just for him to avoid the verdict because it seems to him that the laws and the city will be violated. Now the question remains are the laws straying from their basic appeal to the principle of promise keeping in that they seem to command obedience from Socrates as though he was their own child? The laws can perceive the issue as one of injustice in Socrates’ retaliation against an invalid verdict. In doing this, the laws will be admitting the injustice of the sentence. The reason why Socrates is not in a position is hit back is due to the inequality that exists between the city and him. The relation between the city and him seem to be that of a child.


In contemplating of the speech of law in Plato’s Crito, one can easily get to understand Plato’s teaching in this dialogue. As a fact of justice, the laws have no capability within their rational mode to force Socrates to go through the jaws of death because of a wrong verdict. At the same time it is not appropriate for Socrates to attack or threaten the law by his escape. From the Crito we learn that the law has capability to be authoritative, command and even frighten. Nevertheless, a rational law calls for a form of majesty that must transcend from reason. This is due to the fact that a dialogue like Crito’s concerning legal obligation is can not succeed based on reason alone. Crito’s ability to subvert the law through bribing and deceiving violates the majesty of the laws. In this Crito, the laws are justified in putting emphasis on the long period that Socrates inhabited in Athens as a mature normal reasoning adult and the characters encompassing adult activities and the sort of conservations that he was involves with native Athenians.

These conversations do not help stop anger and neither do they offend. If the laws were not guarded well enough one can afford to doubt whether these offending activities could have caused ill to Socrates even before he was brought to trial in the eyes of the law. At times the anger of many is more conspicuous with remarkable impacts compared to the anger of the law. The laws could not be able to protect Socrates from the ill activities of men.  Such protection given to people such as Socrates is available in any political community depending entirely on the capacity of men generally to be awed by these laws including their counterparts in Hades.

By instructing Socrates not to carry out his plot of escaping, the laws seem to be punishing the city for its wrong verdict imposed on Socrates.  When Socrates decides to obey the conviction at the cost of his life, Socrates depicts that he is not the kind of character that his accusers allege him to be. By Socrates accepting the execution he shames the city for the wrong conviction imposed on him. This shaming punishment is in return associated with the laws, as in at last the laws are able to persuade Socrates not to accept Crito’s persuasions to escape.

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