Plato creates a dialogue in the Critobetween Socrates, who faces a death sentence, and Crito, Socrates? distressed friend. Crito has come to persuade Socratesto escape death and flee Athens, but Socratesconvinces his friend that complying with the death sentence is more important than any of Crito?s concerns. Plato uses this dialogue to introduce his views on justice and the relationship between citizens and the laws of their state. Because these are the most philosophically important arguments in the dialogue, I will focus on thosearguments which address justice and the state. I will also discuss Socrates' concern that exile would lead to a painful afterlife.
Socrateshas three arguments for remaining in Athens and facing death. First, he believes that he will be received in Hades warmly if he abides by Athens' law. Second, Socratesargues that he has made a tacit agreement with the laws of Athens that he cannot justly break.
Finally, he states that it is wrongto retaliate against thosewho have done you wrong, and thus it would be wrongto retaliate againstAthens by escaping.
Concerned with making the best and most rational choice, Socratesis notaffected by people?s opinion of his actions, for "why should we care so much for what the majority think?" (Crito,44c)3. Using Socrates? own standards for making a good and rational decision, I argue
that, contrary to what he says, it would not harmthe state if Socratesescaped. I begin by arguing that Plato?s conception of the state actually leads to the conclusion that Socratesdid notenter into a just agreement with Athens. Therefore, Socratesis under no obligation to keep his tacit agreement with the state. Finally, I argue that the notion of retaliation is notapplicable to Socrates? situation. Because Socrateswill notbe committing an injustice by leaving Athens, he will notbe shunned in the afterworld for this decision.4
I. Socrates? Arguments 5
Crito pleads with Socrates notto accept suicide because death is an evil thing. How could Socrateschoose to dosomething evil? Socratesanswers with a question: how doyou know that death is evil? Because Crito has notexperienced death himself, he cannot say whether it is evil or not. As a result, death, at best, is notknown to be good or evil. However, Socratesdescribes a scene in Hades where he is judged by other departed souls. If he makes rational decisions and acts justly, then he will be welcomed warmly. If he chooses poorly or irrationally, then when he does finally journey to Hades, he will be shunned (54c). Therefore, because Socratesbelieves that choosing to face his sentence is rational and good, his death is more likely to be good than evil.
Socratesis concerned with doing what is just as a citizen of a state. He believed that he had entered into a binding, even if tacit, agreement with Athens. He had lived his entire life in Athens and enjoyed the benefits of living under its laws. Because he had enjoyed living under these laws, he had implicitly agreed that they were good laws and that he would uphold them. He believes that keeping a just agreement is one of the fundamental characteristics of a rational agent. "When one has come to an agreement that is just with someoneone should fulfill it" (49e). Additionally, he tells anyone who has made an agreement that "your country is to be honored more than your mother, your father, and all your ancestors, that it is more to be revered and more sacred, and that it counts for more among the gods and sensible men, that you must worship it" (51a). Given the paternalistic and even godlike nature that Socratessees in the state, he is in no position to decide whether its demands on him are just. However, even if he were able to evaluate the state?s demands, it would be unjust for him now to decide to break his agreement with the state because he has already made an agreement to keep the laws even if he disagrees with them.
Continuing to argue for complying with the laws, Socratespresents his retaliation argument. He argues that it is irrational for him to retaliate againstanybody who has done him wrong. "[N]either to do wrongor to return a wrongis ever right, noteven to injure in return for an injury received" (49d). Retaliation is motivated by emotions, notreason; therefore it is irrational behavior. Escaping from prison is retaliation againstAthens because it breaks and undermines the laws that Socrateshas agreed to live under. Since irrationality leads to bad decisions, and rationality brings the good life, Socratesmust choose notto retaliatein order to make a good decision and pursue the good life. Even if Socrateshad the power to judge the righteousness of the laws and break his agreement, he could not doso because it would be retaliation and, hence, a bad decision.
II. Critique of Socrates? Arguments
I argue that Socrates? escape from Athens will not harmthe state. First, Socrates? tacit agreement with Athens is notjust, and Socratesis therefore under no obligation to keep the agreement. Second, if Socratesfled Athens, he would notbe retaliating againstthe laws because he would be acting rationally. Finally, because Socratesis notobliged to keep his agreement with Athens, he will notbe shunned in Hades for his decision to embrace exile.
In order to determine if Socrateshas really entered into a just agreement with Athens, we must discover whether his agreement meets this criterion: that both parties of the agreement make the agreement rationally. It is important to note that Socratesthinks his tacit agreement with Athens is a "just" agreement. I argue, and think Socrateswould agree, that a just agreement is a both a good agreement and believed by the relevant parties to be reasonable. In order for an agreement to be just, the parties must be making rational decisions when they enter into the agreement. Rational decisions presuppose the knowledge required to make a good decision. A decision notbased on knowledge would be based on misinformation or emotion. If based on misinformation, the decision would be erroneous. If based on emotion, the decision would be irrational. In either case, the decision would notbe good or just.
In order to determine if Athens meets the criterion of making a rational decision, I use Socrates? description of Athens. I contend that this theory of the state describes a government that is incapable of making rational decisions. Athens is a government that does nothave the necessary knowledge to make rational and good decisions. According to the Crito,the law of Athens has two main characteristics: (1) an individual cannot question the state?s authority (51a-c), and (2) an individual or group cannot act in such a way as to undermine the integrity of the government, e.g., acts of civil disobedience or protest are prohibited (50b). Athens cannot make rational decisions because to make rational decisions, it must have knowledge of its citizens cares and interests. Athens does notknow these interests because it lacks a system of adequate political participation. This type of state can be compared to a modern example. Consider that Socratesis a black man living in South Africa during apartheid. He has lived in South Africa his entire life with his family, notbecause he was happy there, but because it would be even worse to leave. Now he has been unjustly sentenced to death because of the color of his skin. According to Socrates, no citizen of the state can judge whether a law is unjust or not, and he, because he has lived in South Africa his entire life, cannot declare the laws unjust now and break his tacit agreement with the government. 6
In this conception of the state individuals or group of individuals would nothave the right to undermine the policies of apartheid. There would be no avenue for black members of the society to change the system because they cannot vote. With the prohibition of civil disobedience and protest, this obviously unjust government is encouraged to continue. The government never recognizes its own injustice because it is never forced to listen to its citizens. Because this government has no means by which it can listen to all of its members? cares and interests, it cannot have the necessary knowledge to make a rational decision. Therefore its decisions must be made according to misinformation or emotion. In either case, it is incapable of making a good decision. Therefore, it is incapable of entering into a just agreement.
Since Athens is a government which restricts the participation of its people in its processes, i.e., a majority of people living in Athens were notallowed to vote including slaves and women, it, like South Africa during apartheid, cannot make rational decisions nor can it enter into just agreements. Socrates, then, did notmake a just agreement with Athens, and he is notobliged to keep this agreement.
Socrates? final argument is that it would be irrational to retaliate againstthe laws of Athens. I contend that this argument is notapplicable to Socrates? situation. Retaliation is an act of irrationality guided by emotion. Consequently, if Socratesmakes a careful, rational decision that it is better to go into exile than to face death, his act will notbe retaliation, but an informed decision.
Because Socratesis notobliged to keep his agreement to Athens nor is he acting in retaliation if he flees, he is notmaking an irrational decision if he decides to go into exile. Therefore he cannot fear retribution in the afterlife for this choice. Since I have shown that Socrateshas notentered into a just agreement with Athens, his three main arguments are defeated. Socratescan now make a rational choice to go into exile because it will not harmthe state.