Socrates on the Legitimacy of the State

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Morgan Hecker February 10th, 2014

Socrates on the Legitimacy of the State

In Plato's Crito, yet another complex Socratic dialogue, Socrates explains his very controversial decision to stay in Athens and be put to death rather than escape with the aid of his friends. In this discussion, Socrates must enlighten a close friend as to why he must adhere to the punishment that has been given to him, despite the fact that the reason for his punishment seems unjust. Socrates accomplishes this through a hypothetic dialogue within the discourse, in which the Laws are personified and explain Socrates' obligation - or social contract - to them. In expounding upon this idea of the social contract, the Laws use two major ideas to legitimize their sovereignty: paternal authority and prior consent.

As he lays out his case to Crito, Socrates chooses to have a discussion with the Laws - thereby making them into a tangible person that can be directly injured by Socrates' actions.

Prior to his hypothetical discussion with the Laws, Crito and Socrates have emphasized that "one must never do wrong" (p. 49), despite what the majority say, even when wrong is done unto them. Had Socrates not personified the Laws, they would have merely been a construct and non-tangible, thus breaking the law would not be considered as egregious because Socrates would not be mistreating 'someone' but rather 'something'. This injury to the Laws is then worsened when Socrates postulates that the state's legitimacy is backed by its paternal authority; for wronging a person who is above oneself is worse than wronging an equal. If on equal footing with another, one might have the right to accuse them of making an incorrect decision, thereby wronging them and possibly deserving wrong in return; on the other hand, if...