Crito Argument Essay Prompts

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?

As the time approaches for Socrates execution, one of his old and wealthy friends, Crito, has made arraignments for Socrates’ escape. However Socrates refuses to leave without a good reason. Crito tries to persuade him with several arguments. Socrates in turns refutes each argument and then tells or rather his questions tell Crito why escaping is wrong.

Crito states his reputation would be ruined if he did not help Socrates escape. Secondly Socrates would be turning his back on his children if he stayed and died. Lastly, he claims that they did Socrates a wrong, and he did not have to obey their verdict. Socrates questions each argument with Crito, in order to see if they are rational and correct reasons for him to leave. Crito states that his reputation is on the line. That it is expected of him, being wealthy and an old friend of Socrates. People would look down on him, thinking he valued money over friends.

“For if you die I shall not only lose a friend who can never be replaced, but there is another evil: 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 not care. Now, can there be a worse disgrace than this- that I should be thought to value money more than the life of a friend? For the many will not be persuaded that I wanted you to escape, and that you refused.”


Socrates informs Crito the flaws in this argument by asking a series of questions which Crito answers either yes or no. With these questions Socrates shows Crito even though the opinion of the many matter can affect one, their opinion does not necessarily make them correct. They should not worry about the opinion of many, but worry about the opinion of the wise and the good. It is their opinion that matter, they will know and understand why Socrates must stay in prison and die.

“The good are to be regarded, and not the bad?…And the opinions of the wise are good, and the opinions of the unwise are evil?…Very good; and is not this true, Crito, of other things which we need not separately enumerate? In the matter of just and unjust, fair and foul, good and evil, which are the subjects of our present consultation, ought we to follow the opinion of the many and to fear them; or the opinion of the one man who has understanding, and whom we ought to fear and reverence more than all the rest of the world: and whom deserting we shall destroy and injure that principle in us which may be assumed to be improved by justice and deteriorated by injustice; is there not such a principle?…Then, my friend, we must not regard what the many say of us: but what he, the one man who has understanding of just and unjust, will say, and what the truth will say. And therefore you begin in error when you suggest that we should regard the opinion of the many about just and unjust, good and evil, honorable and dishonorable... The other considerations which you mention, of money and loss of character, and the duty of educating children, are, I fear, only the doctrines of the multitude, who would be as ready to call people to life, if they were able, as they are to put them to death- and with as little reason.“


With this reasoning Socrates dismisses most of Crito’s arguments. That loss of reputation, abandoning his children, are all how things seem to the many, and their opinion are of no consequence. He brings up that he does his children no good by escape. If he were live and escape he would deprive his children of Athenian citizenship, education and way of life. He would also be setting a bad example for his children. By him escaping and breaking the laws, he is showing and teaching his children through example, that if worse comes to worse, do what you can to live. Not to stand up for ideals, and what’s right as he has always taught. He cannot and would not be able to teach and raise his children to be virtuous.

“For he who is a corrupter of the laws is more than likely to be corrupter of the young and foolish portion of mankind…Say that you wish to live for the sake of your children, that you may bring them up and educate them- will you take them into Thessaly and deprive them of Athenian citizenship? Is that the benefit which you would confer upon them?”


Socrates then reveals why he cannot and will not leave, and escape his punishment. He does this first by examining Crito’s argument that the jury did him wrong, therefore he did not have to obey them. He talks about how wronging a wrong still does not make a right. Even though the jury did him wrong, if he left he would be doing the laws a wrong. At this point, he develops a couple of ideas. He shall especially commit no wrongs. Personification of the laws. And how him leaving would be wronging the law.

“Or are we to rest assured, in spite of the opinion of the many, and in spite of consequences whether better or worse, of the truth of what was then said, that injustice is always an evil and dishonor to him who acts unjustly?…Then we must do no wrong? Nor when injured injure in return, as the many imagine; for we must injure no one at all?… And what of doing evil in return for evil, which is the morality of the many-is that just or not? For doing evil to another is the same as injuring him?...But if this is true, what is the application? In leaving the prison against the will of the Athenians, do I wrong any? or rather do I not wrong those whom I ought least to wrong? Do I not desert the principles which were acknowledged by us to be just? What do you say?”


The Greeks have personified many abstract concepts and ideas. Socrates does this with the laws. He states that the laws are like a parent. They raise and brought him up like a parent. They have done this through many of the various services the state provide to the people. The laws (state) are like a parent with their services because like a parent they nurtured Socrates. They provide him with public education, public entertainment, public protection (military), etc. Everything they did/provide is in benefit for Socrates. He would be dishonoring them if he turned his back on them and his word. He owes the laws (state) like he owes his parents for raising him, to listen and obey them.

“In the first place did we not bring you into existence? Your father married your mother by our aid and begat you. Say whether you have any objection to urge against those of us who regulate marriage?’…’Or against those of us who regulate the system of nurture and education of children in which you were trained? Were not the laws, who have the charge of this, right in commanding your father to train you in music and gymnastic?’”


He has not only sworn to follow the laws, and accept whatever verdict and punishment that the court prescribe him, but there is an implicit agreement he has made with the laws. The fact that he took in and used government services from children to present. That he has lived and not left the city in his seventy years of life, except in military services. That he has grown and raised his children here. This shows he is happy and satisfied with Athens. If he had found them to be unjust or if he had displeasures with the city he could have left anytime he wished. The fact he has not, further binds him to his implicit contract with the laws. As a result he has implicitly agreed to obey the laws.

“For, after having brought you into the world, and nurtured and educated you, and given you and every other citizen a share in every good that we had to give, we further proclaim and give the right to every Athenian, that if he does not like us when he has come of age and has seen the ways of the city, and made our acquaintance, he may go where he pleases and take his goods with him; and none of us laws will forbid him or interfere with him. Any of you who does not like us and the city, and who wants to go to a colony or to any other city, may go where he likes, and take his goods with him. But he who has experience of the manner in which we order justice and administer the State, and still remains, has entered into an implied contract that he will do as we command him…‘There is clear proof,’ they will say, ‘Socrates, that we and the city were not displeasing to you. Of all Athenians you have been the most constant resident in the city, which, as you never leave, you may be supposed to love…Nor had you any curiosity to know other States or their laws: your affections did not go beyond us and our State; we were your especial favorites, and you acquiesced in our government of you; and this is the State in which you begat your children, which is a proof of your satisfaction…And first of all answer this very question: Are we right in saying that you agreed to be governed according to us in deed, and not in word only? Is that true or not?’…Then will they not say: ‘You, Socrates, are breaking the covenants and agreements which you made with us at your leisure, not in any haste or under any compulsion or deception, but having had seventy years to think of them, during which time you were at liberty to leave the city, if we were not to your mind, or if our covenants appeared to you to be unfair.’”


He cannot rationalize what he could say to the law. That the argument that the jury did him wrong, therefore he can disregard them. It is with the laws he has implicitly consent to obey as well as swearing before the gods to obey. He of all people should not be harming and dishonoring the law. He has claimed to teach and show people how to live a good, to be virtuous. How can he face anyone or himself if he were to violate everything he stood for. His life would be meaningless and forfeit should he leave with Crito, due to the way of life he lived and what he believed in. He believed he is here to teach people about virtue and how to be good. He is commanded by the gods to be here. To be humble and show those who would think they know wisdom, that they really do not. Here to annoy and prod the state forgets itself and becomes wicked Socrates is there to remind the state. He is to be the gadfly of the state and people. Here to constantly remind people to be virtuous. That is how he views the purpose and aim of his life. For when the oracles divine that none are wiser then Socrates. He knows he knows nothing, therefore he cannot be wise. However after questioning those who claim to know something, he finds out they really know nothing. So this makes him the wiser, for knowing he knows nothing, over those who think they know something but really don’t know anything.

“I reflected that if I could only find a man wiser than myself, then I might go to the god with a refutation in my hand. I should say to him, ‘Here is a man who is wiser than I am; but you said that I was the wisest.’…And so I go my way, obedient to the god, and make inquisition into the wisdom of anyone, whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise; and if he is not wise, then in vindication of the oracle I show him that he is not wise; and this occupation quite absorbs me, and I have no time to give either to any public matter of interest or to any concern of my own, but I am in utter poverty by reason of my devotion to the god… am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by the God; and the state is like a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has given the state and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you.”


From this Socrates gathers the gods wish for him to use his wisdom and virtuous and thus show other. This is how Socrates viewed his life. He claims in court that “For this fear of death is indeed the pretence of wisdom, and not real wisdom, being the appearance of knowing the unknown; since no one knows whether death, which they in their fear apprehend to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good.” Therefore if he leaves with Crito it shows that he fears death, and in so fearing death he gives up all claims to being wise. If he leaves with Crito, everyone himself included would not listen to anything he could say. He could no longer claim that he is trying make people virtuous and better, when he himself is living in exile of the law. If he every tried to teach, he’d be considered a hypocrite. In order to be the gadfly of the state, he must not commit any wrong. He feels if he cannot teach, his life is not worth living, because he has disobeyed a direct command from the gods. Everywhere he goes he be suspected of corrupting the youth and breaking the laws. This would be the life he would lead, which is no life in his eyes.

“Thebes or Megara, both of which are well-governed cities, will come to them as an enemy, Socrates, and their government will be against you, and all patriotic citizens will cast an evil eye upon you as a subverter of the laws, and you will confirm in the minds of the judges the justice of their own condemnation of you. For he who is a corrupter of the laws is more than likely to be corrupter of the young and foolish portion of mankind. Will you then flee from well-ordered cities and virtuous men? and is existence worth having on these terms? Or will you go to them without shame, and talk to them, Socrates? And what will you say to them? What you say here about virtue and justice and institutions and laws being the best things among men? Would that be decent of you? Surely not. but will there be no one to remind you that in your old age you violated the most sacred laws from a miserable desire of a little more life? …you will live, but how?- as the flatterer of all men, and the servant of all men; and doing what?- eating and drinking in Thessaly, having gone abroad in order that you may get a dinner. And where will be your fine sentiments about justice and virtue then?”


This all shows to prove that if he leaves with Crito, he is proving the jury correct. He was found guilty of two charges, of atheism, and corrupting the youth. If he leaves he would be found guilty of those charges. He swore before the gods that he would accept and follow any verdict that the court shall give. If he flees, then he is breaking his oath to the gods, and to the laws, thus indicting that he does not honor and feel that an oath to the gods mean much, therefore disbelief in them. The example he sets by fleeing from his judgment is a terrible example for the youth. He breaks his oath and goes back on his word twice. He has even said in court that exile is a fate worse then death for him. The youth can claim, that Socrates, a well respected wise man, ditched his death sentence when push came to shove. So they too can follow suit, for if it is ok for Socrates to do such, it is ok for them, thus being corrupted. “Moreover, you might, if you had liked, have fixed the penalty at banishment in the course of the trial-the State which refuses to let you go now would have let you go then. But you pretended that you preferred death to exile, and that you were not grieved at death.” So therefore in order to prove his innocence he must remain in jail and die. This thus becomes an example of Socratic irony. Socratic irony is claiming to know nothing about the matter, in order to draw a conclusion of the matter. Socrates staying to die in order to prove he is innocent is an example of this. Although it is not exactly parallel, it still can be said to be Socratic irony due to the nature of it. Because he is forced to do the opposite of something in order to show the truth of it. In order for him to prove his innocence, that he does believe in the gods and is setting a good example he must stay and die in prison. He shows he believes in the gods by following and keeping his oath. He sets a good example by showing that he is willing to obey the laws no matter the consequence.


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