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Socrates's Social Contract with the Laws

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Socrates's Social Contract with the Laws

The recurring theme in Plato’s “Crito” would be the obedience or agreement to the Laws. As Socrates lies in jail, Crito makes compelling arguments to convince Socrates to attempt an escape. Socrates allows him to make arguments to hear him out. In this paper, I will discuss the arguments made between Crito and Socrates. I will then evaluate both arguments based off of Socrates’ agreement with the Laws and discuss whether or not I agree with the social contract that the citizens and Socrates have made with the Laws of Athens. By evaluating their agreement, I will also discuss how Socrates argument is built on a premise that conducting unjust actions will harm the health of one’s psyche(soul)/body.

Crito begins with a weak argument; stating that if he were to allow Socrates to die in the cell alone, it would be a shame for his reputation. Crito points out that he would be considered as a person who values money over friendship because of his inability to get Socrates out of jail by spending money. This argument does not hold a strong point because it merely refers to what might be consequential to Crito if Socrates does not decide to escape. Then, Crito attempts to makes another argument. He questions the reasons of Socrates’s refusal to escape. Crito wonders if Socrates would worry about the fact that his escape would get his friends into trouble with the law. However, it was very blatant that this was not one of Socrates’ reasons for avoiding death. In Crito’s third argument, he brings up Socrates's children and the responsibility he has for them as a father. Crito states that a good man like Socrates, who leads a just life, should not abandon his sons. However, in order to follow this action through, he would have to break the law and escape. If he were to do that, he would no longer be a just man. Although Crito does prove a point, Socrates then suggest the possibility that his good friends would not let his sons grow up without care. Although Crito’s arguments are based off of the idea of friendship and relationships, it does not consider the morality of it all. Whereas, Socrates is the opposite.

 Socrates begins his argument of how the public approval should not be be taken so earnestly. However, the issue is not what the public would think of him, but the act of escaping would be immoral, even though the punishment seems unjust. Socrates believes that it is never right to do an injustice even if it is in retaliation. He had failed to persuade the jury during court otherwise and has to take the punishment he was given. Then, he brings up how destructive or consequential it might be on Athens if he were to attempt to escape and break the law. His final reasons discusses whether or not escaping and breaking the law would be an unjust action which in return would harm the condition of his psyche. He believe that a life that is not good, a life that is unjust, is not one worth living. “Examine the following statement in turn as to whether it stays the same or not, that the most important thing is not life, but a good life” (48b). If he were to escape, it would just lead to the inevitable damage that would happen to his psyche which in return would affect his soul after he dies which is inevitable. He then discusses the Laws of Athens and his agreement with them. Because Socrates believes that a man can not do unjust things to another man. He personifies the Law. By giving a voice to the Laws, he can refer to it as as person. Therefore, by breaking these laws, Socrates would be unjust and the Laws in return tells him of the consequences of escaping. “Do you not by this action you are attempting intend to destroy us the laws, and indeed the whole city, as far as you are concerned? Or do you think it possible for a city not to be destroyed if the verdicts of the courts have no force but are nullified and set as naught by private individuals?” (50a-b). The Laws state that if Socrates were to disobey the Laws, it would destroy the entire city.  If the Laws no longer hold any power, Athens would be in chaos. They are only effective if they are followed through with no chances of it being nullified. When Socrates personifies the Laws, not only is he giving it a voice, but an authoritative one. The Laws make solid arguments on how Socrates technically has no right to be going against them at this age. The Laws are now personified as the one who gave Socrates’ parents the right to be married; therefore, the reason why Socrates was even born. They reason: “Did we not bring you to birth, and was it not through us that your father married your mother and begat you?” (50d).  The Laws are personified as a very authoritative figure. A figure that had gave Socrates everything throughout his life. The Laws continue to make an analogy: “could you, in the first place, deny that you are our offspring and servant,” (50e). They make it clear that the Laws are the ones who have ultimate control over everything. How could Socrates, as an offspring or even a servant to the Laws, have any chance of overthrowing it? The Laws, however, are not depriving Socrates of free will. When the Law raised Socrates or any citizen of Athens into manhood, they had the free will to either choose to remain in Athens and comply with the Law or leave if they did not like it. The Laws also suggest that if one did not like the rules here, they had the chance to persuade otherwise. “You must either persuade it or obey its order, and endure in silence whatever it makes you endure,” (51b). However, Socrates remained here in Athen and not only did he remain here but he has rarely left the city. One of Socrates’ choice during the trial was his exile. However, if he were given a choice to be exile from his beloved city or death,  he would rather take the punishment of death. It is not as if other cities are lawless. They all have laws and if Socrates, now considered a lawless man, were to step foot into these cities, he would be outcasted. He will also be unable to continue his philosophical teaching and with his infamous quote, The unexamined life is not worth living” (38a), he believes that life has no value if it is not under constant question and wonder. Another reason for the personification of the Laws not only gives it an authoritative voice but also a more personal approach. This agreement that the Laws have with the citizens is not merely with the citizens as a mass, but with each one individually. They each personally had an agreement with the Law as if one person had a contract with another person. Each individual citizen that had resided in Athens all had a mutual agreement or a mutual liking to the Laws, which is why they are living there. The Laws were personified to make them an entire separate entity from the lawmaker themselves. If Socrates were judged and punished unjustly, then it must be the Laws that were unjust and in return deserve to be broken or overthrown. However, because the Laws have a completely separate voice from that of the lawmakers, it becomes an entirely different perspective. Because of the juxtaposition of these two things: the Law and the lawmakers, it makes it clear that if Socrates were to escape, he would be hurting the Laws, which were never unjust in the first place.

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