-What is it?-
The Crito is a Platonic Dialogue that takes place a few days before the Athenian philosopher Socrates is executed for crimes of impiety and corruption against the state. It is set entirely in the jail cell Socrates occupies while waiting for his execution, and the main action of the Dialogue occurs when a friend of his, Crito, comes to visit him.
Crito wants to help him escape. He explains that he has ways of helping Socrates flee undetected, and says the old man shouldn’t worry for fear of capture, as Crito is willing to expend all the resources at his disposal to ensure the old philosopher’s freedom.
Socrates refuses, and explains to Crito why—he believes that to run from his judgment, even if he or other people believe it to be unjust, would do more harm than good. He believes that one cannot repay an unjust act with an unjust act, and to break the law of Athens, even if it is applied incorrectly or unfairly, would be an untenable action that would rob him of the possibility of discussing in any serious capacity virtue or the just way of living one’s life.
This is about all he has to say, and after explaining his motives, he asks Crito if his friend has anything to say. Crito replies that he does not.
-Why is it important?-
The discussion had in the Crito certainly seems to be able to apply to nearly any person who has suffered at the mercy of unjust laws, and it supplies an answer that is immediately frustrating and callous—deal with it.
At first, this proposed solution doesn’t seem to be a solution at all; it seems to be a surrender. In a sense, it somewhat is. But examining the logic of Socrates’ argument, within the context of his situation, it does make some degree of sense.
While self-preservation and the thwarting of an unjust sentence would be a relatively rational decision for Socrates, it is not the most good decision someone in his place could make. The offer is tempting, and more than that, it is in many ways justified—and there are few things more appealing, understandable, or quietly terrifying in the world than a justified temptation.
It’s worthy of note that Socrates doesn’t approach Crito’s proposition of escape any kind of moral aspersion-casting; rather, he looks at it from a reasonable point of view. If he is to conduct a good action, that action must prevent harm. Doing harm to another cannot be good, and therefore an action that mitigates or totally prevents harm is an action of the highest good. This means that even if someone is committing an action against you that is bringing you harm, or worse, committing harm against them is still not justified. As Socrates says, he will, “die a sufferer of evil not a doer of evil; a victim, not of the laws, but of men,” and by doing so, he is setting an example for those who come after. This is what happens when the law falls into the hands of those who don’t know, or don’t care, how they use it.
And if Socrates were to flee, he would be breaking the laws of Athens, and showing his true colors. Such an action would show that he only holds to the law when the weather is fair. Whenever it isn’t, he’ll turn and run.
As he said in the Apology, he believes in a kind of duty and obligation in life, and the shame in the desertion of that duty is worse than the pain of death. He would rather die than engage in such an action.
The Crito is a short but meaningful Platonic Dialogue that explores what it means to uphold the law, in all its forms, even when it is used against you unjustifiably. Though some of the ideas may appear outdated or even grossly antithetical to modern sentiments, there is a kernel of something admirable in the way that Socrates stands by the ideal he holds of his city, even if the reality is about to have him killed.
“The Project Gutenberg Ebook Of Crito, by Plato.” The Project Gutenberg EBook of Crito, by Plato, 22 Mar. 2003, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1657/1657-h/1657-h.htm.
Link to Crito Podcast – Spotify
Link to Crito Podcast – Apple Podcasts
Link to Crito Podcast – Libsyn