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Crito Versus Apology, Research Paper Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1078

Research Paper

In the Crito and the Apology, Socrates presents arguments as to why one must obey the law of the State. In both these texts, the reasoning behind this “obedience principle” is fundamentally related to the necessity of living in a just social community, in which particular norms are accepted so as to provide a virtuous foundation for this same community. Nevertheless, in the Apology, Socrates also states that if the law of the State forbade the practice of philosophy, Socrates would violate this law. It thus appears that Socrates explicitly contradicts himself. However, Socrates’ reasoning could be nevertheless deemed consistent if any “true” system of law is in fact one that allows philosophizing. Namely, obedience itself would not be derivative of the law; rather, law itself is only to be recognized as law if it allows philosophizing, insofar as philosophy is ethically virtuous. This is related to what Socrates considers the aim of philosophy to be: “it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day.” (Apology, 38a) Hence, the following paper will, firstly, attempt to unpack the logic behind the reasons why Socrates argues for the “obedience principle.” This principle is based on the notion that any true system of laws would inherently possess a value that justifies its existence and thus obedience. In the second part, I will then try to show that Socrates does not contradict himself in his refusal to adhere to a prospective ban on philosophizing, since Socrates presupposes that any form of law is inherently just. Basically, Socrates argues that he is not breaking the law by philosophizing, simply because the ban against philosophizing would not represent a real law.

In the Crito, Socrates develops an argument as to why he must accept the charges laid upon him by the Athenian state, or what may be termed the “obedience principle.” The initial premise of the argument is the ethical principle that one should not do wrong, which Socrates phrases as follows: “When has come to an agreement that is just with someone, should one fulfill it or cheat on it?” (Crito, 44) The crucial aspect of the obedience principle is that such laws essentially operate as a form  of agreement between the citizen and the state, and this agreement is valid if the terms of the agreement are themselves virtuous. Namely, the citizen as a member of the State must obey these agreements, insofar as they are just – to break this “contract” would be an ethical violation, which Socrates establishes earlier with Crito as the imperative to “never do wrong.” (Crito, 49b) Accordingly, the crucial assumption of Socrates is that the “laws speak the truth.” (51c) Socrates feels that the laws speak of truth, insofar as the laws of the state have allowed for autonomy: “not one of our laws raises any obstacle or forbids him, if he is not satisfied with us or the city, if one of you wants to go and live in a colony.” (Crito, 51d) The laws of Athens have granted a certain autonomy, such that no legitimate reason subsists as to why they should not be obeyed. Obedience here in Socrates’ logic is therefore not a blind obedience to figures of authority. For figures of authority are legitimate only to the extent that the laws that underlie their authority are viewed as just. This quality of justice is what engenders obedience, as opposed to merely the existence of a law as such.

According to this reading of the obedience principle, it becomes clear why Socrates’ stated violation of the law in the Apology is consistent with his overall viewpoint. Throughout the text, Socrates presents himself as someone whose teachings are intent to improve the city-state, suggesting that the laws of Athens are somehow invalid. Hence, he declares “I am the kind of person to be a gift of the god to the city.” (Apology, 31a-b) Namely, Socrates sees himself as someone who radically interrogates the presuppositions of the city-state: “Why then do some people enjoy spending considerable time in my company?…They enjoy hearing those being questioned who think they are wise, but are not.” (Apology, 33c) Socrates attempts to reveal the social norms of the state in which he lives, norms that he believes are fundamentally unjust. It is the injustice of these laws that therefore justify his criticism of the state. Reconciling this remark with Socrates’ remarks concerning obedience to the state, it would seem that in the Apology Socrates’ argument for why he would not stop philosophizing if ordered by the state lies in the notion that such a declaration of asking one to stop philosophizing itself would be an example of doing harm to men, and thus, violate what he phrases in the Crito as the imperative to “never do wrong” (49b). Simply put, any state or law that would forbid philosophy does not deserve to be called a state or a law.

Socrates therefore does contradict himself in these two arguments precisely because he views the law as an agreement with good intentions in both the Crito and the Apology. In both cases, law is defined by a universal form of justice, and anything worthy of being called a law must subscribe to this form of justice. Breaking the law against philosophizing by philosophizing is not a transgression of any social contract, because this social contract, insofar as it lacks justice, cannot properly be called a law. Certainly, Socrates’ viewpoint can be considered idealistic in this sense. On the other hand, he is attempting to question the apparent self-evidence of what we call laws and the social normativities that we accept. Hence, in the Apology, Socrates emphasizes that “I say that it is impossible for me to keep quiet because that means disobeying the god…” (38b) In both texts, Socrates stresses a “principle of obedience”; but this principle is determined, as in the aforementioned quotation from the Crito, by the sense in which obedience is founded in a common good. Obedience in Socrates is not defined in terms of the obedience to any particular system, but rather an obedience to the latter insofar as it withstands inquiries into the rationality behind its foundations, an inquiry which essentially seeks to uncover whether these foundations are virtuous or not. Obedience, in the Socratic sense displayed in the Crito and the Apology, is obedience to the good: any law worth its name is based upon this ethical commitment.

References

Plato. Complete Works. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1997.

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