Q: “According to Socrates, should you obey an unjust law?”
Convicted For Living?
Do we have an obligation to obey any law, no matter how unjust or evil, provided only that it is in fact a valid rule of the legal system in which we happen to be physically located? In the following composition, I am going to examine the answer to this question in accordance to what Socrates believes. The best way to understand this almost “WWSD” (What Would Socrates Do) approach is by looking at Socrates' actions in the three Platonic dialogues we have read. These dialogues bring forth three possible bases for why Socrates believes one should obey the law. First, that there is a distinction between the the “justness” of a law and how that law is applied. Second, that if one willingly accepts living in a society, it is implied that he is also accepting the rules that that society abides to. And third, that even if the law in question is unjust or applied unjustly, it would impious to correct this injustice by not adhering to it; an unjust action in itself.
In the Apology we find out that Socrates is being indicted by Meletus on the grounds that he is corrupting Athens' youth with his teachings. Socrates was tried before a judge and jury panel of 500 or 501 members, found guilty, and sentenced to death. At no point during the proceedings did Socrates deny that corrupting the youth was a criminal act punishable by death. Socrates in fact believes that it is noble to prosecute those who corrupt the minds of the youth. Moreover, in the Euthyphro Dialogue, Socrates even praises Meletus saying that, “He [Meletus] is the only one who begins at the right point in his political reforms; for his first care is to make the young men as good as possible” (2). Therefore while Socrates may not have necessarily agreed with the verdict of his trial, he did agree with the essence and/or idea of what the law that he “broke” was founded on.
Socrates was accused of corrupting the...