Erroneus Assumptions in The Trial and Death of Socrates
In Plato's Crito, Socrates explains to his old friend Crito his reasons for refusing an offer to help him escape execution. One of the tools Socrates uses to convince Crito of the righteousness of his decision is a hypothetical argument concerning the state and laws of Athens. Central to this argument is the congeniality that Socrates had always found in Athens, reflected by the fact that Socrates chose to remain in Athens for most of his life. Such a choice, the laws insist, implies a tacit agreement between Socrates and the state of Athens, stipulating that Socrates either obey the laws or, when he deems the laws unjust, persuade the city to act in a more suitable fashion. It is this "just agreement" that prohibits Socrates from fleeing Athens to avoid execution. Socrates proves to Crito's satisfaction that to break this agreement would be to do wrong to the city of Athens, and as such it cannot be seriously considered.
As he discusses his situation with Crito, Socrates refutes some of Crito's basic assumptions. Curiously, however, Socrates does not examine his own assumptions; he never once asks if his agreement with Athens is "just." He correctly assumes that Athens' congeniality to him obligates him to follow the tenets of the agreement, but he does not ask if Athens feels similarly obligated. This question is central, for if Athens fails to uphold its part of the agreement the agreement cannot be just and Socrates is freed from any duty to it. I will argue that Socrates' own reasoning, particularly that used in Crito and Euthyphro, will prove that it is not only not wrong to break the agreement, but also that it is wrong to abide by an unjust agreement, such as the one between Socrates and the Athenian state. This essay will show that this agreement is unjust and therefore impious. I will then argue that its impiety makes upholding the agreement unacceptable in the eyes of the gods and that it is the opinion of the gods that must direct Socrates' decision.
Socrates' first step is to establish that one must never do wrong (not even in retaliation for a wrong done against oneself) and that one must fulfill any just agreement into which one enters (49B). Crito offers his consent to this claim, but cannot agree with Socrates' assertion that fleeing Athens in defiance of the law would injure the city. He believes that Socrates would not be doing anything wrong by avoiding execution. Here Socrates makes a hypothetical argument on behalf of the Athenian state, although he makes it clear that their argument is also his own. Athens, Socrates believes, is correct in asserting that an attempt to escape his death sentence would also constitute an attempt to destroy the city by undermining its laws. It is worth noting that harming Athens is explicitly described as "impious" in Socrates' argument. Crito stands by the defense that Socrates has a right to destroy Athens because its...