Socrates On The Legitimacy Of The State

1583 words - 6 pages

Morgan Hecker February 10th, 2014Socrates on the Legitimacy of the StateIn Plato's Crito, yet another complex Socratic dialogue, Socrates explains his very controversial decision to stay in Athens and be put to death rather than escape with the aid of his friends. In this discussion, Socrates must enlighten a close friend as to why he must adhere to the punishment that has been given to him, despite the fact that the reason for his punishment seems unjust. Socrates accomplishes this through a hypothetic dialogue within the discourse, in which the Laws are personified and explain Socrates' obligation - or social contract - to them. In expounding upon this idea of the social contract, the Laws use two major ideas to legitimize their sovereignty: paternal authority and prior consent.As he lays out his case to Crito, Socrates chooses to have a discussion with the Laws - thereby making them into a tangible person that can be directly injured by Socrates' actions. Prior to his hypothetical discussion with the Laws, Crito and Socrates have emphasized that "one must never do wrong" (p. 49), despite what the majority say, even when wrong is done unto them. Had Socrates not personified the Laws, they would have merely been a construct and non-tangible, thus breaking the law would not be considered as egregious because Socrates would not be mistreating 'someone' but rather 'something'. This injury to the Laws is then worsened when Socrates postulates that the state's legitimacy is backed by its paternal authority; for wronging a person who is above oneself is worse than wronging an equal. If on equal footing with another, one might have the right to accuse them of making an incorrect decision, thereby wronging them and possibly deserving wrong in return; on the other hand, if inferior to the person in question one does not have the authority to judge their decision.The Laws defend this paternal authority of theirs by essentially making Socrates' parents agents of the state, especially in such lines as "those assigned to that subject…instruct your father to educate you…" (p.51). The Laws make is seem as though, through his parents, they were the ones who guided his life. Through the state and its laws his parents were able to give birth to him, and through the state and its laws he was able to be "nurtured and educated" (p.51). It is obvious that the Laws do not claim that they themselves gave birth to him, rather that the Laws provided the environment and the protection necessary for Socrates to grow up and live the life that he did. Following such logic, they should not only be revered and given the authority of a parent; instead, as the Laws say, "your country is to be honored more than your mother, your father, and all your ancestors" (p.51) because even his parents were subject to this sovereignty. Because the institutions of the state protected and raised the citizens, so they are required to follow its Laws. The Laws' role also can be...

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