The life of Socrates provides one example of someone who seeks a justification for his or her moral actions by living out his convictions even to the point of death. Socrates tries to use reason (rather than the values embedded in his culture) to determine whether an action is right or wrong. The dialogue called the “Crito” contains an image of Socrates trying to adopt what could be called the “moral point of view” (as opposed to the point of view of one’s religion or society) when faced with the difficult decision of weather or not to spare his own life. After conviction for teachings against popular opinion, Socrates was sent to the jail where he was to be executed. At that time, a ship was sailing on a sacred mission and no executions were to be performed during its absence. Thus it happened that Socrates was confined to his cell for some 30 days. Two days before the ship was to return, an old friend named Crito came to visit. Crito told Socrates that plans were in place to prepare for his escape and journey to another country. Socrates points out that by escaping, he would be breaking the Laws. And so the practical question in this dialogue becomes: Ought I to break the Laws, even if they are injust?
The Argument (48b-54d) The First Premise (48b-49b): ONE OUGHT TO LIVE RIGHTLY. The most important thing is “to live rightly” (“living well” and “living justly” are the same). Would it be right to disobey the laws (to escape from jail) even if they are in and of themselves unjust? Socrates argues that the Laws are more honorable than one’s parents, for they too offer structure, educate, and nurture their citizens but have to do so on a larger scale and are therefore held to a higher standard of morality. Just as one should respect the decisions of one’s parents, so should one respect the decisions of the Laws, but to an even greater degree because the laws are there to govern all people where a parent’s are only meant for the individual family. Socrates has been a citizen under these laws his entire life, and by choosing to remain as a citizen of this state, he pledges an oath to uphold the laws set forth by the governing parties because he as a member of their population, has pledged his allegiance to the leaders.
If Socrates would choose to leave the state, he would be seen as a corrupting force wherever he went because he came under opposition to the state and fled when he did not agree with it’s practices for his own life. This in itself is the very thing which he taught against, for by only choosing to obey the rules of the state when it suits a person makes them a hippocrate and a shallow person of little moral fiber. If one has the ability to choose whether to obey a law, then he is destroying the power of the law; destroying a law is unjust, for men require a community and a community requires laws in order to function. It would put Socratese in a precarious position in the afterlife if he failed to see this correlation.
For Socrates the main concern that he faces is whether or not he would be doing the just or moral thing by leaving the prison and refusing the sentence of the jury. Socrates wants to do no wrong, and he feels to not abide by the juries sentence is wrong, however Crito reminds Socrates that he has been wronged by the jury. Socrates is in fact guilty of the crimes he was charged with, but the crime is not a thing which deserves to be punished by death, because a citizen should have the right to challenge the authority of the state. Crito urges him to leave stating he does not need to accept the verdict of a jury that has wronged him. Socrates responds by pointing out that he must do no wrong at all even in return for a wrong. The laws did not wrong Socrates the jury did by giving into their fear of Socrates new teachings instead of embracing his right to freedom of thought, speech, and virtious actions. Socrates does not want to harm the Laws by doing wrong to them and asks Crito to consider the Laws of Athens as a being standing at the doorway as Socrates is about to leave. The Laws ask Socrates why is he leaving and Socrates repeats Crito’s reasoning. The Laws would object that it was not the understanding that the Laws had with Socrates. The Laws were like a father in assisting Socrates as he grew. They educated him and enriched him, they gave him a share in all the beautiful things of the city, citizenship and the right to leave the city at any time. Socrates in particular is bound to them because for all his life he remained in the city, leaving only to defend it in battles. He could have immigrated at any time but he chooses to remain and in so doing to obey it’s Laws.
If Socrates were to leave he would be disobedient and wrong toward the Laws in different ways: Hurting the Laws as they are as Parents to him, Defying the laws who were his Nurturers, He would be breaking his agreement to obey. Socrates cannot leave. He swore an oath to accept the verdict and penalty. He swore to the gods. If he leaves he will not convince anyone that he was right and they were wrong. No, rather it would be proof that they were right in convicting and executing him. If he leaves he would become guilty of the two crimes he had been accused of: Impiety- he would be breaking his oath to the gods and thus show that either he disbelieves in them or is insulting them deliberately, Corrupting the Young- he would be setting a very bad example for the youth of Athens as they would see Socrates run off into exile and think that they could do likewise in a similar situation and thus did not need to keep their oaths.
Socrates believed in the Law that said if you make an oath, keep it. If you make a promise, keep it. Socrates must stay and die to prove that he is innocent. He stays to die because he is innocent and wants to remain innocent and virtuous. If he leaves he becomes guilty and deserves to die! Men and not the Laws wronged Socrates. He sees no reason to harm the Laws now. He does not want to do wrong and thereby deserve the penalty. He wanted always and everywhere to do what reason directed him to see as the GOOD, the virtuous.