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Crito (/ˈkrt/ KRY-toh or /ˈkrt/ KREE-toh; Ancient Greek: Κρίτων [krítɔːn]) is a dialogue by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. It depicts a conversation between Socrates and his wealthy friend Crito regarding justice (δικαιοσύνη), injustice (ἀδικία), and the appropriate response to injustice. Socrates thinks that injustice may not be answered with injustice, and refuses Crito's offer to finance his escape from prison. The dialogue contains an ancient statement of the social contract theory of government.

In contemporary discussions, debate over the meaning of Crito attempts to determine whether it is a plea for unconditional obedience to the laws of a society.


The conversation, which may be based on a true historical event is thought to have been published in 399 BCE. Since his trial in Apology, Socrates has been imprisoned for four weeks, with his execution coming in a matter of days. Historians are not aware of the exact location of Socrates' cell, but according to excavations, it is about 100 meters southwest of the Heliaia court, just outside the site of the agora.[1]

Plato's representation of Socrates is very intimate, but as it is a literary work, the historical validity of what was said and how much of what Plato's interpretation of Socrates actually aligns with his real beliefs is uncertain.[1]

Other than Socrates, Crito is the only other character in the story. Crito himself is a rich Athenian, who like Socrates is from Demos Alopeke. Once charged with corrupting the youth and atheism, Crito unsuccessfully vouched to pay Socrates' bail.[2] Additionally, after Socrates was sentenced to death, Crito was ready to pledge to the court that Socrates would not flee in order to spare him the prison sentence. This plea was ultimately rejected.[3] Through both the trial and the execution, Crito was present.[4]

In other dialogues, Crito is a conventional Athenian, who cannot understand Socrates' philosophy, despite his attempts to do so.[4]

Unlike many of Plato's potential works, the Crito is widely considered to be a genuine dialogue. In recent research, only Holger Thesleff has doubted its authenticity.[5] Some have claimed the piece to be written during Plato's middle period, but the general consensus places it in his early bibliography.[6]

Mario Montuori and Giovanni Reale make the case that the Crito was written closer to the Laws.[7][8] This brings to light the work's proximity to the Apology, whose date is controversial. Regardless of just what this proximity connotes, the piece was still written after Socrates' execution in 399 BC.[9]

It is known to historians that serious escape plans had been drafted by Plato's friends, as Xenophon had stated on more than a few occasions.[10] It is unknown, however, to what extent the theoretical plan aligns with the historical ones.[9] Some historians of philosophy assume that the Socratic figure depicted in the Crito is in fact close to the historical figure.[11] William K. C. Guthrie considers the social contract to be true to Socrates' philosophical interests.[12]

The oldest manuscript was produced in 895 CE, in Byzantium.[13] In the Latin-speaking world, the Crito was an unknown work, but the Islamic world had produced translations of it for years.[14]


Crito's arguments[edit]

In the early hours of the morning, before visitors may arrive to meet with prisoners, Crito arrives at Socrates' cell, and bribes the guard for entry. Once inside, he sits beside Socrates until he wakes up.[15] When he woke up, Socrates made light of Crito's earliness, to which Crito expresses concern about how relaxed Socrates seems to be about his upcoming execution. To this, Socrates responds that he is almost 70 years old, and that to be scared of death now would be inappropriate.[16]

Crito has come to see Socrates because he has learned that his execution will take place the next day, and wishes to rescue his friend. He plans to bribe all of the guards that are part of the execution, and assures Socrates that if he feels badly about using his friend's money, that he himself has enough money to see the plan through, and even if that weren't true, he has additional friends that are just as willing to pay. After being rescued from prison, Crito said, he would be taken to a home in Thessaly, where Crito and his friends would be more than happy to house and feed Socrates.[17]

Crito also brings up the point that if Socrates were to be executed, his sons would be deprived of the privileges that the sons of a philosopher would be entitled to- namely a proper education and living conditions. Additionally, that if Socrates were not to come with them, it would reflect poorly upon Crito and his friends, as people would believe they didn't bother trying to spend money in order to save Socrates.[17]

Socrates' arguments[edit]

After hearing Crito's arguments, Socrates requests that he will be allowed to respond with a discussion of related, open-ended issues, to which Crito was not to respond. Having agreed, as Socrates goes on with his arguments, Crito only affirms what he says.[18]

Socrates first comments that only the opinions of the educated should be taken into consideration; the opinions of those with subjective biases or beliefs may be disregarded. Likewise, just because an opinion is popular doesn't give it validity. Socrates uses the analogy of an athlete listening to their physician instead of their fans since the physician's knowledge makes their opinions informed.[19]

Socrates also claims that similar to how life is pointless for one who has injured themselves out of incompetence, damage to the soul in the form of injustice makes life worthless for a philosopher. The goal should be to live a virtuous and just life, not a long one. Therefore, escape from the prison would rely on a discussion on justice.[20]

Socrates disregards Crito's fears of a damaged reputation and his children's futures, as those are irrelevant to him. He compares such motivations to someone who sentences someone to death and then proceeds to regret the action.[21]

Socrates claims that Crito and his friends should know better, as they have shared the same principles for a long time; that to abandon them at their age would be childish. To wrong the state would be an injustice even if in reaction to an injustice.[22]

Laws and justice[edit]

As Socrates then points out, the question now is whether he would harm someone or ignore a just obligation. To solve this question, he creates a personification of the laws of Athens and speaks through its point of view, which would be to defend the state and its decision against Socrates.[23]

The laws, Socrates says, would argue that without respect for their rules, a state cannot exist. They would criticize Socrates for believing that he and every other citizen had the right to brush off court judgements, as only chaos could ensue.[24]

Crito – or Socrates, if he agreed with Crito – could reply that he does not oppose the entire law, but only a wrong judgement. But then it would be up to him to ask what right he has to critique his hometown, whose legal system he undermines with his behavior. Socrates would be reminded and have to refute of the basis of his existence: that the existence of the state allowed his father to marry his mother. Thanks to this order, he was born and educated. Like all Athenians, he owes all the good things that a lawful order can give to citizens. Anyone who disapproved of the conditions and laws in Athens could emigrate with all their possessions, but those who decide to remain automatically choose to follow the laws of the state. If they think something in the law is wrong, it is up to them to argue against it; if they were unable to do so, they would have to respect the applicable law. This is especially true for Socrates, as he spent his whole life in Athens, preferring it to anywhere else, even the states he used to boast. He also demonstrated his agreement with the Athenian living conditions by establishing a family in his hometown. In addition, he had rejected banishment as a possible alternative to execution and explicitly preferred death. If he had wanted to, he could have opted for exile during the trial and then leave Athens legally.[25] An afterthought to unilaterally undo a free and binding decision would be disgraceful.[26]

Furthermore, the laws claim that Socrates, if he accepted the offer, would expose his helpers to flee the risk of fleeing or losing their assets. In addition, as a fugitive in a well-established state, he would be suspicious of good citizens, because he would be suspected of violating the laws there as well. He would have to be content with a region like Thessaly, which was chaotic and disorganized. There he could entertain crowds with the story of his unjust escape. As a philosopher who has become unfaithful to his principles, however, he would be so discredited that he would have to give up his previous life content. Then his sense of life would only be in the food. If he did not want to abandon his children, he would have to take them to Thessaly, where they would be homeless. On the other hand, if he left them in Athens, their good education would be guaranteed by Socrates' friends, but his survival would be of no use to them.[27]

In conclusion, if Socrates were to accept his execution, he would die wronged by men rather than the law, remaining just. However, if he were to take Crito's advice and escape, he would wrong the laws and betray his life's pursuit of justice.[28]

After completing the imaginary plea of the laws, Socrates is chained to the laws as a dancer to flute music, and requests that if Crito has any rebuttals, that he give them now. Crito has no objections, and before leaving, Socrates refers to the same divine guidance that he hopes to be helped by.[29]

Philosophical implications[edit]

The piece puts an emphasis on reason, and claims that it should be the sole criterion for understanding ethics. Unlike other works by Plato, Socrates takes a more objective stance on epistemology, being optimistic about the knowledge coming from experts in a subject.[30]

Not particularly discussed in the piece are the ethical and political implication of the personified laws. In Crito, the laws are only personified in order to explain how Socrates should behave.

Social contract[edit]

The personification of the laws runs contrary to Plato's tendency to criticise the Athenian state and institutions. The state's demand for loyalty is a social contract theory: where citizens have a mutual agreement with the state understanding what being a citizen of the state means. A citizen only becomes such after undertaking a test called dokimasia (δοκιμασία), rather than at birth.[31][32] The test is mentioned within Crito.[33]


One of the most controversial issues raised by the piece is Socrates' legalist representation of the laws as a human being. It presents a view of society in which citizens who are incapable of changing laws by convincing lawmakers must abide by said laws to be "just". Those who do not want to live under such laws are to emigrate if they desire an ethical life.[34]

Although Socrates ultimately rejects the idea of expulsion, he believes it to be ethical, as the court had suggested it originally, and since the ruling was unjust. However, it follows from the overall context of Platonic ethics in the sense that it prioritizes avoiding injustice.[11]

Authoritarian and liberal interpretations[edit]

Sandrine Berges proposes a Liberal interpretation of the law which starts from the consideration that the agreement between the state and the individual implies a mutual obligation. The legislation provides the citizen their livelihood and an environment conducive to its prosperity and so they consider themselves to be loyal to the laws. Prosperity, in the sense of Socrates, means the formation of character, that is, the acquisition of virtue as a prerequisite for a good life. In this sense, the analogy to the relationship between parent and child is to be understood: parents educate their children to be good people and can expect their obedience. The laws promote the virtue of citizens and should therefore be respected. In both cases, the parent entity must fulfill its obligation to be eligible for obedience. In the relationship between Socrates and the Athenian laws, this is the case despite the judgement of the court. Otherwise, there would be no obligation to comply with the law.[35]

According to Richard Kraut, the laws require a serious effort to command respect. If this attempt fails, then civil disobedience is permissible.[11] However, a number of critics argue that this cannot be inferred from the text; rather, in the event of a failure of the conviction attempt, unconditional obedience to the law is demanded.[36][37][38]

While the Liberal interpretation of the personified laws has been controversial, one measuring "authoritarian" starting point to a Liberal outcome has found much favor in recent research. The representatives of this approach assume that the personification of the laws is indeed to be understood in an authoritarian sense, but does not or only partially agree with Socrates' own position. Thus, although Plato's Socrates makes a case for this authoritarian rule, his order of values differs from their own.

Although Socrates is impressed by the reasoning of the laws, according to the weaker version of this hypothesis, this does not mean that he identifies with all his reflections and affirms their consequences. According to the stronger variant, he agrees to the laws only with regard to the result—the refusal to flee—but rejects the way in which they have come to the conclusion. In principle his approval of the ethical understanding of the laws is not serious, but ironic.[39]

Representatives of this interpretation point out that Socrates, at the end of the dialogue, compares the effect that the pleading of the laws has on him with the "...frenzied dervishes of Cybele seem to hear the flutes".[29] This is an irrational aspect that contrasts with the philosophical demand for unconditional reason. In Plato's works, Socrates appears as a philosopher who always acts rationally and stuns admirers with his extraordinary self-restraint, but at the same time as a person exposed to very strong emotions. Therefore, the comparison with these "Dervishes" is an indication that there is a difference between the radical, suggestive demands of the law and the philosophically reflected position of Socrates. Thus, Socrates' description of his emotion is ironic, as in Apology, his defense speech to court, where he ironically claims that the persuasive power of his prosecutors had almost led him to forget himself.[40]

The strong variant of the interpretation, which distinguishes the point of view of the Socrates from that of the laws, represents in particular Roslyn Weiss. She points out that although Crito in the dialogue is an old friend of Socrates and should therefore know Socratic ethics well his reflections and reactions show that he is an unphilosophical man.[41] According to Weiss's hypothesis, this is the reason why Socrates lets the laws appear and assigns to them the task of making it understandable to Crito—that is, authoritarian—that an escape would be wrong. Weiss sees this as an indication that Socrates only introduces the laws after Crito has told him that he can not follow the philosophical argument. As a further indication, Weiss argues that Socrates describes the arguments as being in favour of respecting the law—like something a speaker would present. This expresses a distancing, since the Platonic Socrates generally rejects rhetoric as a dishonest, manipulative way of persuading.[42]

Thomas Alexander Szlezák also emphasizes that the justification for Socrates' attitude towards his friend is not philosophically demanding, but emotional, because it is inevitably based on Crito's level of reflection. The crucial point for Socrates was not to be found here, but to be found in Phaedo dialogue.[43] Socrates in Crito avoids the word "soul"—a concept introduced and discusses in various dialogues—and deals with a metaphysically neutral paraphrase, apparently because Crito does not accept the philosophical assumption of an immortal soul.[44]

David Bostock believes that the authoritarian concept is the exact view that Plato wanted to convey in Crito. Only in later works did the philosopher recognize the problematic of this position and modify his point of view.[45] Also, a number of other voices in recent research hold to the traditional interpretation, according to which the position of the laws to identify with the Platonic Socrates.[46]

Lawfulness and ethical autonomy[edit]

Multiple researchers have claimed that there is a purposeful rhetorical incongruity between the Apology and the Crito from Plato's representation of Socrates' dialogues.[47] In the Apology, Socrates explains that he would not obey a hypothetical court verdict that forces him to renounce public philosophizing on pain of death, for such a demand would be an injustice to him.[48]

Michael Roth claims that there is no inconsistency, and that the real in the Crito and the hypothetical in the Apology are two fundamentally different systems to be held to different standards.[49] According to another solution, Socrates' argument in the Apology is a purely theoretical nature, since a prohibition of philosophy has no legal basis and no situation is conceivable in which the court could have actually imposed such a penalty on Socrates, unless the defendant had proposed this himself.[50] On the other hand, if Socrates' punishment cannot occur, Necip Fikri Alican makes the point that Socrates could not simply just be using meaningless thought experiments.[51]

Italian historians of philosophy Mario Montuori and Giovanni Reale use chronological distance to explain this difference: that the Apology and the Crito were written at different times and for different reasons.[7] In the Apology—which is the younger work—Plato essentially reports what Socrates had said without much embellishment, but when writing the Crito, he had given his thoughts on the matter through the mask of Socrates.[8]

James Stephens simply believes the problem to have no solution.[52]

Interpretations and reception[edit]

Classical and Medieval[edit]

Roman philosopher and politician Cicero took the piece as meaning that citizens were obligated to serve the state out of gratitude.[53]

In anti-Platonic circles, the piece was not well regarded. The philosopher Athenaios believed the Crito served as Plato's means of attacking the real life Crito.[54] Athenaios claims that since Crito showed no philosophical ability, the fact that he was unable to present a proper argument was to be expected. Another anti-Platonic author, this time the Epicurean Idomenus of Lampsacus, claimed that the escape plan had not really come from Crito, but instead from Aeschines of Sphettus. The only reason for the switch, to Idomenus, was because Aeschines was not favoured by Plato.[55]

Early modern[edit]

The Western world had rediscovered the Crito during the age of Renaissance humanism. The first Latin translation was made by the Italian humanist and statesman Leonardo Bruni in 1410, but he was not satisfied with this translation, and thus worked upon another which was completed by 1427. Bruni was so satisfied with the arguments presented by the laws that he had used them in his own work, De militia.[56] A revision of Bruni's Latin translation was created by Rinuccio da Castiglione.[57] Marsilio Filino was the third humanist translator, and published the translation in Florence in 1484.

The first edition of the Greek text was published in September 1513 in Venice by Aldo Manuzio in the complete edition of Plato's works published by Markos Musuros.

The philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) made reference to the Crito as the only ancient text that held the idea of a citizen's implicit promise of loyalty. He said Plato's Socrates founded the social contract in the manner of Whigs and influences passive obedience as seen from the Tories.[58]


Literary aspects[edit]

Translator and philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher asserted in his translation's introduction that the work was not a dialogue invented by Plato, but rather that it was a successful conversation he had had.[59]

The piece is esteemed by such literary analysts as Paul Shorey,[60] William Guthrie,[61] and Thomas Alexander Szlezák, the last of whom claims that its use of "Speech, argumentation and character are masterfully matched."[62]

Philosophical aspects[edit]

Philologist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff found no philosophical content in the Crito.[63] The dialogue only teaches "about the duty of the citizen, but not in the abstract, rather Socratic; Athenian".[64] Socrates is presented as an "embarrassingly obedient and dutiful citizen"; in doing so, Plato wanted to justify him “to the good citizens who did not care about philosophy”.[65]

In contemporary specialist literature, too, Plato is not considered to be concerned with philosophically presenting and justifying universal principles, but rather only to make Socrates understandable to his readers.[65]

Olof Gigon sees the dialogue as a light work, but one that is welcoming to aspiring philosophers.[66] Despite this, the work is regarded as a key Western parallel to Legalism according to such philosophers as Reginald E. Allen.[67]

Yet Hellmut Flashar argues that despite its initial appearances, the Crito's depth can be discerned through dialogue. Moreover, he claims that in doing so, it may even be revealed as a difficult text.[68]

In modern discussions of law and order, the responsibilities of citizens to follow rules unconditionally has many commonalities with the Crito's presentation of Crito's lenient understanding of the Laws, and Socrates' rigid one. The piece is a foundation in Anglo-Saxon studies on legal ethics.[69] However, Flashar posits that attempting to apply modern ideas to Platonic philosophy will estrange the themes.[68]

The quality of the laws' arguments are relative to one's interpretation; in research literature, those that interpret the piece as being "authoritarian" view the Laws' as having a very weak argument that is based more on feeling than rationality. For instance, the metaphor of one's parents being a parallel to the state implies a debatable view of obligation rather than an objective one. Indeed, some even claim that Socrates is a vessel for Plato's beliefs. Defenders of the piece say that this overlooks the possibility that the arguments' weaknesses as being inherent for the dialectical process.[11]

Romano Guardini emphasizes the piece's inherent correctness; it being "the basic philosophical experience of validity" exists beyond empiricism.[70]

Austrian philosopher Karl Popper claims that the representation of Socrates in this work is the quintessential version of him, and the piece may have been a request by Socrates himself. In tandem with the Apology, Socrates' last will may be formed. Convicted as an Athenian, Socrates chooses not to flee because of his virtue as such an Athenian, and the loyalty to the state that follows. If he were to choose to go into self-exile as Crito had suggested, he would undermine the fundamental system that the state he pledges allegiance to is based upon.[71]

Peter Sloterdijk believes that the Crito is one of the "initial texts of philosophy par excellence" with which Plato has founded "a new way of looking for the truth". Crito is the defender of this world against the death of his master. He played a "half ridiculous, half moving role". For Socrates, life was nothing but a lesson, so he consequently "turned his last breath into an argument and his last hour into evidence."[72]

See also[edit]

Texts and translations[edit]

  • Greek text at Perseus
  • Plato: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Phaedrus. Greek with translation by Harold N. Fowler. Loeb Classical Library 36. Harvard Univ. Press (originally published 1914).
  • Fowler translation at Perseus
  • Plato: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo. Greek with translation by Chris Emlyn-Jones and William Preddy. Loeb Classical Library 36. Harvard Univ. Press, 2017. ISBN 9780674996878 HUP listing
  • Plato. Opera, volume I. Oxford Classical Texts. ISBN 978-0198145691
  • Plato. Complete Works. Hackett, 1997. ISBN 978-0872203495

Further reading[edit]

  • Allen, R.E. (1980). Socrates and Legal Obligation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.
  • Brickhouse, Thomas C.; Smith, Nicholas D. (2002). The Trial and Execution of Socrates: Sources and Controversies. New York: Oxford University.
  • Colaiaco, James A. (2001). Socrates Against Athens. New York: Routledge.
  • Kraut, Richard (1984). Socrates and the State. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University.
  • McNeal, Richard A. (1992). Law and Rhetoric in the Crito. New York: Peter Lang.
  • Stokes, Michael C. (2005). Dialectic in Action: An Examination of Plato's Crito. Swansea: Classical Press of Wales.
  • Stone, I.F. (1988). The Trial of Socrates. New York: Little, Brown.
  • Weiss, Roslyn (1998). Socrates Dissatisfied: An Analysis of Plato's Crito. New York: Oxford University.
  • Woozley, A.D. (1979). Law and Obedience: The Arguments of Plato's Crito. London: Duckworth.

External links[edit]


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  9. ^ a b Erler, Michael. (2010). Gorgias -- Meno : Selected Papers from the Seventh Symposium Platonicum. Academia Verlag. ISBN 9783896655264. OCLC 659500147.
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  11. ^ a b c d Kraut, Richard Verfasser (1994). Socrates and the State. Princeton Univ. Press. ISBN 0691022410. OCLC 1075685922.
  12. ^ Guthrie, William K. C. 1906-1981, Verfasser (1993). A history of Greek philosophy. Cambridge Univ. Press. ISBN 0521387604. OCLC 1068093421.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
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  14. ^ Klibansky, Raymond (1984). The continuity of the Platonic tradition during the Middle Ages ; together with, Plato's Parmenides in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Kraus International. pp. Part 1. ISBN 0-527-50130-1. OCLC 434369013.
  15. ^ Stokes, Michael Christopher (2005). Dialectic in action : an examination of Plato's Crito. Classical Press of Wales. ISBN 0954384598. OCLC 955345366.
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  23. ^ Plato,. (2018-06-23). Crito. pp. 49e–50a. ISBN 9781479418299. OCLC 1043756381.
  24. ^ "Crito", Plato: Euthyphro; Apology of Socrates; and Crito, Oxford University Press, 1924-01-01, pp. 50a–c, doi:10.1093/oseo/instance.00254377, ISBN 9780198140153
  25. ^ "Apology", Plato: Euthyphro; Apology of Socrates; and Crito, Oxford University Press, 1924-01-01, pp. 37c–38a, doi:10.1093/oseo/instance.00254376, ISBN 9780198140153
  26. ^ "Crito", Plato: Euthyphro; Apology of Socrates; and Crito, Oxford University Press, 1924-01-01, pp. 50c–53a, doi:10.1093/oseo/instance.00254377, ISBN 9780198140153
  27. ^ "Crito", Plato: Euthyphro; Apology of Socrates; and Crito, Oxford University Press, 1924-01-01, pp. 53a–54b, doi:10.1093/oseo/instance.00254377, ISBN 9780198140153
  28. ^ "Crito", Plato: Euthyphro; Apology of Socrates; and Crito, Oxford University Press, 1924-01-01, pp. 54b–d, doi:10.1093/oseo/instance.00254377, ISBN 9780198140153
  29. ^ a b "Crito", Plato: Euthyphro; Apology of Socrates; and Crito, Oxford University Press, 1924-01-01, pp. 54d, doi:10.1093/oseo/instance.00254377, ISBN 9780198140153
  30. ^ Erler, Michael. (2006). Platon (Orig.-ausg ed.). München: Beck. ISBN 9783406541100. OCLC 181496568.
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  32. ^ Kamtekar, Rachana, 1965- (2005). Plato's Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781461640943. OCLC 607319627.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
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  35. ^ Berges, Sandrine. (2011). Plato on virtue and the law. Continuum. ISBN 978-1441111500. OCLC 952148166.
  36. ^ Penner, Terry (May 1997). "Two notes on the Crito: the impotence of the many, and 'persuade or obey'". The Classical Quarterly. 47 (1): 153–166. doi:10.1093/cq/47.1.153. ISSN 0009-8388.
  37. ^ Woozley, Anthony Douglas. (1979). Law and obedience: the arguments of Plato's 'Crito'. Gerald Duckworth. ISBN 0715613294. OCLC 63242379.
  38. ^ Kung, Joan. Penner, Terry, 1936- ed. lit. Kraut, Richard, 1944- ed. lit. (1989). Nature, knowledge and virtue : essays in memory of Joan Kung. Academic Printing and Publishing. OCLC 912125576.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
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