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Crito (// KRY-toh or // 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.
The dialogue takes place in Socrates' prison cell, where he awaits execution. He is visited before dawn by his old friend Crito, who has made arrangements to smuggle Socrates out of prison to the safety of exile. Socrates seems quite willing to await his imminent execution, and so Crito presents as many arguments as he can in order to persuade Socrates to escape. On a practical level, Socrates' death will reflect badly on his friends--people will think they did nothing to try to save him. Also, Socrates should not worry about the risk or the financial cost to his friends; these they are willing to pay, and they have also arranged to find Socrates a pleasant life in exile. On a more ethical level, Crito presents two more pressing arguments: first, if he stayed, he would be aiding his enemies in wronging him unjustly, and would thus be acting unjustly himself; and second, that he would be abandoning his sons and leaving them without a father.
Socrates answers first that one should not worry about public opinion, but only listen to wise and expert advice. Crito should not worry about how his, Socrates', or others' reputations may fare in the general esteem: they should only concern themselves with behaving well. The only question at hand is whether or not it would be just for Socrates to attempt an escape. If it is just, he will go with Crito, if it is unjust, he must remain in prison and face death.
At this point, Socrates introduces the voice of the Laws of Athens, which speaks to him and proceeds to explain why it would be unjust for him to leave his cell. Since the Laws exist as one entity, to break one would be to break them all, and in doing so, Socrates would cause them great harm. The citizen is bound to the Laws like a child is bound to a parent, and so to go against the Laws would be like striking a parent. Rather than simply break the Laws and escape, Socrates should try to persuade the Laws to let him go. These Laws present the citizen's duty to them in the form of a kind of social contract. By choosing to live in Athens, a citizen is implicitly endorsing the Laws, and is willing to abide by them. Socrates, more than most, should be in accord with this contract, as he has lived a happy seventy years fully content with the Athenian way of life.
If Socrates were to break from prison now, having so consistently validated the social contract, he would be making himself an outlaw who would not be welcome in any other civilized state for the rest of his life. And when he dies, he will be harshly judged in the underworld for behaving unjustly toward his city's laws. Thus, Socrates convinces Crito that it would be better not to attempt an escape.
Crito's argument to Socrates
The dialogue begins with Socrates waking up to the presence of Crito in his prison cell and inquiring whether it is early in the day. Crito informs Socrates that it is indeed early and that he, Crito, chose to let Socrates sleep in peace, especially given Socrates' current distressful circumstance of awaiting his own execution. Crito explains that he admires the peaceful manner in which Socrates has heretofore lived and the level of calm that Socrates displays in the face of death. Socrates replies that it is only fitting that he react in such a manner given his age, and expresses surprise that the guard has let Crito into his cell at such an early hour. Crito informs Socrates that he is well-acquainted with the guard and has done him a certain benefaction.
Crito relays bad news to Socrates. He tells him that there are eyewitness reports that the ship has come in from Delos, and that tomorrow Socrates will be executed. Socrates rebuffs the report, saying he has had a dream—a vision of a woman in a white cloak telling him that on the third day hence he will go to Phthia, which is a reference to Achilles' threat in the Iliad that he—the mightiest of Greek warriors—might just leave for his home in "fertile" Phthia and be there in "just three days" if the Greeks fail to show him due respect. Socrates says that the meaning of this is perfectly clear - it will be three days until he dies.
Crito does not allow Socrates to elaborate the meaning of the dream, but only calls him daimonic; Crito has arrived at this early hour to save Socrates from death. Crito tells Socrates that if he follows through with the execution, people will assume that Crito and friends were too cheap to finance an escape. Crito insists that he will not get into much trouble as a result of having helped Socrates escape, for those who would inform against him are cheaply bought. He adds that if Socrates is afraid of depleting Crito's account, there are foreigners (ξένοι), Simmias and Cebes, who have come to town with money. Moreover, Crito urges, Socrates has support in other cities, including Thessaly, and to be exiled would not be entirely negative.
Crito continues with moral appeals. He says that Socrates would be unjustly joining the efforts of his enemies against him. He is choosing the "easiest path" as opposed to the courageous, honorable, and virtuous path, which Crito feels is to flee from certain, unjust death. Socrates would be acting with cowardice if he weren't to resist such injustices.
Crito further argues that a father (like Socrates) has an obligation to nurture and educate his children and should avoid orphaning them if at all possible. He tells Socrates that if his sons do not meet with the usual fate of orphans, it will be no thanks to him. Crito adds that the trial should never have taken place and might have been managed differently. He says that the failure to escape will be a ridiculous climax to the whole affair and would be attributed to the shameful cowardice of Socrates' friends.
Socrates tells Crito that he is one of those people who must be guided by reason, while Crito has insisted that he be obeyed in this matter regardless of whether he has convinced Socrates. Socrates claims that he was serious at his trial about not fearing death. He expresses contempt for the opinions of the masses of mankind who think irrationally and act randomly. Socrates says that the only person whose opinion is of value is the one who understands justice. Money, reputation and feeding children are values of thoughtless men. The question is whether it would be unjust for Socrates to escape, not what people would think about him.
Socrates argues that if it is never good to do injustice, then certainly it is never good to do injustice in response to injustice. He says that this premise will be taken as true for the purpose of their discussion. Crito says he agrees with Socrates.
This does not answer whether it is just or unjust for Socrates to escape from the prison, so Socrates asks what the Laws would say about his leaving. Socrates claims that the Laws would say that he destroys the city in leaving, and that this would be unjust. The Laws say that a citizen stands in relation to the city as the child does to the parent, as the slave does to his master.
The Laws would further say, Socrates says, that he entered into a contract with them by remaining within the city, benefiting from it, and so now cannot justly attack it on account of having been unjustly convicted. Socrates says the laws argue that he tacitly agreed to obey the law by remaining in Athens after having reached maturity, witnessing the structure of the law and how it functions, and raising children of his own in Athens.
Socrates does not declare that he is satisfied with the Laws' argument, instead asking Crito whether they mustn't accept it. Crito says they must, and so the dialogue comes to a conclusion.
- Crito 43a.
- Crito 45d-e.
- Crito 47c-d.
- Crito 48c.
- Crito 49d.
- 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.
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- Translated by Woods & Pack, 2007
- Jowett's translation of the Crito, at the Internet Classics Archive
- Approaching Plato: A Guide to the Early and Middle Dialogues
- Guides to the Socratic Dialogues, a beginner's guide
- G. Theodoridis, 2015: full-text translation