An Introduction to the Politics of Philosophy, Part 3: On Plato’s Crito, 45c-46a

The original text, if you’re interested.

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10. 45c – 46a: When we left off last, Crito was telling Socrates how cheap and easy it would be to escape, and how he could go someplace where he was protected wholly if he only left the country.

The argument for Socrates to escape continues, though – it has moved from “it is absolutely a good and correct thing if we friends bail you out” (44e-45a) to “I have lots of money to help you and escape is cheap and easy if you’ll leave” (45b-c). Now it moves to “if you stay and take the punishment, you’re in the wrong” (45c-46a). I obviously want to look at that last part now.

Crito tells Socrates that what he is doing is most unjust. He is giving into his enemies’ wishes, and he is abandoning his own sons. Without a father, Socrates’ children are subject to fortune’s whim. Either Socrates should not have had children, or should see their upbringing and education to the end. Socrates’ unwillingness to escape is not the choice of a “good” or “manly” man, especially considering that Socrates has talked all his life about “goodness.” Finally, Crito is ashamed for Socrates and Socrates’ friends, who are going to look bad, as they are already looking bad. Socrates’ going into court, conducting the defence the way he did, and now his unwillingness to escape all make it look like his friends didn’t save him when it was a perfectly practical thing to achieve. Crito closes by saying that despite the harm, there is a disgrace that Socrates and his friends will have to bear, and that he should escape because of all these considerations.

So what are we to make of Crito as he has revealed himself in these arguments? I think the short answer is that Crito is having a dialogue with himself, and is advancing dialectically to bad moral reasoning. Recall that he started by discussing public opinion and the issue of money, but kept the money/means issue at bay. Then he moved to saying friends will bail each other out no matter what, and that public opinion recognizes this as good. Now he’s combined all that, and the “good” (Socrates being alive) is clearly subordinate to the fact that the means are there, and that the friends will look bad otherwise. In other words, Crito’s logic is that the good is subordinate to utility which is itself subordinate to honor in terms of public opinion.

We can see that the issues of enemies and children hint at something larger – those are echoes of the charges in the Apology, where Socrates is accused of impiety (bringing in foreign gods) and corrupting the youth. But the import of those issues is “What does it mean to search for the Good,” and that import is sorely lacking in Crito’s discussion. Enemies are simply people who have to be opposed, they’re not people with a different conception of the good. Sons are meant to be raised well, their own independence is not a consideration. Not being shamed is Crito’s concern, and so he gets his “teaching” about enemies and sons right from public opinion. The Socratic concern was always truth, and, for lack of a better word, “freedom.”

I suppose I should briefly note that Socratic freedom is not quite our definition. Socrates is genuinely free from want. Knowledge alone makes him happy, and knowledge is invisible. Our freedom absolutely depends on material acquisition: even our concept of knowledge depends on our effectiveness in the world.

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