Socrates Defense of the Laws

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Socrates is considered one of the founding members of western philosophy, however just because he is respected in today’s society doesn’t mean he got along with everyone during his lifetime. In Socrates time philosophy wasn’t as understood as it is today so he spent much of his life debating with others and being accused of various crimes because he was misunderstood. He was put on trial and sentenced to death by the city of Athens, and though he was given the opportunity to escape to another country he didn’t because Athens was his home and he didn’t want to destroy the laws of the community.

In the Apology Socrates is put on trial for corrupting the youth of Athens, not believing in the gods of Athens and practicing Diamonia. He is of seventy years of age during this trial but has been accused of these acts for most of his life, so these accusations are nothing he is unfamiliar with. However, Socrates believes he is innocent and none of these apply to him, he is just being accused of these because his beliefs differ from the rest of the city. Nevertheless, he is put on trial. Much of the Apology is Socrates pleading his case to the jury to see it in his eyes that he simply just believes different things but is more public about it than other citizens. The jury does not seem to have sympathy for him and finds Socrates guilty of these crimes and sentences him to death.

The Crito begins about a month after the trial ends and Socrates is sitting in a prison cell awaiting his death. He receives a visit from his friend Crito who is enticing him with an offer to escape prison because it would leave a bad reputation for his friends, it would show the city they unjustly convicted him, and he would be leaving his sons. Crito pleads with Socrates “What more, Socrates, what are you doing doesn’t seem right to me, giving yourself up when you could have been saved, ready to have happen to you what your enemies would urge-and did urge-in their wish to destroy you.” (100)

Socrates considers the offer and begins to talk this through with Crito on why or why not this would be the just or unjust thing for him to do. Socrates explains to him that it is important to not just be concerned with what we must do to live but rather what we must do to live well. That he must stay in prison and face his sentence because this was the given to him and is the just thing to do. Crito is confused by Socrates decision to stay so in order to clarify his choice, Socrates begins to defend the laws of Athens.

Socrates first defense of the laws comes at the structure of the laws itself. Socrates tells Crito that if they were to be caught running away they might be asked by the community “‘What are you intending to do? By attempting this deed, aren’t you planning to do nothing other than destroy us, the laws and the civic community as much as you can?’” (105)1. He explains that by attempting to completely disobey the justice system they would be attempting to destroy the city and its laws as they are because that would mean that the city and the laws have no actual means.

The implication of this would be that anyone else who is sentenced to death or prison time for a crime could escape or leave just as well because they feel that nothing is holding them to this sentence. Just because the city falsely accused Socrates, in his eyes, does not mean that they falsely accuse everyone, so if he were to escape and there were to become a total disregard for the validity of the justice system, then they could be allowing criminals to not serve any time for their punishment.

The next laws that Socrates defends he becomes almost a little sentimental about as they are the ones that allowed him to grow up in the city of Athens. He tells Crito that they would be asked about the laws that allowed them to be born, for their parents to be married, and for their upbringing and education. He claims they could be asked “What about the laws concerning the upbringing and education of children, by which you too were raised?” (105). Socrates explains to Crito that the members of the city would make him feel guilty about disobeying the laws as those are what has allowed him to become who he is. Socrates compares the relationship with the city to that of a slave and his master, that you are grateful for what the master gives you and you don’t talk back to the master. So by fleeing he would be disrespecting the master or the city of Athens that has provided him with this upbringing that he thinks fondly of.

To the citizens of Athens, the laws are very important to follow and live by. That is why they give their citizens an option when they reach manhood to stay in Athens and abide by the rules or take their belongings and move on. The opportunity was no different for Socrates, however he was happy with the rules and the city and decided to remain a resident. In fact, he remained there all seventy years of his life, barely leaving. He states that he only left for the Isthmos festival and military duty, otherwise Socrates was content with his life in Athens and evenbchose to have his children there as well.

Socrates describes to Crito what hypothetically the authorities might say because he has chosen to stay in Athen his whole life “‘Aren’t you’ they might say ‘Going against your contract and agreement with us ourselves, which you were not forced to agree nor deceived about nor compelled to decide upon in a short time but over seventy years, in which time you could have gone away if we did not satisfy you and these agreements did not appear just to you.’” (106) Socrates adds that because he gave up the chance of being exiled in his trial but now would be running away from Athens this would make the act more unjust.

After defending the laws to Crito, and explaining his choice to him again, Socrates still decides to remain with his original plan. As a seventy year old man he has lived a very full life, and is willing to face the sentencing. Though it is interesting to see Socrates defend the laws of Athens as it is said in the Apology that he has spent much of his life defying those laws. He also brings up to Crito that he know the actions he commits now will affect his soul later, so he wants to act justly and adhere to his sentencing. Socrates could have escaped to another land, but by doing this he understands that it is unjust and would ruin the laws and community of Athens, so he ultimately decides to remain in jail and serve his punishment.


Cite this paper

Socrates Defense of the Laws. (2021, Mar 28). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/socrates-defense-of-the-laws/

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