“Crito” by Plato

The Death of Socrates
“The Death of Socrates” by Jacques-Louis David

Socrates, falsely accused of impiety and corrupting the Athenian youths, was condemned to death by poison. He refused his friend Crito’s urging to escape prison and save his own life. He reasoned thus: Since he had been living in Athens all his life, and received education and other benefits that the state provided, he shouldn’t break the laws of the state and return evil for good. If he had deemed the Law unjust, he could have left Athens at any time, or tried to change the Law, but he did neither, so he implicitly accepted a contract to abide by the Law of the state. He was not suffering injustice from the Law, but the people who perverted it. If he escaped, he would break the Law itself, which would be unjust on his part. Because he believed it better to suffer injustice than to commit it, he chose to die rather than commit injustice.

[—Update in 2013—]

Socrates’ Death was Accidental

Accidental is the opposite of 1) causal or 2) essential. Both meanings apply in this case.

Socrates seems to say the people of Athens have no control over his fate, because it is dictated by the gods. IOW, the gods are the playwrights, and the Athenians actors on the world stage. In this sense, the Athenians didn’t cause his death, so their acts were accidental.

What happens to Socrates is also non-essential, in the sense that it has no effect on his soul, his essence. No matter how dire the circumstances may be, a human being can still live with his humanity intact, with dignity and meaning.

This ties in to the age-old question, “Why does God allow evil?” The consolation we derive from Plato’s philosophy is that goodness itself is the reward for good men, and evil is the punishment for the bad men. To the man who commits injustice, his own soul suffers as from a terminal disease, but to the man who endures injustice, it was accidental, peripheral to his being, which is intact. Therefore, it is better to suffer injustice, than to commit it.

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2 thoughts on ““Crito” by Plato

  1. It’s important to read The Apology first, then Crito. In The Apology, he stands up for himself, claiming that the accusations against him are not only untrue but unfair. The next day, he’s approached by Crito to break out of prison and live far away in another city. The juxtaposition of the two may seem quite contradictory. He’s defending himself in one, and defending the state in the other. The Apology has him declaring himself a free man being bullied by the state and the other making himself a child of the state accepting the punishment given to him for breaking the law. When you look at them together, you see that a man is both an individual and a part of a whole, and this means there are contradictory rights and privileges.

    1. Thank you for the thoughtful comment. I agree that the Apology and Crito should be read in conjunction with one another, though I think justice for the state and the individual are not contradictory. From Socrates’ point of view, Athens suffered greater loss in sentencing him to death.

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