The Platonic ‘Death of Socrates Dialogues’, are a quartet of important and influential conversations written by Plato, but told through the eyes of his mentor Socrates. Written in 386BC, they tell the story surrounding the Socrates being charged by the state for piety and corruption of the youth. They are conversations between Socrates, his friends, and his censors, the rulers of Athens. Socrates has found guilty of these crimes and after failing to convince the Athenian statesmen that he had been wrongfully accused, and sentenced to death.
The third story from the quartet is ‘Crito’ where Socrates chats with his wealthy friend Crito, who after bribing a guard, offers to help Socrates escape his sentence. Socrates refuses, and the dialogue throws up a few moral arguments where he explains his reasons to Crito, Socrates argues that it is necessary for the state to punish him as he has not acted within the laws that govern Athens. After all, he has faced the serious charge of worshipping false gods, and by passing these views on to his young followers, further charge with corrupting them.
As he is a ighly respected citizen within Athens, he thinks that he should lead by example and take his punishment. After all, he knew the laws and more than likely and knew what punishment he would incur if caught. No one is above the law. The laws are set by the state in order for citizens to follow a code of behaviour. Failure to adhere to such laws could lead to destruction of the state and it is right that the government made and example of him.
He thinks that if laws are broken, then the ruling class should have the powers to deal with the lawbreakers, otherwise what is the point having he laws, or indeed the state who police the laws in place. He also argued that he has been privileged to be part of the state of Athens and had received all the benefits that come with being a citizen of such an institution. Although the benefits are available to all Athenians, on the premise that you obey its laws. The state that had been so good to him over his 71 years of life, and the laws there provided him and his family with sanctuary.
The state provided security for his parents to marry and to bring him up safely. The state also provided him with the ducation of which made him the man he was. He was using this education against the state by teaching youths to think differently about the gods that the Athenians worshipped. He uses the analogy that the relationship between he, or indeed anyone else and the state of Athens was like that of parent and child. Children should obey their parents, therefore citizens should obey the state. By escaping prison, this would not be obeying the state so he chooses to stay put.
He argues that the state is in fact more important than parents or ancestors, because it is the state that enables its itizens to nurture. This argument is probably not very sound. To say that parents are similar to the state is not accurate. You are born to parents and are expected to comply with state procedure while living there. Occasionally within family life, there can be systematic physical abuse from parents which often goes unreported. Generally you do not get physically abused by the state, unless of course you are unlucky to live in somewhere that shy away from democracy.
By being born into a family, rules are not set as stone, and as a child you are expected in a way not always to act to these rules. Usually there is more leniency within the family when it comes to rule breaking than if you break a state law. He also argues that anyone born into the state and benefiting from the laws of the state has a duty to not to do anything that may help destroy the state, and by escaping this would have a detrimental effect on the state and it laws. He argues that although he was born in Athens, there were no laws stopping him from leaving.
Simply by choosing to live there all his live, he unwittingly enters an implied contract and must adhere to the laws of the state, otherwise face the punishment. He chose ot to live in Sparta or Crete, he chose to live in Athens, so must have satisfaction for the the state, therefore its laws. If he did not agree with the laws, then he would have to prove to the rulers of Athens that they were unjust. Although he tried to convince the the judges that his conviction was unjust, it is within the interests of the state for them to overlook his thoughts and label him a corrupter of the state.
To avoid corrupting the state further, he chose to take his punishment of death by hemlock and not take up Crito’s offer of help to escape as that would be doing something unjust, hile his sentence in his eyes was unjust. In other words, two wrongs do not make a right. It could be said that Socrates thinks being born into state and reaping the benefits of being a citizen. If this was the case, he could be expected to do anything the state asks him to do as he lives there, and is by living there he has a social contract bestowed on him.
There are many moral instances where it is probable that he may not adhere to this tacit agreement, for example, doing wrong by his family. Socrates had the opportunity to except banishment from the state of Athens but chose not to. After all Athens was his home and although he is a respected figure within the state, he was unsure if he would be happy in another state. They would know of his conviction, which basically is a charge saying he did not adhere to state laws, and brandished a trouble maker.
This could make things uncomfortable for him to settle down as he may not be accepted or respected in the manner that he had been in Athens. However, he decided to stand up for himself and try to convince the judges that his views are correct but fail, so accepts his punishment. Even although he thinks the sentence is njust he sees no advantage in escaping. His reputation would be in tatters and would be remembered as a coward who instead of taking his punishment, chose to run away and live a life of obscurity.
Even although he thinks he is being victimised, eluding his punishment he would also be breaking the laws of the state and is still under social contract to obey these laws. By becoming political martyr, he is making a stand against the state while adhering to the laws of the state. Socrates believed his argument to the jury that convicted him was enough to prove the charges were unjust. However when convicted he did not plead to be spared the death sentence as this would have meant that he would have been acting unjust, by accepting that he had wronged.
He argues that there would be no advantage escaping prison. He would be acting unjustly after being convicted unjustly. Those helping him escape would be endangering their lives in doing so. He had lived in Athens all his life, so the thought of living somewhere less civilised was not appealing. He would be seen by his many followers as a man not true to himself and would be deemed a coward. As a man of virtue, he accepted his fate by drinking the poison hemlock thus osthumously ensuring his family and friends would not be harmed and that his reputation as an honourable man was intact.
Socrates puts forward the first instance of social contract theory known. Law makers since have used social contracts to curtail and nurture human behaviour, which many people find unjust. Although in some instances these contracts have been challenged successfully, a couple of examples being the abolition of slavery and women having the same rights as men. Whilst Socrates was unsuccessful in his challenge against he died a man who stood up for his morals and beliefs and possibly the worlds first political martyr.