Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Justify Socrates staying in prison

  1. Oct 4, 2005 #1
    I was wondering what one argument you would use to justify Socrates staying in prison based on the dialog between Socrates and Crito in "Crito".

    I would go at it from this angle: He did the right thing because he was setting an example of good moral behavior for good natured, reasonable people to behold. He always tried to see himself as how other people saw him, and he was trying to make his entire life an example of what he taught. He saw it as good behavior because he held Athens' intentions and opinions in high regard, and felt that Athens was his role model (the intentions and opinions of Athens were). He didn't escape because that would run against the grain of all his teachings about virtue and justice. It would contradict his teachings because he viewed escaping as selfishness, just allowing him to live another day and eat another meal.

    what are the problems with my take on this?
    Is there a better way to understand his descision to stay?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 6, 2005 #2
    What if you had been Socrates...knowing what you know of him and something of what he knew(which always seemed to be "too much" despite his claims he "knew nothing"), what would you have done? Let me ask you this, what happens to people like JFK, Martin Luther, John Lennon, Christ, etc? What is going on here?
  4. Oct 6, 2005 #3
    Socrates is a punk and a smartass. He argued for whether or not it would be unjust to stay and take his punishment. That's the not the same as being right or wrong, unless you stipulate that being just in this sense is always right. He's appealing to civic justice, tho, and isn't taking into consideration the bigger injustice of the situation. Once again, he's being a bastard (and I mean that in an affectionate way:smile:)

    edit - in the intro, it says that because Crito jumbles the presentation of the larger injustice and therefore Socrates misses the point entirely.
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2005
  5. Oct 13, 2005 #4
    hmm, so I have to stipulate that being just in this sense is always right? Doesn't that sort of enter into epistimology in the sense that we can't know with certainty what is right? Since we can't know, then isn't it perfectly reasonable to stipulate? Saying that his situation was one of injustice isn't entirely true though, as with the above idea, it's impossible to know with certainty what is right, and hence what is just, so it's just your opinion that he was treated unjustly. He sees Crito's arguments and dismantles them one by one, including the injustice argument. He concludes that his situation isn't unjust, and that he very well have been corrupting the youth, and it's best to regard the opinion of the state, because the state is the one with understanding about broad social issues such as the one caused by him being a "punk and a smartass" as viewed by people who want to keep their conclusions rather than rethink them when provoked by Socrates that they may not have the right conclusion.
  6. Oct 13, 2005 #5
    It's true that most people don't like the feeling of being incapable of answering questions, and when people don't like something, it messes with the social harmony, and thats when the state does something about it. People didn't like Socrates because he asked them to explain themselves and thier conclusions about things, and they felt that they didn't need to, so they killed him. There's an easy solution... Shut him up and forget about it! meanwhile, the problems still remain... but at least nobody cares to address them, and they live more harmoneously, ignorence IS bliss!

    Am I a punk and a smartass, or should I not hold myself in that high of regard? I hope I am! but then again, I hate looking like I've got an overblown ego, because then I think I have one and so I hold myself back, maybe I should accept that I am a jerk. Then again, if I do, then I'm smart, but I'm not smart, so I'm a nice guy, yeah. I'm nice, does that make me stupid? I hope so! Being stupid is way cooler than being smart! Oh, I've got it, I'm insane! thats it, I'm not smart, but not stupid, and not a jerk, nor am i nice, so what am I? talk about going off on tangents, what am I doing? I want to talk about Socrates, but I'm way off in la la land. Whats going on?
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2005
  7. Oct 13, 2005 #6

    You can stipulate you want, I'm just explaining to you a deconstruction of Crito that is already accepted. I do happen to think it makes a good point, though. It isn't just an opinion that he was treated unjustly, there are logical steps to trace this if you read it carefully, though as the intro mentions, Crito doesn't present the case very well and Socrates shoves it aside despite its merits. From the intro:

    Unmoved by the claims of justice grounded in his private relationships to friends and family, Socrates appeals to the standards of civic justice imbedded in his relations as a citizen to the Athenian people and to the Athenian system of law. H claims that a citizen is necessarily, given the benefits he has enjoyed under the laws of the city, their slave, justly required to do whatever they ask, and more forbidden to attack them than to violate his own parents. That would be retaliation-rendering a wrong for the wrong received in his unjust condemnation-and retaliation is never just. But what if he chose to depart not in an unjust spirit of retaliation, but only in order to evade the ill consequences of the unjust condemnation for himself and his friends and family? As if recognizing that loophole, Socrates also develops a celebrated early version of the social contract-a 'contract' between the laws or the city and each citizen, not among the citizens themselves-with the argument that now, after he is condemned by an Athenian court and has exhausted all legal appeals, he must, in justice to his implicit promise, abide by the laws' final judgment and accept his death sentence.

    His basic argument is that you should obey the justice given by the law of your country, whether or not it is fair. There is the old argument that to hurt another, to be unjust, is to ultimately hurt yourself. So how do we determine what is just or unjust? Is it more unjust to leave your kids without a father to educate and support them? To leave your wife? Your friends? Or is it more unjust to disobey the "sacred" contract one holds with the city/law?
  8. Oct 13, 2005 #7
    Did you want to talk about yourself then? I thought we were discussing Crito. You seem to be losing it:smile:
  9. Oct 14, 2005 #8


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    Something tells me that if Socrates hadn't already been in his 80's, and if his kids hadn't already been grown, he would have done differently.
  10. Oct 14, 2005 #9
    yes, good point Loseyourname. If he was younger, those things you mention (which Crito mentioned to Socrates):

    "Is it more unjust to leave your kids without a father to educate and support them? To leave your wife? Your friends? Or is it more unjust to disobey the "sacred" contract one holds with the city/law?"

    actually would've had more meaning than the truth of the situation. Socrates' actions will never be understood, and your interpretation isn't the correct one, nor is mine, but my main question was: What one argument would you use to justify Socrates staying in prison based on the dialog between Socrates and Crito in "Crito"?

    You then proceeded to get off topic, then I did even more so and I apologize. Does it matter what is "accepted"? and accepted by whom? the experts? huh? I do respect the "accepted" opinion about the dialog, but I'm not interested in it right now. I'm more interested in exploring the arguments against the "accepted" opinion that you mention.

    And yes, I am losing it
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2005
  11. Oct 15, 2005 #10

    I'm not giving an interpretation, I'm citing the one that is given in the intro. Plus, just because your kids are grown up doesn't mean that you won't be doing an injustice by sacrificing yourself and depriving your friends and family of your presence. And was he in his 80's? Never knew he lived that long.

    I don't see how his argument is more correct actually, but I can try to give justifications for it since that's what you are asking for.
  12. Oct 15, 2005 #11
    Here, this is why I responded as I did; you asked what the problems were. I decided to give the other side of the issue rather than simply siding with Socrates' argument.

    Sure, look at his other works and understand how he thinks. He's into utopias at the state level, eg The Republic. Seems that virtues at the level of the individual are inextricably tied to the state for him. Why is that? Seems that the justification would be rooted in that perspective.

    Here's an excerpt from a review of Aristotle and Socrates take on virtue (I'm at work so I don't have my copy handy); if you agree with their review, then we can go from there:

    In an early dialogue of Plato's, the Protagoras, Socrates asks Protagoras why it is not as easy to find teachers of virtue as it is to find teachers of swordsmanship, riding, or any other art. Protagoras' answer is that there are no special teachers of virtue, because virtue is taught by the whole community. Plato and Aristotle both accept the view of moral education implied in this answer. In a passage of the Republic (492 b) Plato repudiates the notion that the sophists have a corrupting moral influence upon young men. The public themselves, he says, are the real sophists and the most complete and thorough educators. No private education can hold out against the
    irresistible force of public opinion and the ordinary moral standards of society. But that makes it all the more essential that public opinion and social environment should not be left to grow up at haphazard as they ordinarily do, but should be made by the wise legislator the expression of the good and be informed in all their details by his knowledge. The legislator is the only possible teacher
    of virtue...

    Those who have complete knowledge of the good must be few, and therefore Plato gave entire power in his state into the hands of the small minority of philosopher guardians. It is in accordance with this principle that Aristotle holds that kingship is the proper form of government when there is in the state one man of transcendent virtue...The end of the state, which is to be the standard of the distribution of political power, is conceived sometimes as a good for the apprehension and attainment of which "virtue" is necessary and sufficient (this is the principle of aristocracy), and sometimes as a more complex good, which needs for its attainment not only "virtue" but wealth and equality.

    Both see government as the source of virtue. In that case, they know best and should not be opposed. From what I gathered, Socrates was not saying that the state was actually correct, but that in any case one should not oppose it. So where does that leave us?
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2005
  13. Oct 15, 2005 #12
    According to the Apology, his sons weren't grown yet:

    Still I have a favor to ask of them. When my sons are grown
    up, I would ask you, O my friends, to punish them; and I
    would have you trouble them, as I have troubled you, if they
    seem to care about riches, or anything, more than about
    virtue; or if they pretend to be something when they are
    really nothing, - then reprove them, as I have reproved you,
    for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and
    thinking that they are something when they are really.
    42a nothing. And if you do this, both I and my sons will have
    received justice at your hands.


    according to this site, his eldest was 18 at the time of his death
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2005
  14. Oct 15, 2005 #13
    ahh, this will help much, I hadn't really known about if his kids were grown up yet, I was just agreeing with Loseyourname because I regard his opinions about this stuff... But I do know for a fact that Socrates was pretty old, maybe not up to 80, but definately late 70's as was mentioned in my political philosophy class.

    here is a counter argument: Suppose S. fled, and he brought his kids with him. Then his kids wouldn've have the resources, privaledges, and oppertunities that they could've had if they lived in Athens. Since Socrates would've had to flee to Thesally or some other non nearby and befriended city-state affilliated with athens, his kids would've had grown up with an impaired ability to achieve civility. If S. fled and left his kids there in Athens so that they could've had all those advantages of living in one of the most civilized societies of that time, that thats really no different than him staying to die, at least when he stayed to die, he won more respect from the athenean people, and therefore they treated his kids with more respect.

    yes, I understand that i did ask what was wrong with my arguments, and you provided a different viewpoint. This is my fault again, and i apologize again... Sometimes I can't see the forest through the trees:shy:
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2005
  15. Oct 15, 2005 #14
  16. Oct 15, 2005 #15
    Are you arguing just for argument's sake?:smile:

    I did post in favor of your viewpoint since you asked for it. Wanna talk about that? If not, just tell me exactly what you want.:wink:
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2005
  17. Oct 16, 2005 #16
    You've provided much to work with, and I appreciate it. I just don't want to go any further because I don't think this thread is in good spirit anymore. I don't feel it's necessarry to explain myself in each thread, and you don't need to explain yourself either. My goal was to strengthen the perspective that what he did was right. What you have provided will allow me to do that. I thank you for your interest in the topic.
  18. Oct 16, 2005 #17
    No prob, but just so ya know I don't have any negative feelings about this discussion; a bit of confusion and frustration sure, but I'm still open to discuss what you wanted. I haven't read Crito in a while so I won't have much more to offer on this anyhow.

    Here's a summary of Socrates' argument - http://www.fred.net/tzaka/crito2.html

    ps here's a neat quiz I found on the Crito.

    edit: scratch that, it was pretty lame
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2005
  19. Oct 17, 2005 #18

    hehe, thats good to know. I felt I offended you in some way, I prolly just interpreted your words the wrong way. Thanks for checking out the details like his age, the ages of his kids, and the extra exerpts.:smile:
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: Justify Socrates staying in prison
  1. Harvard or Prison? (Replies: 36)