TO ESCAPE OR NOT TO ESCAPE?, THAT IS THE QUESTION: AN EVALUATION OF THE ARGUMENTS OF THE CRITOIn this paper I will evaluate Crito's arguments for why Socrates should escape from prison and Socrates' arguments for why he should remain in prison and accept his death sentence. I will argue that Socrates has the stronger arguments. First, I'll begin by examining Crito's arguments and showing their strengths and weaknesses. Then, I will lay out Socrates' arguments and show their strengths and weaknesses. While I will present all of Socrates' main arguments, I will give special attention to his primary argument which is based on the premise that doing unjust actions harms one's soul, and that life is not worth living with a ruined soul.
CRITO'S ARGUMENTSCrito presents three arguments for why Socrates should escape. The first two are fairly weak. The third, concerning Socrates' responsibility to his children is the strongest. Crito's first argument is that if Socrates does not escape, then he will hurt Crito in two ways. On the one hand Crito will lose a good friend when Socrates dies, and on the other, Crito's reputation will be hurt. People won't know that Socrates chose to remain in jail. They'll think that it was possible for Crito to get Socrates out but that he didn't do it because he wasn't willing to spend the money. Therefore Crito will get a reputation for caring more for money than for a friend. In this argument Crito is assuming that it is a bad thing a person to do something that will hurt a friend(Crito, 44b-c, Grube trans. here and elsewhere). This argument is very narrow. It only considers the consequences of Socrates' action for Crito. A stronger argument would consider the negative and positive consequences for everyone affected both if Socrates stays in jail and if he escapes. It may be that there are other considerations that outweigh the harm to Crito, or perhaps some of the things Crito thinks are harms are not really harms. Socrates makes both of these points later.
In his second argument, Crito speculates about why Socrates does not want to escape. He says that if Socrates is worried that by escaping he will harm his friends who could get in trouble for helping him escape, then his fears are unfounded. First, they are willing to risk this or even something worse for him, and second, it is cheap to pay off both the guards and anyone who might inform on them, so there won't be much risk (Crito, 44e-45b). If this was Socrates primary reason for not wanting to escape, and Crito's information about the ease of paying people off was true, then Crito's response to it would carry some weight, but as we will see, this was not Socrates main reason for not wanting to escape. Also, while it may be possible to pay people off, there is still the question of whether it is moral. This is also something Socrates goes on to consider.
In his third argument Crito mentions Socrates' responsibility to his children. As their father, it is Socrates' responsibility to see that his children are brought up well and educated, and he can't do this if he is dead. Here Crito appeals to principles that are important to Socrates. He points out that pursuing goodness is how Socrates professes to lead his life, and that a good man would see that his children are cared for. Crito says that staying in jail is the easy thing to do, but escaping takes courage, and the right thing, the good thing to do is to be brave for the sake of his children(Crito, 45c-d).
Here at last Crito is considering more substantial issues than remorse or the negative opinions of others. He is concerned with the fate of Socrates' children. Crito's primary assumption is that if Socrates' dies, his children won't be cared for in the best possible way. Socrates himself points out that this is an erroneous assumption. He says that Crito overlooks the possibility that his friends would be both willing and capable of bringing his children up. If he were to escape and go to Thessaly, he does not think it would be in his children's best interest to raise them there, because there they would be considered foreigners. If he escaped he would ask his friends to take care of his children in Athens, and there is no reason why they should take care of them if he escapes but not if he dies(Crito, 54a-b).
SOCRATES' ARGUMENTSIn response to Crito's arguments Socrates considers first, why the opinion of the majority is not the most important opinion, second, what the consequences of escaping would be for the city of Athens, and third whether escaping is an unjust action such that it would harm Socrates' soul.
Many of Crito's arguments concern the opinion of the majority--what will they think if Crito does not help Socrates escape? What will they think if Socrates is not responsible for his children? Socrates argues that the opinion of an expert is more important than the opinion of the majority. He gives the example of someone in training. Such a person does not pay attention to the advice of the general public, but to his trainer. If he listened to public opinion (take steroids, eat whatever you want, train 20 hours a day), he could hurt his body. Socrates extends the analogy to deciding on what the right way is to act. If we listen to the majority rather than experts we could harm our souls, the part of us that is mutilated by wrong actions and benefited by right ones(Crito, 47a-48a).
Socrates does concede that as a majority, the general public has the power to put people to death, but he states that the most important thing is not living, but living a good life, so that it is not worth following the opinion of the majority if it means sacrificing something that is important for living a good life.(48b)
The above is one of Socrates' most fundamental principles - that the really important thing is not to live but to live well. Therefore he considers whether it is morally right to pay off the guards and escape. Socrates begins addressing this issue by considering the consequences for the city of Athens. He says that the laws and the city could be destroyed if he escaped. Legal judgments could lose their force if they were nullified by private citizens, and a city without laws would not remain intact for very long.
In addition to harming the city, Socrates thought he would be harming the condition of his soul by escaping. First he thought his soul would be harmed because he assumed that by harming the city he would be also harming his soul. Being responsible for harm to others is something that causes harm to one's soul. He also would have suffered harm to his soul because he broke an agreement. He made a tacit agreement to follow the laws of Athens because he lived under them for seventy years, raised his children under them, and did not try to persuade the city to change them.
In order to evaluate Socrates' arguments, below I will put them in argument form, and then, I will assess the premises.
A) Living Well Argument
1. To do an unjust action ruins one's soul
2. Life is not worth living with a ruined soul
Conclusion: The most important thing is not life but living a moral and just life.
B) Consequences for Athens Argument
1. If I escape from jail, then the laws of Athens and thus the city of Athens will be destroyed.
2. To destroy the laws of Athens and the city of Athens harms the citizens of Athens.
3. To harm others is to harm my soul because to harm others is unjust, and doing unjust actions harms my soul.
4. It is better to die than to live with a ruined soul.
Conclusion: Therefore, I should stay in jail and accept the death penalty
1. If I escape, then I will break an agreement I made with the city.
2. To break an agreement is an unjust action
3. Doing unjust actions harms the soul.
4. It is better to die than to live with a ruined soul.
Conclusion: Therefore, I should stay in jail and accept the death penalty
Arguments B and C both depend on argument A. First, I'll consider the general structure of B and C, and then I'll evaluate argument A which they rely on. Argument B appears to be valid. If the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. The question is, are the premises true? Premise 2 appears to be true. We will discuss premises 3 and 4 when considering argument A. That leaves us with premise 1. Premise 1 predicts the consequences of Socrates' actions. A problem with making decisions about how to act based on consequences is that we can't always accurately predict the consequences of actions. We don't know for certain what the results of our action will be or who will be affected by them. Perhaps if Socrates escapes, other citizens will not follow Socrates' example of breaking the law and escaping from jail. Maybe the only result will be that the state beefs up security in the jails and hires guards who won't be bribed. In that case Socrates would be benefiting the city by escaping because the result of his action would be a more secure jail.
Argument C offers a better argument utilizing the results of A. C also appears to be valid, and premises 1 and 2 are to true. If Socrates escapes he will break his agreement to obey the laws. He gives several examples of how he agreed to obey the laws by remaining in Athens and not challenging the laws. It also true that breaking the agreement would be an unjust action. He does not have the permission of the city to break the agreement, and to terminate the agreement otherwise would be unjust.
Argument A talks about the soul, and it is a controversial issue about whether we have a soul. If we replace the idea of soul with the idea of character, the argument seems to work. Doing unjust actions ruins your character, it ruins who you are. Life is valuable when it is a flourishing, growing, moral life, but life with a corrupted character is of little or no value. Life without self-esteem isn't worth living.
In conclusion Crito's arguments are very narrow. The one strong argument he gives about children is effectively refuted by Socrates. Socrates' consequential argument is not necessarily compelling, but if we accept his primary argument about only lives that are lived well having value, then his second argument concerning his agreement with the state to follow its laws is a compelling one, therefore Socrates was right to decide to remain in jail.
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