Literature Study GuidesDialogues Of PlatoThe Speech Of The Laws Of Athens Summary 50a 54d Summary

Dialogues of Plato | Study Guide

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Dialogues of Plato | The Speech of the Laws of Athens Summary (50a–54d) | Summary

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Summary

Socrates turns his attention to the relation he has to the Laws of Athens, separate and apart from the men who have charged, convicted, and sentenced him under those laws. He takes on the persona of the laws in order to argue on their behalf.

According to the laws, Socrates would "destroy" them if he chooses to escape. They offer multiple reasons why it would be wrong for him to leave without permission:

  • The laws brought Socrates into existence through the (state-sanctioned) marriage of Socrates's parents.
  • The laws educated Socrates through the system of laws that directs the care and training of children.
  • The laws are to Socrates as parents are to children, and so Socrates does not have the same rights as the laws—he is obligated to obey the laws and to accept punishments.
  • The laws should be valued over one's mother, father, and ancestors.
  • The laws are to be obeyed if they cannot be persuaded to change.
  • By remaining in Athens, Socrates has implicitly agreed to abide by the laws. He never left the city, when he could very well have done so. Moreover, he begat and raised his own children in Athens.
  • The laws will roust Socrates's friends from Athens if he accepts their help.
  • The laws are sure that Socrates would not be welcomed elsewhere; he will be known as "a corruptor of laws," and he will seem a hypocrite if he carries on discussions about virtue and justice as he had in the past.
  • The laws will be able to protect Socrates's children only if they remain in Athens, rather than live as exiles in another city.
  • The laws remind Socrates not to put his life, his children, or anything else ahead of justice. Socrates is not a victim of the laws, but "the victim of injustice at the hands of men."

Socrates asks Crito if he has any objections to what the laws have said. When Crito admits he does not, Socrates tells him they must act accordingly, "since so the God leads."

Analysis

The personification of the Laws of Athens allows Socrates to clarify the direction of his obligation to remain in prison and follow through with his execution. It is not Socrates's accusers—not Meletus, Anytus, or Lycon—to whom Socrates is so obligated. If it is true that escaping would be unjust, and as such, would be harmful, there must be someone harmed. Hence, the personification of the laws.

The laws articulate a form of the social contract, the modern version of which is the agreement between members of a society. However, as Socrates articulates it, the agreement is between individual citizens and the law itself. In Socrates's view, the laws contribute to the good life he himself promotes. Were he to leave Athens, this life would have to be abandoned, and with it, his claim in the Apology that "the unexamined life is not ... worth living."

How can Socrates both maintain an obligation to the laws and (in the Apology) an obligation to the God by continuing to do philosophy? Living as a citizen places him squarely within the domain of legal authority, but that authority does not extend to commanding one do an injustice. So, Socrates's accusers do not have the authority to compel him to stop doing philosophy. Indeed, if doing injustice is always wrong, then it would be wrong to obey an unjust law. However, that is not at issue here in the Crito. Instead, the issue is whether or not Socrates should suffer injustice.

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