Obedience to the law is an important component of citizenship, and various philosophers have attempted to determine if this compliance with the norms established in the community is always ethical or rational. This issue is explored by Plato in his famous dialogue Crito.
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Overall, Plato emphasizes the necessity to comply with the decisions of the state, even though they may seem to be unjust; however, this approach can eventually turn injustice into something acceptable. This is the main flaw of Plato’s arguments.
In this work, the author describes the conversation between imprisoned Socrates and one of his friends, Crito, who urges the convicted philosopher to escape from prison and leave Athens. More importantly, this person offers his assistance to Socrates, but his offer is declined.
Socrates’ argument is largely based on the premise that a citizen accepts the laws adopted in the society and should not resist the decisions of the state represents the interest of the community. To a great extent, this dialogue can be viewed as the precursor to social contract theory that began to be elaborated much later. These are some of the main details that should be taken into consideration.
It is possible to identify several limitations of Plato’s position. In this dialogue, Socrates accepts the death penalty imposed by the state since this state represents a higher ideal. The main problem is that this worldview can legitimize every form of cruelty or injustice that can be perpetrated by the government. This argument is particularly relevant if one speaks about the rise of totalitarian regimes that emerged in the twentieth century.
Socrates does not consider the possibility that the government can brutally suppress every form of disagreement with its existing social norms. To some degree, Socrates becomes the victim of this policy. Secondly, this approach can diminish the role of an individual who can be victimized by the majority. This is another pitfall that should be avoided.
Additionally, the conversation between Socrates and Crito implies that a citizen is fully aware of how the law functions. Thus, it is not permissible for this individual to escape the law that he/she tacitly accepted.
This is one of the reasons why Socrates refuses to leave the city. However, this argument is not fully applicable to contemporary communities which have extremely complex systems of laws and regulations. This is another detail that should not be overlooked.
Additionally, one should speak about the ethical implications of Socrates’ decision to accept the decision of the court. This philosopher does not believe that the verdict is just, but he is convinced that one should not respond to it by violating the law. However, Socrates’ behavior may prolong injustice and make it more acceptable.
If every person tries to follow Socrates’s example, the very idea of social change will become impossible. This is one of the issues that Plato does not discuss in this work.
On the whole, it is possible to argue that this reading illustrates various views on the behavior of citizenship and obedience to the law. Through Socrates, Plato introduces the idea of social agreement, which is recognized and accepted by the members of a community.
In his opinion, it is unethical to respond to disobey the laws in response to injustice. However, Plato does not consider the possibility that the state can become totalitarian and punish every form of dissent. These are the main issues that can be identified.