Standard MLA cited paper about Socrates. The question was: does Socrates contradict himself between the Apology and the Crito? Super average paper, I got a perfect score on this one. Enjoy:
In reading and analyzing the last four Socratic dialogues documented by Plato (namely the Euthyphyro, the Phaedo, the Apology, and the Crito), there is boundless opportunity to understand Socrates’ core principles and values. As Socrates has become such a prominent classical figure in Western civilization, his guiding theories and tenets are a point of fascination for anyone interested in the history of ancient Greece, as well as for those who wish to explore the basics of ethics, morality, belief, and “law,” “governance,” and “citizenship” in their most fundamental forms. However, although the last four Socratic dialogues have been acutely helpful for academics, writers, and law theorists over the last two millennia, when looking at these dialogues as one complete piece, they have also raised several points of confusion about what Socrates’ true opinions actually were, and (more specifically) if the beliefs he seemed to hold in his long career as a rebellious teacher endured throughout the critical time of his trial and his final days in prison before his death sentence was carried out. This issue is particularly prominent when we read and compare the Apology and the Crito, the last two Socratic documents written by his now-famous student, Plato.
In reading and analyzing the Apology and the Crito, we find Socrates to be promulgating two entirely different personas, with two completely different standpoints from which to judge Athenian society and his place in it. On the one hand, Socrates’ persona in the Apology is rebellious, spirited, righteous, and clearly principled in an inalienable right to object to the system of which he is a part. On the other hand, Socrates’ persona in the Crito is humble, demure, understated, and principled in the notion that a citizen takes an unspoken oath to abide by their nation’s laws, no matter their opinions on the relative absurdity of those laws. Socrates argues that through breaching this oath, the only way to restore the justice lost through the breach is to punish the person under that nation’s laws. In one light, Socrates even seems to be endorsing nationalism in its purest sense in the Crito, which was unusual in lieu of how flippantly and righteously he spoke about his important (and even prophetic) role of defying Athenian law in the Apology.
It seems as though the two weeks in which Socrates spent in prison between the activities documented in the Apology and those documented the Crito made a deep and lasting impression on his conscience and values. For better or for worse (depending on one’s point of view), Socrates was not the same man in the Crito that he was in the Apology. Through the following analysis of these two Socratic documents, we will explore how Socrates’ fundamental ideas changed during this very crucial period of time, looking at the ways he contradicts his own words in the Apology with those he spoke to his friend in the Crito. Our focus towards the later part of the paper will be on why his differing ideas of “morality” (and who has the authority to determine what is “moral”) are what gave rise to this contradiction, which had a lot to do with his shift in self image, from forwarding social justice in the judicial system to being accepting of his place in the penal system. We will also look at the opposing idea that Socrates does not contradict himself between these two written documents, looking primarily at how his views of justice remained the same, with only the fringe details of those views changed.
From Demanding Social Justice to Being A Product of the System:
Socrates in the Apology vs. the Crito
In the Apology, Plato transcribes the defense made by Socrates in court, in which he was accused by Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon of corrupting the minds of the wealthy and impressionable Athenian youth with impious teachings that there are extant gods other than those which were officially recognized by the government of Athens. Additionally, Socrates is also being accused of not believing in the gods of Athens, and rather in no god/s at all, which (as Socrates points out in the Apology) is inherently flawed if he is simultaneously being accused of corrupting the youth with other kinds of gods. Interestingly, this writing is not called the “Apology” because Socrates is apologizing for doing this- quite the opposite in fact. The title is actually a misnomer in our modern, 21st century American English terms, because it comes from the Greek word “apologia,” meaning “defense,” which stands to reason because in this work Socrates is defending the accusations being brought against him in a very contentious trial, which (as he later finds out) decides the fate of his life. Quite to the contrary, Socrates is hardly defending himself at all in the Crito, and is instead forwarding an idea that he is exactly where he should be, given the outcome of the trial. In fact, with every defense Crito tries to make of Socrates’ life, he responds with an un-arguable defense against escaping prison and his death sentence.
Unlike in the Crito in which Socrates engages in a dialogue with his friend, the Apology is practically a complete monologue of Socrates’ defense at trial (except for the part where he cross-examines and embarrasses Meletus for his contradiction in terms), and it is written in the first-person narrative format, from Socrates’ perspective. To a certain degree, Socrates is actually defending the notion that there is anything truly “wrong” with the accusations that are being brought against him. We find Socrates to be engaged in a kind of social justice process here, which (as we will see later) is what changes dramatically between the Apology and the Crito. Instead of trying to find a “way out” of the accusation, he states that by speaking about the existence of these foreign, non-Athenian gods to the rich youth of Athens, he is fulfilling a prophecy set out by an oracle at Delphi, which decried that Socrates was the “wisest man among men.”
According to Socrates, it was the oracle at Delphi that he owed obedience to- more so than he did to his opponents, in spite of his assertion in the Crito that one should always obey the law as a matter of principle (a completely orthogonal stance to his stance of social justice taken in the Apology). To this effect, his exact words in the Apology were: “I, men of Athens, salute you and love you, but I will obey the god rather than you; and as long as I breathe and am able to, I will certainly not stop philosophizing, and I will exhort you and explain this to whomever of you I happen to meet…” Perhaps in hindsight, this may have been one of the many assertions he made that helped to finalize the jury’s decision to find him guilty.
Certainly by the time Socrates was in prison awaiting sentencing he had given up the notion of social justice as a “justification” for acting against the law. In the Crito, Socrates felt that doing what was “right” by the standards of the Athenian court of law in which he was prosecuted was what was “right” to him. By the time he is speaking to Crito, Socrates is married to the law as a final arbiter on what is moral, whereas in the Apology he stands in opposition to it- and most specifically to how his opponents operated within the judicial system.
It also is important to note that in the Apology, Socrates makes his defense in court in a very casual, matter-of-fact tone. This was purportedly done because he was not educated in the language of the courts and did not want to make an embarrassing mistake trying to speak in legal terms that he was unfamiliar with. (Socrates said: “if you hear me speaking in my defense with the same speeches I am accustomed to speak both in the marketplace at the money… do not wonder or make a disturbance… this is how it is: now is the first time I have come before a law court, at the age of seventy; hence I am simply foreign to the manner of speech here.”) Nevertheless, this laid-back tone also added to his sense of grandiosity in the scheme of the trial, likely making him seem even more haughty and un-likeable to the judge and jury. According to Williamson, “such an attitude on the part of Socrates is not at all unnatural… his life’s work was done, and he only valued life for the opportunities it offered of activity in God’s work.” This tone had changed entirely in the Crito, which stands to reason in that he was in a completely different social context (his prison cell, to be exact)- however the emotions expressed through his tone are what is really relevant. In the Crito, Socrates was defeated, however in the Apology, he was triumphant, proud, and un-equivocating.
Adding to Socrates’ casual and arrogant tone in the Apology was his assertion that Athens needed him to be inspired, as he went on comparing himself to a social gadfly that stings the state so that they do not fall asleep and are summoned to act with morality and to be maximally productive. Clearly, Socrates thought a lot of himself and considered himself to be a lead actor in this show of political theater. Socrates does not seem to think any less of himself per se in the Crito, however he also has lost the edge to fight in the penal system the way he did in the judicial system. Throughout the Apology, we see that Socrates made every attempt to take charge of the court’s opinion, and he even began the trial attempting to whitewash the jury’s opinions entirely by asserting that the jury had already been brainwashed and corrupted by his opponents. His sense of entitlement did not extend itself to the penal system, where he did not try to fight with the same gusto as he had in the judicial system against his opponents. Socrates’ final comments in the Apology regarding his death sentence speak of the confidence he had in himself as an autonomous, sovereign soul, unobstructed by national borders or laws. At this point in the Apology, he does sound angry, but accepting of his imminent death, which- although he does not agree with the jurors who decided against him- he accepts as part of the judicial process.
Socrates’ Basis of “Morality”:
A Shift in Self-Image, a Shift in Paradigms
The weeks Socrates spent in prison between the Apology and the Crito, changed his demeanor changed quite a bit. Whereas he had been feeling quite important and his intellectual ego had been heavily involved in his self-defense at trial, Socrates’ time in prison seemed to have dissolved all of his self-importance and any vestiges of his ego. No longer pompous or arrogant, by the time of the dialogue in the Crito, Socrates was coming to terms with his fate. He was making peace with his place in Athenian society and in remaining committed to wisdom in whatever form that takes for the individual.
In the Crito, Socrates is paid a pre-dawn visit by his friend Crito, who has arranged plans for Socrates to escape prison and live safely outside of Greece. Crito is motivated by his love for his friend and also by his fear of losing his reputation for not assisting in freeing Socrates. To his surprise and dismay, Crito comes up against Socrates actually arguing for his own execution. He does not bear the same sense of social justice that he did in the Apology. Instead of seizing the opportunity to flee, Socrates feels compelled to ask whether or not his escape is justifiable. Always committed to philosophy at all junctures in his life, Socrates tells Crito that if he can find his escape justifiable, then he will leave, and if he can not then he will stay in prison. Through this dialogue, Socrates consults the purse essence of the law of Athens, asking this essence for its counsel.
This pure essence (a “voice” of the law of Athens) says that it would not be justifiable to escape prison because he is duty-bound by the law to see his sentence through. Just as Socrates promised, he considers the answer this voice gives him, and finds that he agrees with it. Crito tries to argue that through staying in prison and allowing himself to be executed, Socrates is making a loud statement regarding his enemies. From Crito’s perspective, Socrates is saying that his opponents were right in taking him to trial and that the system was right in sentencing him to death. Choosing not to escape, Crito said, would be a kind of passive injustice Socrates would do against himself. Furthermore, Crito tried to appeal to Socrates’ heart, reminding him that his children would be left without a father if he were to stay in prison. Upon consideration, none of Crito’s arguments appeal to Socrates because they do not seem justifiable. Essentially, Socrates’ perception of what morality is, which actions are morally correct, and who has the right to judge on one’s morality are what have changed since the Apology. It is from this change that all of the details of his new disposition of being are born; his countenance, his general lackluster energy and a reduced will to fight for himself. No longer is there a precedent that he is a part of any social justice movement, instead he is a product of a judicial system (and now a penal system) and has taken his “place” in those systems.
Socrates’ sense of morality in both the Apology and the Crito is very deep, however this sense of morality may seem more punitive (and less righteous) to the reader’s sensibilities in the Crito as he is coming to terms with his impending death sentence. The morality Socrates expresses in the Apology is delivered more in a “teachable” and excited way, and through this alteration in his own sensibilities, a contradiction seems to arise. No longer is the justice system malleable and in need of change the way it was in court weeks earlier. To the “Socrates of the Crito,” the system is inherently (and perhaps rightfully) rigid, solid, and unyielding to anyone- which Socrates seemingly reconciles rather than abhors. The details of his ideas about justice certainly do come across as a contradiction for that reason, however from the opposing standpoint (that Socrates does not contradict himself), we find that while his ideas about the deliverance of morality and moral judgment seem to have drastically altered, his notion of justice remains the same. This is the primary argument of his consistency between the Apology and the Crito.
Consistency Between the Apology and the Crito:
Notions of Justice Preserved
In Socrates’ own estimation, he is entirely consistent in his beliefs between the Apology and the Crito, and that any objections that Crito raises (which are similar to those raised in this paper; that he is denying himself, his teachings, and his core tenets by electing to remain in prison and commit himself to his sentence) are fundamentally unjustifiable. Socrates says: “At present I am not able to abandon the arguments I previously made, now that this misfortune has befallen me, but they appear about the same to me, and I defer to and honor the ones I did previously.”To this extent, we can find consistency in the Apology, where at the end of the trial, after he has been sentenced, Socrates announces: “And now I go away, condemned by you to pay the penalty of death, while they have been convicted by the truth of wretchedness and injustice. And I abide by my penalty, and so do they. Perhaps these things even had to be so, and I suppose there is due measure in them.” What this points to is that from Socrates’ perspective, no matter how he may feel toward the judicial system (as unjust or as just) at any given time, he accepts the role he plays in the system at that time. This means that while on defense, he was rightfully defensive; and while awaiting his death sentence, he was naturally solemn and less enthused. Furthermore, Socrates does not seem to object to the system of law as much as he does to his opponents themselves, and he realizes that while he does not agree with his opponents’ position and how they handled the jury, he understands that the law has to arbitrate in disputes. However, Socrates does seem to hold a more ardent and strict idea of his death sentence being justifiable in the Crito, whereas he does not at all consider his breaking the law to be unjustified in the Apology. This is the point of contention between the arguments for and against Socrates as contradicting himself.
Another way to see that there is consistency between the Apology and the Crito is by looking at how Socrates logically arrives at his decisions. Between these two works, no matter the change in his desire to defy the system, “he is fiercely independent, loyal only to the logos that appears best to him upon reasoning.” Socrates indeed always checks in with himself to see where he stands on a matter before making a decision, and no matter how his brand of logic appears to outsiders, it is consistent to him. For Socrates, there is nothing more important to him than this.
In conclusion, Socrates does change considerably between the Apology and the Crito. He no longer seemed like the same person to Crito, espousing ideas that seemed more commited to Athenian law than to the principles upon which he based his teachings. However, even though he was no longer committed to defying the system, he was still committed to his use of logical reasoning. This use of reasoning led him to conclude that fleeing his sentence was not morally correct by his own standards, which, to Socrates, were always the golden standard for his life.
Hardy, Jorg and Rudebusch. George Ancient Ethics. Vandenhock & Ruprecht, 2014.
Kamtekar, Rachana. Plato’s Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito: Critical Essays.
Rowman & Littlefield, 2004.
Weiss, Roslyn. Socrates Dissatisfied: An Analysis of Plato’s Crito. Oxford University Press, 1998.
Williamson, Harry. Plato’s Apology of Socrates. Macmillan, 1921.
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