In Plato’s work Crito, Socrates argues with his friend about the escape from prison. Crito has come to free him, but Socrates does not want to follow his friend’s advice and chooses to stay waiting for his punishment. Both Crito and Socrates present their arguments in support of their ideas. Tomas Aquinas writes a lot on imperfect human laws in comparison with just natural laws in his works. In his point of view, people should follow the law only if it is morally acceptable. Socrates has a possibility to doubt the morality of his conviction but decides that the laws of Athens are just. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the strength of claims by Socrates, Crito, and Aquinas and examine whether Socrates should have disobeyed the terms of his conviction and escaped prison from Aquinas’ point of view.
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Socrates was imprisoned for the impiety and corruption of the youth. He was accused of refusing to show respect to the existing gods and in speaking about new deities. The Athenians leave him in prison to wait for his death sentence. His wealthy friend, Crito, bribes the guards and offers Socrates to escape and hide in another town. Nevertheless, Socrates refuses to follow his friend’s advice and stays in his prison cell. Crito presents three arguments to persuade his friend to go with him. First of all, he tells that the death of Socrates will hurt him as well. He does not want to lose a good friend, and his reputation will be harmed when people will know that he has not helped Socrates. Crito implies that it is unworthy to act in a way that will harm a friend. These arguments are weak because they are connected only to the life and prosperity of Crito.
In continuation of his argumentation, Crito tells Socrates that he should not be worried about the consequences of his escape for his friends. Everybody wants to help Socrates, and it is easy to bribe the guards and everyone else to hide him. Nevertheless, Socrates remains unconvinced and questions the morality of bribery later. Crito makes a stronger argument telling Socrates about his parental responsibility to his children. In Crito’s view, he should free himself from prison and raise his children for them to become educated and well brought up.
Crito underlines that it is easy to do nothing and stay in prison, waiting for nothing. Socrates needs the courage to escape and help his children to become better people. This argument touches Socrates, he wants his children to be educated and well brought up, but he points on the erroneous nature of Crito’s assumptions. Socrates argues that his friends will bring up his children in a better way because, after the escape, he would need to hide. The life of foreigners will not be good for the development and education of children. Socrates says that his friends should take care of his children in Athens. There is no difference if he dies or if he escapes because he will not have the possibility to see his children.
Socrates responds to Crito also by three arguments, speaking about the opinion of the majority to his friend, the possible outcomes of his escape, and the justification of his actions. He underlines that it is crucial for him to live following the rules and principles adopted in the society: “For I am and always have been one of those natures which must be guided by reason, whatever the reason may be which upon reflection appears to me to be the best; and now that this fortune has come upon me, I cannot put away the reasons which I have before given: the principles which I have hitherto honored and revered I still honor, and unless we can find other and better principles on the instant, I am certain not to agree with you; no, not even if the power of the multitude could inflict many more imprisonments, confiscations, deaths, frightening us like children with hobgoblin terrors” (Plato).
Crito is very concerned with the opinion of the majority in his arguments. Talking about the escape, he mentions that its outcome will affect his reputation. Crito supports his arguments with the opinion of their mutual friends who are ready to help Socrates. He talks that nobody among them will accuse Socrates in dealing with harm to them by his escape. Socrates answers that the opinion of the majority cannot be better than advice from a professional.
He illustrates his argumentation with an example of a sportspeople training according to the recommendations of their coaches: “And he ought to live and train, and eat and drink in the way which seems good to his single master who has understanding, rather than according to the opinion of all other men put together?” (Plato). He underlines that if the opinion of the majority can be harmful for a person in sports, it will be so in other aspects of life as well. Socrates claims that a person will harm his soul with his body listening to the crowd. Only his own decisions based on rules and regulations adopted by the authorities can lead to the prosperity of the society.
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Socrates agrees that a majority can put a person in prison and sentence him to death but the most important thing for all people is not only to live but also to conduct in a moral righteous way. He implies that it is worth to give away something to ascertain a better life for society as a whole even if one needs to sacrifice his life. He is sure that citizens should support the laws to keep the order in the society. Therefore, he disapproves of bribery and escape. Socrates supposes that the laws of the Athens will be destroyed if he escapes what can result in anarchy.
Moreover, Socrates implies that the breach of law will harm his soul. He will not be happy living with a thought that he disturbed the order of the city by his escape. For him, it is better to die sentenced to death by the law than to live with a broken soul feeling remorse every day. Justice is crucial for Socrates in all his deeds. He has made an agreement with the city, and he is ready to fulfill his part even if it will cost him his life. The breach of agreement is an unjust action and should be punished by the society. Therefore, it is better for him to stay in prison and wait for his punishment.
Socrates supports his argumentation with good examples and logical conclusions. Nevertheless, Thomas Aquinas can easily put his assumptions to doubt because of the controversial nature of human laws. For Aquinas, all laws in the society derive from higher natural law. According to Bradley, “The dilemma is that man may not disobey the higher law, yet he is bound to obey the laws of the civil authorities because their right to make laws and expect obedience to them is ultimately from God” (49).
Acknowledging the issue of unjust laws, Aquinas presents a solution, implying that people should refuse to follow the laws contrary to the natural law. According to O’Connell and Day, “the history of natural law thought from Ancient Greece to today’s global community reveals three integral elements in the method employed to produce explanations of extra-positive features of the law.” These elements include reason, reflection on nature, and openness to transcendence (O’Connel and Day). Every law should include these features to be used by the society without harm to the divine good.
This approach supports the claim of Socrates that he should live according to reason. Therefore, when a human law is unjust and leads to the harm of the divine good, people should repel them. Thomas Aquinas sees no harm in refusing to follow the laws imposed by tyrants. Nevertheless, he underlines that disobedience to the law should not result in disturbances in the society. It is always important to evaluate all possible outcomes of the actions by authorities and citizens. Following these assumptions, Socrates should have decided for himself which laws of the city are just and which of them can harm the divine good. Instead, he chooses to accept the decision of the authorities, analyzing only the impact of his breach of the human laws.
The dialogue between Crito and Socrates presents a good example of argumentation for the obedience to the human laws and against it. Their speeches touch upon many important themes such as the opinion of the majority, personal prestige, upbringing of children, and friendship. Nevertheless, the leading issue is the importance of the laws and the right of people to break them. Thomas Aquinas argues that only the natural law should be obeyed. All human laws that contradict it should be repelled by the society. Reason, openness to transcendence, and reflection on nature should be the key elements of any human law. Therefore, Socrates should have analyzed not only his decisions but also the decision of the authorities.
Bradley, Raymond. “The Relation Between Natural Law and Human Law in Thomas Aquinas.” The Catholic Lawyer, vol. 21, no.1, 2017, pp 42-55.
Plato. “Crito.” Classics.
O’Connell, Mary Ellen, and Caleb M. Day. “Sources in Natural Law Theories: Natural Law as Source of Extra-Positive Norms.” SSRN,