Monday, December 31, 2007

Selection 16 - Crito

Reference: Crito Wikipedia Entry

Source: Crito at Project Gutenberg


Background: The third dialogue in the first tetralogy of Plato's Socratic Dialogues, Crito examines Socrates response to injustice.

Discussion: This is the only dialogue so far in which I feel slightly sympathetic to Socrates but even here that is tempered.

Visited in his cell by his friend Crito who urges him to escape Socrates refuses. His reasons - Answering injustice with injustice is wrong and laws, even when flawed, deserve respect from those who consent to be governed by them (As Socrates did when he remained in Athens upon reaching adulthood).

Those sentiments are ones I can identify with (although I may disagree with Socrates on what an injustice is and I reserve the right to attempt to have the law changed) but then he goes and bungs it up with his statement that the opinion of the common man means nothing because they are too ignorant to be allowed an opinion. A little bit of foreshadowing of the need for Philosopher Kings in the Republic maybe?

Actually since I think chronologically "The Republic" takes place first it may just be a re-expression of that view. Timothy Shutt who lectures on Plato at Kenyon College says in his Portbale Professor course "Foundations of Western Thought: Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans" that the government outlined in "The Republic" was essentially a fictionalized version of Sparta. Maybe that is what the Athenians meant by making "The worse appear the better"

, , , , , ,


Dr. T said...

Actually, "The Republic" has less to do with government than it has to do with the structure of a healthy soul." Toward the end, Socrates observes that in such a city as he outlines, the city itself would be happy, but the individual citizens would not be happy. He then suggests that we should use it as a metaphor for the happy soul.

Chad said...

Well I will let you and Dr. Schutt argue that one out, but out of curiosity I went to wikipedia and looked it up and it appears that there isn't really a consensus on whether or not Socrates intended the Republic to serve as a model for a healthy soul or was actually talking about a healthy society. Although it appears most believe the government envisioned in The Republic to be a not particularly good one.

My personal belief is that while Socrates may have carried his examples, related in the Republic, to extremes he probably essentially believed them. In all of the dialogues I have read so far he seems to have a lot of contempt for his fellow citizens and this form of government would fit right in with that.

Dr. T said...

Well, I would venture to say that when Plato has Socrates say something as clear and direct as "this is not a good model for a city, so let's take it a a model for the soul instead," that that is in fact what he meant the work to be taken as. I try to go with what the text says, though I know that's not very fashionable with many postmodern types. Certainly many have taken The Republic as a model for the perfect city. The Nazis did. As have many other dictatorial types.

Chad said...

You are the PhD in Humanities, so I am inclined to believe you when you say Socrates said that, but I am looking through my copy of the Republic and I can't find the statement you are talking about. If you can throw me a reference it would help. I am using the Jowett translation.

Whether or not Socrates was actually intending the idea of the perfect city to be taken as an analogy for the perfect soul is kind of beside the point I was making in the main post though. My point was that the city he proposed in the Republic was very similar to Sparta and that Athens was at war with Sparta and that may have contributed to some of the charges against Socrates. I honestly don't know if it did or not but I think it is possible.

Dr. T said...

To address last things first: Socrates would have been dead probably a decade or two by the time The Republic was written. This dialogue is a reflection not of the ideas of Socrates, but of Plato. By the time we get to The Republic, we are dealing with Plato's ideas. Don't mistake Socrates for Plato.

As for this being a model of the soul, at the beginning of Book IV, Adiemantos argues that Socrates may be making the city happy, but he's not making the guardians (or anyone else in the city for that matter) happy. To which Socrates agrees. They won't be happy. The goal is to describe a just city -- something he later says doesn't exist, and may only exist "in heaven." At another point he equates city constitutions with the souls of different kinds of men, pointing out that the best city constitution parallels the best soul. At the end of Book IX, , Socrates refers to a man's "own city" -- that is, his soul. And in Book X Socrates practically gives up even bothering with the city as metaphor and talks directly about the soul. The overall movement of The Republic is from describing how to create a just city as a metaphor for the soul to describing how to create a just soul is more direct terms. Keep in mind with Plato that he's creating a poetic work. Meaning lies in metaphor.