Obey the Law or Persuade the State
Instructions: Pick one of the following topics and write your term paper on it. You may choose a topic on Socrates & Plato or Descartes. Papers should be a minimum of three typewritten pages in MLA format using Times New Roman 12 pt font, double-spaced. If you quote from your book, please provide the line number(s) in a citation after the close of the quotation marks. There is no need to provide a Works Cited page.
Obey the Law or Persuade the State
Plato’s work, The Apology is an exposition describing the speech Socrates makes at the trial in which he is accused of not acknowledging the gods as sanctioned by the state, coming up with new deities, and corrupting the youth of Athens. Socrates’ speech, is however by no means an “apology” in our modern definition of the word. The name of the dialogue is derived from the Greek word, “apologia,” which means a defense, or an oration made in court. Therefore, in The Apology, Socrates makes attempts to defend himself and his way of life—but he is certainly unapologetic for it. In Plato’s Apology and Crito, there is an apparent contradiction between each dialogue’s representations of Socrates’ position on civil disobedience. (Plato., et al.) He declares, “I shall not give up philosophy, even if the city commands me to do so. “ (Ap.29d).
In the Apology, Socrates makes a case for civil disobedience with the following premises: (1) when a civilian is ordered to take a position by a higher up, that person must accept the position “without fear of death or anything else, rather than disgrace” (28d); (2) the god’s power and authority is greater than the authority of elected officials (28e), and (3) the greater the authority, the greater the disgrace that comes with disobeying them (28d-29a). He outlines the premises that, when confronted with conflicting orders (one divine, the other civil), the one to obey is the divine orders, since, when rationalizing actions by disgrace [(1)], the correct decision is to follow the divine order, for the god’s authority is bigger [(2)] and disobeying such an authority will result to more disgrace than disobeying the elected official [(3)] (Plato., et al.).
Socrates evidently deems the god’s order superior and thus more disgraceful to disobey—than a superior’s clout because he felt it “dreadful” to obey the latter, whereby he would violate the god’s instructions. In the Crito, Socrates, employing reductio ad absurdum, changes tune by discouraging civil disobedience with the following: (4) “one should never do wrong” (49b); (5) one must strive to fulfill a just agreement (49e); (6) cheating on a just contract wrongs the other party (50b) and (7) the pact between Socrates and the state —“to respect and uphold the judgments that the city arrives at” [50c] — is just (48c-51e) where the reductio assumption would be fleeing the city to escape facing the death penalty is the right course of action, purporting that acts of civil disobedience are justified in such a situation (Brickhouse, Thomas and Nicholas Smith).
From (5), (6) and (7) Plato deduces that by leaving the city, Socrates would be cheating on a just agreement [(5) and (7)] and, thereby would wrong the city [(6)]. It follows from this juncture and (4) that should Socrates flee the city he would doing a wrong, which goes against (4); therefore, either (4) is false or the reductio assumption is false. However, (4) had been already agreed on by Socrates and Crito; the assumption, therefore, must be false. Based on the argument, one can see that Socrates should not run away from the city; in this case, civil disobedience is not the correct course of action (Miller, Paul Allen et al.).
Getting Socrates’ clear position about the nature of justice in the Crito is not as easy as for significant portions he doesn’t speak directly, but rather through the mouth of the codified and personified Laws. Those Laws present a barrage of questions to Socrates that he is more or less convinced to answer. By supposing these rhetorical questions stand for Socrates’ personal beliefs, his apparent position in the Crito is analyzed from the following cornerstones. First, one should never do wrong. (Crito 49a-b) Second, one must never reciprocate wrong for wrong. (Crito 49d) Third, one ought to obey the laws of the city. (Crito 51)
This third assertion of the Crito that brings forth the apparent contradiction. These parts must be cautiously worded. Rewording the declaration is not just aimed at trying to save Socrates (or Plato) from this discrepancy in belief; identifying the subtlety is not ad hoc. Three approaches legitimately influence a thorough, acute understanding of Socrates’ stand concerning one’s moral obligation to obeying civil law.
First, the question under discussion in the Crito is different from the matter under-examined in the Apology with which it is said to contradict. The point of contention in the Apology arises from the hypothetical situations in which the Athenians command Socrates to stop philosophizing contrary to the orders of the god. Socrates’ rebuttal and comments in the Crito about his ethical requirements to the Athenian laws do not come up in response to this same hypothetical scenario (Plato., et al.).
Second, for anyone familiar with Socrates and his way of life as depicted from the various works of Plato, one has to conclude that Socrates could not have expected his statement to mean he saw himself as morally obligated to obey all command Athens could issue him without question (Schultz, Anne-Marie).
Third, evidence from both dialogues point towards Socrates believing in a hierarchy of obligation and authority and therefore the charge of disobedience put forward in the Apology would not go against that hierarchy, the case of violation contemplated in the Crito would contravene this hierarchy (Nehamas, Alexander).
I will obey the god but not you (Apology 29d).
It is not possible for me to stay quiet because that means disobeying the god (Apology 38a)
Socrates repeatedly asserts that to practice philosophy was gifted upon him by the god. When Socrates meets a scenario in which differing authorities make claims, on the contrary, Socrates clearly puts obedience to the god before obedience to the state (Wilson, Emily).
Plato., et al. The Trial And Death Of Socrates. 1st ed., Indianapolis, IN, Hackett Pub., 2000,.
Miller, Paul Allen et al. Plato’s Apology Of Socrates. 1st ed., Norman, University Of Oklahoma Press, 2010,.
Plato., et al. Five Great Dialogues Of Plato. 1st ed., Claremont, CA, Coyote Canyon Press, 2009,.
Plato., et al. The Last Days Of Socrates. 1st ed., London, Penguin Books, 2010,.
Brickhouse, Thomas and Nicholas Smith. “Plato | Internet Encyclopedia Of Philosophy”. Iep.Utm.Edu, 2016, http://www.iep.utm.edu/plato/.
Schultz, Anne-Marie. Plato’s Socrates As Narrator. 1st ed., Lanham, Maryland, Lexington Books,.
Wilson, Emily. “‘The Death Of Socrates'”. WSJ, 2007, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB119559033449699536.
Nehamas, Alexander. “Virtues Of Authenticity, Essays On Plato And Socrates”. Philpapers.Org, 2010, http://philpapers.org/rec/NEHVOA.