Crito Summary – Chapter 1
In 399 B.C., Athens sought someone to blame for its humiliating defeat in the Peloponnesian War with Sparta and its allies. This scapegoat, through default more than anything, became Socrates, the legendary Athenian philosopher. Since Socrates often questioned the intentions of Athens’ politicians, he was blamed for attempting to ruin Athens through slander of its leaders and religious tradition.
Socrates defends his actions in The Apology, and defends his decision to carry out his conviction in Crito. When the court suggests to Socrates that he will be acquitted if he agrees to stop practicing philosophy, he responds by saying, “Athenians, I hold you in the highest regard and love; but I will obey God rather than you: and as long as I have breath and strength I will not cease from philosophy, and from exhorting you, and declaring the truth to every one of you whom I meet.Either acquit me, or do not acquit me, but be sure that I shall not alter my way of life; no, not if I have to die for it many times.”
Crito takes place later, after Socrates is condemned to death and sitting in jail. At this time, Socrates has many followers who hope he will agree to escape. When Crito, a friend of the philosopher, comes to advocate this position, Socrates logically refutes his argument.
Crito Summary – Chapter 2
Crito enters the cell, depressed himself at the prospect of Socrates’ unjust death. Socrates asserts that a man of his age is lucky to have lived so long, and that his mandated death has not cut short his life. Next, Crito grudgingly tells Socrates that the ship from Delos is approaching, marking the end of an annual Athenian celebration that prohibits political executions for the several weeks of its duration.
Socrates seems resigned to his fated death, but Crito attempts to persuade him to allow his friends to help him escape prison and flee Athens. If this doesn’t happen, Crito says, others will criticize Socrates’ disciples for not rescuing their leader from this unfair sentence. Yet Socrates asserts that following popular opinion instead of the gods’ will is not right. Soon Crito becomes more desperate, hoping to encourage Socrates with his elaborate and carefully designed plan for escape. He further suggests to Socrates that unless he agrees to escape, he will be letting his sons, who still need to be properly educated by their father, down.
Socrates responds by inviting Crito into a classic Socratic dialogue, in which Socrates asks a series of questions in efforts to eventually prove Crito’s logic faulty. He begins by convincing Crito that the advice of one “expert” individual, namely God, should be heeded much more than the advice of countless ignorant people, namely Athens’ as a whole. In this way, he proves to Crito that popular opinion is irrelevant.
Next, Socrates makes the point that it is always better to do right than wrong, no matter what the circumstances. It then follows that although the jurors who condemned Socrates have wronged him, it would still be wrong to violate the laws by escaping. Socrates continues by stating that he doesn’t believe in doing wrong to others as a means of retaliation. Crito, helpless in Socrates’ logic, quickly agrees with all of this.
Crito Summary – Chapter 3
In this part of the dialogue, Socrates gets to the core of his argument. He asserts that when he agreed to citizenship, he agreed to an unofficial contract with the city of Athens. Socrates says that Athens has married his parents, raised him, and educated him and his children. In return, Socrates has agreed to abide by the city’s laws and constitution. In this way, Socrates believes that if he were to escape death, as Crito recommends, he would be breaking the sacred covenant he holds with Athens. The philosopher believes that since he was unable to persuade the jurors in his trial, he now must accept their sentence. Violence, he says, will undermine the very laws that gave him life.
Speaking in the voice of the law, Socrates supports his premise, saying, “And we maintain that anyone who disobeys is guilty of doing wrong on three separate counts: first because we are his parent. And secondly, because we are his guardians, and thirdly because, after promising obedience, he is neither obeying us nor persuading us to change our decision if we are at fault in any way.”
Socrates asserts, “integrity, institutions and laws, are the most precious possessions of mankind.” His last point concerns the jury’s decision to condemn him. Socrates believes that though his fellow citizens, the jurors, came to the wrong decision in his trial, it is not his place to avenge their flawed logic. Though people make mistakes, Socrates thinks, the system works. In this way, Socrates dies as a martyr, not for himself, but for his city and its system of justice.