The Dichotomy Between Divine and Human Law

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The Dichotomy of Divine and Human Law
The Trial and Death of Socrates

Many have puzzled over Socrates’ contradictory statements between Plato’s Apology and its sequel, the Crito. The stance on justice that Socrates articulates in the Apology seems to be immediately contradicted by the moral opinions he expresses in the Crito. While in a broad sense Socrates appears to offer opposing opinions in each work, when one looks more closely at the meaning behind Socrates’ words, he will find that his apparent inconsistencies are not genuine contradictions and that in accepting his execution, he does in fact act justly through suffering injustice rather than actually committing it. In Crito Socrates argues that one should always obey the laws of his government even if that law is unjust, but in his Apology he seemingly refutes his own argument, emphasizing that divine laws take precedence over human laws. Toward the end of his defense, Socrates begins to speak about a time when he refused to obey an order of the oligarchy, the Thirty, in which they commanded the arrest of Leon of Salamis in order for him to be executed. Socrates thought the order unjust and refused to take part in the arrest. The philosopher expresses to the jury that he would have preferred to “run any risk on the side of law and justice” than to proceed with the unjust arrest despite the consequence of “prison or death” (Apology 32b-c). He goes on to state that if he were similarly ordered to cease philosophizing, he would likewise refuse on the grounds of the unjustness of the command despite even fatal ramifications. This command would be unjust because in its fulfillment he would disobey divine law—the oracle—who called him to philosophize. This appears to be a clear contradiction with Socrates’ argument in the Crito in which he claims that one should obey human law, however, here a distinction must be made between committing injustice and suffering injustice. In both instances of his...
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