What is the purpose of the ‘speech of the laws’, in Plato’s Crito? How is it related to Crito’s political opinions and preferences as expressed in this dialogue?
The ‘speech of the laws’ as witnessed in Plato’s Crito is of utmost importance to one of Plato’s shorter dialogues and serves multiple purposes, some of which will be engaged with here. The speech will be looked in terms of its methodological purpose and will question what functions this serves. Philosophically speaking the Crito remains a dialogue concerning justice and the ‘speech of the laws’ provides a different interpretation of the concept of justice to that of which the character of Crito holds. The conflict between the ‘speech of the laws’ and Crito is an integral part of the dialogue but the conflict that emerges in regard to a wider Athenian context because of what the character of Crito represents is also something that will be scrutinized.
One purpose of the ‘speech of the laws’ as is observed in the Crito can be seen as a methodological one. It can be argued that Socrates engages in a dialogue with the laws because he has already come to an impasse in his discussion with Crito. Plato wrote his philosophical thinkings in dialogue form. This was a new and radical form of philosophical writing; it was not a philosophical treatise even though some try to read the dialogues as such. The real character of Socrates has suggested that in order for reason to play a part in human philosophical enquiry that the individual human being must be encouraged to enter into a joint enquiry. The dialectic approach can use reason, based on dialogue, to posit arguments and counter arguments, premises and counter premises in order to draw out a conclusion based on an interlocutor’s intellect. The individual in question must become an active associate within the discussion. It can be seen then that Plato’s use of the dialogue structure to inform people about his philosophical thinking is in accordance with his teacher’s belief. Plato has Socrates argue by cross examining his interlocutors in order to draw out contradictions or inconsistencies in their arguments. The central question at hand in the Crito is whether or not it would be just for Socrates to attempt an escape. Socrates declares that his life has been guided foremost by reason and even now in the face of his demise he cannot turn his back on reason. The discourse begins with Socrates drawing on a fundamental premise for how people should act; this is something we are lead to believe that himself and Crito have already agreed on in a previous conversation. These can be simplified to say that we should not injure people in retaliation for them injuring us and that a person must always do what he or she thinks it right to do. Socrates then posits that if he were to escape the prison that he is reneging on the principles, acknowledged by the both of them, to be just. It is at this point that Crito is either unwilling or unable to answer saying ‘I can’t answer your question, Socrates. I am not clear in my mind.’ We receive the distinct impression that further discussion with Crito could achieve no conclusion as to the validity of Socrates’ attempted escape. Tellingly it is at this point that Plato introduces the figure of the third interlocutor in the dialogue: the personification of The Laws of Athens. It can be seen therefore that Crito’s inability to use his reason and his intellect any further in the dialogue means that The Laws of Athens must be introduced in order for Plato to achieve his end in the discourse. This new figure in the philosophical debate between the two men now has the ability to achieve levels of abstract thought that the character of Crito cannot.
When looking at the Crito philosophically however there can be seen to be another purpose for the ‘speech of the laws’. It can be seen that there exists in the dialogue a dichotomy between an objective and subjective...
Bibliography: Plato, Republic, trans. by Paul Shorey, in The Collected Dialogues of Plato Including the Letters, ed. by Huntington Cairns and Edith Hamilton (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1961)
Plato, Crito, trans
Rosano, Michael J, ‘Citizenship and Socrates in Plato’s “Crito”’, in The Review of Politics, Vol. 62, No. 3 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp.451-477 www.jstor.org [accessed 1/4/13]
[ 1 ]. Ann Congleton: ‘Two Kinds of Lawlessness: Plato’s Crito’, in Political Theory, Vol. 2, No. 4 (1974), 432-446 (p.50)
[ 2 ]
[ 3 ]. Plato: Republic, I, 353b, trans. by Paul Shorey, in The Collected Dialogues of Plato Including the Letters, ed. by Huntington Cairns and Edith Hamilton (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1961), p.603
[ 4 ]
[ 5 ]. Michael J Rosano: ‘Citizenship and Socrates in Plato’s “Crito”’, in The Review of Politics, Vol. 62, No. 3 (2000), 451-477(p.454)
[ 6 ]
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