In the Euthyphro, the Apology and the Crito, Socrates is presented as trying to understand what is meant by ‘justice’ and as applying that understanding to the decision of the jury in Athens that convicted him. Outline briefly the results of these discussions insofar as they clarify what is meant by Justice, and comment critically on any features of the arguments that you think are particularly plausible or the opposite. Plato’s dialogues reflect the life of the main character Socrates from the start of his trial up to his death.
In the first three dialogues he is represented as having conversations with Athenian citizens while being in court and prison. During this process Socrates tries to figure out what it means to be just and further he attempts to comprehend the verdict of the Athenian jury. The discussion of the first dialogue, when Socrates meets Euthyphro, who is going to prosecute his own father in court, deals with the essence of religiousness. Socrates creates the simple question: “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?
“1 in order to ask Euthyphro about his definition of piety. According to Euthyphro pious is what the gods love, but Socrates refuses his suggestion by saying that the gods do not agree on everything. Therefore piety would be what all gods like, godless is what all gods hate and careless is what some gods love and others hate. But this is not true either. The gods love a pious person because this person is pious, but this person is not pious because the gods love this person.
So if right behaviour is pious just because the gods love it, then ethical rightness would be more or less random, simply depending on the gods temper and if the gods love right behaviour because it is previously right, then there has to be a special source of supply for principles or ideas, independently of their love. In this regard I guess piety is rather a part of justice. It is the particular part that refers to the duty of the gods and it is also the skill of transaction between human beings and the gods.
Sometimes Socrates lets Euthyphro believe that he is right, by agreeing to his comments, but principally for the reason of continuing the conversation that the gods may be supposed to agree with each other. Finally, the sharply critical discussion does not offer a method of resolution and altogether there is merely the fact that piety is a part of virtue. All in all there is quite an ironic tone between Euthyphro and Socrates. The character Euthyphro seems to be pretty unaffected by the entire process.
At the end of the dialogue he still feels sure and self-confident than he had been at the beginning. Consequently Socrates’ methods of persistent questioning did not convince the person to whom they were applied, even when it clearly turned out that Socrates was head and shoulders above him. The second dialogue, Apology, deals with Socrates speech for the defence. He is put on trial by the Athenian democracy for blasphemy and seduction of the youth. A bare majority of the jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death.
According to that Plato’s Apology is divided into three parts: the defence against the charge, the speech referring to the sentence and the final intervention by Socrates, after announcing the death penalty. At the beginning of the dialogue Socrates mentions that he has been on trial for years, namely in the form of defamation by the Athenians. While holding the speech referring to the sentence Socrates refuses to request a mild penalty, because he is naturally of the opinion to be innocent.
Afterwards he applies for a small fine, without concealing pragmatism. In his last speech Socrates speculates about what the future holds and if there is a reason to be afraid of it. Even after being condemned he points out that the truth is everything that matters. With the phrase “the unexamined life is not worth living for man”2 Socrates claims that discussions of virtue and the issues of life are essential for every valuable human life. That means he would rather die than stop searching for the truth or giving up philosophy.
Just as in Euthyphro he uses the same ironic modesty to explain his mission as being a philosopher. This time he reports a message coming from an oracle that tells him that there is no wiser person than him: “he asked if any man was wiser than I, and the Pythian replied that no one was wiser. “3 Then he continued stating that he tried to refute the oracular message by talking to respected Athenians who must be wiser without doubt. Nevertheless he comes to the conclusion that he has the knowledge of his own ignorance and that everybody around him lacks this understanding.
Socrates also mentions this in another context when holding his first speech: “I am wiser than this man: it is likely that neither of us knows anything worthwhile, but he thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas when I do not know, neither do I think I know; so I am likely to be wiser than he to this small extent, that I do not think I know what I do not know. “4 Crito, the third dialogue, links the Apology and the Phaidon as being a part of a trilogy. It is about Socrates’ final days when he is staying in prison and waiting for execution.
To my mind the whole political theory of this dialogue concentrates on one decisive point: the tensioned relation between the power of laws on the one hand and the power of a wise expert on the other hand. Although this tension is not solved yet, the respect for authority shows the most in Crito. The tension itself reveals through the contradiction of Socrates’ and Crito’s arguments for an escape from jail and for a life in exile. As a friend, Crito knows Socrates and he is prepared to argue and defend his arguments, but Socrates is not impressed by his proposes.
While thinking about the moral value of escaping he tells Crito that his arguments are not significant to the decision about what is actually right and just. Even the evident injustice exerted by the Athenian jury causes neither anger nor excitement in Socrates. In this regard he finds out that if he would break the laws he could not talk about virtue with his fellow human beings any longer, and among other things he would agree with his opposing party additionally for the fact that they convicted him.
In any case Crito tries to convince him by saying that many people will assume that his friends did not care for him to save his life. Furthermore they probably will see them as being cowards and misers. But for all his efforts Crito failed the appeal to make Socrates drop all his scruples and to make him follow his plan. Socrates simply states: “Would that the majority could inflict the greatest evils, for they would then be capable of the greatest good, and that would be fine, but now they cannot do either.
They cannot make a man either wise or foolish, but they inflict things haphazardly. “5 With this Socrates suggests that he does not hold one person responsible for the trial that has been made on him, he is rather of the opinion that it was the work of the anonymous human society. It follows, that Socrates thought about his situation and put up with it. At the end of the dialogue it should be questioned if the laws harmed him at all? The answer is: they did nothing to him; on the contrary they supported him.
They raised him more or less, he grew up into a man with them and he realized them more than anybody else by the fact that he never left Athens although nobody would have prevented him from this. Therefore it should be also questioned if it would be just to break these laws, only because an ignorant person handles them so that they seem to do him harm. What about the respect for the justice then? And how could Socrates enter the beyond with good hope when he has to suppose that the gods on the other side are informed about the fact that he ignored the laws when being alive?
I think those questions lead to the whole intention of Crito, namely that the laws should be above the private interests of each person. Taking everything into consideration Plato intended to get the reader closer to Socrates point of view and his respect for the right, which mostly comes out in the Crito. His main purpose to deal with the myth of the laws is to portray Socrates as a loyal citizen of Athens. So finally it got out clearly that Socrates himself was quite sure that the arguments hold and that it would be wrong to flee from prison. Therefore he chose to face the truth by acting just, even though he lost his life.