The Crito (IPA [kriːtɔːn]; in English usually [ˈkɹiːtɘʊː] [KREE-to]) is a short but important dialogue by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. It is a conversation between Socrates and his wealthy friend Crito regarding justice (dikē), injustice (adikia), and the appropriate response to injustice. Socrates thinks that injustice may not be answered with injustice, and refuses Crito's offer to finance his escape from prison. This dialogue contains an ancient statement of the social contract theory of government.


The dialogue begins with Socrates waking up to the presence of Crito in his prison cell. When Socrates expresses surprise that the guard has let him in at such an early hour, Crito informs Socrates that he knows the guard well and has done him a certain benefaction.

Crito has bad news for Socrates. He tells him that there are eyewitness reports that the ship has come in from Delos, and that tomorrow Socrates will be executed. Socrates rebuffs the report, saying he has had a dream - a vision of a woman in a white cloak telling him that on the third day hence he will go to Phthia, which is a reference to the Iliad. Socrates says that the meaning of this is perfectly clear - it will be three days until he dies.

Crito does not allow Socrates to elaborate the meaning of the dream, but only calls him daimonic; Crito has arrived at this early hour to save Socrates from death. Crito tells Socrates that if he follows through with the execution, people will assume that Crito and friends were too cheap to finance an escape. Crito's worries suggest that buying one's way out of prison was so routine that people not only didn't frown on it, but even expected it.

More preludes

Socrates refuses Crito's initial offer to pay off potential snitches, and Crito protests that the informers ("sychophants") are cheaply bought. He adds that if Socrates is afraid of depleting Crito's account, there are foreigners (xenoi), Simmias and Cebes, who have come to town with money.

Crito then presents the moral view of the common man; a father has an obligation to nurture and educate his children, and should avoid orphaning them if at all possible. He tells Socrates that if his sons do not meet with the usual fate of orphans, it will be no thanks to him. Crito does not offer to see personally to the children's care, however. Crito adds that the trial should never have taken place and might have been managed differently. He says that the failure to escape will be a ridiculous climax to the whole affair, and caused by shameful cowardice of Socrates' friends (45d,e).

Socrates tells Crito that he is one of those people who must be guided by reason. He expresses contempt for the opinions of the masses of mankind who think irrationally and act randomly. Socrates says that the only person whose opinion is of value is the one who understands justice (47c,d). Money, reputation and feeding children are values of thoughtless men (48c). Socrates then invites Crito to consider the definition of justice, and whether it is ever right to do wrong intentionally.

The argument by analogy

Socrates takes the position that requiting injustice by retaliation or warding off evil by evil is always wrong, and is just as wrong as committing injustice in the first place. Socrates tells Crito that this opinion—that it is wrong not to resist evil—never has been, and never will be held by the vast majority of mankind. He thinks it is an important moral yardstick, adding that people who do not agree on this point have no common ground and must necessarily despise (kataphronein) each other. He says that this premise will be taken as true for the purpose of their discussion (49d).

Crito says he agrees with Socrates, that warding off evil by evil is as wrong as injustice (adikia), but in fact, neither seems to trouble him. Crito has no more qualms about bribing a friend's way out of prison than he had bribing his own way in for a morning visit. Neither man seems to notice that, according to Socrates, they should not even be friends because they are so far apart morally.

Socrates' claim that "resisting evil by any means other than persuasion is evil" is an ancient statement of moral pacifism. Socrates rests its logical defense entirely upon an analogy. He says that a citizen stands in relation to the state as the child does to the parent, as the slave does to his master. He says that the state has brought him into the world (by regulating marriage), nurtured and educated him. Socrates says that he is the offspring ("ek-gonos") and slave ("doulos") of the state and has no right to "destroy" the state by failing to obey it (50e) after it has been so beneficent to him.

Summary of Crito's arguments for escape

  1. Socrates is endangering the good reputation of his friends. If Socrates is executed, Crito will appear to honor money over friends. Crito considers this reputation shameful and damaging even though it will be the opinion of those who do not know Socrates and Crito adequately, namely, the many. One must respect the opinions of the many because they can bring about great evils.
  2. Socrates should not worry about Crito's reputation or money. Escape from death is more honorable.
  3. Socrates has support in other cities, including Thessaly and exile would not be a bad option, although Socrates said in his defense that he would rather die than be exiled.
  4. Socrates would be acting unjustly by not fulfilling his parental obligations.
  5. Socrates would be acting cowardly by not resisting injustices (implying that the court decision and Socrates' subsequent execution are unjust). He would be joining his enemies. He is choosing the "easiest path" instead of the courageous, honorable and virtuous path, which Crito feels is to flee from certain, unjust death.

Socrates' responses

  1. Public opinion is not important to the decision; the many's ignorance does not allow them to have true choice, and therefore their opinions are of no value to the one who strives after the truth and the good.
  2. The essential concern is whether to escape would be just.
  3. One should never do injustice; doing evil to humans/human evil leads to injustice.
  4. Men, especially those so old as Socrates, should not fear death.

The Laws' arguments

  1. The Laws are more honorable than one's parents, for they too beget, educate, and nurture their citizens. Just as one should respect the decisions of one's parents, so should one respect the decisions of the Laws, but to an even greater degree. There is confusion as to whether this respect is due to the Laws or due to the fatherland.
  2. Socrates tacitly agreed to obey the Laws by remaining in Athens after reaching maturity, witnessing how the Laws are structured and how they work and by having raised his children in Athens too.
  3. Socrates would be seen as a corrupting force wherever he went.
  4. If one has the ability to choose whether to obey a law, then he is destroying the power of the law. Destroying law is unjust, for men require a community and a community requires law.
  5. It would put him in a precarious position in the afterlife.

See also

External links

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