20 March 2005

Crito--Quia Absurdum

I wonder if we should take the Crito as relevant to any investigation of the ‘political theory of the Phaedo’. Yes, I know the Crito is supposed to be an early dialogue and the Phaedo a middle dialogue; nonetheless:

  • Plato clearly writes the Phaedo to make it seem continuous with the Crito; and
  • since the Crito gives a theory of law (of sorts), then that, presumably, would be the baseline view that Plato takes into his middle period.

(Bobonich apparently regards the Crito as not relevant: his Index Locorum lists only one, incidental citation of the Crito, at n. 155, p. 525.)

Three passages in the Crito, I think, are potentially important. I’ll simply give the passages (Jowett's translations, again). In each, the Laws are personified and address Socrates in prison.

Readers of this blog may count this as a challenge: If we were to take these passages as relevant, would they count for or against Bobonich’s view, and why? Let me know your view, in the comments box. On Tuesday, March 22, I'll post and say why I think the passages are significant.

PASSAGE 1, Crito 51e-52a

…We say that he who does not obey does threefold wrong, because he disobeys us who are his parents, because he disobeys us who nurtured him, and because after agreeing to obey us he neither obeys us nor convinces us that we are wrong, though we give him the opportunity and do not roughly order him to do what we command, but when we allow him a choice of two things, either to convince us of error or to do our bidding, he does neither of these things. We say that you, Socrates, will be exposed to these reproaches, if you do what you have in mind, and you not least of the Athenians but more than most others.

kai\ to\n mh\ peiqo/menon trixh=| famen a)dikei=n, o(/ti te gennhtai=j ou)=sin h(mi=n ou) pei/qetai, kai\ o(/ti trofeu=si, kai\ o(/ti o(mologh/saj h(mi=n pei/sesqai ou)/te pei/qetai ou)/te pei/qei h(ma=j, ei) mh\ kalw=j ti poiou=men, protiqe/ntwn h(mw=n kai\ ou)k a)gri/wj e)pitatto/ntwn poiei=n a(\ a)\n keleu/wmen, a)lla\ e)fie/ntwn duoi=n qa/tera, h)\ pei/qein h(ma=j h)\ poiei=n, tou/twn ou)de/tera poiei=. tau/taij dh/ famen kai\ se/, w)= Sw/kratej, tai=j ai)ti/aij e)ne/cesqai, ei)/per poih/seij a(\ e)pinoei=j, kai\ ou)x h(/kista )Aqhnai/wn se/, a)ll' e)n toi=j ma/lista.

Crito 53c

Will you then avoid the well-governed cities and the most civilized men? And if you do this will your life be worth living? Or will you go to them and have the face to carry on--what kind of conversation, Socrates? The same kind you carried on here, saying that virtue and justice and lawful things and the laws are the most precious things to men?

po/teron ou)=n feu/ch| ta/j te eu)nomoume/naj po/leij kai\ tw=n a)ndrw=n tou\j kosmiwta/touj; kai\ tou=to poiou=nti a)=ra a)/cio/n soi zh=n e)/stai; h)\ plhsia/seij tou/toij kai\ a)naisxunth/seij dialego/menosti/naj lo/gouj, w)= Sw/kratej; h)\ ou(/sper e)nqa/de, w(j h( a)reth\ kai\ h( dikaiosu/nh plei/stou a)/cion toi=j a)nqrw/poij kai\ ta\ no/mima kai\ oi( no/moi;

PASSAGE 3, Crito 54b

Ah, Socrates, be guided by us who tended your infancy. Care neither for your children nor for life nor for anything else more than for the right, that when you come to the home of the dead, you may have all these things to say in your own defence. For clearly if you do this thing it will not be better for you here, or more just or holier, no, nor for any of your friends, and neither will it be better when you reach that other abode.

a)ll', w)= Sw/kratej, peiqo/menoj h(mi=n toi=j soi=j trofeu=si mh/te pai=daj peri\ plei/onoj poiou= mh/te to\ zh=n mh/te a)/llo mhde\n pro\ tou= dikai/ou, i(/na ei)j (/Aidou e)lqw\n e)/xh|j pa/nta tau=ta a)pologh/sasqai toi=j e)kei= a)/rxousin: ou)/te ga\r e)nqa/de soi fai/netai tau=ta pra/ttonti a)/meinon ei)=nai ou)de\ dikaio/teron ou)de\ o(siw/teron, ou)de\ a)/llw| tw=n sw=n ou)deni/, ou)/te e)kei=se a)fikome/nw| a)/meinon e)/stai.

(By the way, what Tertullian actually said, apparently, was credibile, quia ineptum est; that is, in effect, "truth is stranger than fiction".)


David said...

The passage in question has Soc pretending he is the laws in dialogue with himself. The laws essentially assert that they made Soc what he is today, which is to say, a philosopher. The absurdity of the claim is quite apparent but Soc isn't going to contradict the laws in front of Crito, who needs to be told that he must obey them even though they are inconvenient. Your exegesis abstracts from the context and creates problems.

Anonymous said...

David, I don't think these passages are ironical in the way you suggest. I take the Crito, like the Euthyphro, Apology, and Phaedo, to be carrying on implicitly the defense of Socrates as (truly) lawful and pious. It's quite important, then, that Plato present him as duly and sincerely obedient to law.

But we won't resolve this difference here. Are you nonetheless able to answer the problem I pose, by prescinding for the moment from the irony you discern, and reading the passages more straightforwardly? 

Posted by Michael Pakaluk

David said...


In reading the passages in the fashion you desire we abstract the very part of the passages which are fundamental to them. It's a bit like telling a funny story as if it were a serious tale. The meaning of it changes drastically and probably not for the better. Soc narrates a dialogue between himself and the laws where the laws make grandiose claims about their importance to his life. The very exaggerated nature of their claims is important for it seems to suggest that, from Soc's perspective, the laws want to circumscribe the horizon in which Soc resides. The laws, in effect, want to deny Soc his ability to transcend their boundaries. If we wanted to, we could connect this to the passage in the Minos where the laws are said to want to be that which is.

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