Advantages Short, stimulating political ideas
Disadvantages Not Plato's artistic best
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Crito is one of Plato’s ‘Socratic’ dialogues. Although Socrates himself wrote nothing, his pupil Plato wrote in dialogues (like play scripts), almost always with Socrates as star.Plato’s later dialogues were generally much longer and wider ranging. Crito belongs to what is traditionally seen as an ‘early’ period, along with the likes of Euthyphro. There’s actually little evidence of chronology, it’s more a fanciful (but plausible) speculation on the development of Plato’s philosophy and writing style. Nevertheless these ‘early’ dialogues generally follow a set pattern. Socrates discussing the nature of a virtue with an interlocutor, and reaching little conclusion. They’re generally short, and probably closer to the real historical Socrates (though how much so is debateable).
Socrates was put to death in 399BC on charges of impiety and corrupting the young of Athens. It was the execution of his mentor that shaped Plato’s dislike of Athenian democracy, and several of his dialogues deal with the incident. Indeed, it is implicit in his most famous – The Republic – set at a festival to inaugurate a new god for the city, and in which Socrates several times disclaims knowledge and expresses concern not to mislead Glaucon and Adeimantus with his speculation.Crito is set when Socrates had been sentenced, and was in prison awaiting his execution. He is visited in his cell by his friend Crito, who tries to persuade him to escape Athens and flee to safety; offering to bribe the guards, for he fears being seen as a disloyal friend if he stands by while Socrates goes to death.
Socrates, however, is reluctant to flee from the court’s sentence. He argues that the many threaten reputation, and even death, but not what is really important in life – knowledge and justice. He agrees that he will follow Crito’s request and escape if it can be found just, which begins their debate on obedience to the law.Socrates argues to flee the city would be to mistreat the city and its laws. Since he owes his life and upbringing to the city, he must obey like his parents. Even if the laws mistreat one, it is never just to repay wrong for wrong.
The most significant aspect of the Crito is Socrates’ exposition of a ‘social contract’ theory. Like Glaucon (Republic book 2) this is a precursor to the likes of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. Socrates’ is different in not being between citizens but between each and the laws, but it anticipates Locke’s ‘tacit consent’ in arguing that if one chooses to stay in the city knowing the laws then one is bound to them by this acceptance.Although it’s a short piece itself, the argument of Crito resonates with Plato’s other works. Similarities to Republic have already been noted, but do go further – for example, the debt to the laws mirrors that of the philosophers who leave the Cave in Republic.
Crito’s a work those familiar with Plato/Socrates and interested in his political thought will find stimulating. Being short, it’s also one that might serve as a good introduction before tackling something like Laws or Republic.Realistically it's not something many people will read, unless on a philosophy course, but I personally found it very interesting. It's not in itself an obvious place to start reading Plato, but it's brevity makes it a less daunting start than the fuller dialogues. Best in conjunction with something like Ion, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo (in that order) to get a sense of the larger plot unfolding around the argument.
EditionsOther than the digital download (£1.96) copies of Crito only on Amazon all seem to be out of print. Being short, it normally comes in collections:
I have The Complete Works of Plato – published by Hackett and edited by J. M. Cooper. At only a dozen pages, Crito probably doesn’t justify the £32, so this is only for serious Plato fans.The Trial and Death of Socrates [Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo] – Dover thrift editions. The cheapest way to read Plato (£1.25), in the classic Jowett translation; but lacking critical notes and – crucially – the Stephanus numbers by which scholars refer to the text so no good for study.
The Last Days of Socrates [Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo] – Penguin classics. I don’t have this version, but it’s relatively inexpensive (£7.99) so not a bad option. That said though, it’s a lot more than Dover, and probably not as good as Hacket (below).Five Dialogues [Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo] Hacket edition. Translated by Grube, list price £5.95. Presumably the same as collected works, and cheaper than the Penguin so another good bet.
Finally Amazon tell me that due out on 30/09/04 is:
Selected Writings from Socrates: "Charmides", "Lysis", "Laches", "Symposium", "Apology", "Crito", "Phaedo” with Aristophanes: “The Clouds" and Xenophon: “Symposium", list price £5.99 hardback from the Collector’s Library. It certainly sounds a good deal, but I don’t know who the translators are, or whether these are complete selections or extracts.
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Pages: 30, Paperback, Kessinger Publishing
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Pages: 30, Paperback, Kessinger Publishing
Availability: Usually dispatched within 1 to 3 weeks