Crito (/ˈkraɪtoʊ/ kry-toh or /ˈkriːtoʊ/ kree-toh; Ancient Greek: Κρίτων [krítɔːn]) is a dialogue by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. It is a conversation between Socrates and his wealthy friend Crito regarding justice (δικη), injustice (αδικια), 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.
Crito’s Argument to Socrates
The dialogue begins with Socrates waking up to the presence of Crito in his prison cell and inquires whether it is early in the day. Crito informs Socrates that it is indeed early and that he, Crito, chose to let Socrates sleep in peace, especially given Socrates’ current distressful circumstance of awaiting his own execution. Crito explains that he admires the peaceful manner in which Socrates has heretofore lived and the level of calm that Socrates displays in the face of death. Socrates replies that it is only fitting that he react in such a manner given his age and expresses surprise that the guard has let Crito into his cell at such an early hour. Crito informs Socrates that he is well-acquainted with the guard and has done him a certain benefaction.
Crito relays bad news to 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 Achilles’ threat in the Iliad that he—the mightiest of Greek warriors—might just leave for his home in “fertile” Phthia and be there in “just three days” if the Greeks fail to show him due respect. 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 insists that he will not get into much trouble as a result of having helped Socrates escape, for those who would inform against him are cheaply bought. He adds that if Socrates is afraid of depleting Crito’s account, there are foreigners (ξένος), Simmias and Cebes, who have come to town with money. Moreover, Crito urges, Socrates has support in other cities, including Thessaly, and to be exiled would not be entirely negative.
Crito continues with moral appeals. He says that Socrates would be unjustly joining the efforts of his enemies against him. He is choosing the “easiest path” as opposed to the courageous, honorable, and virtuous path, which Crito feels is to flee from certain, unjust death. Socrates would be acting with cowardice if he weren’t to resist such injustices.
Crito further argues that a father (like Socrates) 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 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 would be attributed to the shameful cowardice of Socrates’ friends.
Socrates tells Crito that he is one of those people who must be guided by reason, while Crito has insisted that he be obeyed in this matter regardless of whether he has convinced Socrates. Socrates claims that he was serious at his trial about not fearing death. 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. Money, reputation and feeding children are values of thoughtless men. The question is whether it would be unjust for Socrates to escape, not what people would think about him.
Socrates argues that if it is never good to do injustice, then certainly it is never good to do injustice in response to injustice. He says that this premise will be taken as true for the purpose of their discussion. Crito says he agrees with Socrates.
This does not answer whether it is just or unjust for Socrates to escape from the prison, so Socrates asks what the Laws would say about his leaving. Socrates claims that the Laws would say that he destroys the city in leaving, and this unjustly. The Laws say that a citizen stands in relation to the city as the child does to the parent, as the slave does to his master.
The Laws would further say, Socrates says, that he entered into a contract with them by remaining within the city, benefiting from it, and so now cannot justly attack it on account of having been unjustly convicted. Socrates says the laws argue that he tacitly agreed to obey the law by remaining in Athens after having reached maturity, witnessing the structure of the law and how it functions, and raising children of his own in Athens.
Socrates does not declare that he is satisfied with the Laws’ argument, instead asking Crito whether they mustn’t accept it. Crito says they must, and so the dialogue comes to a conclusion.