In The Apology and Crito, Socrates attempts to explain how individuals should behave toward their state. Although there at first seems to be a contradiction between the messages in these two books, I believe that the ultimate message is the same, that an individual should do what is good for his state, as determined by the state. I will support this argument by providing examples in which Socrates states that one should do good towards his state.
First, I will also explain what I mean when I say the state determines what is good for it; this means the laws set forth and the opinions of the politicians who create the laws. As we will see later, Socrates believes that these laws should be obeyed, and disobeying them would be wrong and harm the state.
In addition, a distinction is made between what an individual thinks is good, and what the state thinks is good. As we will see, although Socrates had his own idea of what was good, in the end his ideas conflicted with the ideas of Athens and therefore Socrates accepts his punishment because he would rather obey the law, and in this way do good towards his state.
Good as Define by Socrates vs State
Socrates’s “crime” is that he questioned the wisdom of the men in Athens, embarrassing them. He justifies his actions by stating that he is doing what is good for the people of Athens, by making them aware of their shortcomings. Socrates states that, “I went to each of you privately and conferred upon him what [I say] is the greatest benefit, by trying to persuade him…that he himself should be as good and wise as possible…” (p 40). Socrates has the desire to do good, but his method of doing good conflicts with the ideas of the state. Although he claims that what he was doing was for the benefit of his people, his people became enraged at him.
By such a reaction, it would seem that the people of Athens had a different idea of what was good for them. Socrates recognizes this by saying, “…if I say that it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue…for the unexamined life is not worth living for men, you will believe me even less.” (p 41). They decided to sentence Socrates to death. Socrates is not upset and seems to expect this verdict. Though he made convincing arguments against his state, in the end he seems to accept their decision.
Socrates: Individuals Should Always Do Good
In Crito, Socrates makes his point even more clear that one should not harm his state, even if his state has wronged him. Crito agrees with this as well. This very strongly suggests that Socrates believes that individuals should do well toward their state, even if it is at the extent of the individual. He gives a scenario in which if he was confronted by someone, that person would say that by escaping the death penalty,