Ethics (The Duty To Obey Law According To Socrates In Plato’s Crito) Term Paper Example
The greatest philosopher of all-times Socrates gracefully, as was befitting an old and the ideal city-state of Athens accepted the death by drinking hemlock and did not opt to escape from prison as desired by his student Crito. Hence, Socrates fulfilled his ethical duty to obey the laws of Athens. Socrates ethical stance to obey the laws of Athens is presented in unambiguous terms in Plato’s dialogue Crito. Like Plato Crito was the disciple of Socrates. The sentence of death was passed against Socrates because he was guilty of corrupting the young men of Athens. He was accused of speaking ill of the Greek gods and of corrupting the morals of the young Athenians. His disciple Crito in connivance with the rest of the rich and the powerful students of Socrates made a plan to save Socrates. According to the plan Socrates was to be saved by making good his escape in the early hours of the day he was to drink the hemlock. Crito visits Socrates in his cell by bribing the guard and vehemently argues with him that he is doing injustice to his family, his students, and all other Athenians who love him dearly by obeying the unjust law. Crito tries his best to persuade Socrates that an exile from Athens is the right decision than to die here. Socrates on his part is adamant that escaping from the prison would mean breaking the Athenian law and he would never even think of desecrating the Athenian law. He has spent all his life in Athens and being a good citizen has never broken the Athenian law. Now after 75 years he would not desecrate the law he has obeyed ever since he attained maturity. Socrates tells Crito in clear terms that Athens has been his home all his life and the Athenian law has protected, matured and nourished his body and spirit. Now it was his turn and moral duty to protect the laws of Athens against any injustice. Crito suggests that he is accused of something he never did and is wrongly sentenced to death. Crito insists that the law that sentences him to death is unjust; therefore, Socrates must not accept the unjust law. Socrates corrects him that the law is never unjust instead the people who enact and implement the law are so. He instructs Crito that we have a contractual obligation to obey the law of the land. In fact, it is the moral obligation of every citizen to do so. Further, he has no intention to spend the rest of his life as a fugitive and an unwelcome exile. Such a conduct would mean going against all his teachings. He adds he has no intention to become a laughing-stock at his old age. He has through-out his life been teaching his students to respect the Athenian law and now by escaping he would be going against his dear and solemn beliefs which is unthinkable. In addition, what justification would he provide to the laws in the Hades? (Plato 43-54)
Socrates has effectively taught the mankind that it is ethical duty of every individual to respect and to obey the law. According to the philosophers of social contract man is a social animal and as such has to live in a society. The concept of society is unthinkable without the law. Why? Otherwise, it would be a free for all and the law of the jungle would prevail. According to the theorists of social contract man opts for a social contract in order to have a peaceful existence. The peaceful existence is only possible when there is a social contract. A social contract in essence implies that men decide among themselves that there conduct is to be in accordance with the agreed principles of law a social set-up. Once a social contract has been agreed upon by men, their first and foremost act is to form just institutions that make just laws. As the legislature or institution that makes the law is hypothetically supposed to be just so is the law it makes. Following this assumption it is the moral duty of every individual to obey the law. A basic feature of the social contract as envisaged by the philosophers is principle of the majority rule. The rule of the majority ensures that the interests of the majority are served. A majority may in a particular case and under certain circumstances may enact an inequitable or an unjust law in the view of the minority. The majority rule, though, is a necessary evil that all of mankind has to live with. In an ideal situation, though, the majority through the legislative institutions enacts and then implements socially, economically, politically and morally just law. The society at large, whether it is the majority as well as the minority has to comply with the morally just law. In simple words and as Socrates by his personal example has taught the humanity that it is the duty of each and every individual citizens to obey the law that is morally just because its main aim is to safeguard the interests of each and every individual member of the society. However, in some cases the majority may intentionally or unintentionally; consciously or unconsciously make a law that is inimical in its effects to the interests of the minority. In such a circumstance, according to the theory of social contract, the individuals have the reverse moral or ethical duty to oppose the morally unjust law. However, even when the citizens oppose unjust law they have to do so within the ambit of law. A paradox but the concept of civil disobedience is exactly such a notion. According to the concept of civil disobedience it is the right of citizens to protest against unjust law but the protest must be according to the principles of law. Therefore, civil disobedience has two main ingredients. One, it is non-violent and two such a movement or struggle is carried within the ambit or bounds of law. Hence, we often see in civil disobedience struggles or movements willing acceptance of the law like courting arrests and accepting punishments. In the ultimate analysis it is the duty of every citizen to obey the law of the land. If in certain cases it is not possible to obey an unjust because the law enacted by the majority crosses all the reasonable limits or bounds of decency and of fair play the citizens have the right to oppose such a law. The opposition, however, referred to as civil obedience has to remain within the ambit of the constitution. In simple civil disobedience is a “public, non-violent, and conscientious act contrary to law” (Rawls 181). The aim of the civil disobedience is not to overthrow the democratically elected institutions but it has the limited aim to change the law or unjust policies of the government (Rawls 117-126; 177-182).
According to the example set by Socrates it is the ethical duty of all the citizens to obey the law of the land. Hence, it would be incumbent on all the citizens to obey the law of the United States, of the state of Illinois, and of Chicago. This is the rule established by Socrates. However, the exception to the general rule is the individual citizen has all the right to resist and not to obey the unjust law, especially the unjust law that infringes upon the fundamental rights of an individual. Further, while obeying laws it is not necessary that law that pertains to some kind of social ills, like for instance drinking be obeyed as dutifully as a law that pertains to a public good. For example, if on my way to office to attend an important meeting I see a man injured in an accident and there is no one around to help the injured man it is my ethical duty to help the injured man, even if it means that I will most certainly miss the important meeting. In conclusion, the example set by Socrates is the most important yardstick to obey the law. But even Socrates himself would not obey certain laws. The action of civil disobedience is the legal way by which an unjust can and should not be obeyed.
Plato. Crito. N.p., n.d. Print.
Rawls, John, and Samuel R. Freeman. Collected Papers. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1999. Print.