A Second Reading of Plato's Crito
On my second reading of Crito, I think I see Socrates’ arguments, but I am not sure about their universal application. He argues that since he has been lawfully tried and found guilty, he would be wrong to try and escape. This would do harm to the laws, validate the jury’s opinion of him as a bad influence on the youth, and make him a fugitive.
Would it really harm the laws? Or would it simply be an indictment against the jury? On the other hand, Socrates’ escape would imply that an individual has the right to interpret the law and apply the law as he sees fit, which might lead to rampant vigilantism (is that a word?).
And how is Socrates’ situation different from, say, Henry David Thoreau’s? Thoreau broke the law by not paying taxes for what he considered a morally upright reason. Was he wrong to do so, according to Socrates’ logic? Should he instead have put his energies into changing the laws, rather than disobeying them? How about Mahatma Gandhi? Sometimes it takes the momentum of a few law-breakers to force the politicians to change the status quo. Is that morally right?
And where does Catholic teaching fit into this? Should a person who is (in his own mind) unjustly convicted try to escape rather than accept death? That's not what the early Christians did when they were persecuted. They accepted their martyrdom in imitation of Jesus. They knew what Socrates knew: that death is not something to be feared if one has lived an upright life, but rather something that leads to eternal joy. And the early Christians knew something that Socrates could not have known: even if one has lived morally corrupt life, there is still hope if we but turn our hearts toward Jesus and repent.