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The Conditional Acquittal:
On a Supposed Contradiction in Plato’s Apology and Crito
Ben Blanks, Lynchburg College
(Editor’s note: This essay by Ben Blanks is the winner of the North Award for the best paper in the 2012 Agora. Ben presented an earlier version of this paper at the ACTC Student Conference at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, in March, 2011.)
When reading the Apology and the Crito of Plato, one inevitably comes upon a seeming fundamental contradiction between the two dialogues. The Apology presents readers with a defiant Socrates who declares in his trial that, if acquitted on the condition that he never philosophize again, he would continue to practice philosophy in spite of the jury’s order to the contrary:
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Rather, it clears the debate considerably. If the Apology passage is shown to have been made in defiance of an illegal court procedure, then the Apology passage cannot be taken as evidence of Socratic support of civil disobedience. Such evidence, coupled with the obedience to law proscribed in the Crito, allows the supposed contradiction between the two dialogues to be dismissed.
In order to analyze the Apology and the Crito in relation to each other, one must first make an assumption that has not been proven to any significant extent. One must assume that the Socrates character within the two dialogues is both consistent and trustworthy in espousing philosophical arguments. By accepting this assumption, one can evaluate the inconsistencies within the two Socratic dialogues as if they were a complete, consistent whole. Following such an assumption, one can examine the philosophy in the Apology in relation to that within the Crito with logical bearing.
In order to understand the seeming contradiction between the two works, one must understand the passages on which it is based. The defiance passage of the Apology, when interpreted literally, does indeed seem to contradict the obedience to the state espoused in the
3 Thomas C. Brickhouse and Nicholas D. Smith, Plato’s Socrates (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 145- 146.
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Crito. In the passage, Socrates declares that, if given a choice between obeying the
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