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Why Socrates Should Escape From Prison Philosophy Essay

While some try to escape prison when they are imprisoned for a crime, Socrates argued for his imprisonment. Socrates provides Crito with three reasons for staying in prison, Principle of Filial Piety, Principle of Fidelity and Non-Malificence argument. For the purpose of my argument, I will show how the Principle of Fidelity and Principle of Filial Piety are flawed arguments. In this paper I will outline arguments mentioned in Taking Rights Seriously by Ronald Dworkin in order to show why Socrates should escape from prison.

For the Principle of Fidelity, Socrates provides two premises and a conclusion. In his first premise he argues that because he remained in the city of Athens and did not challenge its laws, it constitutes an agreement to abide by its laws (Rodde 23 Jan. 2013). In his second premise he states that as citizens, we ought to abide by our agreements (Rodde 23 Jan. 2013). Thus, if he escapes from prison, he will break the law, therefore, he should not escape from prison (Rodde 23 Jan. 2013). However, I argue that the Fidelity Principle argument is not a fair one on the basis that it assumes that regardless of the laws of a country, if you live in the society you must abide by the society’s laws, thus agreeing to the laws as being ‘just’ laws.

Furthermore, the government is appointed and chosen by the majority rule and regulates its laws for its citizens. When there is a relationship built between the state and its citizens, an automatic agreement occurs. While the citizens have a duty to the state, the state also has one to its citizens of treating them justly under the law. Socrates’ strongest argument is the Principle of Fidelity as he argues that we must keep our promises (Plato 29-30). Nonetheless, Socrates admits that he was put in jail on wrong terms (Plato 29-30). The wrong imprisonment automatically voids the agreement that Socrates has with the state. Because the state broke faith with Socrates by unjustly accusing and sentencing him, why then is it okay for Socrates to break faith with them? Dworkin argues, “in practice, the government will have the last word on what an individual’s rights are…but that does not mean that the government’s view is necessarily the correct view” (Dworkin 34). In this phrase, Dworkin argues that there is a difference between moral rights and legal rights and that although we are in an agreement with a government, our own individual rights should not be ignored.

By Socrates keeping his end of the promise to the government, he assumes that the government ought to be moral and that the government acts for its citizens: “he who has experience of the manner in which we order justice and administer the state, and still remains, has entered into an implied contract that he will do as we commend him, and who he disobeys us is, as we maintain, thrice wrong” (Plato 30). Here Socrates outlines the rules outlined by the state to its citizens and he argues how citizens must abide by those rules, however, if the state is an unjust state, should one still abide by its rules? Dworkin beautifully shows how an act such as Socrates’ based on the Fidelity Principle ignores ones moral rights as he argues that an individual who believes that the government’s view is always the ‘right’ view “must believe that men and women have only such moral rights as government chooses to grand which means that they have no moral rights at all” (Dworkin 34). Here Dworkin explains that by ignoring our moral rights and allowing the state to assign moral rights, we have no rights at all. Therefore, as citizens have obligations that they must meet to its government, the government has obligations that they must fulfill. The state broke the obligations that they had to Socrates by imprisoning and executing him on false accusations, this also showing that the law was flawed and unjust. However, we should not ignore Socrates’ argument that even though the state broke fidelity with the law that does not mean that he should break faith with the law. While in conversation with Crito, Socrates explains that he is a man of his word (Plato 29), however, he fails to mention that he is binding himself to an unjust law. This further questioning the legitimacy of the Principle of Fidelity as it seems to strongly support some claims while ignoring others.

Socrates’ second argument is the Principle of Filial Piety. Socrates’ first premise for the argument is that the relationship between a state and a citizen is similar to the relationship between a parent and a child (Plato 29-30). The second premise states that a child ought to obey his/her parents; therefore, a citizen ought to obey the state (Rodde 23 Jan. 2013). However, the Filial Piety is a flawed principle because it is an argument from analogy. Analogies always fail because two features can never be exactly identical. Yet, Socrates assumes that parents’ orders are always the ‘right’ orders. Socrates disregards the concept of ‘error’ and poses the concept of ‘perfectibility’ on a role that never can be perfect. The notion of ‘perfectibility’ becomes more problematic when Socrates compares the relationship of a citizen and its state to a child and its parent: “in disobeying us he is disobeying his parents…we are the authors of his education” (Plato 30). Here Socrates explains that the control the state has over his life is similar to the control that parents have over their children. However, by giving the state this sort of power he denies his own rights as a citizen. Dworkin argues that, “a man has a moral right to speak his mind in a non-provocative way on matters of political concern and that is an important right that the state must go to great pains to protect” (Dworkin 36), this is not the case for Socrates. Socrates exercised his rights as a citizen and was punished, however, according to Dworkin’s thought the state made a mistake when imprisoning him for speaking his mind. In addition, there is an assumption that the parent (state) has hierarchical power; therefore the child (citizen) is below the law (state). If this were the case, then why did Socrates speak against the state (his parents)? The Filial Piety argument becomes problematic as Socrates contradicts his own actions of speaking against politicians. Socrates argues that he has to obey the law unconditionally because the law has parental rights over him (Plato 30); therefore, he is a slave to the state. Socrates argues that he is a free man to leave if he chooses to (Plato 30-31), but how can he argue that he is a free man if the state who, according to him, have parental roles over him, have subjected him against the law? When can these rights be restricted? According to Dworkin, rights can only be restricted if: values protected by original right are not at stake in this case, if marginal cases are permitted and granting right affects competing rights and if marginal cases are permitted and produces costs to society are beyond cost of granting right (Rodde 28 Jan. 2013). With Dworkin’s idea in mind, I believe that Socrates has imprisoned himself more than the actual government because he appoints the government as his parents through his own analogies.

To conclude, I believe that Socrates should escape from prison because the Principle of Fidelity assumes that a law is always just. While on a moralistic view we may argue that Socrates should not escape from prison based on this argument because he has to show the importance of maintaining his promise, instead by not escaping he ignores the law. For example, laws are created to maintain an orderly society in which punishments are involved, creating a dichotomy between right versus wrong. By only considering the idea of ‘keeping ones promise’ in his argument, Socrates opens the way for people who have been illegally convicted to ignore the entire law system which is created in order to distinguish between right and wrong, and simply do as the state says to due to a ‘natural’ binding between the person and the state. He ignores the manipulations of the state and one’s desires to live. Also, Socrates argues for the Principle of Filial Piety as an important argument. However, the argument is created on an analogy which cannot sustain itself because Socrates compares his relationship to the state as a parent child relationship, but fails to question the way the state sees the relationship with its citizens. Lastly, Dworkin’s idea of immoral rights versus legal rights and his limitations of when rights can be restricted highlights how although some actions may be immoral, they are not illegal (Dworkin 35), therefore Socrates should escape from jail.

[Word Count: 1474]

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