Merrill Ring

1. Setting the Stage
Let me begin by setting out the framework for the ensuing inquiry, first in schematic form, then more fully.

After hearing and rejecting Crito's case why he should escape, Socrates produces an extended argument by which he attempts to establish that it would be wrong for him to escape. His case has the following form: he secures Crito's acquiescence in two principles. He then argues, speaking as a personification of the laws which constitute Athens as the polis it is, that to escape would be to act contrary to each of those two principles. Hence, it would be wrong for him to escape.

1. "it would be wrong for him to escape". The best translation of adikein in the Crito is as 'wrong', not as 'unjust'. The issue of those competing translations is, of course, a staple of Platonic commentary. Everyone agrees that in general either is possible. There are some arguments that, in the text of the Crito, adikein must be, or should be, understood in terms of justice. None of those arguments succeed in establishing the point.[1] What Socrates brings to bear on his proposed escape is the question of whether it would be right or wrong to do so.

2. "acquiescence in two principles". Something must be said both about my counting and, the easier of the matters, the declaration that there are principles involved. Nobody disagrees that Socrates attempts to defend his refusal to escape on principled grounds. What is overlooked, however, is that he is explicitly, though without having modern terminology, contrasting the proper way of proceeding, via principles, with Crito's procedure which looked to consequences. His entire speech from 48b-48d says, in effect, 'We must not consider consequences, namely matters of money, the effects on one's reputation and on my children, and especially on my life, but to what can be determined to be right, i.e. what follows from adherence to moral principles.' There is more than a little flavor of Kant in the Crito's Socrates.

While there certainly are a number of principles enunciated in the relevant portion of the text, 49a-49e, only two are immediately employed by Socrates to establish that it would be wrong for him to escape. The others occur in various lemmas aimed at establishing one of that pair of principles. All of that will become clear in the body of this essay.

I shall not work through the standard writings on the Crito to show that my description of Socrates' positive arguments differs significantly from what is currently available: that would take me too far out of my way. What I contend here should be compared not only with the text but also with other commentators: especially Woozley, Kraut, Santas, Allen.[2]

(3) "He then argues, speaking as a personification of the laws". To make that claim is to note that I am not adhering to the recent thesis of Roslyn Weiss concerning the place of the speech of the Laws in the Crito.[3] The present account is offered within the interpretive tradition which finds that the long speech of the Laws of Athens contains theses importantly employed in the construction of Socrates' case that his escaping would be wrong. I shall make no attempt here to present and criticize Weiss' views: that is an entirely different project. The way to see my contribution to the discussion is to understand it as presenting the best critical representation of Socrates' arguments against escape within the orthodox tradition of reading the Crito.

I shall, then, working in that non-Weissian tradition, take it that Socrates, having told Crito to ignore consequences and stick to matters of principle (48b-48d) leads up to his case against escape from 48d-49a: "Let us examine this question [whether it is right or wrong for me to try to get out of here without the approval of Athens (48bc)] together, my good friend, and if you have any objections to the argument, make them and I will listen...."[4] From 49a to 49e he produces the (two) principles which he shall rely upon. At 49e-50a he asks what follows from those principles: "Consider now what follows. If we leave here without the city's permission, will we be causing undeserved harm? And shall we be breaking a legitimately established agreement?"[5] Since Crito cannot say what follows from Socrates' principles, cannnot answer those questions, Socrates produces the speech of the Laws which spells out the answers thereby providing the remainder of the case against escape.

2. The Project
The second of the two principles upon which Socrates' hangs his case concerns the propriety of fulfilling agreements. Having obtained Crito's acceptance, without any argument being necessary, of that principle, he then holds that he has an agreement with Athens concerning his obedience to her laws and lawful decisions. From those facts and that principle, the conclusion is derived that escaping would be wrongly violating that agreement.

Overwhelmingly, scholarly writing on the Crito and the issue of Socrates' case against escape has been concerned with the manner of, and the legitimacy of, Socrates' application of the principle 'One ought to keep one's agreements' to questions of (his) obeying the law. That attention is deserved, for the issues are important both for understanding Socrates and for understanding our own obligations to the state. I shall not, however, be further adding to that discussion.

My topic is rather the first of those principles and the use to which Socrates puts it.

The principle in question is 'Retaliation is wrong'. Socrates, holding that retaliation is wrong, then argues, again in the speech of the Laws, that escaping would be retaliating against Athens for the verdict at his trial and hence would be wrong in light of the principle.

There has been very little consideration of this material in discussions of the Crito. That is due, in part, to the fact that translations have soft-pedaled that way of putting the principle, thereby helping to obscure the fact that retaliation is one of Socrates' chief concerns in the dialogue. The preference for translating antadikein has been for some soft equivalent, such as 'in return', 'repay', 'hitting back', 'giving back'. Socrates, however, investigates whether or not it is right to injure, harm, someone because they have injured, harmed, you - and that is what retaliation is. The matter could legitimately be put, and terms thus translated, even more strongly: one of Socrates major concerns in the Crito is with the rightness or wrongness of revenge, of vengeance. However, I shall opt for the more moderate 'retaliation'.

The absence of discussion of the issue in the critical philosophical literature is produced not only by the weak rendering of antadikein. Inquiry into the Crito has also been shaped by our own political concerns: the issues of obligation to the state and of civil disobedience are clearly relevant to our life and times, while the theme of retaliation strikes us as less central to our moral and political concerns.

Allen rightly locates the Crito in one major fifth-century intellectual context. "But the dialogue stands as comment on a great fifth-century debate, conducted not only by sophists and dramatists but by plain men and politicians on the nature of law and legal obligation."[6] I am guessing that Allen is misled by contemporary problems to overlook the fact that another intellectual current of the fifth century involved a debate, perhaps not as powerful, about the acceptability of retaliation, vengeance. While the major dramatic work in that regard was Aeschylus' Oresteia, the Crito must be seen as playing as significant a role in the aftermath of that debate as it did in the one which Allen mentions.

It shall be my aim here to subject what Socrates has to say about retaliation in the Crito to close scrutiny, both descriptive and critical. The outcome of this investigation will not be favorable to Socrates' case for refusing to escape.

It will be helpful to be more specific here at the outset about both the nature of Socrates' argument and my intentions with respect to it. His argument concerning retaliation can be schematized as follows:
Pa1: Retaliation is wrong.
Pa2: Escaping would be retaliating.
Ca. Hence, escape would be wrong.

It should be noticed that Socrates realizes that something more than those two premises will be required to show conclusively that escape would be wrong. In particular cases, principles may be 'overridden', that is, action contrary to a principle may be justified by the facts of the case. Socrates (not being Kantian at this point) realizes that merely to establish the fact that escaping would be retaliating would not be sufficient, even in light of the principle, to establish the wrongness of his escape: for there may be features of the particular case which would justify escape. That is, he is aware that he also has to show that that particular piece of retaliation would not be justified. The recognition comes out at 50a where he asks "Will we be causing undeserved harm?" While the issue of causing harm has to do with whether escape would be retaliating, the reference to "undeserved" has to do with whether the act might be a case of justified retaliation. The proof that his retaliation would not be justified comes later in the speech of the Athenian Laws when it is contended that the polis stands in a quasi-parental relation to its citizens and that, in his case, it has fulfilled (admirably) its quasi-parental responsibilities. (That same contention plays a role in the argument concerning fulfilling agreements.)

With that addition, the basic schema is complete. What I shall henceforth be concerned with are Socrates' attempts in the Crito to establish each of the premises (Pa1 and Pa2) of that basic argument. It is these lemmas to the main argument that I shall find to fail. In the next section, I shall examine his attempts to show that retaliation is wrong and in the section following the object of interest will be his argument that for him to escape would be to retaliate.

3. Proving the Major Premise
While Socrates does not argue for the principle that one ought to keep one's agreements - that is stated and Crito immediately accepts it - he does argue at some length that retaliation is wrong. There has been no critical examination of that argument. That is due, I think, to its having been taken that, in condemning retaliation, Socrates was taking a higher moral position than that of his contemporaries. But even if his view is a moral advance, it is of moral, as well as scholarly, interest to see whether his defense of that position is acceptable.

Socrates' strategy is to establish that retaliation is wrong by showing that that principle follows from other principles. He does not, that is, object to retaliation by pointing to undesirable consequences. The actual conduct of the strategy (49a-e) involves two independent maneuvers: he attempts to derive the wrongness of retaliation from two different first principles. Let us take these up one at a time. The first derivation (49a-c) is as follows:
S: Do we say that one must never do wrong willingly? Or is it a matter of circumstances?... Is that our view or not?
C: That is our view.
S: So one must never do wrong.
C: No.
S: Then one must not do wrong even when one has been wronged, which is contrary to what most people believe.
C: Evidently not.

That argument has the following schema:
Pb1: One must never willingly do wrong (no matter what the circumstances.)
Cb1: Therefore, one must not do wrong even when (the circumstance is that) one has been wronged.
Cb2: Therefore, retaliation is wrong.

Before assessing the argument, there are four comments to be made. The first two of these comments concern the relationship of my representation of the argument to what is found in the text. First, what I have as the first premise is a conflation of two separate lines in the text, namely "(Do we say that) one must never do wrong willingly? Or is it a matter of circumstances?" and "So one must never do wrong." I believe this conflation does no violence to the original. Much more importantly, the ultimate conclusion in the representation, Cb2, is not given in the text. I am treating what is given as an enthymeme with the obvious conclusion omitted. More will be said of that later.

The other two comments concern matters that are found in the text, matters which are not strictly part of the argument yet which are very important for understanding the context of Socrates' attempted proof. First, the two occurrences in the text of the above premise are separated by some moral exhortation by Socrates. This exhortation, marked in the quotation above by the ellipsis, runs: "Is doing wrong never good or honorable, which is what we have concluded in the past? Or have our conclusions been abandoned in our recent circumstances? After all these years, Crito, should we think that our talk has been nothing more than a children's game? Surely the truth is what we used to say that it was - no matter whether most people agree with us or not, no matter whether believing it makes life easier or harder. Wrongdoing is completely harmful and shameful for the one who does it."

Socrates is attempting to secure agreement from Crito to what he wants to use as the premise in the argument. What should be noticed about that exhortation are the following points: (1) it is said that Crito and Socrates have, in the past, accepted that one must never willingly do wrong as a matter of rational conviction; (2) that there is a danger of surrendering their conviction in the present, emotion-laden, circumstances; (3) it is implied that in adhering to this principle, they are in opposition to the many. The nature of the popular view is not made clear however. There are two equally plausible interpretations: (a) that the many simply reject the principle that one must never do wrong willingly, perhaps reject it in favor of a contrary principle; (b) that the many accept the principle in an attenuated form, 'One must not do wrong willingly', dropping the "never" because it is thought that in some circumstances (e.g. where one has been wronged), wrongdoing is either justifiable or excusable. It is not necessary to decide between them. It is enough to recognize that Socrates presents his argument in the context of a claim that the many do not accept the principle which constitutes his first premise.

Lastly, Socrates twice claims that his (and Crito's) views are contrary to the many, once in the exhortation and once as appended to the textual occurrence of the conclusion Cb1. That remark concerning what most believe in connection with Cb1 should be specially noticed. Since this conclusion will turn out to be equivalent to a denial of the propriety of retaliation, Socrates is in effect saying that most people would defend the propriety of retaliation. (The Oresteia obviously was not successful in changing the view of the majority.) Similar interpretive options as above are open here; the popular view may be either that retaliation is right or that retaliation is justifiable or excusable in certain circumstances. Again, whatever the detailed reading of what most people hold, the conclusion of this argument on Socrates' part is explicitly located in a context of claimed opposition to the view of the many.

The preliminaries now completed, it is time to examine the derivation critically. Start with the premise. Let us henceforth drop the clause "no matter what the circumstances" since that is but a reinforcement of the word "never" occurring in the body of the premise. Further, for immediate purposes only, let us read the premise as 'One must never do wrong', i.e. omitting for now the word 'willingly'.

What remains certainly has the look of a moral principle. That is, it has the right shape and the words seem appropriate to its being a principle. However, it is not and cannot be a principle, moral or otherwise. I do not mean that it is an unacceptable principle, as e.g. 'One must try to hit children in crosswalks'. Rather it is not a principle at all. A genuine principle is such because it has the function of guiding conduct, because it has a role to play in determining what a person shall do and in justifying actions. Notice that very little has been said in saying that: factual propositions also have a role to play in guiding and justifying conduct. A principle, however, functions to specify that some type of act is right or wrong, required or forbidden (or permitted). Principles come in a wide variety of linguistic shapes. Nonetheless, it is correct to say that they have the canonical form 'Such-and-such kind of things are right/wrong'.

Consider now 'One must never do wrong'. That is a linguistic form exhibited by genuine principles, e.g. 'One must never steal'. Putting that last in canonical form we obtain 'Stealing is wrong'. Now if we attempt to put Socrates' premise in that same canonical form, we obtain 'Wrongdoing is wrong'. So unmasked, that premise does not pick out any type of act and add the information that that sort of thing is wrong and so to be avoided.[7] What Socrates has done is to employed a disguised tautology rather than a substantial principle as a premise from which to derive his principle about retaliation.

At this point it will be recalled that I have been temporarily working with a reduced version of the 'principle'. The original in the Crito reads 'One must never do wrong willingly'. It might objected to my argument above that the word 'willingly' makes all the difference. What is otherwise an empty tautology becomes a genuine principle with the addition of 'willingly'. To respond to that objection properly will require going a long way round.

It is reasonable to suppose that it is the presence of 'willingly' which has led commentators to overlook the peculiarity of Socrates' premise. For with that word this material can be heard to be another assertion of the familiar Socratic claim 'No one does wrong willingly.'

While it is obvious that there is some connection between the Crito and that familiar claim, it is not the case that the 'principle' in question is another instance of Socrates' denial of akrasia (of weakness). What Socrates has to say in those places in the Meno, Gorgias and Protagoras where he is shown arguing that no one does wrong willingly is quite incompatible with the advocacy and acceptance of a moral principle specifiable as 'One must never do wrong willingly'.

He argues in those other dialogues that people always conceive what they are doing as good or right. That, he claims, is a fact of human nature. Now what would be the connection between those views and the principled premise of the Crito? Suppose we attempt to say that the principle somehow lies behind the fact, produces the fact. That won't work. Saying that the fact is derived from the principle will not square with the intent in speaking of a fact of human nature. Facts about how people are by nature are not contingent upon people adopting a principle of behavior. Moreover, if the (purported) fact that no one willingly does wrong were to be dependent upon 'One must never willingly do wrong', then, to achieve the required universality of the fact ('No one willingly...'), Socrates would be committed to holding that everyone has adopted that principle. In his exhortation of Crito, however, so far from holding that everyone accepts the principle, he clearly implies that most people do not share that principle with him.

The principle then is not primitive for Socrates, does not produce the fact about people's behavior. But any other connection between fact and principle will not do logically. It would follow from any other combination that 'One must never do wrong willingly' is not an operable principle. If it is a matter of human nature that no one willingly does wrong, then no one can willingly do wrong. It would then be pointless to recommend and defend as a principle of conduct that one must never willingly do wrong. For such a recommendation and employment presupposes that it is possible for someone to do wrong willingly. If one urges the fact, logical consistency precludes advocating the principle.

If we compare the views of the Meno, Gorgias and Protagoras with those of the Crito, we find Socrates in a difficulty analogous to that of Bentham: urging, on the one hand, that people should conduct themselves in a certain way (should not do wrong willingly, should seek pleasure and avoid pain), while, on the other hand, claiming that people, being what they are, could not act otherwise (could not do wrong willingly, could not help seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.)

That particular inconsistency is just one feature of a larger problem. What must be recognized is that the implications of the Crito with respect to the possibility of weakness are not compatible with the view expressed in those other dialogues. Consider: as we have seen, Socrates exhorts Crito to retain his rational conviction in 'One must never do wrong willingly' and it is clearly implied that Crito needs that support in order not to lose his conviction in the face of Socrates' impending death and consequently be willing to connive at doing what is wrong. (That escaping would be wrong is already being assumed at this point in the dialogue. That shows only that Socrates has thought his argument through. There are no questions begged.) It sounds as if Socrates were counseling Crito not to allow what he rationally holds to be overcome by fear. It must be remembered that 'being overcome by fear' is mentioned in the Protagoras as an explanation offered by the many to account for some instances of weakness: doing wrong, knowing it to be wrong, because one is afraid. Further, the fear of death and its effects on rational behavior is one of the major themes of both the Crito and the Apology. These considerations bearing on the question of whether the possibility of weakness is contemplated in the Crito are seconded by the very fact that 'One must never do wrong willingly' is introduced there. For that to be a guide to conduct presupposes the possibility of people willingly doing wrong. Given the previous considerations which form the context of its introduction, there is every reason to think that the Socrates of the Crito did realize that the offering of that 'principle' presupposes that people (Crito even) might willingly do wrong.

The doctrine of the Crito is not, then, the typical Socratic view expressed in those other dialogues. The possibility of weakness is allowed there and the explanation 'because overcome by fear' is offered to account for it.[8]

This excursus into weakness was undertaken in light of an objection that, while 'One must never do wrong' is tautological, it becomes a substantial principle with the addition of the word 'willingly'. A remark of Woozley's constitutes a suggestion as to the sort of case in which such a principle would be applicable. In the Apology, Socrates tells of the time he and four others were summoned before the Thirty Tyrants and told to fetch Leon of Salamis for execution. The others complied, Socrates went home. Socrates comments "I should probably have been put to death for this, if the government had not fallen soon afterwards." (32d) About that situation Woozley says "This is in line with one theme in the Crito, viz. that ... there are no circumstances in which one should willingly do wrong; if that is so, a man should not willingly do wrong, even when he receives an order from his government to do something which is in fact wrong."[9] Woozley writes as if the situation were as follows: Socrates was ordered by the government to do something which he knew to be wrong; he might have given in to the fear of death or punishment and so willingly done wrong; instead he acted upon the principle 'One must never willingly do wrong' and so did not do what was wrong.

Will that work? Could 'One must never willingly do wrong' function as a principle in such cases?

If we look at Socrates' own words in the Apology, we find that he did not see his action as depending on such a principle. He says "On this occasion, however, I again made it clear not by my words but by my actions that death did not matter to me...; but that it mattered all the world to me that I should do nothing wrong or wicked. Powerful as it was, the government did not terrify me into doing a wrong action." (33d) What he was ordered to do was wrong. Why, in the circumstances, did he not do what was wrong? It was not because he followed a principle saying that one should not knowingly or willingly do wrong. What he cites as having a bearing on his behavior, over and above the wrongness of what he was ordered to do, is first having been serious about the nature and requirements of morality (its mattering a great deal that he should not do something wrong). Being serious about an act which is known to be wrong is not the same thing as bringing a further principle to bear on the situation. Second, he cites as affecting his behavior the fact that death did not matter to him, that he had established a proper attitude toward death (especially relative to doing what is wrong.) In short, Socrates' own explanation of why he did not give in to fear and so do what was wrong is that he was serious about what it is for something to be wrong and that he had come to see death as not fearful.

The trouble with thinking that any further principle could prevent a potential weak act is that the agent is already saying 'I know it is wrong - but (e.g.) I'm afraid'. That is, the principles having a bearing upon the situation have already been invoked and yet the moral understanding of what is to be done has been overcome by fear, by something, as it were, unprincipled. What the agent needs is a diminution of the fear or a review of the moral situation, not another principle. What is wrong with the specific 'principle' in question ('It is not right to willingly do wrong') is that it tells the agent absolutely nothing new. He already knows that he would be willingly doing something wrong.

I would not wish to imply that the words 'One must never willingly do wrong' could have no effect on someone in such a situation. So might a hug or a tear or a drink - and these probably have a better chance of shoring up one's convictions than those words. But whatever works, works. If those words do succeed here, however, it would not be qua principle.

Woozley seems to have seen the situation in the Crito this way: recognizing implicitly that the 'principle' was introduced in a context in which weakness is being allowed and that its introduction is a sign of that admission, he took it that the principle was introduced as a defense against weakness, as something that could be invoked against an incipient weak act. On the contrary, no principle could function that way. Moreover, it is clear from the Crito that Socrates realized that. What he exhorts Crito to do is not to lose his conviction in just that principle. If 'One must never willingly do wrong' is introduced as a principle, it too can be the sort of thing that one can fail to live up to because one is weak.

If the kind of case Woozley cites cannot support the idea that 'One must never do wrong willingly' is a genuine principle, what kind of case could? None. The addition of the word 'willingly' makes no difference. The added word is unable to convert the tautology 'One must never do wrong' into a substantial principle. For what we have with the additional word is something whose canonical form is 'Doing wrong willingly is wrong'. That too does not specify some kind of act and add the information that that kind of act is wrong. Rather it repeats itself and so the 'principle' remains a tautology.

So much for criticism of the premise of Socrates' first derivation. The logic of the step from that premise to the first conclusion (Cb1: 'Therefore, one must not do wrong even when one has been wronged') is impeccable. If one must never do wrong, if wrong is wrong no matter what the circumstances, then when the circumstance is that one has been wronged, wrong is still (of course) wrong and so must not be done.

The ultimate conclusion 'Retaliation is wrong', however, does not follow from 'One must not do wrong even when one has been wronged' unless an additional premise is inserted. What is required for it to follow is:
Pb2: Retaliation is doing wrong when one has been wronged.

That required premise is a definition of retaliation. Moreover, given that particular definition, all of Socrates' preceding explicit discussion is irrelevant - for the ultimate conclusion follows directly from the definition. If retaliation is doing wrong when one is wronged, it immediately follows that retaliation is wrong. If the text did not have the argument as an enthymeme with the final conclusion omitted, it would have been too apparent that the derivation hinges on a definition of retaliation - and upon nothing else.

Recall that Socrates presents his views as being in opposition to the views of the many. He holds that retaliation is wrong, while most people regard retaliation as right. But that interesting disagreement is further explained, given the definition of retaliation that Socrates must adopt to get the conclusion, as a dispute between those who hold that it is wrong to do wrong no matter what the circumstances and those who hold that it is right to do wrong under certain conditions. Of course, technically Socrates wins that dispute - tautologies are wonderful that way. On the other hand, his opponents will not be interested in the terms of the disagreement as he proposes them. They will cheerfully agree with the tautology 'It is never right to do wrong' and still insist that retaliation is right. For they will not concede his definition of retaliation. And they will be correct in not conceding it. In short, Socrates' first argument establishes exactly nothing about the rightness or wrongness of retaliation.

Given the complete failure of that argument - neither premise, that is neither the supposed principle nor the definition, is remotely acceptable - it is very necessary, then, that Socrates has, as he does, a second argument against those who accept retaliation. He launches into this second derivation from a quite different first principle immediately upon finishing the first (49c).
S: Consider also the following. Ought one to injure others Crito? Yes or no?
C: No, one shouldn't, Socrates.
S: Well then, if one must not injure others, is it right to injure others in retaliation for injuries you have suffered, which is what most people hold?
C: No, it isn't right.
S: And it isn't right precisely because injuring people is no different from wronging them.
C: Yes.
S: Therefore, it is wrong to retaliate or to injure anyone, no matter what they have done to you.....

Let me schematize the argumentative core of that passage as follows, leaving the remainder to be accounted for later.

Pc1: Injuring others is wrong.
Pc2: Retaliation is injuring others because they have injured you.
Cc: Therefore, retaliation is wrong.

The second premise here, a definition of retaliation, is not in the text, but it is obviously relied upon and so can be supplied. Further, in this argument Socrates does not fasten on a definition of retaliation which would be rejected by those who accept it as right, by most people. In fact, the definition here is not problematic at all.

Since the premises are unobjectionable and since the logic looks good, it might seem that he has produced a satisfactory argument against retaliation. But it won't work - and Socrates knows that it won't.

A retaliationist might respond 'Your premises are acceptable, but your grasp of how principles are employed in moral reasoning is weak. Principles can be "overridden". To take an example (anachronistically) from Book I of the Republic: one ought to return what one is holding for others. But if the item is a weapon and the owner goes mad? Obviously do not return it. So here too. One ought not to cause injuries. But it is reasonable to recognize a class of cases in which the principle is not decisive. When one has been injured, it is right to injure in return. That is, retaliation is the right course in those circumstances.'

Socrates knows that that will be the response. For instead of resting content with the argument as given, he inserts into the text an additional claim, something which falls outside what is so far schematized. This additional material is "And it isn't right precisely because injuring people is no different from wronging them." (That translation, while normal, will have to be considered very soon.) Having asserted that, and with Crito's concurrence, Socrates then finishes the argument by restating the conclusion that retaliation is wrong.

What Socrates inserts is an explanation of why the conclusion just drawn is true: returning injury for injury received is wrong because injuring and wronging are the same thing. Why does Socrates need to say that given what he has already said in premise Pc1? Doesn't the original premise, in conjunction with the definition of retaliation, show the wrongness of retaliation? Why appeal to something further? It is because Socrates realizes that the defender of retaliation will claim that those are cases of the justified infliction of injury on another. He is attempting to block that maneuver.

The manner of stopping up the hole, however, is drastic. What he offers amounts to the following additional premise:
Pc3: 'Injuring' means 'doing wrong'

What Socrates attempts to do with that addition is to define 'injury' in such a way as to preclude the possibility of justified injury and so evade the objection that injuries caused in retaliating are justifiable. In doing that, Socrates rules out much more than retaliation. If 'injuring' means 'doing wrong', then neither self-defense nor punishment, as well as retaliation, can be justified. Now it may be that none of those things can be justified. But such matters are issues of substance, requiring much moral sense and argument. None of them can be settled by appealing to a definition of 'injury', whether it be the one Socrates gives or any other.

At this point it becomes necessary to attend to Kraut's screams concerning the translation which produces the idea that Socrates is committed to treating the infliction of injury as the same as the commission of wrongdoing. He must be quoted at some length.

"Kakourgein is frequently translated 'to injure', 'do injury', 'work injury', etc. (thus Grube, Tredennick, and Allen), and in certain contexts this is preferable.... But I am convinced that in this part of the Crito a great deal of damage has been done by using 'to injure' for kakourgein.... [If we do so], then Socrates will be taken by many readers to be opposed to any act of damage or harm to a person or city., But it is quite clear that Socrates has no such view.... He knows as well as we do that wars do physical damage and harm to human beings and cities, but he is not unconditionally opposed to war."[10]

Presumably the "great deal of damage" which Kraut has in mind which results from employing the standard translation of kakourgein as 'to injure' is to our understanding of the Crito. He doesn't spell out what that damage is. However, it is clear in my reading above precisely what the effect is of taking it that Socrates identifies injuring or doing harm to people with wrongdoing. Socrates makes that claim in an attempt to block a reasonable objection to the manner in which he employs the moral principle 'Injuring people is wrong' in order to conclude that retaliation (appropriately defined) is wrong. If that translation is accepted, Socrates' reply to the objection fails and so too does his current argument against retaliation.

There, then, is damage wrought if the normal translation of kakourgein is employed here, though one might say that it is not so much damage to our understanding of the text than it is to Socrates' argument.

However, Kraut will reply that by understanding Socrates' claim to be that there is no difference between injury and wrongdoing, is to commit him to a thesis that he doesn't hold. Recall: "Socrates will be taken by many readers to be opposed to any act of damage or harm to a person or city. But it is quite clear that Socrates has no such view.... He knows as well as we do that wars do physical damage and harm to human beings and cities, but he is not unconditionally opposed to war." Thus the harm occurs to our grasp of the text.

One could just as easily say that Socrates does hold that thesis: there it is in the midst of the Crito! The crucial thought, however, is not that claim of Kraut's but the evidence he adduces for saying that Socrates does not hold that thesis: he "knows as well as we do" that wars, legally sanctioned punishment, self-defense, etc. cause harm to people but he nowhere objects to those activities.

But if there is anything we know about philosophers, especially those in the midst of defending some substantial claim, it is that they are quite capable of uttering remarks which do not square with what they otherwise know. G.E. Moore made a career of pointing this out. For example, the Idealist knows perfectly well that he had breakfast before he went to lecture, but in lecture asserts that time is unreal.

To hold that in arguing for an important thesis Socrates makes an identification which commits him to the denial of what he otherwise knows is a perfectly legitimate interpretive move. The legitimacy would be seriously in doubt if he elsewhere explicitly rejected the identification. He does not.

Moreover, one can even see why Socrates, without acting in bad faith in the argumentative process, could be led to remark 'But injuring people is no different from wronging them.' The principle 'Injuring people is wrong' is employed by Socrates in the argument at hand. Someone who had already treated 'Wrongdoing is wrong' as a principle might easily be led to say, in the heat of battle as it were, that there is no difference in any correct principle between the description of a deed and asserting its wrongness, that wrongness is built into the very description of a prohibited line of action. That is, there is no difference between harming someone and wronging them.

In short, Kraut's desire not to translate kakourgein normally at this place can appear to be a case of special pleading designed to save Socrates from an embarrassment. Translating it as 'injuring' or 'harming', on the other hand, gives the remark, even if misguided, an important logical role in Socrates' reasoning. He is trying to set aside a likely objection to his argument.

Unfortunately, the move he makes to do so, identifying injury and wrongdoing, is highly objectionable.

Clearly the retaliationist will not - rightly will not - accept the specification or definition of harm, injury, offered by Socrates. Consequently, this second attempt joins his first at deriving the wrongness of retaliation from first principles as wholly unsuccessful.

4. Proving the Minor Premise

Socrates, however, takes it that he has successfully established the principle that retaliation is wrong. He was out to establish that principle in order to employ it as the first premise of one of his two arguments against escape, an argument schematized earlier as
Pa1 Retaliation is wrong
Pa2 Escaping would be retaliating
Ca1 Escaping would be wrong

In support of this case against his escaping, Socrates also attempts to establish the factual premise above, that escaping would be retaliating. In this section, I shall consider his argument to show that escaping would be retaliation, i.e. causing injury to those who have harmed him because they have harmed him.

There are some important assumptions employed in this lemma. First, he and Crito take it that the judgment passed on him at his trial was wrong and so constitutes an injury to him. Thus a condition for an act to be retaliatory is satisfied. Secondly, it is held that Socrates' reason for escaping would be that he was wronged at the trial. All of the other reasons for escape have been presented by Crito earlier and have already been rejected. This one alone remains. Finally, it is assumed that it is the polis which is responsible for the wrong judgment and so would be the object of retaliation. Later in the dialogue the Athenian laws hold that it is the jury which is responsible for the injury. At the beginning, however, it is assumed that it is the polis and its legal system which is at fault.

We are now in a position to see how Socrates argues for the factual premise of the retaliation objection to a possible escape. Pd1 is the result of the three assumptions above.
Pd1 He would be escaping because he was wronged by the polis
Pd2 Escaping would be causing harm to the polis
C1d He would be causing harm to the polis because he was wronged by the polis
Pd3 Causing harm because one is wronged is retaliation.
C2 He would be retaliating by escaping.

What gets set out in the text is Pd2. "Or perhaps you imagine it possible for a polis not to collapse if the judgments of its courts are ignored by its citizens?" (50b) His escape would be the rejection of a legal judgment by a citizen acting as a private person. The consequences of such nullification would be the destruction of the polis conceived of as a system of relations embodied in laws and authoritative judgments.

Clearly, he is not saying that the consequences of his escaping would be the collapse, either immediate or soon, of Athens. That comes out in his earlier remark "at least as far as you can" (50b). His escape would not be sufficient to destroy Athens; at best he would be a contributor to that destruction. At most, then, he would be causing harm or injury to the polis, the amount of which is not (could not be) specified.

With that premise, and a definition of retaliation clearly relied upon, the conclusion of that lemma, along with what he takes to have been previously established, namely that retaliation is wrong, enables him to say to Crito 'Thus it would be wrong to escape'.

To see what goes wrong with that solid looking argument, consider a theme immediately sounded when the retaliation argument is broached. The first thing the Laws say to Socrates is "Tell us Socrates, what is it that you have in mind to do? Do you intend to do anything else by this exploit to which you are putting your hand than to destroy both ourselves the laws and the entire city - at least as far as you can?" (50a-b) Crito enthusiastically agrees for both of them (50c) that that aim cannot be denied, that such destruction or harm would be what is intended. (Clearly Crito has not been talked out of his retaliatory views by the preceding arguments.)

That is, the relevant parts of the discussion of a possible escape by Socrates is carried on under the assumption that an escape would have a retaliatory aim, that the intent would be to cause harm to Athens because the polis had wronged him.

I shall argue that Socrates had no such intention. Some might find my own intentions peculiar. Surely a person knows what they intend? How can I challenge a statement of Socrates' intentions? Even worse, I am not a part of Socrates' world - if Crito didn't challenge that claim, how can I presume to do so? We shall see.

Notice first that all the evidence other than in those two questions by the Laws and the answer given them indicates that a desire to retaliate is not appropriate to Socrates' character. He nowhere appears as a vengeful, vindictive person. Even here in the Crito he does not say 'I'm going to get even with them' - the claim that he intends the destruction of Athens is politely, if enthusiastically phrased by Crito, not even by Socrates. Nor does he here give the slightest expression of feelings of bitterness and revenge. It is surely remarkable that one who is contemplating the destruction of a state through a retaliatory act should appear so free of the desire to retaliate.

Further, the earlier argument concerning the wrongness of retaliation fits most peculiarly with a continued desire (even if there was one originally) on Socrates' part to secure a return for the wrong he has suffered. That is, someone who wanted to retaliate and who then becomes convinced that retaliation is wrong would no longer have the same motives as before. Yet even after arguing so strenuously that retaliation is wrong and that wrong is wrong and not to be done, in this later passage Socrates goes on talking calmly as if he were motivated by revenge, by a desire to retaliate.

There is one further point which is decisive against such an account of his intentions. Let us suppose that Socrates does have the desire to strike back at the state. And also suppose that the consequences of his escaping would be what he says they would be, injury or harm to the state. Suppose finally that he knows, as he says he does, that those consequences would ensue. All other things either being equal or being as they are represented in the Crito, what would Socrates do, given that he wants to retaliate. He would escape.

That is, given the intention, the knowledge of harmful consequences to the requisite object would be a decisive reason for escaping. Yet look at what happens. Knowledge of the consequences is a reason for not escaping!

The only reasonable conclusion is that Socrates had no intention of retaliating.

The appropriate question is 'Why did Socrates accept Crito's account of his motivation, that his intent was to retaliate, when he so patently did not have any such aim?' To answer that we must turn to the lemma which concludes 'Escaping would be retaliating'. The key to that argument is Cd1, the conclusion that he would be causing harm because he was wronged. This is derived from the premises 'He would be escaping because he was wronged' and 'Escaping would be causing harm'. The rule employed in the derivation is a substitution rule for equivalents. In the context, however, the substitution is not legitimate. The error is a variation of substituting into an intensional context. That is, the move here is analogous to substituting from the identity 'Scott is the author of Waverley' into 'He knows that the author of Waverley wrote Ivanhoe' to obtain 'He knows that Scott wrote Ivanhoe'.

In the present case, even though 'escaping' may be descriptively equivalent to 'causing harm', it does not follow that one who intends to escape also intends to cause harm. The person who is putting arsenic in the water may not know that the water is the city's supply and so not intend to poison the inhabitants. So someone in Socrates' position may intend to escape and not intend to cause harm and yet it be true that to escape is to cause harm.

The proper objection here is 'Ah, but the person putting the arsenic into the water does not know that putting the poison in the water is equivalent to poisoning the people because she does not know that the water is the city's reservoir. But Socrates knows that escaping would be causing harm.'

While true, that still will not entitle Socrates to the derivation. Even if Socrates were to escape knowing that harm would come to Athens, it would not follow that he intended the harm. I walk across the lawn knowing that some blades of grass will be broken and some insects squashed, but I don't intend those things. The doctor gives you a shot knowing that it will cause you pain, but he does not intend the pain be given you. The broken grass, the dead insects, the soreness of the arm are unintended consequences of what is being done. So too Socrates' escape may be known by him to cause harm yet he need not intend the harm.

Of course, that unintended harm may come from a proposed act should be taken into account in deciding what to do. In fact, the amount of unintended harm may be sufficient to deter one from doing whatever it is that is known to produce such harm. But that is not Socrates' argument. He allows that he intends to cause the harm, that he intends to retaliate. He does not claim that the knowledge that harm will result as an unintended byproduct of his escape is what is deterring him from escaping.

It should now be clear why Socrates strains to get us to believe that he intends to destroy or harm the state. It is only with that intent that he is justified in employing the substitution rule in his derivation and so justified in inferring that he would be causing harm because he was wronged. And only with that established can he further conclude that escaping would be retaliating.

One can retaliate only if one intends to. Accidental injury to a possible object of retaliation is not retaliation . To make the argument work, to show that escape would be wrong because it would be retaliation, he must have the intent to cause injury. But, as I have argued, he had no such intent. The derivation won't work. His escape would not be retaliation and hence, on the grounds that he cites, would not be wrong.

A problem remains for which I have no answer. Why was Socrates so determined to describe his escape as retaliation when to do so he had to falsify his motives? It is not that he failed to notice that the substitution rule, n order to have a legitimate use in this context, requires the intent to cause injury - for he does enter the claim that that is his intent. He could have argued that escaping would harm the state and that the harm would be undeserved. All of the elements for that argument are present in the text. Yet he does not so argue. Rather, something seems to have convinced him that escaping would have to be retaliating and that therefore he must have the intent to cause harm. I have no plausible suggestions as to what might have produced such a striking conviction.


1. A.D. Woozley, Law and Obedience: The Arguments of Plato's Crito (Duckworth, 1979). Woozley argues (pp 18-21) that in the Crito, beginning at 48c, the text must be understood in terms of justice. His argument for that contention is very bad. He points out, correctly, that "Wrongdoing need not have a victim, but injustice must." However, he concludes from that that the Crito, because Athens is conceived of as being victimized if Socrates were to escape, must then be treated as concerned with injustice. But that conclusion concerning the proper translation of adikein requires not the asserted premise that wrongdoing need not have a victim, but that wrongdoing cannot have a victim. That premise is surely not so. If I punch you in the nose, that is a piece of wrongdoing which victimizes you but it certainly isn't a matter of being unfair (unless of course a long story about passing over alternative noses and more appropriate victims is told.) There are items in the speech of the Laws which are a protest in terms of fairness, but it must not be forgotten that being unjust in some specific way is a form of wrongdoing.

Richard Kraut, Socrates and the State (Princeton University Press, 1984), also argues (p. 25) that the best translation in the Crito of adikein is 'unjust'. He has two reasons. Number one is the claim that since all translators agree that dikaia at 49e6 must be understood as 'just', that should be mirrored in the translation of adikein at 49b8. That simply is not so: dikaia is being used for a special purpose at 49e6 and need not be mirrored anywhere else. See note 5. His second reason is much more complicated: see note 10 and the associated text for a discussion.

2. The chief texts which form the background to my discussion are: A.D. Woozley, op. cit; R. Kraut, op. cit.; Gerasimos Santas, Socrates: Philosophy in Plato's Early Dialogues (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978); R.E. Allen, Socrates and Legal Obligation (University of Minnesota Press, 1980).

3. Roslyn Weiss, Socrates Dissatisfied: An Analysis of Plato's Crito (Oxford University Press, 1998).

4. My versions of the text throughout are somewhat freewheeling by ordinary standards of exactness. The aim has been to make the passages more readable. I think nowhere, unless otherwise noted, does anything I have to say depend upon the details of the translation.

5. At 49e6 Socrates states the principle concerning agreements and also adds a qualification - both the principle with its qualification are repeated in the question Crito cannot answer at 50a3. The qualification concerns whether the agreement is dikaia. Socrates could have stated the principle baldly: 'One ought to fulfill one's agreements' or 'Breaking agreements is wrong'. The reminder that there are defeating conditions (e.g. coercion, misinformation) for agreements could have been postponed until later in the discussion. Socrates, however, builds that reminder in to the initial statement of the principle as an immediately given qualification. Kraut uses the fact that the qualification talks of the necessity of an agreement being dikaia before it holds to argue that the best translation of that term throughout the Crito is is in terms of justice. That dikaia is used in stating a necessary condition for an agreement to hold seems to me to have no bearing whatsoever on how it ought to be understood in other places in the dialogue. In fact, I have, above, translated the term as 'legitimate' without doing any harm to Plato's intent: "And shall we be breaking a legitimately established agreement?"

6. Allen, op. cit. p. 66.

7. I have an excellent one-panel Non Sequitur cartoon (by Wiley) from 1999. The caption is 'Moses and the First Draft'. In front of Moses there is a stone tablet saying 'Don't Do Bad Things'. Moses is calling up to Jehovah "It might leave a little too much room for rationalization. Maybe you should try breaking it down to a few specifics." Socrates' move is a version of Jehovah's.

8. Woozley, Law and Obedience, notices the conflict between the Crito and the other relevant dialogues: "Incidentally, the claim here that a man should not act unjustly, if he can help it, might seem inconsistent with the more familiar Socratic paradox that nobody does what is unjust, if he can help it." (p. 21) Woozley wants to save Socrates from inconsistency: hence the "seem" above. The rescue is made by drawing a distinction between knowing something to be wrong and only believing it to be: weakness is possible if only the latter condition holds. I, on the other hand, am not here interested in that salvation project and so I go ahead and say that there is an inconsistency, no matter how things might eventually be worked out.

9. Woozley, 'Socrates on Disobeying the Law', The Philosophy of Socrates: A collection of Critical Essays, ed. Gregory Vlastos, (Anchor, 1971), p. 306.

10. Kraut, op. cit., p. 26. Kraut solves the problem by translating kakourgein here as 'treating wrongly'. In order, then, to not have Socrates' thesis end up as the tautology 'Treating someone wrongly is no different from wronging them', he then urges that adikein be translated as 'unjust' so that the thesis becomes 'Treating someone wrongly is the same as acting unjustly'. In advising that solution, we find Kraut's second reason for holding that adikein should be translated as 'unjust' in these sections of the Crito. See Note 1.