The Argument From Moral Expertise In Plato’s Crito
Plato’s Crito provides an account of Socrates’ last dialogue with his disciple Crito who tries to make his teacher flee from the Athenian prison where Socrates, sentenced to death, has to die after two days. Crito and other friends of Socrates offer him all possible support in order to save his life. However, Socrates does not want to obey in this case and denies his friends’ help so as to stay in prison and virtuously accept the death. The thematic specifics of the dialogue (Socrates and Crito consider the general concept of death and so on) presupposed Socrates’ use of the global argument. In other words, Socrates appeals to the most general categories and underlines the heterogeneity of the world to prove his rightness through the analogy that best works in the case of the world’s totality. It means that Socrates’ interpretation of the world presupposes some general models (or forms) that could work in any case despite its specifics. The global argument is an attempt to move in argumentation from the most general notion concerning the world (or the issue) to the concrete situation discussed. In Crito, Socrates’ intention to involve the global argument becomes evident through his reaction to Crito’s reasons to flee. In fact, the main reason Crito mentions is that Socrates’ death would spoil his reputation because he did not save himself and the reputation of his friends who did not save him. Thus, Crito’s idea is that Socrates should escape in order to save his and his friends’ reputation in the eyes of the majority. Socrates uses Crito’s appeal to the public opinion to express criticism of his global argument that is based on the universality of morality.
Socrates starts his criticism of Crito’s position with the question concerning the universal character of morality. He mentions that, before they concluded that, people should only pay attention to the opinions of good people (instead of the opinions of the majority). Then, he asks Crito: “Was this the correct thing to say before I had to die, whereas now it has become obvious that it was mentioned instead for the sake of argument and was actually just playing around and hot air?”. At this point, it is clear that Crito should accept that circumstances do not change the relation to the norms of morality, because, otherwise, there would be no stable morality in the world; thus, sophists who proclaimed ethical relativism would be right. Besides, as long as Crito accepts the universality of moral norms, he gets caught up in the tenets of Socrates’ global argument based on neglecting private circumstances. At this point, Socrates provides a reversal in order to see the situation from a different perspective, thereby reducing Crito’s argumentation to absurdity. It is very important that along with underlining the universality of moral principles, Socrates doubts that Crito’s propositions concerning the escape contradict them; thus, he tries to examine the relations between Crito’s reasons for fleeing and the morality as it is. Socrates stresses that in the case of such contradiction, he should neglect Crito’s offer: “your eagerness would be worth a lot if it were in pursuit of something righteous, but the more it is not, the more difficult it is to deal with”. Thus, through the universality of moral norms,Socrates tries to reduce the offer of Crito to absurdity by examining it through the prism of morality.
The universal characteristic of morality, accepted by Crito, allows Socrates to draw an analogy that demonstrates the situation from another point. He uses the analogy of a person who wants to achieve some goal (to be healthy, in particular). Thus, Socrates asks Crito, whose pieces of advice this person should accept. In the same way, he doubts that the majority can provide this person with some good recommendations concerning health because, in fact, every person has his/her own field of activity where his/her opinion can be authoritative and useful. Therefore, the person whose goal is to be healthy should listen to athletes and physicians only because other people probably have no necessary qualification to provide a good piece of advice. That is the reason why it is important to neglect the opinions of the majority in order to avoid unwanted problems caused by unqualified influence. Then, Socrates concludes that the person should also neglect the opinions of the majority and defend himself from their negative influence, while his moral principles could give him a good piece of advice to obey the sentence and stay in prison. In this way, Socrates’ global argument works. Certainly, Socrates does not mean that he has some concern about human physical health, while Crito does not. Besides, in this case, Socrates uses a secondary analogue that compares two goals such as human health and human virtue. As the former is the goal of athletes and physicians, it is important to follow their guidelines to achieve it. Likewise, the latter is the goal of philosophers such as Socrates whose concern is virtue in contrast to Crito whose dependence on the public opinion is very strong. In this way, Socrates reduces Crito’s argument to practical absurdity. Besides, it is important to note, that to accept Socrates’ argument, Crito had to accept the competence of Socrates in the issues of morality, because otherwise there would be no analogue with the experts in their fields. Thus, the power of Socrates’ argument is partly based on the authority of Socrates himself. In other words, Socrates claims that he understands the concept of virtue better than Crito and the crowd, in particular; therefore, he needs no pieces of advice from them.
To illustrate the absurdity of Crito’s argument, Socrates provides him with an account of possible consequences of his fleeing, both directly and in the terms of the mentioned analogue. Thus, as long as Crito’s offer is derived from the opinions of the majority that should be neglected, it becomes clear that the result of its practical implementation would be analogous to that of the opinions of the majority concerning the health. Consequently, if one follows the opinions of the majority and neglects the pieces of advice provided by a specialist, his body would be destroyed by disease provoked by unqualified influence. In the same way, if one follows the opinions of the majority, he would destroy his own virtue. Thus, for example, in the case of Socrates, the majority offers him to survive, thereby committing injustice, while his own moral principle tells him that it would be better to die and remain virtuous.Finally, Socrates leaves the analogue and returns to the concrete case with the words: even while it is incorrect to follow the majority, “the many can put us to death”. Socrates continues claiming that it is much better to lose life than to become unjust. In other words, he wonders why one should appreciate his life in a society where he cannot act in accordance with the morality. It is the final stage of Socrates’ argument because, in this way, he reduces Crito’s argument to practical absurdity with the help of the global argument applied to the sphere of ethics.