There is much To say about the two Platonic dialogues of the Apology and the Crito.  These are two great introductory dialogues on the life of Socrates, and are the only real representations of what Socrates might have been like in life.  Any student of political philosophy should at least read these two dialogues first before heading on to the more popular Republic.

Jacques-Louis Davids painting The Death of Socrates 1787

Jacques-Louis David's painting "The Death of Socrates" 1787

First, what can we say about the Apology?


The Apology, or the word apology, comes from the Greek word απολογια, which means literally, defense.  So, the apology is a defense of Socrates, and the philosophic way of life.  But is Socrates persuasive?  Every student must answer that question.  Does the city have a just cause to sentence Socrates to death?  In the book we are reading, Thomas G. West seems to answer in the affirmative.  But, students should think through the issue for themselves before considering other opinions.

Socrates does not seem to help himself in his public defense for by the end of the dialogue, he insists on the absurd:  he should live off taxpayer expense for the rest of his life for he is what is really good for the city.  Such self-serving sentencing makes it difficult for even his most ardent admirers to defend.

The argument for philosophy, though, cannot be overlooked despite such apparent drawbacks.  The city needs philosophy because philosophy speaks to the right ordering of the soul, and a rational ordering of the soul.  Philosophy is better than, say, poetry, or even simple conventional ordering of the laws.

One thing about philosophy and philosophizing, is that it cannot be helped.  Socrates asserts (29d) that he will not, and cannot, stop philosophizing.  The defense of philosophy cones at the center of the book, and represents the most lucid defense of philosophy as a way of life.  Thus, there is something erotic about philosophy.


This dialogue represents a defense of the city.  If Socrates has undermined the city in the previous dialogues, after he has been sentenced to death, he proceeds to defend the city for its sentence.  What Athens correct in sentencing Socrates to death?  It is a fair question that students must come to grips with, because it will force a reasonable confrontation bwteen the claims of philosophy and the claims of the city.

Crito, we must note, is not very philosophic, and he seems to have missed the teaching of Socrates.  Despite him being a student of the condemned philosopher (and for some time), he seems to not have learned much.  Crito is too concerned with the low–the political.  He is concerned with the body, not with the soul.  But he is mostly concerned with his own body and reputation.  He wants to look good in the eyes of the many.

Socrates defends the city by defending all that he has benefited from it.  He is an Athenian, how could he not obey the decision of the city to its dictates?  To not obey the city would be to be an individual–radically so–and apart from the city.  This is so even if the conventional is wrong, and even if, ultimately, the decision of the jury is unjust.  His obeying the city may be the most manly decision of all–something Crito does not understand.