Reasons to Obey the Law
Reasons to Obey the Law
In the dialogue with his friend Crito, Socrates tries to explain the reasons why he cannot escape from prison even when presented with the opportunity to do so. Despite Crito promising him that he was ready to pay others to facilitate his getaway, Socrates rejects the offer by making his friend understand that it would be a desecration of his duty to both the ruler of Athens and the rule of law. On the contrary, Hobbes would vehemently disagree with Socrates’ decision to accept his execution for the sake of the state and its laws. Hobbes believes that the innate nature is to preserve life, not to take it away. While Socrates is willing to accept his punishment in an effort at upholding the law, Hobbes disagrees with this notion by the true state of nature is fear and the need to protect one’s own life.
Hobbes would differ with Socrates’ decision to accept death as his ultimate fate. In the Leviathan, he contends that the state of nature is based on the constant struggle that exists between fear and power, whereby power is perceived as the cause of human misery while fear serves as the protector of human life (Hobbes, 1923). Hobbes argues that fear interacts with the innate character of man, which convinces him to run away from the state of nature. He considers fear to be an imperative component in human character, which can be equated to being a hero (“Hobbes,” n.d.). As such, he would encourage Socrates to give into the fear that his children would grow up as orphans, and let his friend, Crito, assist him in running away from prison. On the other hand, Socrates argues that he would be breaking the laws and destroying the entire state of Athens if he agreed to violate them by absconding. He clarifies this position to Crito by stating that if private individuals choose to nullify and disobey the law, then the law will lose its impact among the people (Woods & Pack, 2012). Socrates argues that the laws are instrumental in ensuring that the state stays intact and that they are only binding in as long as the people uphold them regardless of their circumstances (“Phil 101: Crito,”, n.d.). Thus, while Hobbes would encourage him to run away from prison, Socrates would still disagree since he felt that laws ought to be obeyed in their entirety and not when they fit the circumstances at hand.
Hobbes believes that the natural condition of humanity is a circumstance that is instigated by the geographic location, which could be used to support Crito’s suggestion that Socrates should run to a faraway land where nobody knows him. Hobbes feels that the state of nature is instigated by a person’s character of fear, which pushes man to do everything possible to protect his own life. Based on these assumptions, Hobbes would not agree with Socrates’ decision to uphold the law. Socrates seems ready to give up his own life just to ensure that the laws of Athens are maintained. On the contrary, Socrates contends that the laws of Athens have played a significant role in shaping him into becoming who he is. The laws of the state allowed him to be born and facilitated his education. Therefore, he feels that he has a very strong connection to Athens and its laws, and is willing to become a victim of his unfortunate circumstances. As such, both Hobbes and Crito would have found it impossible to convince Socrates to abandon his state and move to another region just so he could preserve his life.
Hobbes believes that fear is the character that makes superheroes. However, Socrates believes that there is a very strong connection between citizens and the state, which he equates to the bond between a father and his son, or a slave and a slave-owner. In both cases, the son and the slave do not have a right to retaliate when they are punished for their wrongs. He insinuates that the law ensures a citizen’s ties to the state are stronger than their ties to the families, which makes it even more important to respect the judgments that are made by the law (Woods & Pack, 2012). Socrates feels that citizens should be prepared to endure suffering or even die while upholding the law rather than destroying them to save themselves. Thus, he states that the only way he can avoid his execution is by persuading the laws that they were unjust in punishing him rather than seeking the easy way out by fleeing from prison, which would disregard and quash the laws of Athens. Even though Hobbes tends to have a different opinion with Socrates, the two would share the same ideologies if analysts would look at Hobbes’ teachings on the state of nature with utter keenness. The scholar acknowledges that no absolute good exists in the state of nature which may suggest he accepts things might not happen as people want all the time (Hobbes, n.d). Hobbes also terms the state of nature to be a state of war which creates the impression that he does not expect everything to run without conflicts or death. The two scholars, therefore, might have varying views but might as well have opinions that agree with each other.
Despite any advice that Hobbes might give Socrates about why he should choose life over death, Socrates would still remain adamant about his decision to die. Hobbes believes that the innate human character is fear, which should motivate Socrates to run away from prison to save his own life. He differs with Socrates’ decision to die for the state and its laws by arguing that agreeing to run away would allow him to become a hero. Socrates willingly accepted his punishment to be executed in order to uphold the law, a decision that is not acceptable to Hobbes. Socrates feels that he must uphold the law of Athens and argues that people should not be selective about the circumstances when they should uphold the law and when they should not. However, I am inclined to agree with Hobbes that man should use fear to preserve his own life. After all, no one becomes a superhero through death.
Hobbes, T. (1923).Chapter 13. The natural condition of mankind as concerning their happiness and misery. Leviathan 1, 56-74
Phil 101: Crito. (n.d.)
Woods, C. & Pack, R. (2012). Crito. San Francisco: Creative Commons.
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