On the eve of Socrates’ execution, his friend Crito comes to him with a plan to help Socrates escape and flee to another city, in order to avoid facing his death sentence. In the course of their brief conversation,1 Socrates enters into an imagined dialogue with the Laws of Athens themselves, in a personified form, who present the case for why he should stay and accept his penalty, based on an agreement he has made with the Laws and the City over the previous seventy years of his life.
This exchange is often read as an early form of a “social contract” theory, but as we’ll see, it differs in some major respects from the way that more recent thinkers like Hobbes and Locke approach such theories. Socrates’ conversation with the Laws also points us to some larger issues around what, if anything, we agree to when we participate in other kinds of communities, from churches, classrooms, and local clubs, to the online communities of Twitter and Facebook, and so on.
In this Short reads gathering we’ll be exploring this and more. For those who attended our “How Did We Get Here?” event on political freedom in April, this a is a wonderful continuation of our dialogue specifically as it concerns questions like “what happens if we don’t like the laws?” and “what are the limits of the/a social contract contract?”
For greater detail, check out the reading selection below by clicking the pdf image.