Explain the reason why Socrates would not escape from prison?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The escape of Socrates is planned by his friends, particularly his wealthy friend Crito, In the dialogue "Arrival of the Ship" Crito lays upon Socrates his plans of smuggling him out of jail and taking him away to live in anonymity. When Socrates refuses sternly, he makes Crito quite upset. Not only is Greek society already expecting that Crito's leverage and money WILL take their beloved rebel out of jail, but doing so would make Crito even more popular. Besides, who would refuse this offer?

Socrates did. It is all because of principle. First, likes 44-45 show that Socrates was a bit scared for the safety of his friends in trying this endeavor,  however, this was not his only fear.

In line 46c he talks about his respect for the principles which he follows. Namely, that one injustice done to him does not merit that he has to commit another act of injustice to the system. Two wrongs do not equal one right. Moreover, his job is to teach about righteousness. How could he continue his testimony if he has failed to abide by it. Even more, would not he be acting like those who wronged him by also wronging the system?

However, line 48d tells the most salient reason:

The only question which remains to be considered is, whether we do rightly either in escaping or in suffering others to aid in our escape.

Using the word "rightly" means that Socrates is not speaking lightly. To be "good" is to lead an honorable life. To stand by your principles and suffer the consequences of your beliefs is the honorable thing to do. In Socrates' mind, it only makes sense for someone who lives staunchly by what he believes to die for it as well. That is the sense of martyrdom that Socrates is willing to offer to his cause.

The first principle in Socrates views of righteousness are that

neither injury nor retaliation nor warding off evil by evil is ever right.

Therefore, his ideas, the slight fear of the danger of his friends but, most importantly, Socrates' inherent passion for his principle of righteousness is what specifically made him unable to break with his beliefs and, as a result, he refused to escape.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First, the reason he would have to escape would be to prolong his life. However, he is not afraid of dying. He believes that what happens after death is unknown but could be one of the following: similar to sleep, which is pleasant; a reunion of the soul with the divine, which is an improvement over life; or a meeting great thinkers and heroes in the afterlife, which is interesting. Thus, with no fear of death, Socrates has no great motivation to escape and live out his remaining years in exile. As he is 70, he also feels that his future life were he to escape would be one of physical and mental decline.

Next, he argues that he has benefited greatly from the laws of Athens. The city has given him a fascinating and enjoyable life. It would thus be morally wrong to undermine the laws to which he owes so much by breaking them. A civic society works best when people obey the laws all the time, even when it may be inconvenient for them. Even if one disagrees with specific laws, Socrates argues that one is obliged to follow them as one is indebted to a system of lawfulness and it would display ingratitude to repay one's debt to society by undermining its legal system.

Finally, Socrates says that his divine sign or voice did not forbid him from accepting his penalty and drinking the hemlock, and thus he was assured that it was the right thing to do.  

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