Natural Law in Apology Crito Plato Presents Essay

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  • Subject: Black Studies - Philosophy
  • Type: Essay
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Excerpt from Essay :

Natural Law

In Apology Crito, Plato presents Socrates a staunch defender law, sense respect legal orders polity a basic obligation citizenship. What important reasons Socrates position defense Athenian law? If accept Lewis' critique emotional subjectivism (Gaius Titus' position) Abolition Man sound, interpret Socrates' actions result subjective feelings.

Plato's "Apology" and "Crito" and C.S. Lewis' concept of Natural Law:

Where both pagan and Christian philosophies meet in agreement

One of the most striking actions in the history of philosophy was the philosopher Socrates' refusal to escape after being condemned for impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens. Socrates had spent most of his career in the Greek city-state criticizing its democratic system and advocating a dictatorship of philosopher-kings, as chronicled in Plato's recollections of his teacher's musings and methods of questioning (which later became formally known as the Socratic Method). In the "Apology," Socrates clearly established that the accusations against him were unjust and were motivated by jealousy and ignorance. Surely it would have been more intelligent and more moral to act in civil disobedience to such a misguided jury action, which seemed to violate the Athenian principles of free speech on which the democracy was founded?

However, while Socrates did not agree with the general principles of Athenian democracy, he still believed himself bound to follow Athenian law, thanks to the fact that until that time he had been protected by its auspices. The 20th century theologian C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man would likewise contend that such 'natural laws' as service to the principles of justice should be held in high esteem, in Lewis' view because it was both in the spirit of the ideal of Christian teachings and the ideals of wider humanity. Although Lewis would not accept Socrates' pagan worldview, he would suggest the Socrates was correct in his belief that natural law was a concept which must stand for all time, and cannot be questioned through emotional subjectivism and a relativistic understanding of right and wrong based upon different situations.

The idea of relativism in the Socratic dialogues leading up to the death of Socrates is embodied in that of Socrates' friends, who urge him to run away from Athens before he has to accept the sentence of death of drinking poison by hemlock. Socrates' friends would likely not endorse the notion that all criminals should have carte blanche to do as they please and selectively choose what laws to obey and then leave the immediate vicinity of any area which condemned them. However, they believe that because Socrates is a special case, he should very literally be given a 'free pass' and allowed to ignore the law. Socrates adamantly denies this and states that a law is a law, and just as his philosophical system searched for truth and the impetus of his life accepted the law, so he must die by it.

Of course, it could be argued that the attitudes of Socrates and Lewis show the polarization of pagan and Christian views in terms of how morality is interpreted. For Socrates, morality is more of an act of pure philosophical intelligence (even though he says he believes in the gods) and much of his attempts as a philosopher to seek understanding were focused upon unpacking the 'correct' method of interpreting the law and establishing a clearly delineated law that would stand for all time. For Lewis, all moral authority of law ultimately derives from God. While in the "Apology" Socrates says he is not an atheist, he invokes the morality of law, not God, while structuring his argument. Yet both men contend that law and principles have an existence apart from that of the immediate needs of individual human beings, which is why their philosophy is fundamentally in consort, rather than opposed to one another's.

In his dialogue which most directly details the question of the relationship of morality to the state entitled the "Crito," Socrates explicitly rejects the offer of escape and says: "for consider, by violating these compacts and offending against any of them, what good you will do to yourself or your friends. For that your friends will run the risk of being themselves banished, and deprived of the rights of citizenship, or of forfeiting their property, is pretty clear" (15). Even if a man is banished and leaves for a town governed by good laws, evil may still result, given that a man who has violated the tenants of his own nation is unlikely to be embraced. "You will confirm the opinion of the judges, so that they will appear to have condemned you rightly, for whose is a corrupter of the laws will appear in all likelihood to be a corrupter of youths and weak-minded men. Will you, then, avoid these well-governed cities, and the best-ordered men? And should you do so, will it be worth your while to live?" (15). For Socrates, the clear answer is no, he must not leave. He is not a corrupter of the law, he believes in the law of the state, yet to ignore the law would in effect make him the man he says he was not, making him guilty after the fact, even though he is innocent.

C.S. Lewis takes the point-of-view that natural law is an eternal concept that is the root of all existence. "This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained" (Lewis 43). Natural law must be accepted wholesale: there are no exceptions and caveats.

From a religious perspective, one might see echoes of Lewis in the stress in modern Catholicism of standing against modernity in terms of abortion and birth control, ideas which are not only widely accepted in Western Christendom amongst both secular and religious persons but which, if accepted, might bring some Catholics back into the fold. Why not be popular some Catholics might ask, is not the greater good served by adapting to modernity? Lewis would say that if you believe something and something derives from natural law, then it must be adhered to, because it derives from the very essence of being: to deny natural law is to deny one's self. Similarly, Socrates would say that obedience to the law is demanded given his support of the acceptance of such morality previously.

In contrast, the supporters of Socrates would suggest that a higher good is served by protecting their beloved friend's life. "For if you die, not only a single calamity will befall me, but, besides being deprived of such a friend as I shall never meet with again, I shall also appear to many who do not know you and me well, when I might have saved you had I been willing to spend my money, to have neglected to do so. And what character can be more disgraceful than this -- to appear to value one's riches more than one's friends? For the generality of men will not be persuaded that you were unwilling to depart hence, when we urged you to it." (3). The emotional fallout from this individual action is so great, Socrates' friend Crito argues, it will be unsupportable: Socrates instead gently disagrees with Crito and says that the greater philosophical violation which occurs is far worse. And Lewis would agree: once one thread is pulled out of the web of natural law, all unravels.

If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in (Lewis 44)

Natural law, in contrast to the laws of man, is derived from God itself for Lewis. And Socrates views the laws as having a kind of anthropomorphic and almost godlike quality because of their strength, even though he does not view them as embodied necessarily as godhead in the same manner as a Christian might:

"Consider, then, Socrates," the laws perhaps might say, "whether we say truly that in what you are now attempting you are attempting to do what is not just toward us. For we, having given you birth, nurtured, instructed you, and having imparted to you and all other citizens all the good in…

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