If you go forth, returning evil for evil, and injury for injury, breaking the covenants and agreements which you have made.


By now, you may have noticed a potential conflict between what Socrates says about law breaking in the Crito and what he says about it in the Apology. Here, he seems universally opposed to violating the law, while in the Apology there seem to be exceptions to this belief. For example, at the trial he tells the judges that, if his punishment is to be freedom with the agreement that he will cease to do philosophy, he must refuse. He, likewise, opposed the government's actions on two other occasions: once when, at the trial of the generals, they chose a group trial rather than the individual trial that was prescribed by law, and once when the Oligarchy of the Thirty issued an order for the arrest of Leon of Salamis,  planning to execute him without benefit of a fair trial.

One way to avoid this apparent inconsistency is to surmise that Socrates saw a distinction between a true law and an "edict." The former must always be obeyed while the latter need not. Indeed, "edicts" would be abuses of power and, in principle, violations of the law on the part of the rulers of the State. Such an interpretation would allow a contemporary disciple of Socrates to disobey rulers that usurp the law.

A second way to resolve the apparent conflict is to argue that the Crito is not implying that the law must always be obeyed but, rather, that we must always do what is just. Obviously, this would not only permit but require civil disobedience at certain times. Based on this argument, Socrates is accepting his death sentence. He has concluded that death is of no real harm!