Because I Said So: Practical Authority in Plato’s Crito

Polis 32 (1):3-31 (2015)
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This essay is an analysis of the central arguments in Plato’s Crito. The dialogue shows, in a variety of ways, that the opinion of another person can have practical relevance in one’s deliberations about what to do – e.g. as an argument, as a piece of expert advice, as a threat. Especially important among these forms of practical relevance is the relevance of authoritative commands. In the dialogue, the Laws of Athens argue that Socrates must accept his sentence of death, because he must regard the court’s verdict as a command from a practical authority – the city. The Laws’ arguments rely on special features of authority-reasons that many commentators have overlooked. This article explains why the Law’s arguments are unsuccessful. Finally, it is argued that Socrates’ description of ‘the many’ suggests that the city lacks the deliberative capacity necessary for possessing practical authority.
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