The Athenian court puts Socrates on trial for undermining the state's religion and corrupting the youths. He defends himself not guilty by emphasizing the importance of obeying the Gods rather than obeying the state in "Apology". But after he is sentenced to death in "Crito", he argues with Crito that it is wrong for one to disobey the law of the state no matter the law is justice or injustice. Although he does contradict himself verbally in these two arguments by claiming completely opposite opinions of obeying the state, he never contradicts his belief nor does any harm to his soul, reversely, he consists his belief very well.
In this way of understanding these two arguments, I feel the argument in "Apology" is much stronger. First let's take a look at two arguments about disobeying the law of the state in "Apology" and obeying the law of the state in "Crito". In "Apology", along the way of defending himself, he believes he is not guilty about the charges put on him without any doubt, he says what he is telling are "commonplace" and "smack", they are the truth. He believes he is a gift with a name of wise given to the Athenian by the Gods. All he is doing which are evil and corruption concerned by the court are what the Gods teach him to do.
So he shouldn't be punished by acknowledging the Gods and doing what is right. He also claims that the punishment put onto him is also the lost of the Athenian by saying "that if you kill such an one as I am, you will injure yourself more than you will injure me. "(31) He even does on to against and "right-despite" the court directly when he is given the option of being acquitted on the condition that he could no longer practice philosophy, he responds: "Gentlemen of the jury, I am grateful and I am your friend, but I will obey the god rather than you, and as long as I draw breath and am able, I shall not cease to practice philosophy".
Here Socrates states very clear that if the only punishment were the prohibition against philosophy, he would not follow the state's law, but the willing of the Gods who are the wisest men instead. But in "Crito", Socrates seems to show all his respect to the law of the state. On the way of replying Crito and defending the belief that escaping from the prison would be wrong, he argues that any one who lives in the state, or the community where he is free to leave has already agreed to obey its laws no matter it is just or not.
For him, Socrates who had lived in Athens all his life while being free to leave had already made an agreement with Athenian to obey its law no matter it is just or not. Even if the law with which he had agreed is unjust, he has to persuade it as justice and has the obligation to obey it. "To do so is right, and one must not give way or retreat or leaves one's post, but both in war and in courts and everywhere else, one must obey the commands of one's city and country, or persuade it as to the nature of justice.
" Therefore Socrates believes he should stay in prison and endure the death penalty. Disobeying the law and obeying the law, these are such two extremes appearing in his dialogue, does he really mean to contradict himself in such an obvious way or he just means to contradict his argument apparently but still consist somehow? The point comes to the difference of the sentences. Notice that Socrates chooses the different options due to the different punishments.
Then what's the different between sentence of stopping philosophizing and the death penalty? For him, a philosopher, stopping philosophizing means disacknowledging the Gods and sentencing his soul to death. In "Apology" his entire defense claims that he is who he is because that is what the Gods who are the wisest men taught him to be. He did what he did (philosophize) is also what the Gods taught him to do. If he were to cease what the Gods taught him to be and to do, he would have to disaknowledge the Gods and to against the Gods.
This is definitely the performance of guilty and injustice, because the law of the Gods is the most primary and highest law that can overrule the other law (state's law). Therefore the only choice he has is to disobey the state's law and obey the Gods. He is even willing to choose death to avoid doing wrong (his view of death will be further discussed in next paragraph). Further more, without his philosophy, the men of Athens will be injured more than he would be, because it's not easy to find another like him who can give the speech from the wise of the Gods with a "ludicrous figure".
He describes himself as a "gadfly given to the state by the Gods" and the state as a "Great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size and requires to be stirred into life". His philosophy is "all day long and in all places fastening upon the state, arousing and persuading and reproaching the men of Athens"(32). The lost of him especially his philosophy just equal the lost of the motor of Athens's revolution and advancement. Therefore the unjust punishment of stopping philosophizing posted on Socrates is also posted on Athens unjustly.
Then what's death meant to him? In "Apology" he claims that for a wise man, he is not afraid of death that is unknown to him. Comparing to compromising his belief that is right and valued to the Athens, death is a preferable result. The most important, for him, a person who believes that a division existed between the body and soul, death will not do any harm to his and except for his body. This can be proved when he states that what comes after death will be an eternal, dreamless sleep or a "relocating for the soul from here to another place".
From above we can see that stopping his philosophy is an unjust sentence to him, to his belief and also to the men of Athens; but death penalty is only the unjust sentence to his body, not to his belief and the Athenian. Because by his death, he can protect his belief and keep his soul on philosophizing, in this way, the Athenian will still be benefited. Now the question becomes that should one obey the law no matter what or one has the right to disobey the law under certain conditions? This is exactly the point I want to reconcile two contradicting arguments in "Apology" and in "Crito" together.
Through out the analysis about two arguments above, I believe what Socrates tries to hint us is that one should obey the law of the state even if the law is unjust to this individual; but one should not obey the law when it is unjust to both the individual and the state, because then this unjust sentence will be posted on the men all over the state. In addition, this individual has the response to get rid the injustice off the state just like what Socrates did. Socrates' death, which may be a wrong to many people in the Athens like Crito, this will let these people in the state think seriously about his philosophy, otherwise they won't.
Some of them will feel and find the effect of unjust system and unjust law, and then it's possible for them to learn and improve the system. Reversely, to escape would set him as an enemy of the state; the people would never find the mistakes of the system. This is the way in which he can still philosophy after death and how the men of Athens be benefit of Socrates' death. In addition, Socrates claims that one has the obligation to obey the law even it's unjust to him in "Crito". Then there's another question that if the law is only unjust to individual, should this man obey it quietly?
Base on the entire defense in "Apology", I believe Socrates didn't mean that. This is another point where I am going to reconcile these two arguments. The obligation Socrates mentioned here comes after the failure of the persuasion that is the entire defense in "Apology". By the evidence that "or persuade it as to the nature of justice", the obligation actually means the concession if one is failed to persuade the court. During his defense in "Apology", he claims that he will fellow the Gods, this defense is all his chance to persuade the court.
When his persuasion is denied by the court, he states that he must follow the law by obligation, because he has already gave up his attempt to persuade the court. Therefore, two arguments once again reconcile and make a perfect sense when we look at the definition of the obligation and the process of his persuasion. From above, we can conclude Socrates' view of obeying unjust law like this: man has the right to persuade the court when he thinks the law unjust. If the law is only unjust to this individual, he has to obey the law by obligation if he fails the persuasion.
If the law is unjust to the majority living in this state, it is right for this individual to break the law even to wake the majority up if he fails the persuasion. Finally, by looking at both arguments, I feel the argument in "Apology" is stronger than that of "Crito". Just like I said above, the entire defense in "Apology" is Socrates' last opportunity to persuade the court that what he is doing is right, he needs to let the Athenian not only the court trust that he is not guilty for what he is doing.
Even though the court denied his request, his defense is strong enough to let the Athenian think after his death, because the democracy was soon restored after his death. The argument in "Crito" comes after his sentence of death, he has already gave up the attempt to persuade and decided to obey the state by the "obligation", it not as strong as the previous one, but it gives us a lot of hints which he didn't mean verbally.