Socrates remains the living example of the view that the life of the philosopher is the good life, that a life of questioning and engaging in philosophical discussion is the way to pass the days. In short, he proclaimed, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Socrates was responsible for making the statement, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” He thought that questioning one's life was the most meaningful activity. To live a full life, one must raise questions about how to live, specifically whether to prioritize the needs of the soul over those of the body.
To this point in the dialogue, Socrates is saying he would not accept an offer of freedom that required he cease philosophizing. So how can we compare the views he expresses in Plato's Apology with those found in the Crito, a dialogue named after his friend that describes his last days in jail? Here in the jail cell, it is roughly four weeks after the trial where he was found guilty and sentenced to death. In the Crito,Socrates treats the laws of Athens, which imply that individual citizens mustn't evade the court's judgment, including any sentences given, as legally binding.
At 50c in the Crito, Socrates speaks to his friend as if he were a political conservative (in the original sense of one who wishes to “conserve” the laws), and resists Crito's desperate attempt to convince his friend to escape from jail. In escaping, Socrates believes he will be “destroying the laws.” It would be as unjust of him to escape as it was for the court to wrongly convict him. Not only will his escaping weaken the laws, but Socrates will be treating his beloved Athens badly. The state is like a parent, who gave us “life in the first place” and so should not be harmed, any more than one would harm one's parents.
Does this show that Socrates has committed a contradiction in the two dialogues? It is not easy to accuse great philosophers of contradicting themselves in such an obvious fashion; you must first see if there is a way of getting them out of the bind.
In the Apology, there is only one possible judgment Socrates is prepared to disobey — one banning him from engaging in philosophical activity in Athens. His disobedience in this case will be overt; he will practice philosophy in the open, just as he always has. That is, he will pursue the truth with whomever he meets, whether they are foreigners or citizens, professionals or craftsmen, philosophers or nonphilosophers.
By contrast, he will not disobey a lawful command — if he disobeys a legal verdict he will weaken the law — so he cannot escape as Crito wants him to do. On the other hand, his continued philosophizing in the Apology is right because it is grounded in the obedience to God. If he escaped from jail — because he was breaking the law — he could not claim the same God-based reasoning.
This is civil disobedience of a special sort. Socrates appeals to men's intellects, though he does not try to escape the legal consequences of his actions by violence or by fleeing. Thus, he does not injure the state by rendering null and void the laws of the land or the verdict of courts. In addition, he suffers no disrepute, which he might have suffered had he escaped jail.
In terms of civil disobedience, Socrates was the originator. His actions in fourth-century Athens were the rational model for citizens of the future. His was a method grounded in reason and persuasion, not in law breaking or violence.