Today I discussed Crito with my two summer classes. Lively discussion. Most of those sympathetic to Crito's view that Socrates should escape are most impressed by Crito's complaint that if Socrates refuses to escape, he is betraying his children.
Beyond the considerations raised in the dialogue--including that Socrates could have his friends care for his children--I tried to get the students to think about this from the future perspective of Socrates' children: if he escapes, might his children lose respect for him, to think that he is a hypocrite? Might they learn from him that doing what one thinks is right isn't important when there's a threat of punishment?
What about cases where a person does something shameful, or even abhorrent, because "the children must eat"? At least one person in class suggested that those children should, when they grow out of their "childlike views," be grateful that they are alive and that their parents did what was necessary to feed and support them. Is that true? Would it be wrong to resent what one's parents did, or to feel that one's own life is tainted by the shame of what they did. Suppose a child says: "I cannot bear to live with the fact that I am only alive because of the terrible things you did." Is that unreasonable? Must one be grateful? (One might understand, but understanding is not acceptance.)
Of course, some people seem to take the position that there isn't anything shameful about doing what is necessary to care for one's children. What might be shameful if done for other reasons isn't so if done out of love for one's children. No doubt there can be dilemmas, but should we believe that doing the thing for one's children automatically removes the shamefulness? If nothing else, I doubt that in every case it is psychologically possible to buy into this, unless one has no sense of shame at all. (That is, there will be something which, even if done for one's children, will leave one with a sense of shame.)
Someone might say: "Then you must not really love your children." I recall this response being made on a comment thread about the possible parole of Michael Woodmansee (who committed a terrible murder)--that the person who does not see the point of killing Woodmansee (as the father of the victim said he would, were Woodmansee to be paroled), of exacting that revenge on him (were he to have killed one's own child), fails to have true love for his children. (I discussed this briefly here.) This strikes me as completely wrong, and perhaps a bit hysterical. It at least begs the question against the person who rejects revenge as a matter of moral principle. Apply this to Socrates' case: "you must not really love your children if you refuse to escape."
This seems like an attempt to make Socrates' principled stand seem merely selfish. Wouldn't that make taking any moral stand, at the cost of incurring risks to oneself, merely selfish (if one has children to care for)? That can't be right. This idea that we should do absolutely anything for our children seems absolutely dangerous. And it points to an important way in which love for one's children can be a source of great temptation.
In a way, I'm tempted to think that just as Gaita says he has never met anyone he credits with actually believing that "meat is murder" (even if they say it), that anyone who says, "I would do anything for my children," has not really thought about what "anything" includes, and so can't be credited with believing what they have said. But I'm not so sure. Maybe some people do believe it and understand exactly what it entails. Is that love? Or: is that the kind of love we should teach our children? Is it not simply to teach them that, deep down, anything goes?