Notes on what I'm reading

Friday, March 29, 2013

HoPwaG: Socrates I & II

Xenophon and Aristophanes as giving different pictures of Socrates from Plato. Better to think of Plato's Socrates as a character of Plato's.

Plato as highlighting Socrates' method in the Socratic dialogues: series of questions to bring out (inadequacies in) definitions of courage (Laches), virtue (Meno), piety (Euthypro), etc.

The Apology:
  • Socrates' defense speech, vs. the idea that he is a Sophist or a Presocratic;
  • the discussion of Athenians' lack of true wisdom, despite their knowledge of individual crafts; leads to Socrates' understanding of the Oracle's pronouncement (Socrates as the wisest of men) as referring to his Socratic ignorance, i.e. knowledge of lack of knowledge;
  • this the context of the other dialogues: brings other to this state;
  • Socratic irony: clearly some in, e.g. Euthypro, Meno; but question of how much there is--there also seems to be a genuine search for knowledge.
Question about the Socratic project: why look for a definition of virtue, if the goal is to be virtuous?

Response: Fundamental Socratic Assumption (FSA): that anyone who knows what is good will choose to act accordingly; no one deliberately chooses what's bad; what is good is what is worth choosing--"no one does wrong willingly". So the explanation of bad acts is incomplete information or ignorance (of the think-that-I-know-what-is-good type, not the Socratic-ignorance type).

Problem: It does seem that people, perversely, choose to do bad, sometimes even because it's bad.

Response: This is just denied by the FSA; it's incoherent [Q: is this supposed to be conceptually? psychologically? logically?] to say that you choose what you take to be bad. Important conclusion that follows from this: virtue is knowledge. Knowing what is good, combined with FSA, entails good or virtuous acts.

Another argument for the link between knowledge of virtue and virtuous action: good things, without knowledge, opens the door to badness. So an apparently good thing (e.g. health of tyrant) only becomes good when knowledge added.

Note that what Socrates looks for is a general definition of virtue, though he's happy to concede that his interlocutors have examples of virtue right. But just knowing some examples, without a general principle, opens the door to not acting virtuously out of the domain of those examples. Again, need knowledge. [Note: seems to be an argument against casuistry.]

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