Socrates and Plato

I. The Good for Human Beings: The Problem
A. Introductory Remarks
B. The Character of Cephalos
C. The Nature of Philosophical Analysis
D. Polemarchus and Thrasymachus: Two Attempts to Analyze Moral Uprightness
E. Glaucon and Adeimantus: Moral Uprightness is not Intrinsically Valuable
II. Moral Uprightness (Diakosune)
A. The Analogy between the Polis (Political Community) and the Individual
B. The Education of the Guardians
C. The Three Parts of the Soul
D. The Cardinal Virtues
E. Why the Morally Virtuous are Better Off than the Morally Corrupt
III. The Philosopher as the Paradigm of Human Flourishing
A. The Definition of the Philosopher
B. The Characteristics of the Philosopher
C. The Philosopher and Death
D. Why Philosophy is Unpopular in a Democracy
IV. The Forms
A. Knowledge of the Form of the Good
B. An Outline of Socrates's Middle-Dialogue Ruminations about the Forms
C. The Theory of Recollection
D. Critique of this Account of Forms
V. Cosmology and Extrinsic Teleology
A. Cosmogony and Cosmology
B. Explanation and Extrinsic Teleology

IA. Introductory Remarks

  • On Philosophy: Synthetic Vision vs. Analytic Depth
  • On Socrates:
    • As portrayed by Plato
    • Focus on ethical questions and on the nature of philosophy and the philosophical life
    • Socrates and the Sophists -- what, exactly, is the difference?
  • On Plato:
    • Three periods: early, middle, late  .....  but some think that the 28 dialogues were carefully planned out to be read in sequence as a pedagogical introduction to the philosophical life and can thus be divided into seven tetralogies (this particular arrangement is due to Bernard Suzanne). My own general view of the matter is that (a) the early dialogues are meant to show how Socrates operated, why smart (and not so smart) young people were initially attracted to him for some good and some bad reasons, and to exhibit defective philosophical inquiry; that (b) the middle dialogues were meant to give a general portrait of who the true philosopher is, what the philosophical life is like, and what genuine philosophical inquiry is; and that (c) the later dialogues are meant to teach the intellectual methods and (and to some extent) content delivered by a well-lived philosophical life and genuine philosophical inquiry.
    • The dialogue form and the presuppositions of genuine dialogue (more on this as we go along).

  • On the Republic
    • Plato and democracy
    • Our focus: moral rather than political, concentrating especially on the life of the philosopher

IB. The Character of Cephalos
  • Cephalos seems to be morally upright, and yet he is (relatively) unreflective. This raises three questions:
    • Does Cephalos have moral knowledge?
    • Can philosophical reflection yield moral knowledge?  If so, is everyone capable of such reflection?  Is there such a thing as a reliable moral guide?
    • What sort of grasp of moral truths does philosophical reflection presuppose?

IC. The Nature of Philosophical Analysis
  • 1. What is it that is analyzed when F-ness (e.g., moral uprightness, piety, virtue, etc.) is analyzed? There are three possible answers to this question:
    • The meaning of the word <F>
    • The concept <F-ness>
    • An abstract reality signified by the term <F> and the concept <F-ness>
  • 2. To analyze F-ness is to give an account (logos), i.e., to produce a formula, that
    • applies to all things that are F
    • applies only to things that are F
    • pinpoints what makes a thing F.
    • Concerning this last condition, compare the following two formulas from the Meno:
      • shape = what always accompanies color
      • shape = the outermost boundary of a solid
ID. Polemarchus and Thrasymachus: Two Attempts to Analyze Moral Uprightness

Note that this part of the Republic is reminiscent of the early dialogues: what we have here is one interlocuter (Polemarchus) who is not intellectually up to par and one interlocuter (Thrasymachus) who is not affectively up to par. The conversation is inconclusive, and Thrasymachus loses his cool--mainly because he is arrogant and interested only in winning the argument.


  • Moral Uprightness (diakosune) = The skill (techne) by which one gives each his due
    • Counterexample: Insane Man
  • Moral Uprightness = The skill by which one gives benefits to friends and injuries to enemies.
    • Worries: Is moral uprightness a skill? What if our friends are bad?
  • Moral Uprightness = The skill by which one gives benefits to good people and injuries to bad people.
    • Worry: Does one who is morally righteous do harm to anyone?

Thrasymachus (compare with Callicles in the Gorgias):

    Moral Uprightness
= Doing that which is in the interest of the stronger rather than that which is one's own interest. (Shades of Nietzsche.)

    • Question 1: Is it the righteous or the unrighteous who have the best chance of being happy and flourishing human beings?

    • Question 2: Can Socrates (or anyone) really engage in philosophical inquiry with Thrasymachus?  If not, why not?  Is he smart enough?  (One could see that Polemarchus, for instance, is not the sharpest pencil in the pack.)  Is he good enough?  (Are there moral prerequisites for engaging in philosophical inquiry?)  Is it an accident that Plato has Glaucon and Adeimantus state and argue for Thrasymachus's position in a much more effective and intellectually cogent way than Thrasymachus does?  (Compare John Stuart Mill in On Liberty:  Given equal intellectual acumen in both parties, one who holds a position is better positioned to argue for his or her position than one who does not hold it.)

    • Socrates's conclusion:  No matter what, a morally upright person is better off (i.e., more happy) than a morally bad person.

IE. Glaucon and Adeimantus: Moral Uprightness is not Intrinsically Valuable

  • There are three sorts of goods:
    • Goods that are valued only for their consequences
    • Goods that are valued only for themselves
    • Goods that are valued both for their consequences and for themselves
  • Glaucon and Adeimantus: The common view is that moral uprightness is good only because of its consequences and not because it is an intrinsic excellence (arete) to be valued for itself.
  • The origin and nature of moral uprightness is narrow self-interest. That is, our fundamental morally relevant motive is the narrowly self-interested desire for our own welfare.  (Question:  how does this relate to what Plato and Aristotle take to be our fundamental morally relevant motive, viz., the desire for happiness or flourishing?) For even though the best condition is clearly to be able to inflict injury and yet avoid punishment in the pursuit of our narrow self-interest and of the goods it requires, all of us have to settle for the best viable condition, viz., to inflict no injury and to avoid punishment.  In that way we can get at least some of the goods we want without suffering evil consequences.  So we adopt conventions and laws that (a) generally reward restraint in the pursuit of self-interest and call conduct in conformity to these laws "morally upright," and that (b) generally punish conduct that violates these laws and call it "immoral" --- even though we would each prefer to be able to act "immorally" with impunity in the pursuit of our narrow and individual self-interest (358e-359b). So if I could have all that I desire without being punished, then I would have no reason to act in a "morally upright" way .......
  • We practice moral virtue only reluctantly. Witness the story of the ring of Gyges (359d-360d) --- after all, what would you do if you had the ring?  Wouldn't you act in a way analogous to that in which Gyges acted?  Wouldn't you be foolish not to?
  • It is not the case (as Socrates suggests) that any morally upright and virtuous person is better off, or has a better human life, than any morally corrupt person. For we can easily imagine a morally corrupt man (A) who has a reputation for being virtuous and thus reaps all the benefits of being virtuous, and we can easily imagine a morally virtuous man (B) who has a reputation for being corrupt and thus suffers all the consequences of being wicked (360e-362c).  Ask yourself:  If you had to choose between being A and being B -- and those were your only two choices -- which would you choose?  Yet Socrates is committed to the claim that B, despite all his unjust suffering, is better off (i.e., happier or closer to fulfilling the good for human beings) than is A!!!.
  • Ordinary moral and religious education shows that we value moral virtuousness not for itself but only for its consequences (reputation, honor, glory, wealth, success, enjoyable afterlife, etc.) (362e-363e).  ("Don't lie, Peter, because if you do, people won't trust you and you won't be a success in life."  "Michael, keep on working hard and someday you will be wealthy." "Don't sulk, Stephen, because if you act like that, you will never be popular.")
  • Ordinary people all agree that moral goodness is a matter of convention with no deep roots in our nature, and that being morally upright is much more difficult, unpleasant, and burdensome than being morally corrupt.  In general, ordinary people are perfectly ready to admire and even to honor wicked and morally corrupt individuals as long as those individuals are rich or powerful or famous.  Because of this, ordinary people generally believe (even if they won't say so out loud) that anyone who has the chance to be "immoral" with impunity is stupid and irrational if he isn't in fact "immoral".  What's more, even the gods can be bought off by expensive rituals and sacrifices -- so we need not even fear punishment in the afterlife for being immoral (363e-367a).
  • Ask yourself: What would moral education be like if we really did value moral uprightness for itself and not just for its consequences?

IIA. The Analogy between the Polis (Political Community) and the Individual

  • The nature of analogical reasoning
  • Analogical reasoning as a tool of discovery
  • Positive and negative analogy in the case at hand
IIB. The Education of the Guardians
  • The connection between sentiment and moral knowledge, and the importance of shaping and restraining (and in some cases provoking) the passions or emotions through habituation and thus making them amenable to the sound judgments of reason (401e ff.).  (See below for contrast with Hobbes and Hume and Kant -- see C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man.)
  • Plato believes that we all begin with a desire for the good (which is, or at least includes, a desire for our happiness or flourishing as human beings).  Unfortunately, the goods we begin by desiring will not in the end provide us with flourishing or happiness.  So while we all desire to flourish and be happy, our way of proceeding is flawed.  For we begin with narrow (or perverted) self-love -- the desire for "private well-being" -- and this needs to be transformed into rightly-ordered self-love, which includes the desire to will the good for others and commit oneself to a higher good that transcends one's own private good, narrowly conceived.  So self-love in general is at bottom the desire for human perfection (or happiness or human flourishing), and when it is rightly ordered, it serves as the motive for action that makes one the sort of person who is fit for genuine friendship (a political as well as personal good) and self-transcending commitments that entail making sacrifices for a transcendent common good.  The transformation from perverted self-love to rightly ordered self-love essentially involves habituating the passions in the right way.
  • Here Plato, along with Aristotle (see Nicomachean Ethics, book 9, chap. 8.) poses an alternative to Kant as well as to the Hobbes-ian position presupposed in the argument posed by Glaucon and Adeimantus. 

    For Hobbes our basic inclination toward narrow self-interest (what Plato and Aristotle think of as perverted self-love) is just an unalterable fact of life that has to be accepted by any moral theory as the basic motive for all human action, and this inclination is embedded in our psyche so deeply as to be unalterable. 

    For Kant (and the roots of this view go back to Bl. John Duns Scotus and even St. Anselm of Canterbury) this same basic inclination is indeed unalterable, but luckily we have a second basic inclination that is independent of the passions:  as rational beings we altruistically desire to make our wills good by conforming our actions to wholly non-self-interested duty, defined either in terms of God's commands (Scotus) or in terms of what a wholly rational being would will in a given situation (Kant). Hence, on this view self-love cannot be the motive of morally upright action, and our passions are morally irrelevant in the sense that actions do not derive any moral worth from them.

    This is a big divide in the history of moral theory.  There are two relevant questions:  (a) Is our desire for happiness or flourishing unalterably self-centered and "perverted"?  (b) If so, is there another morally relevant basic desire?  Plato and Aristole answer a resounding NO to both questions.  Scotus and Kant answer YES to both questions.  Hobbes answers YES to (a) and NO to (b).  The differences between the first two positions have a profound effect on how one thinks about moral education and about the importance of shaping sentiment.  (This raises the question of whether the Scotus/Kant view connects at all with the motivational structure of the normal human psyche.)

    Hume is another interesting case.  Like Hobbes, he believes that our passions supply us with our basic motivation; unlike Hobbes, he is an optimist who thinks of our passions as basically benevolent rather than selfish and self-serving.  Thus, like Rousseau, Hume thinks that it's a bad idea to re-shape (rather than, say, channel) our passions -- this latter leads to moral and religious fanaticism, according to him.  Rather, we have to be careful to let our basic benevolence shine forth.  (Not surprisingly, Hume had little contact with children, whereas Rousseau had little contact with his own children.)

  • The importance of the moral community for conveying and promoting an appreciation of a good that transcends narrow self-interest and that provides the moral context and direction for all those crafts that aim at an intrinsically specified good but are not of themselves directed toward the good for human beings. This theme is later developed into the view that the life of the philosopher flourishes only within a just community and is at the service of such a community. Outside of such a context the genuine philosopher is no more than a happy accident.  (This is exactly what Plato thinks about Socrates -- it was a complete accident that a true philosopher should have come from as corrupt a city as democratic Athens.)
  • The arts and the content of moral education -- gods, heroes, and good rhythms.  (Socrates would really like DVD players and such recording devices.  Why?)
  • Pain, pleasure and strength of character -- we need to aim at courage, self-sufficiency, seriousness, truthfulness, self-discipline, generosity, broadness of vision, etc.  No brutality or softness. A would-be philosopher has to have control over his or her desires and fears in order to become the sort of person who is able to live in community with others and value their good over narrow self-interest.
  • Constant Socratic theme:  The parallel between health of the body and health of the soul, i.e. between physical health and moral or spiritual health, with the stipulation that because the soul is our higher part, the health of the soul is more important than the health of the body.

IIC. The Three Parts of the Soul (psuche)
  • Reason (To logistikon) ---seeks knowledge and understanding and the ability to make sound judgments and to follow through on them ------> The guardians
  • The spirited (or ambitious) element (ho thumos) ---seeks honor, competition and victory, glory and fame, etc.-----> The auxiliaries
  • Lower (or sensory) appetite (to epithumetikon) ---seeks sensual pleasure, physical comfort, sensual excitement, etc. -----> The commercial class

IID. The Cardinal Virtues

  • Prudence (practical wisdom): An excellence with respect to reason (making sound practical deliberations and judgments and following through on them)
  • Courage (fortitude): An excellence with respect to the spirited element (the mean between audacity and fear)
  • Self-discipline (temperance): An excellence with respect to the lower appetite (constraining the desires for pleasure and comfort)
    Moral Uprightness ("general justice"): A second-level excellence by which one keeps the parts of the soul in a harmonious ordering, with reason in control, and which makes one suited to being a good friend and fellow citizen.

IIE. Why the Morally Virtuous are Better Off than the Morally Corrupt

Moral uprightness: soul :: health: body
  • See the Hydra, the Lion, and the Man (588B-592B)

  • You wouldn't want cancer, would you?  And if you had it, you would go to an expert for advice and treatment, wouldn't you?  Or do you think "everyone has a right to his own opinion" when it comes to curing cancer? Well, then, what about cancer of the soul?
  • Question: Is it possible to know what is right and still do what is wrong?  (See Jordan's discussion of Aristotle's reply to Socrates -- Jordan, 158-159)

IIIA. The Definition of the Philosopher

  • Philosopher = one whose heart is fixed on the true being (to on) of things (480a). We're ready for this now because moral uprightness is a crucial prerequisite for being a philosopher, and in the end the true philosopher is our surest guide to moral uprightness and happiness.
    • Knowledge (episteme) ------------------> Being
    • Opinion (doxa) ---------------------------> Becoming
    • Ignorance (agnoia) ----------------------> Non-Being
  • The Philosopher as a moral authority (the philosopher-king) who knows what health of the soul is and in whom non-philosophers can place their trust in their own attempt to achieve healthy souls.

IIIB. The Characteristics of the Philosopher (484a-487a)

  • Love of any branch of learning that reveals eternal realities
  • Truthfulness and singleminded devotion to the truth ("the inability to consciously tolerate falsehood")
  • Self-discipline (temperance) ("constitutionally incapable of taking seriously the things which money can buy")
  • Magnanimity and breadth of vision ("a mind constantly striving for an overview of the totality of things human and divine")
  • Courage
  • Moral Uprightness
  • Innate high intelligence
  • Excellent memory
  • Sense of proportion and elegance
(Compare Socrates in the Apology, and note the mix of affective and cognitive elements in the above list.)

IIIC. The Philosopher and Death (Apology and Phaedo)

  • Philosophy as a vocation (see Apology 38a)
  • The body as a hindrance to finding eternal realities (Phaedo, 64c-67b)
  • Asceticism and immortality: the philosophical life as a preparation for death (see Phaedo, 82c-d and 83d-e)
  • Looking ahead: The Philosopher and (vs. ?) the Saint

IIID. Why Philosophy is Unpopular in a Democracy

  • True philosophy conflicts with skepticism and/or relativism about the good for human beings

  • (The unruly crew: 488a-489a)
  • In democratic societies philosophy easily deteriorates into sophistry

  • (The wild animal trainer: 493a-c & 496c-e)
    (The democratic personality: 560d, ff.)

IVA. Knowledge of the Form of the Good

  • The Simile of the Sun (506e-509c)
    • What should we want?  The criticism of our preferences; some are better than others, and, contrary to some moral theories built on skepticism about the good for human beings, not all should count equally. 

      Note, by the way, that in addition to the motif in which moral uprightness constitutes a healing of the soul, Socrates also insists that moral uprightness is the liberation of the soul.  True freedom -- what we might call "moral freedom" -- is being in possession of oneself, and this is precisely what the morally corrupt person lacks, even when he is "metaphysically" free in the sense of being able to choose what he wants to do or not do.  The problem is that he is a slave to his desires and fears, and hence he does not want or desire what he ought to want or desire.  One way to put this is that on Plato's view, metaphysical freedom (or its exercise) is not an end in itself but rather an instrument for attaining moral freedom; the tragic truth about us is that we can use our metaphysical freedom to make ourselves moral slaves

      Knowledge of the form of the good, which requires both moral and intellectual excellence, is thus the pinnacle of the sort of self-possession (i.e., freedom) necessary for true friendship.
    • Philosophy as ascent and purification.  Knowledge is as much a moral achievement as an intellectual achievement.  (This theme is more highly developed in the important neo-Platonist Plotinus, whom you will be reading about in preparation for the midterm exam.)  
    • The Good as (i) setting the goal of intellectual inquiry, as (ii) providing the context for intellectual inquiry, viz., friendship (Thrasymachus vs. Glaucon and Adeimantus), and as (iii) giving unity to the results of intellectual inquiry.  It is precisely the centrality of the Good that distinguishes the true philosopher from the sophist.  First of all, the sophists are more interested in making clever and persuasive arguments than in teaching their students to be morally upright, but this, according to Socrates, blinds them to central truths in metaphysics and moral theory.  Second, the sophists are not interested in integrating all knowledge, since they approach problems piecemeal and are not worried about developing an internally consistent system of beliefs.  For instance, the present-day fragmentation of inquiry almost ensures that inquiry is carried on outside of any well-thought-out moral context.  (This is doubly worrisome given our ability to make technological advances, especially in biology but also in the other hard sciences.  "Let's do it because it's there to be done" is a great sports motto; it's not so clear that it's a great motto for, say, genetics research.)
  • The Divided Line and the Cave (509d-521b)
    • Knowledge (episteme) -----------------------------------> Forms (Being)
      • Intellection (noesis)
      • Hypothetical Reasoning (dianoia)
    • Opinion (doxa) ---------------------------------------------> Sensible Things (Becoming)
      • Belief or Opinion (pistis)
      • Illusion (eikaisia)
  • Philosophical methodology:  The big picture (very sketchy in the Republic:  See the Sophist, the Statesman, the "inscrutable" second half of the Parmenides)
    • Ascent: from effects to causes; from initial taxonomy and what is given to hypothesis and theory, and to ultimate first principles, which in the end the wise can see to be evident. (This is similiar to what Aristotle calls explanation quia.)
    • Descent:  from now evident first principles of knowledge to explanation of the particular effects in terms of causes; from now evident first principles of action (ends) to concrete choices (means) in light of the Good. (This is similar to what Aristotle calls explanation propter quid.)

IVB. An Outline of Socrates's Middle-Dialogue Ruminations about the Forms

  • The Big Claim:

  • We can have a deep understanding of the visible world only if we understand it by reference to the world of eternal realities, which is "visible" only to the soul.
  • The Intrinsic Properties of the Forms:
    • Eternal
    • Ungenerable
    • Imperishable
    • Unchanging
    • Non-sensible
    • Immaterial
    • Do not admit of their own opposites (in one sense at least)
    (Shades of Parmenides)
  •  The Relation of the Forms to sensible particulars:
    • The Forms are exemplars which are approximated by sensible particulars

      • F-ness is perfectly F
      • sensible particular x is F to degree n
    • A sensible particular is F because of its relation to F-ness
      • x participates in F-ness
      • x exemplifies F-ness
      • x has F-ness
      (Question: What sort of "causality" or "explanation" is this, anyway?  Also, we will see below that the general claim that F-ness is F leads to problems.)

  • The Relation of the Forms to thought, and language
    • The Forms are known through reason (noesis) by means of the giving of an account (logos).  We might say that a mind or intellect participates cognitively in the forms (as opposed to participating in reality in the forms) when they come to know them.
    • The Forms are what make sensible particulars intelligible to the extent that they are. (Timaeus: The Forms impose order on an indeterminate receptacle)
    • The Forms are signified in different ways by concrete terms <F> and abstract terms <F-ness>:
      • <F-ness> signifies F-ness and is true of it  -- e.g., The abstact term 'wisdom' signifies the Form Wisdom and is predicated of the Form Wisdom.
      • <F> signifies F-ness and is true of things that are F -- e.g., The concrete term 'wise' signifies Wisdom and is predicated of wise individuals, as in 'Socrates is wise'..

IVC. The Theory of Recollection

  • The Paradox of the Learner (Meno 80C-E )
  • Innate Ideas (See Phaedo on Equality: Shades of Descartes and Leibniz and Kant)
  • General Ideas: Where do they come from?

    (sensory image as partial cause of general ideas, natural ability of human mind to configure itself into thinking-generally) vs.
    Illumination (sensory image as mere occasion for grasping (remembering?) general ideas, which the mind somehow has direct access to.)
IVD. Critique of Plato's Middle-Dialogue Account of the Forms (See the Parmenides 130b-135d)
  • Problems with mud and hair and other "undignified" things, but even more problems with unrestricted generality (Russell's Paradox: see below)
  • Problems with Participation
  • The "Third Man" Argument
  • The Viability of Conceptualism

  • The Apparent Unknowability of  the Forms, despite our equally apparent need for them in order to "fix our thoughts"

VA. Cosmogony and Cosmology

The universe is a perfect animal, spherical and rotating, fashioned by God (the Demi-urge) in the Receptacle and patterned after the Forms, which are images of God.
  • Receptacle----> Space (?)
  • Rotation----> Time
  • World Soul---> Fashioned from the Same, the Different, and Being
  • Body---> Fashioned from the Elements
  • Elements----> Isosceles and half equilateral triangles combining to form regular solids (note that the elements are on this view at bottom quantitative rather than qualitative (hot/cold/dry/wet), thus providing a basis for the use of mathematics in natural philosophy):
    • Cube = earth
    • Tetrahedron = fire
    • Octahedron = air
    • Icosohedron = water
  • Individual Souls----> Created individually, making four kinds of living things from the elements:
    • Stars (fire)
    • Birds (air)
    • Fish (water)
    • Mammals (earth)
VB. Explanation and Extrinsic Teleology
  • Four types of explanation (Phaedo, 97B-100E)
    • Material (the stuff that is acted on)
    • Efficient (moving cause, agent cause)
    • Formal (the "safe explanation")
    • Final (teleological, the goal or aim)
  • Some teleological notions
    • Tendency
    • Propensity
    • Intention
    • Purpose
    • End (Goal, Aim)
    • Good and evil (proper and defective relative to the end)
  • Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Teleology


Russell's Paradox for Properties

  • Principle of generality: If 'is F' is a meaningful predicate, then there is a Form F-ness.

  • (1) Some Forms (e.g., Moral Uprightness, Redness) are such that they do not exemplify themselves. [That is, they are not among the intrinsic properties that all Forms have.]  (premise)

    (2) So 'is a non-self-exemplifier' is a meaningful predicate (from (1))

    (3) So there is a Form Being a non-self-exemplifier (call it N). (From (2) and the principle of generality)

    (4) N either does or does not exemplify itself. (obvious) 

      (4a) If N does exemplify itself, then it is a non-self-exemplifier and so does not exemplify itself

      (4b) If N does not exemplify itself, then it is a non-self-exemplifier and so does exemplify itself

    (5) So N exemplifies itself if and only if it does not exemplify itself. (from 3 and 4) 

    Therefore, N both does and does not exemplify itself--a contradiction. (from 5 and disjunctive syllogism: [ [ (p or -p) and (p iff -p)] --> (p and -p)] )