Discussing Socrates’s Conclusion on Man’s Evil Nature, or Lack Thereof
What do you think of Socrates’ conclusion that no person knowingly does evil, and therefore, all evil is ignorance? Do you agree or disagree, and why? If you disagree, please identify at least one logical fallacy.
If people accepted that all evil is ignorance, what implications would that have on the justice system? How would prison sentencing or the death penalty be affected?
The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates is known for a technique called the Socratic Method, in which the teacher leads the student through a process of questioning to come to a logically valid conclusion.
Born in 469 B.C., Socrates is considered one of the founding fathers of Western philosophy—even though he left no writings behind and very little is known about him. Everything that is known of his teachings is found in the works of his students, like Plato. Much of Plato’s writings are dialogues between Socrates and his students. In these dialogues, the method that Socrates used to help his students discover truths can be observed. This almost always consists of the following:
– Defining and redefining key terms
Socrates believed that a main problem with humans is that they are often unclear about the definitions of words. Confused words lead to confused ideas and confused arguments. Therefore, clear, precise, and meaningful terms are needed to build a sound argument.
– Using questions to guide the student into discovering his or her own logical inconsistencies so that the truth is uncovered
Through these questions, claims are continually refined and logical problems are addressed and resolved until an ultimate conclusion is reached.
Consider the following excerpt from Plato’s Meno, in which Socrates guides his student (Meno) to the conclusion that all evil is a form of ignorance (Soccio, 1995):
Socrates: …Do not all men…desire the good?
Meno: I think not.
Socrates: There are some who desire evil?
Socrates: Do you mean that they think the evils which they desire, to be good; or do they know that they are evil and yet desire them?
Meno: Both, I think.
Socrates: And do you really imagine, Meno, that a man knows evils to be evils and desires them notwithstanding?
Meno: Certainly I do.
Socrates: And desire is [for] possession?
Meno: Yes, [for] possession…
Socrates: Well, and do those who, as they say, desire evils, and think that evils are hurtful to the possessor of them, know that they will be hurt by them?
Meno: They must know it.
Socrates: And must they not suppose that those who are hurt are miserable in proportion to the hurt which is inflicted upon them?
Meno: How can it be otherwise?
Socrates: But are not the miserable ill-fated?
Meno: Yes, indeed.
Socrates: And does any one desire to be miserable and ill-fated?
Meno: I should say not, Socrates.
Socrates: But if there is no one who desires to be miserable, there no one, Meno, who desires evil; for what is misery but the desire and possession of evil?
Meno: That appears to be the truth, Socrates, and I admit that nobody desires evil.
Plato’s argument, as far as it goes, is sound. In several places, the Republic and the Gorgias, just to name two, he makes it clear that evil is harmful. Since no one wants to harm themselves, no one would deliberately commit an evil act except out of ignorance. Here are the problems with this argument:
1. It assumes that, if we know something, we can act on it each and every time.
2. In the republic, Plato speaks of the average person, largely ruled by his lower passions, who does not have the capacity to know good from evil. In this case, the person does evil not out of ignorance, but from coarse habits and a weak mind. Hence, Plato is not even consistent with himself.
3. Since Plato spend so much time on the passions and how they can easily overpower our reason, the mere knowledge of something is not very meaningful.
Of course, there is another option: that Plato, by the …
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