Philosophy 130 – Ethics (Spring 2003)
Chapter 8: Socrates, Plato and the Good Life journals
[Students and professors, please read.]
Journal 1: Questions from Lecture
Is character something that can be learned or must it be innate?
We may be born with predispositions, but ultimately character is learned/developed.
Do people behave wrongly through ignorance?
I think some people may behave as what some might perceive as “wrongly” when they don’t even know it is wrong. But I think some people actually know they have chosen wrong behavior.
How important is the quest for knowledge?
Well, I can’t imagine it not being a priority for me…
Can you impose enlightenment on others?
No, I don’t believe so. Plato’s parable of the cave did have, as part of the parable, dragging a cave-dweller out into the light, kicking and screaming. But, in real life, I think you can “lead a horse to water” by asking questions, as in the Socratic method–but a person can resist fully considering the implications (you can’t force the horse to drink the water).
Journal 2: Questions from Text
1. What are the elements that constitute a person, according to Plato? What is the proper relationship between these elements? (In other words, what is a virtuous person?)
The tripartite soul refers to 1) our appetites: our needs and desires, 2) our reason: our rational element which tells us to (in my own words) suppress a need or desire, or encourage our willpower, 3) our spirit or willpower: that part of us which springs into action after deciding whether to follow our appetites or our reason. My analogy would be the little angel (reason) and the little devil (appetites) on each shoulder, with the main guy in the middle (spirit/willpower). A virtuous, well-balanced person tempers his/her appetites by wisely letting reason guide their courageous willpower — such a person is the very picture of justice.
3. Explain Plato’s theory of Forms. Is Plato’s theory of reality (metaphysics) materialistic, idealistic, or dualistic? Explain.
A materialist believes there is only the material universe, an idealist believes the material world is an illusion and that reality is spiritual, and a dualist believes in a material and spiritual world in which the body is material and the soul/spirit/mind is spiritual and usually immortal. Plato was a dualist, not only because he believed in “an immortal soul that leaves the body at death” but because he believed that the world of matter is a “lesser, shadowy existence than the world of Forms” which is “true reality”. “The world of Forms never changes. The Forms are eternal,” (p. 339). A Form is the ideal concept behind a thing. For example, all beds conform to the (more real) “Bed Form”. In psychology, a similar concept would be the “schema” (simply put: we have a conception of a thing/issue, to which we compare all similar/related things/issues). The main difference is that the Forms are unchanging “true reality” whereas schemas are learned and can be changed. The world of Forms can only be accessed with our intellect, so it is also called the world of Mind.
“‘(D)oing the right thing’ doesn’t guarantee that you are a good person with a good character. However, if you strive to develop a good character–to be courageous or protective or tolerant or compassionate–then, on the basis of this character trait, you will automatically make the right decisions about what to do, what course of action to take,” (p. 326).
“If an individual has succeeded in mastering his or her appetites by using reason to guide willpower, then a fourth virtue comes into play: justice. In that case Plato would say we have encountered a truly virtuous individual: a just person, a person of internal balance and integrity,” (p. 337, Box 8.2).
“For Socrates the theory that virtue might be a question of personal preference or relative to one’s own time and culture was the epitome of misunderstanding…” (p. 335).
“For Plato, Truth was not something relative that differed for each person; it was an absolute reality beyond the deceptive world of the senses, a reality that never changes, and that we, when we shed the chains of our physical existence–either intellectually or through death, will be able to see and be in the presence of,” (p. 342).