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Plato I His Moral Theory, Or Why Ignorance is not Bliss or even moral Preliminaries • • • • Library courses (see Library web pg) Where to find course info Where to find the discussion board Note on the texts— – Plato and Aristotle’s works are demarcated by paragraph numbers and letters • ‘BCE’ Discussion Board http://www.hku.hk/discuspro/mess ages/board-topics.html ‘School of Humanities’ Plato (427-347 BCE) Who was Plato? • A wealthy Athenian, and citizen of leisure; • Student of Socrates • Republic and Laws expound his political and moral philosophy, and his theory of knowledge; • Founded the Academy, an important philosophical institution. Athens: Agora and Acropolis Plato • Critic of the Athenian democracy; – disillusioned during the Peloponnesian War (430-404); – believed democracy fosters rule of the ignorant, immoral masses. • Critic of the Sophists, who taught the art of argumentation for high fees: – = Thrasymachus in Republic, a moral cynic. Who was Socrates? (latter half 5th century BCE) • Athenian stonemason, – rich enough to be a hoplite (foot soldier—e.g. in film ‘300’); – details of his life practically unknown; – teacher of Plato, Xenophon and others; – not everyone revered him, however. Socrates • Mocked in Aristophanes’ play, The Clouds (423 BCE) • Aristophanes says Socrates does not understand – political realities, e.g. our need for family and city; – human nature: overestimates rationality; – what the gods are. Socrates • Found guilty in 399 BCE of impiety (debasing the gods) and corrupting youth; • Ordered by Athenian court to commit suicide by drinking hemlock; • Major speaker in several of Plato’s dialogues, including Republic, and Apology; • Legacy: ‘Socratic ignorance’, ‘Socratic method’, ‘philosopher-kings’. Republic (Politeia, Gr. = constitution) • Greek concept of ‘constitution’ – not limited to political institutions, e.g. – executive, legislature, judiciary – included education, culture—poetry, music; – Comprises entire way of life, e.g. Constitution of the Lacedaemonians (Sparta); – Could be entirely unwritten, e.g. Sparta – unlike HK Basic Law, U.S. Constitution. Map of Ancient Greece Republic • Plato’s greatest dialogue; • One of the world’s great philosophical works; • Structure: dialogue among several speakers, including Socrates; • Key question: what is morality/justice? • How is it cultivated or produced? Context of Republic • Loss of clear moral authority in late 5th century Athens • Traditional hierarchy of nature questioned • Democritus (ca. 460-370 BCE), father of atomic theory: – all matter = indivisible particles – particles are identical; no one is superior to any of the others by nature. Context of Republic • Rejection of traditional moral teaching: – Represented by Cephalus, the retired businessman (328c-331d): • • • • Help friends Tell the truth Repay debts; Socrates’ objection: what if you borrowed a knife, but return it to the lender, who has gone mad, and poses a menace to others? • Socrates is therefore going to go beyond tradition in his justification of morality. Conventional view on morality • ‘Good guys finish last’: – Immoral conduct confers benefits to oneself (wealth, power, partners) – Morality is good for others, but bad for oneself – You should protect your own interests; – Not those of others at the expense of your own (338c)! Thrasymachus’ attack on morality of Cephalus • A sophist, teacher of argumentation • ‘Sophistry’ denotes arguments that sound persuasive but are based on questionable premises or logic; • Thrasymachus’s position: – Might is right; justice = interest of stronger – Be a dictator: get all the power, money, and human subjects that you can! Thrasymachus 338c-e • “My claim is that morality is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger party…” • “Each government passes laws to its own advantage…” • “this is what I claim morality is: it is the same in every country, and is what is to the advantage of the current government.” Counter-argument • But one does not want to be the victim of others’ immoral behavior; • Socrates’ position: – Being moral is like being expert at an art (medicine) or craft (house-building, stonemasonry); – An expert does what most benefits the production or person being cared for; – S/he strives to be good at what s/he does; – Not what is best for him/herself (making money, gaining power). Ring of Gyges • Gyges obtains a ring that makes him invisible (recall Tolkien); • He uses it to evil ends: – Gyges seduces the king’s wife, and kills the king, thereby becoming king himself. • If you could be invisible like Gyges • What would you do? • Would you behave morally or immorally? Modern version: Woody Allen, Crimes and Misdemeanors Reserve: AV 791.43 C929 A Synopsis of Crimes and Misdemeanors: A seemingly good, law-abiding family man and successful professional commits a murder with no risk of being caught. What is Plato’s approach? • Republic arises from deficiencies in Socrates’ initial argument w/ Thrasymachus; • A ‘city in speech’ (hypothetical solution) • Major problem = plurality, e.g. rich vs poor; • City needs to be unified, not divided; – 3 groups of citizens: philosopher-rulers, guardians, ordinary workers; – each performs his/her assigned task; – analogy with the 3 parts of the soul: reason, spirit and appetite.