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Moral Psychology


'conventional' -- good' means 'in accordance with what is conventionally approved ... Try to tease out the lineaments of a moral psychology in the ideas Socrates puts ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Moral Psychology

Moral Psychology
  • Session 2b
  • The Moral Psychology in the Polus Section of the

Thus far..
  • Callicles introduces distinctions between two
    (pre-moral) senses of good
  • conventional -- good means in accordance
    with what is conventionally approved in society
  • natural -- good means in accordance with
    what I want.
  • Socrates has argued for the existence of
    objective standards of better/worse lives.

Clarification of Objective/ Subjective Good
  • Distinguish two senses of subjective
  • A) Different from person to person
  • B) Determined by personal taste or opinion
  • Socrates has argued that there is a question of
    one life being better than another objectively
    only in the sense (B) of not being reducible to
    what anyone wants or believes.
  • Fully compatible with different lives being
    objectively good for different people! Socrates
    has not said that there is a universal

  • Go back to the Polus section of the dialog
  • Try to tease out the lineaments of a moral
    psychology in the ideas Socrates puts forth
  • May or may not be a view Plato ever held himself,
    or meant to recommend to us, but an important and
    influential one.
  • Key conclusion virtue consists in knowledge of
    the good. (But how argued?)

The Context
  • Socrates has amazed and confused Polus (and
    perhaps the reader!) by holding
  • That dictators and orators are in fact not happy,
    but miserable (indeed, the most miserable!)
  • That dictators and orators do what they please
    and do what they think best, yet do not do
    what they will
  • That they are the least powerful people in the

Textual Questions
  • What is the distinction between doing what you
    think best and doing what you will?
  • Why do dictators and orators have one but lack
    the other?
  • What would they need to have to do what they
  • What does Socrates mean by power?
  • How does he conclude that orators and dictators
    lack power?
  • What does real power consist in?
  • What is the connection to happiness and the good

What you think best/will
  • Explained in terms of means-ends analysis (466ff)
  • In any action, we will not the means, but the end
    we are aiming at.
  • We undertake a means to an end, not for its own
    sake, but because we think it the best way to
    achieve the end.

What you think best/will
  • Socrates seems to go beyond analysis of
    individual cases of action (like building a
    wall), and postulate an ultimate aim of all our
  • What we ultimately will is the good (468)
  • Seems cashed out here in terms of benefits to
  • Leaves open the question of what the good will
    consist in, or how to go about it.

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Is Socrates being slippery here?
  • men performneutral acts as a means to the good
    can mean
  • A) In each case, there is some good end (like
    protecting the city or making money) that is
    aimed at when we undertake neutral acts like
    walking or building.
  • B) There is this ultimate and overarching goal of
    the Good (or benefit to self)
  • Means/ends analysis arguably only licenses (a),
    not (b)

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Perhaps not so crazy?
  • We all ultimately desire what is best for us,
    even though we may have only vague (or
    erroneous!) ideas of what that might turn out to
  • We act on our best beliefs about what is going to
    bring about this ultimate benefit for ourselves.

Two ways you can fail to reach the good
  • You dont have the ability to bring about the
    means you undertake -- e.g., you try to walk to
    Athens, but cant walk that far, or try to
    persuade the assembly, but fail. (This is where
    skills like oratory help you out!)
  • You execute the means you chose, but find out
    that you miscalculated, and the means dont bring
    about the desired end.

Orators and Dictators
  • Their skills/authority helps them be effective
    in executing their actions
  • But it does not assure that they will actually
    benefit themselves
  • This would require that they choose effective
    means to self-improvement
  • Here, at best, they are no better off than anyone
    else. (Perhaps worse off??)

  • Power the ability to bring about some benefit
    to oneself (466b)
  • I.e., the ability to bring about what you will
  • Hence, dictators and orators abilities dont
    amount to power, since they dont assure that
    they will choose the right means to the end of
    benefiting themselves.
  • (Less clear why they are least powerful in
    state-- I.e., less powerful than others.)

Platos Moral Psychology (1)
Primacy of Psychology in Plato
  • Theory of the psyche comes first
  • Seems to imply things about ethics, practice
  • If
  • 1) everyone wills the Good
  • 2) everyone always does what they think best
  • Then
  • 3) anyone who knows what is good will do it
  • 4) the only cause of moral error is ignorance

Plato Mor. Psych (2)
Implications for Therapy
  • Must employ some means of
  • A) Curing error and illusion
  • B) Gaining knowledge about the Good
  • Socratic discussion seems to be good for (A) at
  • This discussion is most important activity one
    can undertake (488, 528)

  • Not clear that Socratic method can move us beyond
    the recognition of contradictions in our own
    views, and into new insights.
  • Very little has been said in the Gorgias about
    the positive side of what the good life is, or
    how to go about acquiring it.
  • (Concerned with justice (medicine of the soul)
    rather than legislation (training of soul?)