The first socratic paradox

Journal of the History of Philosophy 11 (1):1 (1973)
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Abstract

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:The First Socratic Paradox GEORGE NAKHNIKIAN THE SOCRATIC PARADOXES MAY BE REGARDED as aphorisms that contain the essentials of the Socratic ethics. There are three Socratic paradoxes. They are: first, that no man desires evil, all men desire the good; second, that no man who (knows or) believes that an action is evil does it willingly--on the contrary, all the actions that a man does willingly he does with a view to achieving some good; and, third, that it is better to suffer injustice at the hands of others than to do unjust acts oneself. These paradoxes are related to psychological egoism and to the dictum that virtue is knowledge and vice is ignorance. In this essay I shall concentrate on the first paradox and the ways in which it relates to psychological egoism and to the dictum that virtue is knowledge and vice is ignorance. The doctrine that Socrates has in mind in connection with the first paradox can be more fully and less misleadingly stated if we begin by distinguishing four types of desires and the aversions corresponding to them: A type I desire is a desire for something in the mistaken belief that the thing is good. A type I aversion is an aversion for, or repugnance to, something in the mistaken belief that the thing is evil. A type II desire is a desire for something in the knowledge or in the true belief that the thing is good. A type II aversion is an aversion for, or repugnance to, something in the knowledge or in the true belief that the thing is evil. A type III desire is a desire for something in the knowledge or in the true belief that the thing is evil. A type III aversion is an aversion for, or repugnance to, something in the knowledge or in the true belief that the thing is good. A type IV desire (aversion) is a desire (aversion) for something in the absence of any belief about its goodness or badness. With the help of these distinctions, we may state the essential content of the first Socratic paradox as follows: in a man all desire for some evil and all aversion to some good is of type I. This is the core of the first paradox. It is the first paradox. From this it follows that in a man there is no desire for some evil and no aversion to some good that is of type HI or type IV. I shall formulate all the arguments in the Socratic dialogues that are offered in defense of this paradox. I shall explain what the conceptual and psychological assumptions of these arguments are. We shall then understand what Socrates means by the premises and conclusions of his arguments. This will put us in a position to evaluate the arguments for cogency. When all this is done, we should [11 2 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY have a good idea as to how the first paradox is related on the one hand to psychological egoism, and, on the other hand, to the dictum that knowledge is virtue and vice is ignorance. In the Socratic dialogues there are two passages where Socrates argues for the first paradox. These are at Meno, 77B-78B, and Gorgias, 467C-468E. There are other passages, e.g., Apology, 25C, and Protagoras, 358C, where Socrates assumes the first paradox to prove one or the other of the remaining paradoxes or some other propositions that are very much like them. The argument that actually occurs in Meno 77B-78B does not clearly state as its conclusion the first paradox as I have formulated it. The argument grants that there are men who desire evils believing them to be goods, and it concludes that there are no men who desire evils knowing them to be evils. The conjunction of these two propositions does not say or imply that all men who desire evils do so on the mistaken belief that what they desire is good. This conclusion, however, is deducible from premises that are explicitly employed or implied or thought to be obvious in 77B-78B. From these typically Socratic premises we can construct three arguments...

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