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Instead, he challenges the reliability of the person who claims knowledge, by asking him for a definition that would hold for all circumstances. The point is not to ascertain whether he is right in this case, but to see whether his claim could hold for every case. This is close to the skeptical issue, but deceptively so."(Benson, 87) in the Socratic view therefore, knowledge is perceived as the greatest possible virtue of the soul. Thus, it is through knowledge that a person may distinguish between right and wrong and thus act virtuously. The process of attaining knowledge is nevertheless an arduous one, not being easily available to its seekers. The role of philosophy is thus central to the proper functioning of the human society since it is comparable to the practice midwifery in that it helps to deliver man from perplexity and allow truth to be born in the mind.
In terms of ethics, Socrate advocates therefore that all wrongdoing is the result of a cognitive error rather than a willful performance of evil. Otherwise, men strive only towards the attainment of good, but are at times liable to mistake wrong for good. A central principle in the Socratic ethics is certainly that of Love. Love is easily portrayed as the highest good, an ideal form of harmony and communion that determines people to excel in virtue and goodness: "Thus we find that the antiquity Love is universally admitted, and in very truth he is the ancient source of all our highest good."("Symposium, 178 c) in one of his most famous dialogues, the Symposium, Plato gives a very eloquent example of what is usually termed 'Platonic love' or simply his idea of love. Naturally, bodily desire and the mere bodily union between two lovers is inveighed in an impassioned manner, as an imperfect realization of love. One of the examples offered is the story of Orpheus and Eurydice ("Symposium," 179 e). According to Socrates, Orpheus is naturally punished for chasing only a shadow (Eurydice's form in the Inferno) rather than the essence of love. Love is actually seen not only as the attraction between two human souls but as the regulating principle of love brings together the opposites in nature, such as between hot and cold, rhythm and discord and so on: "Medicine seems to me to prove that, besides attracting the souls of men to human beauty, Love has many other objects and many other subjects, and that his influence may be traced both in the brute and the vegetable creations, and I think I may say in every form of existence..."("Symposium," 186 b) Love is seen thus as a principle in nature, which is essential in attenuating the contrasts between things and creating an all-reigning harmony. Music itself, as the tendency towards harmony recalls the science of love: "And so we may describe music, too, as a science of love, or of desire -- in this case in relation to harmony and rhythm."("Symposium," 187 c) Another interesting idea in the Symposium is the fact that Plato assumes the primordial existence of a third sex besides the two main male and female sexes: the hermaphrodite. Obviously, the hermaphrodite represents the idea of a unifying sexual principle: "The three sexes, I may say, arose as follows. The males were descended from the Sun, the females from the Earth, and the hermaphrodites from the Moon, which partakes of either sex, and they were round and they went round..."("Symposium," 180 b) Thus, Platonic love is a universal, governing principle whose role is to unify the different aspects of existence.
Notably, Socrates' political theories follow the same pattern: for instance, the ideal system of government described in the Republic is curiously analogical with the human soul (the repository of justice and virtue) and with the soul's relation to the human body. He does not emphasize so much the relationship established between the city and the citizen, but rather that between the ruler and the inhabitants. The city is in itself, essential for the life of the individuals, but here the art of government and that of the ruler are highlighted instead of the idea of democracy. The basic similarity between the two texts would thus be that in both the city, as a form of government, must serve its inhabitants and establish a state based on liberty and justice. Also, just as he emphasized the importance of education through art for the Greek spirit, Socrates acknowledges that every action and every craft should be seen as arts, which have to be performed with excellence. The comparisons between different forms of art and the form of government are abundant in the text, especially in Socrates divergence of argument with Thrasymachus: "Socrates: 'And do you think, my excellent friend, that a musician when he adjusts the lyre would desire or claim to exceed or go beyond a musician in the tightening and loosening the strings?' Thrasymachus: 'I do not think that he would.' Socrates: 'But he would claim to exceed the non-musician?' Thrasymachus: 'Of course.'"(Plato, 1945, p. 333) in the Socratic view, the laws of the city are sacred and inviolable precisely because they are similar to those imposed by the soul over the human body: "Well; and has not the soul an end which nothing else can fulfill? For example, to superintend and command and deliberate and the like. Are not these functions proper to the soul, and can they rightly be assigned to any other?"(Plato, 342) the soul and the state seem therefore to fulfill the same parts: those of commanding or judging and so on, therefore Plato identifies the virtues of the soul with those of the state and the state-ruler. Given that justice constitutes the excellence of the soul then, a republic has to be just to be happy and prosperous: "And we have admitted that justice is the excellence of the soul, and injustice the defect of the soul?" (Plato,.343) Nikolas Pappas (2003) comments on the analogy that Plato makes between the city and the soul, by observing that the philosopher identifies the different psychical structures with the institutions of the state: "The Republic's analogy between city and soul, while it still envisions reason in a second-order capacity, describes a more specific function for the tribunal of reason. In the city, the governing classes come into existence to serve the needs of the productive class, whether they work for this class in obvious ways-when the army protects the city-or in a way that only the rulers appreciate, as when they deprive all citizens of the delights of drama in order to keep the army both fierce enough to protect the city and gentle enough not to overrun it."(Pappas, 196) the main argument of Socrates here revolves around the concept of justice and justness, and he presents his reader with a serious of definitions of justice as given by the participants in the dialogue, until arriving at the 'right' definition supplied by Socrates. First of all, Socrates' view of justice asserts that the government of a state is an art, and as any art it has to serve its subjects and not pursue its own interests: "[...]then we should have plain proof that the true ruler is not meant by nature to regard his own interest, but that of his subjects. " (Plato, 231) Thus, Socrates' conception of the Republic is also an implicit critique of the Athenian republic in his own time and notably one of the reasons why he was considered dangerous and condemned to death. His beliefs about the perfect state seemed to be a direct attack to the Athenian state at that time as well as to its religion. However, it is more pertinent to argue that his views were misinterpreted by many of the fanatic disciples he gathered during his lifetime profession as a philosopher.
Socrates' philosophy moreover accentuated the analogy between each individual craft and the purpose or the virtue of a person's life. Thus, if a certain man knows his craft and understands its meaning, he can also perform it properly: "Socrates continually compares questions about man's nature, the purpose of life, and the nature of virtue (or excellence) to considerably more down-to-earth and sometimes humble questions. He discusses carpenters, shoemakers, horse trainers, and others. One could say that Socrates' discussions are dominated by a craft analogy. For example, the shoemaker's function is to make shoes, and he fulfills his function well when he makes good shoes. The shoemaker must know what he is doing; otherwise, he will probably produce poor shoes. Similarly, a person must know what his business in life is." This is the crux of all knowledge and virtue: one must know exactly what his purpose is in life and his knowledge must at least be relevant for his role in the world. The charges…[continue]
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