By In Book Review Forums, Ethics Book Reviews, Moral Psychology Comments (33)

Ethics Review Forum: Kamtekar’s Plato’s Moral Pyschology, reviewed by Smith.

Welcome to our Ethics review forum on Rachana Kamtekar’s Plato’s Moral Psychology (OUP 2018), reviewed by Nicholas Smith. Excerpts from the blurb and the review are below, but you can read both in their entirety via OUP’s website and Ethics, respectively. (You are welcome to participate in the forum even if you haven’t read either. Though as you’ll see below, if you believe it is best to read both, you will read both.)

The book abstract:

Plato’s Moral Psychology is concerned with Plato’s account of the soul insofar as it bears on our living well or badly, virtuously or viciously. The core of Plato’s moral psychology is his account of human motivation, and PMP argues that throughout the dialogues Plato maintains that human beings have a natural desire for our own good, and that actions and conditions contrary to this desire are involuntary (from which follows the ‘Socratic paradox’ that wrongdoing is involuntary). Our natural desire for our own good may be manifested in different ways: by our pursuit of what we calculate is best, but also by our pursuit of pleasant or fine things—pursuits which Plato assigns to distinct parts of the soul, sometimes treating these soul-parts as homuncular sub-agents to facilitate psychic management, and other times providing a natural teleological account for them. Thus PMP develops a very different interpretation of Plato’s moral psychology from the mainstream interpretation, according to which Plato first proposes that human beings only do what we believe to be the best of the things we can do (‘Socratic intellectualism’) and then in the middle dialogues rejects this in favour of the view that the soul is divided into parts with good-dependent and good-independent motivations (‘the divided soul’). PMP arrives at its different interpretation through the methodology of reading dialogues with a close eye to the dialectical dependence of what the main speaker says on the precise intellectual problem set up between himself and his interlocutors.

From the review:

Kamtekar begins her exploration of Plato’s moral psychology by observing that Plato seems to commit himself to several theses with respect to moral psychology:

  1. Virtue is knowledge.
  2. Wrongdoing is involuntary.
  3. We always do what we believe is the best of the things we can do.

She then goes on to note that many scholars at least used to suppose that these three theses implied a further thesis, namely:

  1. There are no nonrational or good-independent motivations.

These theses generate problems of interpretation. So, for example, while (1) seems to be the view given in several of Plato’s so-called “early” or “Socratic” dialogues, it seems to be rejected in, for example, the Republic. There, justice is explicitly identified with the harmonization of the three parts of the soul and therefore cannot plausibly be understood in wholly cognitive terms. The same inconstancy in Plato’s support seems to apply to (3), as well: whereas the early dialogues indicate support for (3), the case of Leontius in Republic 439e–440a is often regarded as evidence that Plato moved away from this view.

Kamtekar recognizes that scholars have often tried to explain the apparent inconsistencies in Plato’s support for positions such as (1) through (4) by invoking what has come to be known as a “developmentalist” reading of the dialogues. Roughly, developmentalists have argued that a number of the positions supported in the “early” or “Socratic” dialogues are modified or rejected in later dialogues. […]

Traditionally, opposition to developmentalist readings has tended to come from so-called “unitarian” scholars who have argued that the apparent shifts in Plato’s views—which developmentalists have understood as changes in his philosophical development—are only apparent and can be explained away. […]

Kamtekar appears to call for a different interpretive approach, which does not make the assumptions common to both developmentalist and unitarian practices. Her own method, as she characterizes it, recognizes the “dialectical dependence of what is said, especially by principal speakers, in order to determine Plato’s relationship to various substantive theses p that are presented and argued for in the dialogues.” “Dialectical” here requires explication, which Kamtekar is careful to provide: “The basic idea is that the interpretation of sentences that seem to express psychological doctrine should be informed by an understanding of what role these sentences play in the dialogue: for or against what are they used? Are they adopted because the interlocutor, or most people, or the main speaker himself, believes them? Or because they explain something that one of the parties believes?” (11).

[M]any will find Kamtekar’s nondoctrinal readings appealing. She does not, however, offer any explanation for the fact that none of Plato’s ancient readers had any problem with attributing to Plato the views (or “doctrines”) for which his main characters argue. Aristotle, for example, reads Plato as a developmentalist (including the additional historical claim about the view of the historical Socrates being represented in the early dialogues). In reporting Plato’s views, Aristotle unabashedly identifies them with the arguments of Socrates in later dialogues, such as the Republic (see his critique of Plato in bk. 2 of the Politics). Strong support for the unitarian approach, by contrast, can be derived from the fact that all of the later members of Plato’s Academy did not seem to recognize any instances of inconsistency in the view Plato presents in his works.

[…]

Certainly the best part of Kamtekar’s book is her careful review of the various expressions of the view that wrongdoing is always involuntary. […]

As she notices near the beginning of chapter 3, there is actually only one text that seems to indicate that Socrates recognized the possibility of voluntary wrong-doing. In the Apology (26a2–8), Socrates scolds Meletus, “If I corrupt them [the youth] unwillingly, the law here isn’t to bring people to trial for errors of this sort, namely unwilling ones, but to take them aside in private to teach and admonish them. For it’s clear that once I learn, I’ll stop what I’m doing unwillingly. But you’ve avoided associating with me and you didn’t want to instruct me, and instead you bring me here to trial where it’s the law to try those who need punishment, not instruction”.

Kamtekar avoids concluding that Socrates is simply misleading Meletus or the jurors here, which he would be doing if we simply assume that it is his (and/or Plato’s) view that all wrongdoing is unwilling, full stop. Instead, she notices that in this argument “ignorance of the fact that corrupting one’s associates makes them vicious, and so such as to harm one, is what would make it possible for one to corrupt them willingly” (72; emphasis in original). Such actions thus allow that there is a sense in which one can do wrong willingly insofar as one forms and acts successfully on the intention to harm others. Even so, such actions count for Plato as unwilling insofar as they also always harm those who perform such actions, and such self-harm is always unwilling.

33 Responses to Ethics Review Forum: Kamtekar’s Plato’s Moral Pyschology, reviewed by Smith.

  1. I’d like to begin this discussion by saying a little bit about ways of reading Plato—this will be preliminary to discussing the philosophical claims in the book, but is called for since Nick Smith’s review spends quite some time on the topic.

    In our primary source for the philosophy of Plato—his dialogues—nothing is said in Plato’s own voice, and the main speakers of the dialogues—usually Socrates, but also Timaeus, unnamed visitors, etc.—do not speak with one voice. Readers therefore have to come up with a way of determining what Plato thought. If you suppose that what Plato thinks at any time is what his main character says at the time of writing, you end up with a Plato who changes his mind a lot (and to make matters worse, we have only a very rough idea of the order in which the dialogues were written). The “developmentalists” Smith mentions in his review try to explain some of these changes of mind in terms of Plato’s philosophical development; the “unitarians” try to show that the changes of mind are more apparent than real once we take into account the different contexts (problems, interlocutors, etc.) of the different dialogues.

    I don’t identify myself with either of these camps, but I do pay attention to the contexts in which the different dialogues’ main speakers express or argue for views, and in particular, to the dialectical contexts. Plato’s dialogues are dialogical: what the main speaker says depends on what the interlocutor has said, not only when the interlocutor has given an unsatisfactory definition (e.g. “justice is truth-telling and repaying what you owe”), but also depending on what precise question or challenge he has raised (e.g. “show that it’s better, in all circumstances, to be just rather than merely to appear to be so”). And the main speaker has many modes of replying: refuting, investigating on a hypothesis, demonstrating how to persuade, giving a likely account about things he doesn’t know. Paying attention to dialectical context makes it harder to conclude, “Plato thought P” just on the basis of the main speaker’s statement that P, or even argument for P, but makes it easier to understand what Plato thinks are the relationships between P, and other statements Q, R, S, in the dialogues. And what really pops out if you do pay attention to dialectical context is that Plato’s greatness as a philosopher lies not just in his powerful ideas, but also in the adroitness of his arguments. Readers of my book have remarked on how much argument they find in it; this is at least in part a function of how many arguments in Plato I have found to be better than is commonly recognized.

    Smith notes that I don’t “offer any explanation for the fact that none of Plato’s ancient readers had any problem with attributing to Plato the views (or “doctrines”) for which his main characters argue”, and cites the example of Aristotle, who, Smith says, “reads Plato as a developmentalist . . . [for whom] the historical Socrates . . . [is] represented in the early dialogues . . . [and Plato] in the arguments of Socrates in later dialogues, such as the Republic (see his critique of Plato in bk. 2 of the Politics”. But unlike many of Plato’s ancient readers, historians of philosophy today care about the difference between “Plato believed P” and “Plato tried out P”; Aristotle, by contrast, is interested in the views found in Plato’s texts. As for the claim that according to Aristotle, the voice of Socrates in the early dialogues is that of the historical Socrates and in the later dialogues of Plato, this claim would need to be squared with the fact that in Politics 2, Aristotle suggests that the unnamed Athenian who is the main speaker of Plato’s last work, the Laws, is ‘Socrates’, and why the Phaedo, which is by objective measures early, lays out the metaphysical views that Aristotle attributes to Socrates rather than Plato (Metaphysics 1).

    Socrates’ famous professions of ignorance across the dialogues are a specific sort of dialectical context that lead me to pay attention to the modes of argument—refutative, protreptic, hypothetical—instead of assuming that Socrates simply states and argues for what he believes in the dialogues. Among ancient readers of Plato, the Academic Skeptics also took these professions seriously, reading Plato as a skeptic (rather than distancing his voice from Socrates’); for example, Cicero says in Academica: “In his [sc. Plato’s] books nothing is affirmed, there are many arguments on either side, everything is under investigation, and nothing is claimed to be certain.” [1.46]). Reading Plato as a skeptic is a different solution to the problem of voice in the dialogues, but it is also made more plausible by noticing the variety of modes of argument in the dialogues.

    Now to some philosophy. In the book I argue that the so-called ‘Socratic intellectualist’ thesis that everyone does/wants to do only what they believe to be the best of the things they can do is not the basis for the so-called ‘Socratic paradox’ that all wrongdoing is unwilling because due to ignorance. Instead, I argue, the basis for the unwillingness of wrongdoing is that everyone has a natural desire for their own good, and wrongdoing, because it is bad for the agent, impedes the fulfillment of that desire. As a result, ignorance is not what makes wrongdoing unwilling, although ignorance may explain why someone who desires their own good ends up doing wrong, when that is contrary to their good.

    In the argument from the Apology Smith mentions, Socrates actually distinguishes two kinds of ignorance, one which does make an action unwilling—we can call this ‘ignorance of what one is doing’ and one which does not make the action unwilling. This is one of those adroit arguments in Plato that I mentioned above, so let me sketch it out. The argument is Socrates’ response to Anytus’ charge that he corrupts the young. Socrates argues:

    (A1) The vicious harm their associates while the good benefit theirs (25c).
    (A2) If I corrupt my associates, then I make them vicious (25d).
    (A3) No one wants (bouletai) to be harmed (25d).
    (A4) If I corrupt my associates willingly (hekonta), I must (by A3) be ignorant of (A1) and (A2) (25e).
    (A5) It is not plausible that I am ignorant of (A1) and (A2) (25e).
    (A6) Therefore, either I do not corrupt my associates, or if I corrupt them, I do so unwillingly (26a).
    (A7) If I corrupt my associates unwillingly, I should be instructed and exhorted, not taken to court (26a).

    In A4 ignorance is a condition of Socrates corrupting his associates willingly. The content of this ignorance is that those who have been corrupted are vicious and harmful to their associates (A1, A2). If (implausibly, A5), Socrates were ignorant of this, he would corrupt his associates willingly. Here, in accepting that ignorance of the harm to himself of corrupting his associates wouldn’t make his action unwilling, Socrates must be simply setting aside the philosophically ambitious Socratic paradox—which seems to me appropriate for argument in a court of law. However, there is a kind of ignorance which would make Socrates’ corrupting his associates unwilling, according to A7, since the response to it recommended by Socrates is instruction and exhortation. In the book I suggest that the content of this ignorance would be something like ‘inquiring jointly into virtue with others corrupts them’. While it’s implausible that Socrates would be ignorant that corrupting one’s associates makes them worse, hence harmful to oneself, it’s not implausible that he would be ignorant that inquiring into virtue with one’s associates corrupts them. In the latter case there is a (plausible) mismatch between what he thinks he is doing, or the description under which he is acting intentionally (inquiring into virtue with his associates) and the action-description under which he is charged (corrupting his associates). This mismatch is ‘ignorance of what one is doing’, and it makes his corrupting his associates unwilling. But this is not the unwillingness of the Socratic Paradox; it is the unwillingness of unwitting, or unintentional, action. (It is also the kind of ignorance that Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics III.1, describes as ignorance of the particulars of the action: what one is doing, to whom, with what, etc.)

    In the book I argue that Plato distinguishes between these two kinds of unwillingness in Laws IX, where he argues that the Socratic Paradox notwithstanding, a penal code that aims to improve wrongdoers and restore their victims needs to distinguish between intentional and unintentional actions to know when to impose corrective, deterrent and restorative penalties because a wrong, expressive of an unjust character, has been committed, and when only to restore a harmed party to their original status because the harm was not the result of any wrongdoing. Plato argues that one should pity rather than blame wrongdoers (their condition is unwilling; they suffer from ‘diseases of the soul’), but at the same time impose corrective penalties on them.

  2. Josh Wilburn says:

    Rachana:

    I learned a great deal from your book and will be continuing to think about it for a long time! For now I just have a couple questions related to your treatment of tripartition.

    (1) First, I’m not entirely clear on your position on the good-directedness of non-rational desires in the Republic. Initially you seem to describe them as good-directed in a rather cognitively rich sense. On p. 149, for example, you comment, ‘If one agent-like part, believing that the good is pleasure, pursues the greater pleasure, and another, believing that the good is wisdom, pursues greater wisdom, and both are members of the same larger entity (the soul whose motions move the body), then, in cases of conflicting evaluation, we may well need to appeal to the respective strengths of the parts to explain which of the two, wisdom or pleasure, the person goes for’. Elsewhere you speak of each of the three parts as ‘determining’ what the good is in potentially competing ways. Language like this suggests that each part is cognitively autonomous from the others and engages in reasoning or thought of some kind about the good.

    Later, however, you gloss the claim that ‘every soul pursues the good and does everything else for its sake’ as meaning that each soul-part pursues the good ‘under a more-or-less adequate conception (pleasure, honour, overall goodness)’ (155). This suggests something a bit weaker: that the non-rational soul parts do not necessarily have any conception of the good, but merely some conception of the characteristic objects of their pursuit.

    Then you consider an objection, though: ‘Surely Plato can’t think it’s literally the case that lower soul-parts represent their objects of pursuit as pleasant or honourable’. This objection leads you to discuss the Timaeus, which you take to offer a ‘different but compatible’ account of how all three soul parts are good directed—namely, given the teleological nature of our creation by the gods, even our non-rational soul parts are designed to achieve some good. You conclude, ‘It seems possible that every action’s being done for the sake of the good is compatible with different action’s being motivated differently than by the agent believing that it is good or representing it to herself as good. Even soul-parts that pursue and act for the sake of achieving bodily pleasure, we can now see, are pursuing and acting for the sake of some good’ (157). This now sounds *much* weaker than where you started, in that it no longer requires conceptualization or sophisticated cognition—and perhaps even requires no cognition *at all* (Do our lungs, for example, aim at a good in this same weak teleological sense, in virtue of their design by the gods?).

    So, what I’m wondering is this: Do you mean to say that this weak teleological sense of good-directedness could be the one operative in the Republic as well, or are you committed to some stronger version of good-directedness in that text? (One reason this comes up is that you provide an extended discussion of the Republic’s ‘dual talk’ of soul parts’ judgments on the one hand and their forces on the other, and that distinction seems much less pronounced if the ‘judgments’ in questions just turn out to be something like good-directed behavioral dispositions, as your interpretation of the Timaeus’ teleological account suggests.)

    (2) I also have a question about your discussion of 436b-c on pp. 131-132. There you ask, ‘Why does it matter whether we are “one or many”?’ and you suggest that one reason it matters is that it provides a response to Glaucon, who in his earlier challenge to Socrates claimed ‘that to have more and more, and more than others, is what every nature naturally pursues as good … Glaucon’s challenge supposes that human nature is not many, but one, oriented toward having more’. My question is this: In what sense do Glaucon’s remarks actually commit him to a unitary, non-many conception of the person? If Socrates’ claim that all soul pursues the good is compatible with his commitment tripartition in the text, then why couldn’t Glaucon’s similarly structured assertion be compatible with it?

  3. Josh, thanks for these excellent questions; they get to the heart of the book, which is my claim that Plato never subscribes to the ‘Socratic intellectualist’ thesis that everyone does/wants to do only what they believe to be the best of the things they can do, not even in the early, ‘Socratic’ dialogues. (Rather, Socrates only argues for it once as a hypothesis that, if true, would show how sophistic claims to teach virtue could be true, and how virtue could be knowledge.) Instead, he subscribes to the (superficially) similar-sounding thesis that everyone has a natural desire for their own good—and the point is that this is the case whether or not they do what they believe is best or instead do what appears pleasant or fine. The natural desire claim is widely shared, and Plato develops it in his teleological physics, by showing how each soul-part is designed to bring about the agent’s good, even if the agent’s acting on that part’s impulse conflicts with reasoning. You observe in your (1) that this is a much weaker claim than the Republic’s characterization of each soul-part as cognitively autonomous.
    You’re right that the Republic’s characterization of each part as cognitively autonomous in *belief* formation is weaker than the Timaeus’ characterization of each part as having autonomous ways of aiming at the agent’s good; you’re also right to press the question, well the lungs aim at the agent’s good too, so are the appetitive and spirited parts good-directed in just this very weak way? I’d say, to the latter, no, the appetitive and spirited parts are good-directed in the stronger sense that some *representation* or *appearance* of the good (as fine, as pleasant) is needed to explain what they they do. So even if the Republic affirms, and the Timaeus denies, that the non-rational soul-parts can have autonomous beliefs, both allow that the non-rational soul-parts can have autonomous cognitions.
    In the book I also suggested that characterizing soul-parts as agents pursuing the good under some conception helps us to manage them, by assigning them personae which allow us to give once-and-for-all authority to the reasoning part: the spirited part, for example, is a hothead, and thinking this allows us to identify certain impulses as arising from hothead spirit and to discount so we can pay attention to reason’s calculated impulse.
    I’m going to have to think for a few minutes about your (2), so I’ll post this now and come back to it. Thanks for these questions!

  4. Hi Rachana,
    At the author-meets-critics session at the Eastern APA this week, we got started on an interesting discussion about the relation between the SOCRATIC PARADOX “no one does wrong willingly” and questions of responsibility: e.g. does Plato’s belief in the unwillingness of injustice commit him to claiming people are not responsible for their unjust actions? At the session, you distinguished various notions of responsibility, but one variety we did not get a chance to discuss was the sort of responsibility that is necessary for retributive punishment. At the close of chapter 3, you raised worries about the propriety of divine punishment for misdeeds that the SOCRATIC PARADOX classifies as involuntary, and suggesting that the problem might be solved if divine punishment can be construed as a cure (p. 111).

    Let me now raise a question/objection that we did not have time to discuss at the APA, which is that, at least in the LAWS, Plato does not seem to share your worry, or adopt your solution. In the account of cosmic justice in Laws X, there is no mention of the SOCRATIC PARADOX, and the Athenian is remarkably clear eyed about the point of cosmic rewards and punishments. Virtue benefits and vice harms (904b1-3): postmortem relocation of good souls to better places and bad souls to worse places has the purpose of delivering “victory to virtue and defeat to vice” (904b3-5). This strikes me as retributive rather than restorative punishment.

  5. Rachana Kamtekar says:

    Thanks for this question/objection, Susan, and also for your super-helpful comments at the Eastern APA. Here’s my first pass at a reply:
    I don’t think Laws X is saying that the point of postmortem relocation of good and bad souls to appropriate places serves the goal of victory to virtue and defeat to vice (904b). If we look at the statement in context (903a-905d) we see that this arrangement does serve the end of improving souls, just as is the case with divine punishment and reward in all Plato’s myths of the afterlife.

    The Athenian begins by reminding the atheist who says that the gods are unconcerned with human affairs (903a) that every creation or coming to be (genesis), including that of the atheist himself, is for the sake of the happy existence (eudaimôn ousia) of the whole universe (903c), and that what is best for the universe is also best for him (down to the position in which the atheist now finds himself), owing to their common creation (genesis) (903d). The Athenian then describes how God rules the universe so that it is the best: seeing that what’s naturally beneficial for the soul is virtue and what’s harmful is vice (904b), God designs a system which sends each soul to a particular place according to its virtuous or vicious actions, one that matches its changes of character (904a-b). The victory of virtue is the goal of divine punishment *because* virtue is what’s beneficial to the soul. And if the end of the system is to benefit souls, it would be dysfunctional for divine punishment to be retributive rather than reformative and deterrent.

    The Laws X sketch of divine punishment by reincarnation parallels the Timaeus. There, prior to each soul’s first assignment to its own star, God tells all the souls the terms of their (mortal) embodiments (42b-c): animals other than human males are the products of the degeneracy of those first put into mortal human bodies: when these men fail to bring their thought-distorting passions (43de) under control, they are reborn as women; the soul that cannot refrain from badness will be reborn as a wild animal on account of its extreme likeness to such a nature (42c). If they have too visual an approach to astronomy they are reborn as birds; if they are too attracted to bodily pleasures they are born with more and more legs pulling them down towards the earth. The degree of elongation of an animal’s head indicates how distorted are its circles of thought, and its orientation towards and distance from the center of the earth indicates its absorption in bodily desires; the stupidest animals of all are reborn as fish (91d-92b).

    Unfortunately, neither Timaeus nor the Athenian explain *how* being reborn into the bodies of the lower animals improves souls: is it by preventing them from the extremes of wickedness of which human beings are capable? Is it because animal lives are regulated by the rational movements of the heavenly bodies which bring about the seasons, and this movement improves their souls? One can only speculate.

    You might object that I am downplaying the retributive element in Plato’s descriptions of moral reincarnation in the Timaeus and Laws. After all, Timaeus says that the gods who made the water-dwelling animals deemed them unworthy (oud’ . . . êxiôsan) of breathing pure air, on the grounds that their souls were impure because of a wrong; these souls have obtained the furthest dwellings as their lot, as a penalty (dikên, 92b-c). And the Athenian says souls go to a position that befits each (kata to prepon), receiving a suitable portion (prosêkousas moiras) (903e).

    But it conflicts with the rest of the Laws to understand what is befitting and suitable in retributive terms. A penalty, says the Athenian in the Laws, is not just some consequence of wrongdoing prescribed by a human or divine institution; a penalty must be something ‘fine’, or good-producing; as a result he refuses to call the acquisition of an unjust character, which is a natural consequence of wrongdoing, a ‘penalty’ (728a-c). The notion of fit Plato is invoking is that of the suitability of a type of embodiment to a character, moral condition or set of values; this is never purely retributive, however, because embodiment serves the good end of the perfection of the world (Timaeus 39e-40a).

  6. Rachana Kamtekar says:

    Sorry, a clarification: I should have said, in the first sentence above, “simpliciter”–i.e. the goal of victory to virtue and defeat to vice isn’t the goal of post-mortem relocation, simpliciter. It serves a further end, the good, viz., improvement, of souls.

  7. Marc Gasser-Wingate says:

    (I unfortunately posted this earlier in the wrong thread: I now see that you address my question in response to Josh, so I will ask a follow-up after the original.)

    ***Original question

    Thank you for this excellent book, Rachana. I’m afraid (though I believed it best?) I haven’t had the chance to read through it all, so what I ask here may already be addressed somewhere.

    I have a question similar to Josh’s (1). One way to put it is that I didn’t quite feel the pull of the objection voiced on 155, before the Timaeus discussion (the objection that lower soul-parts couldn’t be said to represent things as honorable or pleasant).

    I guess if `representation’ is taken in a sense that requires conceptual work, or some other intellect-involving apprehension of certain objects, then yes. But why think this? To my ears, it’s plausible to say that nonrational animals perceive (perceptually represent?) pleasant and painful objects as such—at least in the sense that they respond coherently to certain sorts of things as pleasant or painful, for instance by reliably taking them (and things they associate with them) as objects of pursuit or avoidance. Or we might think of pleasures/pains themselves as representations of certain things _as_ pleasant/painful: to be pleased by something would then just be to take it to be pleasant, where the `taking’ need not involve the intellect (a view we arguably in the Philebus—here I’m taking my cue from Marechal’s recent dissertation on these topics, but I recognize the interpretation is contentious).

    My question is whether there is a reason to avoid the more cognitively ambitious readings of the work of the lower soul-parts. Is the thought that there is no account of nonrational representation in Plato to do the sort of work suggested above? Or is there a specific kind of representation Plato’s views would require that could only be fulfilled by more robust, reason-involving forms of representation? There seems to me to be a lot of room between being good-directed in a merely dispositional sense (plants tracking the sun) and being good-directed in a sense that requires our rational capacities.

    ***Follow-up

    I see in your response to Josh that you do take there to be some nonrational modes of cognition at play in the work of the lower parts of the soul. But the way you phrased it left me wondering just how the nonrational elements of the soul would be involved. You say that “the appetitive and spirited parts are good-directed in the stronger sense that some *representation* or *appearance* of the good (as fine, as pleasant) is needed to explain what they they do.” But are they themselves responsible for this representative work? It might be that some representation is necessary even if the representational work is not done by them, but rather by the rational soul (or the soul as a whole?). Is the thought then that there is a distinctive form of cognition at each level? Or one rational and one nonrational mode? I was left wanting to hear more about how we should think about the cognitive work involved in these cognitions.

  8. Rachana Kamtekar says:

    Marc Gasser-Wingate has written (I’m quoting an excerpt here because the post appeared in the “Upcoming” blog rather than the current one where others are posting)

    “I have a question similar to Josh’s (1). One way to put it is that I didn’t quite feel the pull of the objection voiced on 155, before the Timaeus discussion (the objection that lower soul-parts couldn’t be said to represent things as honorable or pleasant).
    I guess if `representation’ is taken in a sense that requires conceptual work, or some other intellect-involving apprehension of certain objects, then yes. But why think this? To my ears, it’s plausible to say that nonrational animals perceive (perceptually represent?) pleasant and painful objects as such—at least in the sense that they respond coherently to certain sorts of things as pleasant or painful, for instance by reliably taking them (and things they associate with them) as objects of pursuit or avoidance.”

    Thanks for this question, Marc! You’re right: the objection assumes that all representation is rational, and we should reject that assumption. I want to accept the distinction between appearance and belief in the late dialogues (Chris Bobonich and Hendrik Lorenz have both argued convincingly that in the late dialogues Plato thinks belief requires conceptualization that draws on intellectual rather than perceptual resources [although they disagree about the plausibility of non-rational parts having autonomous *appearances*]). In the book I say that the non-rational parts must have cognitive contact (e.g. in perception, appearance, memory) with their objects of desire and pursuit (p. 157). You’ll also see this in my reply to Josh above, distinguishing the way in which the lungs aim at the good vs. the way in which non-rational soul-parts do.

  9. Rachana Kamtekar says:

    Our posts just crossed! Yes, absolutely, I think cognition/representation is done by multiple soul-parts. Otherwise appearances that persist despite their conflict with experience (e.g. the sun looking a foot wide even after we’ve calculated is true size) will violate the principle of opposites.

  10. Rachana Kamtekar says:

    persist despite their conflict with *calculation*

  11. Rachana Kamtekar says:

    And. . . to Josh on his (2) This is a good challenge for me. I was assuming that the ‘pleonectic’ conception of the good in Glaucon’s challenge was of good as bodily, and that part of Socrates’ reply to the challenge is to expand the content of ‘good’ and show that there are increasingly adequate accounts of good that are tracked by appetite (good as fulfilling bodily desire/pleasant), spirit (fine), and reason (good for the whole). Much more to think about here!

  12. Sukaina Hirji says:

    Rachana, on behalf of the PEA Soup team, thank you so much for agreeing to participate in this discussion. I’m so happy to see some ancient ethics represented here!

    I’m a bit confused about how you’re thinking about unwillingness in the Socratic paradox (to be clear, this is because I have not yet read the book — shame on me!). You want to deny Socratic intellectualism (that everyone does/wants to do only what they believe to be the best of the things they can do) and instead explain the Socratic paradox in terms of the idea that everyone has a natural desire for their own good. But, given the way you are thinking about natural desires for the good, it seems like we could have conflicting natural desires for different goods (e.g. some pleasure vs. something fine). Is this right, or am I confused? If so, is it the case that we act unwillingly when we have competing desires for different goods because the action we end up choosing impedes the fulfillment of some natural desire (e.g. I act for the sake of something pleasant but shameful)? Partly, I’m trying to get a sense of whether your view ends up generating different results than the Socratic intellectualist views about particular cases, or whether you just want to offer a different analysis of what it means to act unwillingly in the same cases.

  13. Iakovos Vasiliou says:

    Thanks for engaging with all of us in this format, Rachana.

    I had an initial small comment about your discussion of the understanding of the charge against Socrates of corrupting the young. You pinpoint what Socrates is ignorant about (“it’s not implausible that he would be ignorant that inquiring into virtue with one’s associates corrupts them”) in contrast with what he claims no one would be ignorant about, namely that corrupting someone makes them worse and so at least potentially harmful to oneself. I think that what Socrates is ignorant of is something more general than the claim you reasonably suggest, namely, that he does not know what makes a person virtuous or the opposite, since he does not know, quite generally, what virtue is. So, if someone came up to him and said: your conversation with Charmides is corrupting him, we can imagine Socrates offering an apology with a typical sort of reply: “if I am corrupting him, you must know what corrupts (i.e. what makes people bad) and what doesn’t corrupt people (i.e. what makes them virtuous)”. And this is tantamount to avowal of knowledge of what virtue is, and we know that Socrates would be more than happy to engage in a conversation with anyone at all who claims knowledge of virtue.

    The advantage of the way I’ve understood Socrates claims here is that you can make a much stronger claim about the content of Socrates’ ignorance, and thus his claim that he should be given instruction, since it is simply an instance of his infamous disavowal of knowledge. Socrates even sometimes claims to know (Ap. 28b, 29b are some famous instances) that one should do the virtuous action above all and that it is never right to do wrong, but he always disavows knowledge of what is right or virtuous. (Of course if knew what virtue is, that is, could answer his ‘what is F?’ question and so state what all virtuous actions have in common, he would then have a way of curing his ignorance about the particulars.) So he can know that one should never corrupt anyone (i.e. never make anyone bad/vicious) but, given his disavowal of knowledge, he ought to be open to instruction or teaching about what sorts of actions or activities in fact make a person bad. This makes his discussion of the charge fit neatly with his other views.

  14. Rachana Kamtekar says:

    What a helpful question, Sukaina! You’re right: we can have conflicting good-dependent desires. So it’s possible for me to go for the pleasant because appetite implements my natural desire for the good by impelling me towards the pleasant–even though reason opposes this impulse because it sees that what’s pleasant isn’t ATC good. Why is this* unwilling*? Because MY desire is for what’s ATC good, good for me as a whole.
    You may ask: what is appetite’s desire for, the pleasant or the good? And I should say: the representation that explains its impulse is of the pleasant, but the explanation of why it is impelled towards the pleasant is that this design most effectively serves our good (although obviously not in each case).
    You may object that it’s odd for Plato to call an impulse originates in me an unwilling impulse. I think that’s something Aristotle takes him to task for in NE 3.
    Hope this helps!

  15. One indication of the value of Rachana’s book are the very good comments and questions it has given rise to in the others’ questions. But since none of the others has taken up the question of how we should read Plato, I want to make a few points in response to Rachana’s response to my review.

    First, while no one denies that Plato wrote dialogues and that as a result his works are dialogical, I continue to think that we can look to the earliest readers of Plato as a test for Rachana’s claims about whether we should understand the putatively early dialogues in the way Rachana does. It is these dialogues, after all, in which scholars (and Aristotle?) find “Socratic intellectualism” about virtue and motivation. According to Rachana, there is no particular reason to think that Plato (or Socrates) ever believed that. It is also in these dialogues that, according to Gregory Vlastos, we can see as many as nine other distinct philosophical, stylistic, or methodological commitments that do not appear in the putatively later dialogues. (Elsewhere, Terry Penner counts twelve such differences, though arguably several of these are different views of “Socratic intellectualism.”) Rachana’s readings of the dialogues would erase all such observations as misperceived. These and several other arguments are what I had in mind when in my review I said that Rachana had ignored all studies of content in her dismissal of developmentalism. Now, in her response to me, she says that the Phaedo “is by objective measures early” (where the “objective measures” can only be the very stylometric ones she rejects). No one who has argued for developmentalism in terms of content counts the Phaedo as early.

    Rachana is probably right to say that stylometry by itself would not be sufficient to ground developmentalism. Stylometry and content analyses (such as those provided by Vlastos and Penner) do not exactly align, and for that reason skeptics have claimed that such approaches do not corroborate one another. But a moment’s thought about what these two approaches are looking at seems to me to make the few differences in their conclusions much less of a concern. Why should we suppose that changes in Plato’s writing style (the focus of sylometry) would map precisely onto changes in his philosophical views (which is what content analyses attend to)? Given their differences of focus, it seems actually more striking that the two method overlap as thoroughly as they actually do–with the Phaedo being one of the few outliers, counting as early in stylometry, but as belonging at the beginning of the so-called middle dialogues in content analyses. Rachana erases the claims of the content analyses by contending that all of the arguments of the putatively early dialogues don’t really say anything different from what we find in putatively later ones, and when they seem to do that, we should suppose that Plato (or Socrates) never really believed the claims that seem to conflict with what we find in the putatively later dialogues. This just seems to me to beg the question against content analysis: why should we be so willing to attribute views to Plato because we find them in the putatively later dialogues, but not when we find them in the putatively early dialogues? The only answer I can come up with to this question is that, after all, Rachana really does find a certain sort of unitarianism to be more plausible than developmentalism. If so, she wouldn’t be the first to have such a view, as I pointed out in my review. But it seems to me that her dialectical approach has really only been applied to the putatively early dialogues, and not really ever applied to the later ones.

    Secondly, I stand by my claim that none of Plato’s earliest readers gave any indication that Plato’s main characters should not be taken as speaking for Plato, or to argue for views that Plato wanted to argue for. The fact that Aristotle or any other reader says things that look false to us does not show that he didn’t read Plato in the way modern developmentalists do–and among developmentalists, one can find many claims that other developmentalists would regard as mistakes as well. The skeptical readings of the later Academy sustain my claim that they read Plato in a unitarian fashion. So this, too, in no way supports separating the views of Plato from those expressed by his main characters (which, I note further, no one in this discussion seems to be doing either when it comes to putatively middle or later dialogues). So, really, what’s at stake here is how to understand the differences we find in the putatively early dialogues.

    I continue to think, as I have for a long time now, that there are really interesting philosophical views expressed by Plato’s Socrates in the putatively early dialogues. Erasing them all as simply dialectical moves Plato wished to put into the mouth of his Socrates seems to me not to be the right approach to the history of philosophy.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Iakovos, thanks for this! You’re totally right that the content of ignorance in this claim on your version (if I acted ignorantly of what virtue is I acted unwillingly) is more of a piece with his ignorance claims (I don’t know what virtue is) more generally. But I wonder what you think then about the appropriateness of making such an appeal in court? And would Socrates say that *all*his actions are unwilling because he’s ignorant of what virtue is?

  17. Rachana Kamtekar says:

    not sure why my reply to Iakovos posted as by “anonymous”!

  18. A quick response to Iakovos. One thing I think we should also attend to in that argument in the Apology is Socrates’ acknowledgment that it is the business of the law to punish those who do wrong voluntarily. Some scholars have supposed that, given the Socratic paradox, he must actually think that there can be no real cases in which this interest of the law could ever be realized. If we accept that Socrates does think that one can voluntarily intend to harm others, but never oneself, then it seems to me the ignorance in question must be ignorance that harming others causes self-harm. I also think this is a natural way to understand what Socrates says here, which also fits the argumentative context.

  19. Iakovos Vasiliou says:

    Good to learn it was you, Rachana!

    Your questions are good, but strike me as larger issues. Briefly, if you think that that I am right about the interpretation of the corrupting young charge as being, in part, simply in line with the disavowal, then your first question would ask about what the appropriateness of his making the disavowal (as he does frequently in the Ap) in the court in general. Basically, I think his overall argument in the Ap has claimed (truly or falsely) that HE has always done what the believed to be the virtuous action (and may well have been assisted here by his divine sign, but, as in his response to corrupting the youth, he leaves it open, as he must given his disavowal, that he may have done something that is in fact contrary to virtue, in which case he ought to be instructed by someone who knows.

    The second question is even more difficult. I think he would say that all wrong actions are unwilling, but that does not necessarily mean that he thinks that are not blameworthy or that one is not responsible for them (as you and Susan have discussed). Of course, in the Ap, he does think that human beings have a responsibility to be self-critical and so failing to recognize that one does not have knowledge about something — as he also claims he has — IS most blameworthy. So, for example, if Euthyphro goes wrong in his particular decisions about how to act with respect to his father, he may indeed be to blame: he may not be to blame for his lack of knowledge of what piety is (because perhaps that is beyond his, or even human, ability to know) but he is to blame for wrongly thinking he knows what piety is (which gives him his confidence to act), especially after his conversation with Socrates.

  20. Rachana Kamtekar says:

    Hi Nick, Glad you could join the discussion after all.
    I do not reject stylometry; in the book I say that stylometry establishes three broad groups of dialogues (p. 7). And I say that stylometric grouping doesn’t match the story of philosophical development that Vlastos and his followers want to tell; saying that the Phaedo is one of a few outliers and asking why Plato’s philosophical development should match stylistic changes over time is asking us to ignore the only objective measure we have.
    It’s also just not true about my book that it restricts dialectical dependence as a way of reading Plato to the early dialogues. My first chapter illustrates the method of reading by applying it to the Republic.

  21. According to stylometry, three dialogues counted by content analysts as belonging to the early part of the middle group get grouped in the first (early): Phaedo, Symposium, and Cratylus. As far as all of the other dialogues that developmentalist count as early, the two completely different ways of grouping the dialogues overlap quite well. I am certainly not saying we should “ignore the only objective measure we have”; I am saying that this measure actually corroborates content analysis, which it seems you regard as not objective. Given the difference of focus between the two methods, it does not seem impossible or implausible to me to suppose that Plato began to change his views before his writing style began to change in the way detected by stylometry. I do not see why it is not objective to notice that Plato has Socrates argue for positions in the Protagoras (for example) that he has Socrates contradict elsewhere. Where subjectivity comes in, if it is coming in at all here, is in how we explain such things. Your explanation reduces them to positions that no one in the history of philosophy seems to have actually accepted. Developmentalists explain them in ways that regard them as either Plato’s or Socrates’ views at a certain time. I don’t see why the latter is not objective whereas your approach is.

    Perhaps I overstated the claim I wished to make, but I intended to observe that the people participating in this discussion did not seem to have any reservation about attributing to Plato the views he gives to his main speakers in (for example) Republic VI or in the Laws. So it was the alleged separation of Pato’s views from those of his main character that was the focus of my remark.

  22. Rachana Kamtekar says:

    Iakovos, Just to clarify: I don’t think the disavowal of knowledge of what virtue is is entirely inappropriate to mention in court, since clearly he makes it in his account of his life/how he’s come to have the reputation he has. I meant to be saying that it would be inappropriate to make in court *in response to the charge of corrupting the youth*.
    Your account has him saying “Since I don’t know what virtue and vice are, I may have corrupted the youth, but it would have been unwillingly,” and mine has him saying, “If inquiring into virtue with people corrupts them, I didn’t know this and so would have corrupted them unwillingly”. Do you think that the statement on your account could be a target of Aristotle’s NE 3.1 comment that ignorance of the universal belongs to being bad and blameworthy?
    On the relationship between an action’s being unwilling and one’s being accountable, or blameworthy, for it: I’m interpreting the view as: unwilling-because-contrary-to-desire-for-good actions are not blameworthy but pity-worthy; nevertheless, the agent is accountable for them and punishable for them. But unwilling-because-due-to-ignorance-of-what-one-is-doing actions are neither neither wrong nor punishable–rather, the agent ought to be instructed. In the Apology, it’s the second that calls for instruction rather than punishment.

  23. Rachana Kamtekar says:

    Nick, I think my dissatisfaction with the developmentalist story about Plato’s moral psychology in particular (since I don’t think it makes sense to be a unitarian or developmentalist in general and in advance), which I raised in my 2012 review of your book but haven’t yet seen an answer to, is what Plato’s reasons would be for giving up the intellectual psychology sketched at the end of the Protagoras if he really believes it. My book adds arguments for that psychology’s depending (as he says it is) on ethical hedonism, and asks how it can survive the rejection of ethical hedonism. So I guess I’m not seeing why we should debate developmentalism vs. unitarianism at such a remove from the particular issues.

  24. Rachana Kamtekar says:

    sorry, *intellectualist* psychology (I didn’t correct autocorrect)

  25. Iakovos Vasiliou says:

    I wanted to make a couple of comments about psychological eudaimonism, both in Rachana’s book and in Nick’s review, but I’ll start by making a couple of comments about Nick’s post on approaches to the dialogues, which as remarked, takes up most of the space in his review in ETHICS.

    (I’ll also note that I was one of Rachana’s critics at the APA, Author Meets Critics session, so I have read her book reasonably carefully.)

    For obvious reasons, I’ll leave it to Rachana to articulate and defend her own methodological approach to the dialogues in the abstract, which she discusses in the (relatively short) first chapter of her book.

    But that said, I do think that Nick’s review and his comments on methodology above, give the mistaken impression that a developmentalist about Plato would have little or nothing to learn or to engage with in Rachana’s book, somehow because developmentalism has been cursorily dismissed in “half a page.”

    For me anyway, part of Nick’s description of developmentalism is why I too am inclined to set it aside, as it were, or at least not call myself a “developmentalist”. It is not that I don’t find the general “early, middle, late” distinction to be useful and even, in broad outline, sometimes accurate, but the problem with specific versions of it – for example the instances Nick calls attention to of Vlastos’ nine distinctive theses and Penner’s twelve – is that stricter adherence to Developmentalism with a capital “D” often leads to a priori assumptions of the form: since this dialogue belongs to, say, the Socratic period, it must be consistent with this or that of the nine (or twelve) theses, despite there being no direct textual evidence for this in the dialogue in question. This certainly happens at moments in the work of Vlastos and Penner. I take it that Nick too would not endorse an argument of this form.

    Even though Rachana does not take up arguments for or against developmentalism as such, she does address, as I think she is right too, whether dialogues and specific arguments take up specific positions and whether or not these are different in different dialogues, which any developmentalist should be interested in. Her claim that psychological eudaimonism (by which she means the view that a person always does what seems best to her) appears only in the Protagoras is a stance that, if correct, undermines one of doctrinal theses of the Socratic period according to developmentalists. If she is right that it appears nowhere else in the “Socratic” dialogues, and then provides (as she does) an argument that it functions as a hypothesis of the Hedonist Argument that is argued TO rather than a starting assumption of it, then Rachana has given reasons – with which one could of course disagree – to doubt the developmentalist’s belief that “everyone always does what seems best to them” is settled Socratic doctrine.

    The resistance to developmentalism that I am sympathetic with, and that Rachana may be sympathetic with as well, is to the idea that there is a set of doctrines that we can assume, without argument, belong to certain dialogues merely because of the period in which they supposedly belong. I am well aware, of course, that developmentalists do not simply assume similarities in doctrine across dialogues, but that they argue for them. It seems to me that Rachana is directly arguing against some of their claims in the realm of moral psychology and so provides substantive arguments that the developmentalist would have to engage with in order to hold on to what they claim are views distinctive of the Socratic period.

    Finally, about “psychological eudaimonism”. Rachana is clear that by this phrase she means the claim that we always do what seems best to us. For Rachana, then, psychological eudaimonism is a thesis about human action, why we do what we do: we in fact always do what seems to us best and presumably we do what we do because it seems best for us. If this is true, we can see easily see how the traditional view uses this to support the theses that constitute Socratic intellectualism: if we always do what seems to us best, the only explanation for our doing what is not in fact best for ourselves must be ignorance of what is best; what are apparent cases of akrasia, then, are really cases of ignorance.

    Nick complains in the published review: “So, too, Kamtekar mounts an extended assault against attributing to Socrates or Plato any conviction about psychological eudaimonism. Her dodge of the apparent endorsement of this view in the Protagoras is thus carried over (in an appendix
    to chap. 2) to an evasion of what seems to be the plain sense of Euthydemus 278e3–6.” First, there is no “dodge” in Rachana’s reading of the Hedonist Argument: rather, there is a detailed analysis of the argument, which constitutes the entirety of chapter two, that explains why and how it depends on ethical hedonism, not psychological eudaimonism, and secondly, how psychological eudaimonism only appears later in the argument. One might not agree with her reading of the argument, but I don’t see a reason to disparage it either as an “extended assault” (rather than an original interpretation) let alone as a “dodge.” Then, Rachana makes the point, agreed upon by everyone, that the endorsement of ethical hedonism in the Protagoras is singular in all of Plato, which further suggests that if psychological eudaimonism is supported only by ethical hedonism, and ethical hedonism is rejected elsewhere, we ought to be cautious about attributing it to Socrates or Plato on the basis of this one dialogue. Of course, interpretations of the Hedonist argument as in some way or other ad hominem are common, even among developmentalists.

    More importantly to me, though, is Nick’s complaint in the quote above that psychological eudaimonism is the “plain sense” of Euthydemus 278e. (Julia Annas raised the same passage in a similar context at the APA session.) But psychological eudaimonism, as Rachana understands it, is clearly NOT the claim made there: the Euthydemus (and the Symposium, and the Gorgias line Nick also cites, 468b) simply make the claim that everyone wishes to do well and live well. This is an empirical claim about what everyone desires – plausible enough when one excludes the suicidal or Satanic. But this claim, which Socrates does say is trivial and obvious, says nothing whatsoever about human action: what we do or why we do it. It just says that everyone wants to live well and not poorly. We could call this purported universal desire to live well “psychological eudaimonism” if we want, but then it is a very different claim, and not one that says anything about human action at all. One of the great virtues of her book is that it moves against the all too common assumption that simply saying that everyone wants to do well – that is everyone desires eudaimonia – is to thereby say something about how everyone does or should act. The claims about action are much stronger and much more controversial and, in my view, we should take great care before too casually assuming they are present in the dialogues, based on much weaker claims, such as the one Rachana defends in opposition to psychological eudaimonism as the genuine foundation for Plato’s moral psychology, that all humans beings by nature desire the good.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Iakovos–will reply to you on psychological eudaemonism shortly, but first a bit more on unwillingness in the Apology.
    (1) On the branch of the argument where Socrates corrupts the youth willingly, which would require him (implausibly) to be ignorant that corrupting one’s associates makes them harmful to oneself, could one be ignorant of that even if one knew what virtue and vice are?
    (2) Do you think that another advantage of your account of the content of Socrates’ ignorance in the case of unwillingly corrupting the youth is that one wouldn’t have to supply a different sense of unwillingness than the one having to do with the Socratic paradox? Or do you think the sense of willing/unwilling in this argument has to be (in Susan Sauvé Meyer’s terms from the AMC) witting/unwitting?

  27. Rachana Kamtekar says:

    oh, drat, I appeared as Anonymous again–Rachana

  28. Rachana Kamtekar says:

    Thanks, Iakovos, for underscoring the difference between psychological eudaemonism and natural desire for good, which is crucial to the argument of my book. I realized in the AMC that there are a number of differences between the two theses as formulated in my book that one might focus on, and as a result, different readers are focusing on different things as the salient difference. I meant to focus on
    (1) acting on what *seems best* vs. desiring what’s in fact good–this involves, as you say in your post, two contrasts, between what seems and what is, and between action and desire.
    But one might instead focus on (2) best vs. good (as Matt Walker suggested)
    or (3) what’s best to do vs. one’s life as a whole (as Julia Annas did)
    or (4) good for oneself vs. good simpliciter, or for the whole (as you pointed out in your AMC comments).
    I wish I’d anticipated the contrasts in (2), (3) and (4) so as to set them aside. And I think I owe you a fuller account of how a thesis about desire can replace a thesis about action. As a first pass, I think the thesis about desire can explain patterns of behavior, such as our striving to get what seems best, our sometimes being dissatisfied when we get this, and our striving to find out what is best. As for particular bad actions, I think that if they can be completely explained, it will be by giving a historical/genetic account of how generally good-obtaining processes went wrong.

  29. Rachel Singpurwalla says:

    What a great discussion so far! I wanted to follow up on something you said in reply to Josh’s first question. Josh asked whether the lower soul-parts aim at the good in the weak sense that each part is designed to bring about the agent’s good or also in the strong sense that each part represents its object (pleasure, honor) as good. You replied “the appetitive and spirited parts are good-directed in the stronger sense that ‘some’ representation or appearance of the good (as fine, as pleasant) is needed to explain what they do.” I wonder if you could say more about why we need to think of the soul-parts as good-directed in this stronger sense to explain their behavior? Specifically, what behavior(s) do we need to explain and how does the fact that the soul-parts represent their objects as good explain it? I know that you think it is useful for individuals to think of the soul-parts as agents pursuing their own conception of the good, since this can help us to manage them. But I supposed you want to say more than that it is useful for us to think of the soul-parts in this way, right? You think the soul-parts are in fact this way.

    Here is one possible line of thought. One might think there is some prima facie tension between your claim, which I agree with, that the soul parts are designed to achieve our good and Plato’s frequent characterization of them as the source of our errors in action. So perhaps what needs to be explained is why parts that are designed to help us achieve our good can also often lead us away from our good. And perhaps it is the fact that the soul parts represent their objects as good (or as the good) that can explain this in some way. But I suppose this line of thought leads to the further question: why design the parts to represent their objects as good at all?

  30. Nicholas D. Smith says:

    Last pass for me. First, in reply to Iakovos, I find puzzling that he takes developmentalism to start from an a priori judgment about the content of certain dialogues (depending on when they are dated). As I have always understood the approach, it is actually a response to perceived differences in the dialogues and put forward as a way to explain these differences. So I found his description of what I was defending (and what I took Vlastos and Penner to be defending) to have the arrow of explanation backwards. So I actually don’t even recognize the view that he represents as the one I have defended, nor am I familiar with anyone who has argued from the a priori position that he describes.

    My complaint with Rachana is with the way she explains the differences perceived by developmentalists, which has the implication that none of the alleged differences in content between the early dialogues and the later ones is actually anything that any philosopher in history actually believed. Perhaps she did not intend her new interpretive methodology to claim this much, but only wanted to restrict it to questions of moral psychology, so let’s turn to that issue.

    Now, the relevant issue here is moral psychology. I take it that the view Rachana and Iakovos accept is that when over and over again in the dialogues, we find Socrates (and often enough his interlocutors) agreeing that everyone wants to be happy, this is only a claim about what people want and is not intended and should not be taken as at least a basic element in an explanation of how and why people act in the way that they do. If their complaint is that I do see this as intended to be a crucial and basic premise that is used over and over again to explain how people do or should act, then I am guilty of this error. I have always believed that when Plato has Socrates (and sometimes others) articulate this view, he is presenting it as the most basic element in an explanation of why people behave the way that they do–they ACT that way because they think it will help them to achieve what they desire. Notice I am not saying that explanations of specific behaviors or specific kinds of errors that people make are also fully explained by this one assumption. As Iakovos rightly says, “claims about action are much stronger and much more controversial,” and that is where we find most of the scholarly controversies. But even so, I still continue to think that what Plato has Socrates says about desire is intended to be a part of a theory of how and why people act they way that they do, so I do not understand the way in which Rachana and Iakovos seem to want to keep this separate from explanations of behavior.

    Rachana’s question as to why Plato would reject the intellectualist psychology he sketches in the Protagoras is a fair one, but it is one to which a number of scholars have actually provided an answer: in the Protagoras, Plato has Socrates offer a view that makes akratic action impossible. If Plato subsequently found that he doubted that conclusion, and wanted to provide an account that allowed this sometimes to happen and also to explain how it happens, then a partitioned soul has seemed to some to be a reasonable next step for Plato. Or so this answer to Rachana’s question has it.

    Rachana’s own approach is clearly different, but does have the feature I am complaining about, because it eliminates from the history of philosophy the sort of intellectualism that Aristotle seems to attribute to Socrates (perhaps on the basis of Plato’s early dialogues), and different explanations and evaluations of which have been offered in the scholarly literature. In Rachana’s view, there turns out to be nothing to explain or evaluate here, because it is a view that no one ever held.

  31. Rachana Kamtekar says:

    Rachel, this is a hard question, but I think that although acting on representations or appearances introduces the possibility of error, the tradeoff is still positive, because it allows an animal to respond to future things/have non-present objects of pursuit. And similarly about reason–Plato says in Laws that reason is what makes us so wild when we are young, but he also says that reason is also what makes us capable of the fullest understanding, which is our good (Timaeus, Laws).

  32. Iakovos Vasiliou says:

    (I’ll respond separately to the issue of Socrates on the corrupting the young charge, if anyone is still reading…)

    In response to Nick. Of course Nick is right that the arrow of explanation in developmentalism is supposed to go the other way — from a reading of the dialogues to an account of periodization and the doctrines that belong to each period; that’s why I wrote in the last post: “I am well aware, of course, that developmentalists do not simply assume similarities in doctrine across dialogues, but that they argue for them.” What I was suggesting is that once the periodization and the doctrines associated with each period become set dogma, there is a tendency to start to reason the other way; for example, to think that that the Denial of Akrasia (a Socratic doctrine belonging to the early dialogues according to developmentalists) must be in the background of the Crito, since it too is an early dialogue, even though it is nowhere mentioned in the dialogue.

    This becomes a dangerous tendency in the case of attributions of eudaimonism of various stripes. Rachana’s argument that psychological eudaimonism, as she understands it, appears only in the Protagoras cuts against the assumption, which we can see at work in Santas’ claim (quoted on 43 of Rachana’s book), that psychological eudaimonism is argued for “in many early dialogues”. Santas offers no citations and, in fact, if Rachana is right, there are none outside the Protagoras. Santas’ reasoning here is arguably an example of the slippage towards a bad use of developmentalism: psychological eudaimonism is a Socratic doctrine, so it is to be assumed as present, implicitly or explicitly, in all other Socratic dialogues.

    The important point concerns action and desire, and I do think it is important to keep these distinct. Given that everyone wants to live well (and should want to live well), if we have an account of what living well is, then, any rational person would and should be influenced when she acts by this conception. It would be irrational for a person to believe that a happy life consists in a, b, and c, and then do nothing whatsoever in any of her actions towards achieving a, b, or c. In this sense, then, a conception of eudaimonia would and should have an influence on how a rational person acts.

    But this is still a rather weak claim. In particular, it is not the much stronger claim that we all do (or ought to do) EVERYTHING we do for the sake of our eudaimonia. Vlastos claims that it is Socrates who first stakes out the “Principle of Eudaimonism” (Socrates, Ironist, 203): “[…] that happiness is desired by all human beings as the ultimate end (telos) of all their rational acts.” He offers no text to justify this ascription; it appears at the beginning of his article as a starting point. Vlastos’s examination of the texts focuses on whether or not there is justification for Socrates believing that happiness and virtue are identical; he does not look for textual evidence, however, that supports his attribution of eudaimonism in his sense to Socrates in the first place. Brickhouse and Smith (2000), 128, attempt to explain this absence: “Not only does the principle [of eudaimonism] seem to Socrates obviously true, but it seems obviously true to others when he brings it up. As a result, nowhere do we find him arguing for the Principle of Eudaimonism.” In my view, the only thing that Socrates takes to be “obviously true” is the idea that everyone wants to do well, to be happy, which is the only claim that the text makes repeatedly, in both “early” and “middle” dialogues, and which seems obviously true to his interlocutors. But this is a far cry from the very contentious idea that Socrates brings up the Principle of Eudaimonism, a principle that tells us the what the end of ALL of our actions is and ought to be, and that this is taken to be obviously true.

  33. Eric Brown says:

    Thank you all for this discussion. I am a fan of Rachana’s approach, and sympathetic with her conclusion. If anything, I think she does not go far enough. I think that Socrates often urges the thought that everyone *should* act for the sake of one’s eudaimonia, but *never* urges the thought that everyone always *does* act for the sake of their eudaimonia. Even in the Protagoras, Socrates’ primary point is that *knowledge* cannot be dragged around by a passion, and when he seems to say that no one can act contrary to what they believe to be best, he is careful to say that no one can act contrary to what they *are thinking* (oiomenos) to be best, which is consistent with allowing that a person could *possess* a belief that such and such is best and fail to act on it by being dragged by a passion in a different direction. So Socrates allows that people are sometimes moved to act by something other than a desire for their eudaimonia and beliefs about what is best for them. He merely insists that when people do so act, they are acting ignorantly. If they were acting wisely, they would act for the sake of their eudaimonia, and with a wholehearted understanding of what eudaimonia is that excludes contrary passions. (The distinction between possessing a belief and using it or being guided by it emerges in Meno’s dissent to Socrates on the value of correct opinion. Socrates assumes that merely possessing a correct opinion is just as valuable for action as possessing knowledge would be, but Meno insists that this is not true, because one can possess a correct opinion without being guided by it when one ought to be guided by it–without actively opining it–whereas one cannot possess knowledge without being guided by it when ought to be guided by it. The most interesting fact about this exchange is that Meno is clearly right, and Socrates wrong. *Of course* one can possess a belief–have a belief within you–without being guided by it when you should be guided by it.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.