Introduction to Virtue Ethics: Insights of the Ancient Greeks

By Raymond J. Devettere | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4

Prudence in Socrates and Plato

Wisdom and Prudence in the Socratic Dialogues

We will now consider the virtue of wisdom as it emerges from Socrates' teachings and Plato's writings. The views of Socrates and Plato vary considerably; just how great the divide is difficult to determine because we are dependent mostly on Plato to convey his mentor's views. It is difficult to determine just when Plato is reporting what Socrates said and when he is using Socrates to express his own views. In general, scholars think that the Socrates presented in the early dialogues—the [Socratic] dialogues—is speaking mostly for himself, while the Socrates speaking in the later dialogues is speaking mostly for Plato. We will follow that general view, and also add some comments from Xenophon, who knew Socrates and reports some controversial comments about him.

Unlike Plato and Aristotle, Socrates described the soul as totally rational. It has no irrational [parts.] It has appetites and desires, but they are ultimately cognitive in nature—if I am thirsty, I crave a drink not because I am thirsty but because I know or at least I believe that the water will give me satisfaction. If the soul is totally rational, its excellence will consist in intellectual virtue alone—knowledge, wisdom, prudence, and so forth.

After claiming in the Euthydermis that happiness is the overriding goal in life, Socrates considers a preliminary list of what goods are needed for a life to be happy. Happiness will apparently require such good things as (1) financial resources, (2) physical

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