Plato's Theory of Ethics: The Moral Criterion and the Highest Good

By R. C. Lodge | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
WHO IS THE JUDGE?

IN answer to the inquiry, Who is the judge in ethical questions?, the platonic dialogues furnish a number of replies:--(1) Everyone, (2) The many, (3) The interlocutor, (4) The good man (just man, man of character and moral education, etc.), (5) The experienced man, (6) The wise man, (7) The philosopher (dialectician, man of knowledge, understanding, or reason), (8) The legislator or guardian. Under these eight heads is concentrated all the evidence relative to the question, and it should be possible, by proceeding inductively and taking somewhat in detail the various answers grouped under each head, eventually to arrive at a point where the general platonic answer to the main question--if there is any such general question and general answer--can be formulated, and, when formulated, also definitely verified. Such somewhat detailed examination with the hope of discovering the general outlines of the Platonic position on this question, is the aim of the present chapter.


I. Everyone.

In the first place, it is frequently stated, sometimes by Socrates, sometimes by his interlocutors, that some form of moral sense is universal, that "everyone" is rightly regarded as a judge in matters of conduct. Just what is Plato's attitude on this point? Stated negatively, Plato seems to mean that moral judgment is not a matter for a few technical experts. It does not require a long apprenticeship or elaborate specialized education, such as is necessary to acquire sound judgment in architecture, shipbuilding, etc. It is not a prerogative of noble birth and social position, and is entirely independent of economic status.1 More positively, a moral sense is strictly universal. Every citizen possesses it, and, like language, it is an attribute of humanity

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