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

By R. C. Lodge | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
VALIDITY OF THE MORAL JUDGMENT

THAT human judgment upon moral issues is liable to error, has only to be stated in the Platonic Dialogues to meet with universal acceptance. The fact of conflict and dispute in such cases, whether we consider the direct recognition of this fact by such interlocutors as Euthyphro or Glaucon, or whether we note its exemplification in the sharply divergent opinions of Socrates on the one hand, and, on the other, of such thinkers as Thrasymachus or Callicles, is so obvious, that human fallibility in questions of moral valuation forces itself upon our attention and constitutes a genuine problem.

Moral judgments, then, are in some cases certainly and beyond doubt invalid; in other cases, they may possibly be accepted as valid. Upon what conditions does their validity or invalidity depend? Are there any tests which a careful thinker might apply in order to determine their degree of validity?

For Plato, the answer to this question is largely a matter of discovering a moral criterion or standard in the form of the moral law, the law accepted by the perfect moral judgment. This ideal law furnishes a standard, comparison with which sufficiently indicates the extent to which a particular moral judgment approximates to, or falls short of, the law, and thus serves to measure, with a fair degree of accuracy, the validity or invalidity of the moral judgment in question.1 If we ask what the ideal principle accepted by the perfect moral judgment is, we have, in the Dialogues, various answers, e.g. universal assent, written law, quantity of experienced pleasure, expediency, self-sufficiency, consistency, and objectivity. If we then proceed to examine these answers, we find that, in the end, they all resolve themselves into a single answer. The final standard of value, in every case, turns out to be objectivity, or the degree to

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