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

By R. C. Lodge | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXI
CONCLUSION: THE PLATONIC HIGHEST GOOD

THE aim of the present chapter is to put together, so far as possible, all that we have discovered in our previous investigations, so as to formulate a conclusion which shall not only be just to the whole of the evidence, but shall also place us in the position of the dialectician, who can move freely up and down the whole ideal realm, trusting securely in the power of the ideal principle into which he has acquired an insight which is adequate.

We have discovered, in the first place, that the general criterion of good and evil advocated in the Dialogues is the conception of an ideally perfect life. Whatever feeling, thought, or action constitutes an organic portion of this life, conceived as the concrete application of the formal ideal of a consistent totality of maximal meaning and value, is accepted as "good." Whatever feeling, thought, or action fails to fit in coherently, and so contradicts the essential purpose of this ideal principle of value, is rejected as "evil."1 Insight into the nature and demands of this ideal criterion enables the dialectician to understand the positive value expressed in such more generally employed criteria as "universal assent," "written law," "the hedonistic calculus," "aesthetic quality," "expediency," "social value," "orderliness," "objectivity," etc., and also to appreciate the limitations of such semi-popular criteria, when divorced from his dialectical insight and accepted simply, as somehow reliable in themselves.

With this discovery in mind, we have investigated the various value-scales discussed in the Dialogues, that is to say, the various standardized value-judgments which occupy somewhat the status of formulations of proverbial wisdom in ancient Greece. Some of these appear to be merely superficial. Of the rest, some are flatly opposed to the platonic criterion of value, either in detail or at least in principle, while others--e.g. those which place "mind" or "philosophy" or "the godlike life" first--more nearly fit in with the platonic

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