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6.7: Every Soul Pursues the Good

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    See 505b-506b. Everything done by every soul, Socrates claims, is done in pursuit of the good. They let this slip by with virtually no comment, but it is no small claim, and it deserves some reflection. What about robbers, seducers, embezzlers, betrayers, rapists, murderers, and hypocrites? What could Socrates be thinking? The idea is plainly not that everyone is in fact pursuing what they should be pursuing. More likely it is that everyone pursues the good as it appears to them to the best of their ability; no one voluntarily – with understanding – turns away from it. (Recall 381c: “And do you think, Adeimantus, that anyone whether god or human, would deliberately make himself worse in any way?” “No, that is impossible.”) The robber desires a visit to the local drug dealer, and so his treating you as an automatic teller machine seems to him pretty good. Pleasure of a different sort is good in a way that is apparent and motivating to the seducer. But these people fail to understand certain higher goods, and so they don’t appreciate them. A longing for the good is at work in everyone. But only the person who knows the form of the good understands the full range of goods and can reliably assess the relative worth of different kinds. (For related passages from other dialogues see Gorgias 499e and Symposium 206a.) 

    • Can you imagine what it would be like to be evil? What do evil people care about? In what does their “fun” consist? What do they fear? How well do you suppose they understand what it is like to be good?

    • If it is true that everyone is driven in their voluntary choices by a longing for the good, what are the implications for human freedom? If everyone is bound to pursue the good as they conceive it, is it possible for a person to have free will?

    • What, on Socrates’ view, would it be for a will to be free? Free fromwhat?

    This page titled 6.7: Every Soul Pursues the Good is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Douglas Drabkin.

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