Plato and Virtue

Discussion in 'Pastoral Ministries' started by thjplgvp, Sep 1, 2006.

  1. thjplgvp

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    I don't know where to enter this question. In my research on virtue I have found no mention of virtue prior to Plato's wisdom, courage, moderation and justice which are all found in the Rebublic.

    Does anyone know of an earlier writer than Plato who might have addressed the topic?

    If the moderators know feel this should be in a different category please feel free to move it.

    I am aware of the seven cardinal virtues which are made up of the natural and theological and the Holy virtues as well. I am looking for any thing prior to Plato.

    thjplgvp
     
  2. Filmproducer

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    Could you be a little more specific? Do you mean something being actually defined as virtue, (arete)? Or, do you mean virtue, (arete) as the states of character and intellect that fufill the "human function of the greater good"? Or, are you looking for works that are earlier than the Republic, for example Plato's writings of Socrates?

     
  3. Filmproducer

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    Without knowing exactly what you are looking for, and off the top of my head I know Empedocles, (b. about 492), talked about character and nature, but being we only have fragments of his work, the word "virtue" is never used.

    Here is the quote I was thinking of.

     
  4. thjplgvp

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    Arete

    Filmproducer,

    Borrowing from a little bit of research on Socrates it would seem that he held that virtue must be linked with knowledge. Correct me if I am wrong here, but the general idea I believe was that though all had virtue no one had complete knowledge of virtue and therefore knowledge was of more estimable value than virtue. For with out knowledge virtue could not be known.

    Are you aware of any writings that actually list what Socrates considered to be virtues? Also from my limited reading it would seem that Aristotle felt nearly the same as Socrates.

    I would look be willing to read anything on character natural or theistic if you could direct me. In William Bennett’s book ‘The Book of Virtues’ he mentions Aristotle but vaguely and I found his book to teach primarily deism similar to Character First. Morals with out a final authority simply allow for hell to be filled with moral people.

    As for arête Strong’s suggests that it can be both intrinsic and attributed but that it is moral excellence none-the-less. I believe that in the more ancient literature it was used to describe the whole of an individual’s character or the sum of their virtues. I am not sure how Homer used it but my understanding is that Aristotle still linked it more with knowledge than human action.

    It will not take you long to realize I am not real skilled in this area and my interest comes as part of a series I am doing on biblical virtue. Add to your faith virtue and to virtue knowledge…

    To be more specific would be to ask for the virtues and their definitions according to the writers of old.

    The more dialogs we can have on this topic the better for me. (Yeah I know its always about me) :smilewinkgrin:

    thjplgvp
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  5. Allan

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    Platonic Socrates IS about the philisophical ideas of virtue using knowledge as the estimator of value. (ie... which virture was highest and therefore to be sought after most)

    First part of the quote:
    A good book to get is one by Copleston, Vol 1 "A history of Philosophy (1959 - Greek and Rome) It is concerning Platonic Socrates (Ch 1-9) and then Plato (Ch. 10-20) and further musing He had concerning older philsophies in relation to his own.

    Ch. 4 - Laches: onCourage
    Ch. 6 - Protagoras: on Virtue - (Effectivness or goodness) Virtue is knowledge that can be taught.
    Ch. 7 - Charmides: on Temporance
    Ch. 8 - On Friendship
    Ch. 9 - On Justice

    There is alot in this book and it compelation of many of Platos and Socratic work makes this a very large book as well.
    NOTE: Platonic Socrates argued with the present day philisophical usage of the Greek word "Arete". Example. He argued the "effectiveness of function" which distinquished it's general application to one defing an aspect of virtue.

    Second part of quote:
    Aristotle only in general held to Platonic Socrates philisophical views concerning Virtue and their import.
     
  6. thjplgvp

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    Allan glad to have you join the discussion.

    A couple of questions for clarification.

    Is it called Platonic because most of what we have on Socrates is filtered through the writings of Plato?

    Secondly you wrote that virtue is the highest form of... I am assuming knowledge. But I believe Plato himself taught that justice was the stepping stone or initial step of virtue while moderation was the highest element of virtue with wisdom and courage in the middle. So while Socrates taught one thing Plato did not buy into his system of thought concerning virtue?

    You lost me on "effectiveness of function" which distinguished it's general application to one defying an aspect of virtue". Are you saying that how one acts is the definer of their interpretation of any aspect of virtue? For instance one says honesty is a virtue but if they steal or lie they deny their own definition?

    Chapter 6 (virtue is knowledge that can be taught) is my thought on the subject of virtue. Peter would not have told us to add to our faith virtue if it could not be added to or built upon. My difficulty comes when I try to define what elements of virtue can be taught by man and what must be taught or revealed by the Holy Spirit of God. For example we are told to put on the girdle of truth therefore I see truth as a man taught virtue. Love would seem to be an element of virtue that must be taught by the Holy Spirit.

    What are your thoughts or anyone else's thoughts for that matter.
     
  7. Filmproducer

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    Many of Socrates contempories wrote about him, but it is Plato who painted the most "vivd" picture if you will. Aristophanes and Xenophon, are the first to come to mind that also wrote on Socrates.

    If you are an avid reader/studier of Plato you will find that his later writings veer away from some of his earlier teachings. For example, the character of Socrates in the Meno, Phaedo, Symposium, The Republic II-X, and Parmenides on, is more acurately a "mouthpiece" for Platonic thinking; whereas the Socrates in Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Republic I, and somewhat the Protagoras and Gorgias paints a more accurate picture of the real Socrates. You will find in the later works the fictional Socrates significantly changes his methods of inquiry into the virtues and ethics in favor of giving long, complex answers to his won questions. The "real" Socratic doctrine can be summed in the following manner:

    1. virtues, (i.e., justice, piety, courage, etc.) are identical to a single state of the soul, better known as wisdom or knowledge (Meno 87d-89a)
    2. Knowledge is necessary for happiness (Crito 48b, gorgias 470e, Republic 353e-354a)
    3. no one does what he knows to be the best so acting against what one believes to be best is impossible (Protagoras)
    4. It is better to suffer injustice than to do it (Apology 28b)

    Note: I have much more to write, but little time to do it right now. I'll be back later. Some of the fragments from the pre-Socratic thinkers broach many of these "virtues", but being full works have not survived it is hard to get a clear picture of complete belief systems. i would look into the fragments of Heraclitus and Empedocles for earlier thoughts on justice and reason, (logos). Like Socrates, these thinkers held wisdom and reason to be the highest virtue.

     
  8. Allan

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    Exactly!


    Yes, Plato did teach of Justice as such and a little more. I will refrain from going into this because it needs much clarification. I agree with much was FilmProducer but with one addition that can not be neglected to grasp the full dynamic of what Platonic Socrates (Socrates if you will) was searching for; all value contained in virtue(s) lies in effectiveness. Socrates mused that what one does here (virtue) affected the afterlife (spiritually/emotionally) in precise ways which in turn affected you currect life (emotionally/spiritually) in how we take (true) pleasure now. Difference between pleasure and happiness. NOTE: the word [happiness] did not even exist untill the 1600s so look at the greek word to get a better understanding of where his logic was comming from. It is interesting.

    Yes, and no concerning Plato buying into Socrates philisophical veiws entirely. Remember Socrates taught his students to question because knowledge was something that can be increased continuously and reshaped by new and accute minds. So logically their views would share many similarities but also some differences.

    This one is a fun (headache) one. Socrates was actually redifining a current view brought about by the Sophists contemoraries (example) that pleasure was the definer (knowledge) of true happyness. It did not matter how you attained your desire/pleasure but that the end result would be the virtue of happiness you would attain. Now you can see how they would not deny the defintions if their definition is based upon aquirement (definate greek attribute) for them to enjoy happiness. But there is both a positive and negitive aspect that ruled the definitions.

    Ummm... Actually the verse you are trying to put into a philisophical system of thought to establish virtue is like merging oil and water, they will not mix. First you must remember that they (philosophy and spiritual understanding) are two seperate things. One is man trying to figure it out, the other is God showing man what it actually is. What you are refering to regarding the adding to your faith, virtue is actually something that is already there but needs to be developed (compare 2 Pet 1:5 and Gal 5:22-23; you will see a definate matching betwix them. "Taught" is a very subjective word in this issue as God has GIVEN us these but we must learn more about how they function thus used more frequently, rather than the opposite (from Socrates) were we must learn about a particualr virtue, and via this knowledge try to ADD it to our system of belief/thought. One is we walk in His light, the other is we try to create our own light to walk.

    I was in a hurry so if it is disjointed please let me know I'll try to clarify. FilmProducer though Has a good grasp as well from what I read
     
  9. thjplgvp

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    Hello Allan and Filmproducer,

    I am fast getting in over my head here but I’ll try to keep swimming. This seems to be a lot of work for a simple outline on the history of virtue.

    FP writes,
    “1. virtues, (i.e., justice, piety, courage, etc.) are identical to a single state of the soul, better known as wisdom or knowledge (Meno 87d-89a)
    2. Knowledge is necessary for happiness (Crito 48b, gorgias 470e, Republic 353e-354a)
    3. no one does what he knows to be the best so acting against what one believes to be best is impossible (Protagoras)
    4. It is better to suffer injustice than to do it (Apology 28b)


    Number 1 leaves me lacking in understanding. Is the point being made that the presence of virtues is the evidence of a soul or is that virtues come forth from the soul making them natural virtues (all men have virtue)?

    Number 2 would make sense in that you must know what you want in order to be happy with what you have.

    Number 3, simply does not make sense, since the goal is knowledge that will enhance happiness, why would not one act on what he knows to be the best choice?

    Number 4 is clear enough and scriptural as well. 1 Peter 3:17 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.


    Allan wrote,

    “all value contained in virtue(s) lies in effectiveness. Socrates mused that what one does here (virtue) affected the afterlife (spiritually/emotionally) in precise ways which in turn affected your current life (emotionally/spiritually) in how we take (true) pleasure now.”

    By effectiveness to you mean change in the person? Virtue will change my patterns of life here which in turn affects me spiritually which in turn affects me emotionally which in turn brings me happiness, joy, fulfillment etc? There fore virtue is a constant that affects my spiritual as well as my emotional wellbeing and cannot be divorced from either. I am a product of my moral beliefs.

    Allan wrote,

    Ummm... Actually the verse you are trying to put into a philisophical system of thought to establish virtue is like merging oil and water, they will not mix. First you must remember that they (philosophy and spiritual understanding) are two seperate things. One is man trying to figure it out, the other is God showing man what it actually is.”

    Thank you for the clarification.

    “What you are referring to regarding the adding to your faith, virtue is actually something that is already there but needs to be developed (compare 2 Pet 1:5 and Gal 5:22-23; you will see a definite matching betwixt them. "Taught" is a very subjective word in this issue as God has GIVEN us these but we must learn more about how they function thus used more frequently, rather than the opposite (from Socrates) were we must learn about a particular virtue, and via this knowledge try to ADD it to our system of belief/thought. One is we walk in His light, the other is we try to create our own light to walk.

    When teaching on the topic of virtue it is my belief that our culture has eroded our moral understanding of virtue and along with that erosion process believers are becoming more worldly allowing virtue to have a limited role with the local church. Therefore it must (in my opinion) be reintroduced as a main tenant of Christendom by identifying particular virtues. In this regard I would hold to your view of Socrates that the particulars assigned to a virtue must be understood before it can be embraced within the believers structure of integrity.


    Peace and love for example can not be taught they are the product of the Spirit of God. But honesty, purity, diligence etc. my be held up for examination that a person might there is a difference between laziness and diligence, theft and lying with honesty, and chastity and purity in regards not being without spot.

    Truth must be presented in a viable and practical format because there is little virtue in the world today.


    Thjplgvp
     
  10. Filmproducer

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    Have to make a correction here, then I will post more of my thoughts. When I posted I was in a hurry. Next time I will try to post when I have more time. :smilewinkgrin:

    #3 should be: No one does what he knows to be other than the best.....

    Hopefully that makes more sense. :laugh:
     
  11. Filmproducer

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    First of all I wanted to mention two really good anthologies. I have both and reference them often. The first is actually one in a series of philosophy books ranging from the ancient greek to the 20th century.

    Allen, Reginald E. Greek Philosophy: Thales to Aristotle. 3rd Edition, McMillen, 1991

    Cohen, Marc S.,et.al. Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy From Thales to Aristotle, 2nd ed. Hackett Publishing Co., Inc., 2000
     
  12. Filmproducer

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    As for a history of virtue, so to speak, it must be mentioned that the ancients held virtue and knowledge or wisdom to be synonymous. However, one could be wise without being "virtuous". In fact many of the ancients were considered either crazy and/or practicers of "evil trickery", Socrates especially. His method inquiry is said to have stemmed from trying to "prove" the Oracle of Delphi wrong. Apparently the Oracle claimed that Socrates was the wisest of all men. He set out to show that he in fact did not know anything, hence the common mantra, "Socrates knows only that he knows nothing", and in the process bruised quite a few egos. Euthyphro is a prime example of this. He wants Euthyphro to define the nature of piety, but with each definition he poses Socrates finds faults. It ends with Euthyphro cutting him off and Socrates exclaiming, "What a thing to do, my friend! By going you have cast me down from a great hope I had, that I would learn from you the nature of the pious and the impious".


    It is also interesting to note that not all of the ancients accepted the traditional views of the Olympian gods. Xenophanes, who was born about 570, in Colophon, a city in Asia Minor near Ephesus, actually believed in a single god, one that was all-seeing, all-hearing, and all-thinking. He was also one of the first to delineate between knowledge and belief.



    Anyway, I am veering way off topic. As to my previous point 1. Socrates held in great esteem the "examined life", one in which you only use/take what is absolutely necessary to sustain life. It is a life that examines the nature of all things in an effort to gain knowledge and insight, i.e., the "philosopher's life". For Socrates leading this lifestyles makes one more happier and virtuous, and that virtue is the result of seeking knowledge. The Apology examines this concept in greater detail. To answer your question specifically, virtue and knowledge are the same because of the examined life.

     
  13. Filmproducer

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    A pretty bad storm rolled through so I had to get off rather abruptly.

    As I was saying the state of the soul, according to Socrates, and many of his contemporaries, was directly linked to how lives are lead. Leading the examined life, i.e. striving for virtue through knowledge, left his soul at peace, at least for the moment. Socrates did believe in reincarnation.
     
  14. Filmproducer

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    I know I am speaking for Allen here, but this is my understanding of the subject matter. In the Phaedo Socrates tells Simmeas and Cebes that, "the one aim of those who practice philosophy in the proper manner is to practice for dying and death". He goes on to say that, "a man's concern is not witht he body but that, as far as he can, he turns away from the body toward the soul".
     
    #14 Filmproducer, Sep 4, 2006
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  15. Filmproducer

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    Excellent point!

    I know you were searching for the pre-socratic thoughts of virtue, but have you looked into the writings of the Christian Middle Ages? I ask because in the Consolation of Philosophy, (524), Boethius brought up many of the same arguments, although in a different context.
     
  16. Major B

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    Plato

    Wasn't Plato the guy we named a planet after, only it got demoted from being a planet? What does a planet have to do to get demoted, fail to salute Captain Kirk? "Capn, I dinna know if the powrrrr generrrratorrrs errr gonna wurrrrk. I dinna know how much morrr she kin take. Oh! Forrr the love of Mike, look, that wee planet is ney salutin' ya..."

    Or was Plato the dog...

    Or did it have something to do with morphe--not the forms, but superhero morphing?

    Now, if I remember, Augustine used Plato as a resource, and Aquinas used Aristotle...

    And I use the Bible...
     
    #16 Major B, Sep 4, 2006
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  17. Filmproducer

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    :) I daresay we all use the Bible. Knowledge of other philosophical forms of thought does not negate that fact.

    Oh and the basis of Aquinas' cosmological argument comes from Boethius (see Book III Prose 10).
     
  18. Major B

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    Yeah, but Thomas' method and epistemology were Aristotle all the way (or so I recall--Phil 130 was a looooooooong time ago).

    I think the Kalaam cosmological argument is stronger, but then I LIKE calculus.

    OH, when is your movie coming out, and who plays LOT?
     
  19. Filmproducer

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    A. Your right about Aristotle and Aquinas, but then again Parmenides had a profound influence on Aristotle and Plato, not to mention the other pre-socratics and sophists.

    B. Ugh... How could anyone LIKE calculus! I put up with it. I certainly do not LIKE it! :laugh:

    C. We are in the final stages of post now, so it will be released fairly soon. As for the character of Lot, there isn't one, so to speak. It is a modern story of a man who leaves his family for another man. It explores the human condition and how we act and react to each other when religion and politics are involved. Specifically it focuses on the breakdown of the family and the gauntlet of emotions they face.
     
  20. Allan

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    Actually, I would go with Filmproducers answer to this with regard to philosophy proper but would add that in relation to the bible it is a much different perspective.

    You see, with philosophy you have amn in his darkened state trying to find/understand what is/could be the highest attainable virtue/morals. Unfortunately since his understanding has been darkened and he will not seek God (who is absolute truth) he (man) must try to seek something close to or similar to this answer with God. He will never truly find what he is searching for, and thus you have philosiphers today still trying to find this elusive question. (and therefore it is a maintained stance there is no absolute truth, since no one can find this truth without the God factor)

    From the biblical perspective we are not trying to attain knowledge of these elusive definitions and constucts concerning what virtue(s) are, we (believers)are given these definitions and constructs that we may spend our life living them rather than searching for them. Platonic Socrates is the only philosipher I have studied (and I have studied many) that comes so close to the truth he was seeking and still fell horribly short. The fact of the matter is that we can not in and of ourselves do any truly good (without blimish). This was what Socrates looked for in his defining of terms since all things done affected the afterlife and incarnation (we see in Platos writing held both but yes more so to reincarnation) and thus the soul and it's peace. It is of note (I think) that this was the under lying theme of his looking for and defintion of the virtuous thems, that being a soul at peace in death.

    We have as believers all these these given and explained to us but we ARE to add them, (understand and incorporate them more so by personal decision) to our lives. A car has all the potental to do everything it was made for, but without the decision of its owner to turn it on, it will only sit there and be of no use.
     
    #20 Allan, Sep 4, 2006
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