Ivars Neiders' presentation “Notes on Socratic Egoism” at the History of Philosophy Research Seminar; 28.9.2010, Helsinki

History of Philosophy Research Seminar

Research seminar on Ancient to Early Modern philosophy arranged by the members of the ”Philosophical Psychology, Morality and Politics” Centre of Excellence Research Programme. It is open for researchers and students interested in the area, but does not give students credits.

Time: Tuesdays 14:15-15:45
Place: Porthania (Yliopistonkatu 3, Helsinki) Seminar room 344.

28.9 Ivars Neiders (Riga Stradins University): “Notes on Socratic Egoism”

Note that there is no advance paper this time. However, here is a summary of the talk:

Notes on Socratic Egoism

Ivars Neiders
(University of Latvia / Riga Stradins University)

At the end of Plato's Phaedo the eponymous narrator of the dialogue describes Socrates "the best and also the wisest and the most upright (dikaiotatos)" man he has ever known. And there is no reason to think that the author of the dialogue would disagree. However, some notorious readers of Plato (e.g. Prichard) have implied that Plato's judgment might not square well with Socrates' ethical views. They have pointed out that Socrates' (the same is said about Plato and Aristotle as well) moral theory is a variety of egoism and this in a way disqualifies it as a proper kind of theory of morality. To determine whether this objection is justified one would naturally turn to Plato's texts to evaluate the evidence. However the evidence is famously inconclusive.

Different passages of Plato's Socratic dialogues seem to indicate that Socrates wants to have it both ways. In some passages he stresses the fact that virtues should always benefit the agent and at the same time there are passages in which he seems to take an anti-egoistic stance. As a consequence there are at least two strategies of how to deal with the tension between egoistic and altruistic passages – one can either disqualify one set of statements by denying them the status of evidence, or one can try to soften the tension by showing how Socrates can say everything he actually says and not contradict himself. I think that the second option corresponds better with Socrates egoistic theory of desire and action. Some would consider such outcome unfortunate as in this case we would have to admit that Socrates was an egoist after all. But this reaction is motivated by particular assumptions about morality according to which to be moral is the same as to be an altruist.

In the first part of the presentation I will suggest that this is not how Socrates saw the issue. According to the view I will propose the Kantian style egoism / altruism debate is not the most important ethical issue from Socratic pint of view. In the second part of the presentation I will suggest that we can ascribe to Socrates a kind of weak psychological egoism (similar to that defended recently by M. Mercer). According to this theory we can have concerns that - although being egoistic from a certain point of view - can be described as other-regarding as well. That, moreover, would explain the existence of seemingly contradictory evidence in the dialogues.

Forthcoming events:

12.10 Jani Hakkarainen (Tampere): Hume's Argument for the Ontological Independence of Simple Properties.

26.10 Mikael Melan (Turku): Aristotle and Aquinas on the Explaining Actions.

9.11 Olof Pettersson (Uppsala): Becoming Authentic: on Discourse and Deception in Plato’s Phaedrus.

23.11 Miira Tuominen (Jyväskylä / Helsinki): knowledge and love in Plato's symposium.

7.12 Eero Salmenkivi (Helsinki): TBA.

Please note that the seminar is based on discussion. The participants are expected to read the papers in advance. They are usually made available about four days in advance. Please contact Ville Paukkonen(at)helsinki.fi to receive the papers.

All interested are welcome!