[lit-ideas] Socrates: Evil and Ignorance

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  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 13 Sep 2014 07:18:51 -0400

In a message dated 9/13/2014 4:56:25 A.M.  Eastern Daylight Time, 
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes in "Re: Gombrich Goes  Popperian": "That it 
yield such a claim does not mean it is epigraphical  evidence of it, and 
really we need some chapter and verse and some context to  any such claim: in 
case, it does not obviously yield a claim that  intentional wrong-doing is 
impossible, only a claim that wrong-doing is  impossible if one has complete 
knowledge - for it may be possible to form  (moral) intentions even when 
one lacks complete knowledge. So if Socrates merely  said a person with 
complete knowledge would never do wrong then we cannot infer  from this that 
Socrates claimed if it impossible for those lacking complete  knowledge to 
intentionally do wrong.  

Perhaps Walter O. may find better epigraphic evidence, since it was he who  
introduced the claim, with a special reference to 'intending'.
My epigraphic evidence is vulgar. Wikipedia states:
"Socrates believed wrongdoing was a consequence of ignorance and those who  
did wrong knew no better."
-- which admittedly does not give a _locus classicus_ and uses 'know' in a  
comparative context that we were recently discussing ('know better', 'know  
But I consider further points in ps.

Indeed, Socrates allows, as per McEvoy states above, that individuals (such 
 as Socrates himself, perhaps?) or an individual (I like to stick to the  
singular, for the analytic method) may lack knowledge and do intentionally  
Since 'may' lack is too modal to deal with analytically, we should stick  
with the indicative.
Individual or agent A lacks KNOWLEDGE -- or ignores (some proposition "p"). 
Agent A does wrong.
The gist or crux of the argument, as formulated by Walter  O., seems to be 
in the adverb that applies to 'do wrong': 'intentionally do  wrong'. Austin 
often admitted that 'intentionally', as applied to 'do' is  usually otiose 
and triggers the wrong implicature ("I intentionally sat on a  chair"). 
If 'intentionally' is otiose, then perhaps Socrates would NOT use it. Plus, 
 the Greek lacked a term for 'intention' (unlike Latin, 'intentio', cfr.  
Greek seems to also have lacked a word for 'evil'. In any case, they would  
use 'good' and 'bad'. So, it is perhaps more of a Greek idiom to speak of  
'ill-doing' or 'doing evil', where 'evil' would translate as 'kakon'. The 
idea  of 'right' and 'wrong' seems, to use Kantian parlance, deontological,  
and Socrates, like later Aristotle, seems to be working within a  
'teleological' approach to ethics. This passage from the same entry in 
Wikipedia  may 
provide further clarification:
Wikipedia states in:
"Many of the beliefs traditionally attributed to the historical Socrates  
have been characterized as "paradoxical" because they seem to conflict with  
common sense. The following are among the so-called Socratic Paradoxes (p. 
14,  Terence Irwin, The Development of Ethics, vol. 1, Oxford University 
Press 2007;  p. 147, Gerasimos Santas, "The Socratic Paradoxes", Philosophical 
Review 73  (1964), pp. 147–64):
i. No one desires evil.
ii. No one errs or does wrong willingly or  knowingly.
iii. Virtue—all virtue—is knowledge."
Note that the one under discussion is (ii)
No one errs or does wrong willingly or knowingly.
And it may do to check with the sources Wikipedia quotes: Irwin 2007:147  
and Santas 1964:147.
The formulation equates, or seems to equate, 'willingly' to 'knowingly'.  
But there are differences. Indeed, there are differences between 'willingly'  
and, crucially 'intentionally'. In general, after Prichard ("Willing and  
intending") it is accepted that 'willingly' is WEAKER than 'intentionally': 
in  other words, the will is a requirement for 'intention' but there's more 
to  intention than will, usually some cognitive element to the effect that 
one's  outcome will be fulfilled by one's action ("I may will to fly but I may 
not  intend to do it" -- in fact Kenny got to upset about this that coined 
'voliting'  to avoid the use of 'willing'). 
The second element to derive from the fragment is the idea that these are  
'paradoxes' that "conflict with common sense", as the Wikipedia has it. Many 
 believed that Socrates was a _sophist_ and a _sophisma_, usually, is 
interpreted  as an exercise in rhetoric to test the addressee into thinking why 
such an adage  is paradoxical or why there may be some truth underlying it. 
Perhaps Socrates was being rhetorical and applying a figure of speech known 
 as 'hyperbole'. 

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