Plato: Normative Ethical Theory

1077 Words Nov 18th, 2010 5 Pages
Ancient moral theory explains morality in terms that focus on the moral agent. These thinkers are interested in what constitutes, e.g., a just person. They are concerned about the state of mind and character, the set of values, the attitudes to oneself and to others, and the conception of one 's own place in the common life of a community that belong to just persons simply insofar as they are just. A modern might object that this way of proceeding is backwards. Just actions are logically prior to just persons and must be specifiable in advance of any account of what it is to be a just person. Of course, the ancients had a rough idea of what just actions were; and this rough idea certainly contributed to the notion of a just person, and his …show more content…
A similarly strong statement about wrong-doing is found in the Crito, where the question is whether Socrates should save his life by escaping from the jail in Athens and aborting the sentence of death. Socrates says that whether he should escape or not must be governed only by whether it is just or unjust to do so (48d). Obviously, by posing wrong-doing against losing one 's life, Socrates means to emphasize that nothing outweighs in positive value the disvalue of doing unjust actions. In such passages, then, Socrates seems to be a moral hero, willing to sacrifice his very life rather than commit an injustice, and to recommend such heroism to others.
However, this heroism also includes an important element of self-regard. In the passage from the Apology just quoted Socrates goes on to describe his approach to the citizens of Athens. He chides them for being absorbed in the acquisition of wealth, reputation, and honor while they do not take care for nor think about wisdom, truth, and how to make their souls better (Ap. 29d-e). As he develops this idea it becomes clear that the perfection of the soul, making it better, means acquiring and having moral virtue. Rather than heaping up riches and honor, Athenians should seek to perfect their souls in virtue. From this exhortation we can conclude that for Socrates psychological good outweighs material good and that virtue is a psychological good of the first importance. The Crito gives another
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