Well-being, education and unity of the soul in Plato
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Is Socrates in the Protagoras a sincere hedonist? The decipherment of the latter question is fundamental to the unraveling of key aspects of Plato’s ethical thought. It has been suggested that Socrates in the Protagoras finds hedonism philosophically attractive for it functions as a necessary anti-akrasia premise and therefore it fits his moral psychology. At the same time quantitative hedonism provides for commensurability of moral value and, in turn, for a more straightforward, quantifiable, and action-guiding Platonic ethical theory. Although initially appealing, the latter hypothesis is deeply problematic. On the one hand, hedonism is not a necessary theoretical tool either for commensurability of value or for a quantifiable eudaimonistic ethical theory. On the other hand a hedonistic interpretation of the Protagoras would result in a plethora of blatant anomalies for Platonic ethical theory as it is exhibited in the early and middle period dialogues. In particular, the endorsement of quantitative hedonism comes tied with an apotheosis of sophistic education and also with a purely instrumental conception of virtue which contradicts cardinal components of Socrates’ and Plato’s virtue theory. Therefore, a prohedonistic approach of the Protagoras is untenable and has to be rejected. As a result, a sufficiently plausible defense of the Socratic doctrine “no one does wrong willingly” needs to be constructed on non-hedonistic grounds. My suggestion is that we should recast Plato’s treatment of akrasia in terms of two – commonly defended by early Plato- descriptive theses of human psychology; that is, psychological eudaimonism and motivational intellectualism. This move will lead us to the conclusion that the traditional conceptualization of akrasia as a single and unified phenomenon is incomplete as it does not pay justice to the richness of Plato’s moral psychology. Rather, as I will maintain, there are two types of akrasia implicit in Plato’s treatment of the phenomenon: synchronic akrasia and diachronic akrasia. On this revisionary theoretical basis, the differences between early Plato and later Plato on akrasia can be understood as variations in the adherence or not to psychological eudaimonism and motivational intellectualism.