Posted: October 17th, 2013
Is Socrates Right to Claim That a Wise Person Will Always Act Well?
Is Socrates Right to Claim That a Wise Person Will Always Act Well?
Socrates claims that a wise person will always act accordingly. The question of right and wrong has been a question man has attempted to answer for a long time. It has been argued many a time that the ability to tell right from wrong lies within the man. Right or wrong actions are issues determined by social ethics and morality in this regard. According to Socrates, wisdom guides man to make the right choices. In this, he believes that a wise man can never act wrongly. However, the question is how true this is. It is therefore important to interrogate this claim by finding out what exactly Socrates is proposing. It might be that wisdom or understanding of right or wrong comes from what society stipulates through law and other societal guiding principles. While, on the other hand, it might be within the man to determine what is right and what is wrong.
Socrates maintained that no one willingly did wrong since wrong acts will always hurt the wrong doer. The claim here is that an unwise decision to act in a certain manner predisposes one to wrongdoing that is essentially ignorance. This in actuality is very true. People claim to have been unaware of the wrongful nature of their actions. In this sense, one should not commit to doing something without understanding the consequences that may follow such action. If one understands that, something is wrong, therefore as a matter of self-interest or self-preservation for that matter one is capable of preventing oneself from engaging in wrongdoing (Manuel 2010). However, experience will prove Socrates’ stance wrong. There are people who do wrong with full knowledge of their consequences. The necessity for doing such is usually to benefit oneself at the expense of other people. Nonetheless, Socrates’ belief is true in an obvious and straightforward way.
It is right to claim that people have the capacity to choose to do things they understand people may find to be wrong. It is also correct to say that people may do things they consider immoral for others in a quest to benefit themselves. However, people never choose to perform acts they thought in the instant that they are making the decision to be wrong or even harmful to themselves. In this sense, it is evident that humanity has a strong sense of benefiting themselves. In cases where there are obvious implications for achieving harm in the action, man still goes to great lengths to cause and do harm in the hope of achieving the good they believe will benefit them (Rae 2000). While man has the capacity to objectively look at wrong in actions about to be performed, they have an intuitive sense of self-preservation and selfish gain. Our intuitive nature for serving self-interests push humans to do wrong even when they are aware of the grave consequences that may accompany such decisions.
Take an example of a troubled man with the obsession of wounding himself through cuts. Such a person is merely intending to relieve psychological stress. This man has discovered that cutting his flesh acts as a relieving agent. It is vital that a clear-cut distinction is established between means and ends. This person does not cut his skin to harm himself; rather, it is a means to achieve relief from stress. This person rationalizes that the overall outcome of cutting himself is worthwhile as long as he has managed to avert psychological torture. Though, one may want to question the efficiency of this method, the underlying principle is that this person has relieved a stressful situation thus benefiting him. From Socrates perspective, choices, right or otherwise, achieve the ends the doer or chooser hopes to obtain and not the methods that have been used to achieve these ends (Lee 2002).
The distinction arising from objective knowledge or wisdom according to Socrates, and human personal intuitive insights is essential. People can comprehend the wrong in stealing, but stealing predisposes them to experience benefits in which they find their lives improved in one way or the other. The assumption in this statement is that there is no motivation for doing right or wrong if there is no benefit from such actions (Hildebrandt 2010). Humans need to keep a clear distinction between means and the prospective ends. As a result, it will be clear that people not do wrong things for perceived good and benefits that result from the wrong action. When one benefits from the actions that are clearly horrific, people still have an inner conviction of benefiting for themselves. It is also possible that people can act wrongly without expecting benefit from whatever they do (Rae 2000). For example, a serial killer does not benefit from the death of the victims but still derive a distorted sense of satisfaction. Socrates claim about wisdom and doing right is an idyllic projection of human nature.
Everyone has powerful instincts to benefit him or herself. This characteristic forms the basis of natural morality. The question of right and wrong is determined by the extent to which actions benefit people. It is also naturally ingrained in humans to consider all that harm them as being wrong. One may objectively recognize the harmful nature of some actions. However, the decision of moral inappropriateness of an action is can only be left to the person or persons the decisions affect. A non-partisan person is incapable of understanding what is right and what is wrong in a moral sense. Morality and ethics come from a point in which one is self aware of the benefits or harmful nature of actions being performed. People expectations always govern the choices that they are going to make. This is not to say that ethic and morality are concepts wholly determined by human thought. In fact, structures of ethical and moral thinking are independent of self-motivations (Lee 2002). However, responding to self-interests that people can fully embrace morality and ethical ideals, and it is also true that morality and ethics are concepts that have come about by virtue of self-interests. Therefore, self-interest builds human capacity to be moral.
Socrates does not claim that doing wrong to others is ever correct, but the motivation behind such actions is a determining factor to the character assigned to the intentions of the doer. Socrates believed that bad decisions bring harm to individuals who make them. Therefore, the ability for one to be right lies in examining the moral standards of society. Wrongdoing is a mistake in the judgment of the doer and expresses his ignorance. A wrong doer is ignorant of the fact that bad actions make them appear pitiable and enhance a delusion that wrong doing is beneficial. One who has been able to commit the most terrible of actions without incurring any consequences is considered as the most harmed person since wrong doers only harm themselves. The heart of a wise man is pure, one who is accustomed to injustices is dishonorable, and their character is greatly diminished. From Socrates point of view, harm to the soul and to ones character is the greatest harm a person can suffer. In this light, he proposes that man should be able to ensure that they do right every time. One who understands this wisdom will always do right henceforth.
A wise person is not susceptible to moral weakness. Moral weakness is the point at which one is aware of the wrongful nature of an act but lacks the strength and will power to do the right thing. Even in cases where one is overpowered by moral weakness, the lack of moral strength for benefiting oneself without wrongdoing is in itself a form of ignorance. In this case, one is being ignorant of the right means of achieving the desired ends and is ignorant of what is most beneficial and important (Hildebrandt 2010). It does not matter that ones ignorance is constructed out of deficiency in the right knowledge or ill-conceived priorities, ones decisions will always be determined by ones knowledge or ignorance. The wise man makes knowledge-based decisions that have been geared toward making the right decisions at all times. If moral weakness is the basis of ones priorities, it results in the contradiction of ones better judgment to do the right thing (Rae 2000). It is either those priorities agree to the knowledge of moral principle or that priorities agree to ignorance that disregard the benefit of morally correct decisions in the society.
Socrates was right in saying that a wise man does no wrong. The decisions of a wise man are informed by knowledge and the desire to do right. Wisdom according to Socrates is analyzing the consequences of actions and applying this analysis in the decisions one make. Wisdom gives an actor a moral conscience to do what is right as is expected from society. It has been recognized that morality is driven by people’s self-interests (Lee 2002). It is in the interest of individual to live in society that uphold moral standards that recognize the importance of community and ensuring harm does not befall the community. Such expectations from each other have formed the basis of ethics and morality. It is therefore, everyone’s prerogative to ensure that actions are socially acceptable and geared toward enhancing progress in the community.
The major advantage of the Socratic point of view is that everyone should seek to achieve wisdom. It has been established that the lack of wisdom distorts our ability to make the right choices whose consequences cause harm. The harm caused is not only to society but also to self. The potential for human good lies in the wisdom that actions should benefit the whole society and not just the self. Such thinking has the potential of permanently eradiating evil in the society. It necessary then, that people understand that wisdom is a person’s interpretation of what is good or wrong while paying attention to the need for society to maintain its sanity.
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