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Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good$
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Sergio Tenenbaum

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195382440

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195382440.001.0001

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A Partisan’s Guide to Socratic Intellectualism

A Partisan’s Guide to Socratic Intellectualism

(p.6) 2 A Partisan’s Guide to Socratic Intellectualism
Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good

Matthew Evans

Oxford University Press

In a celebrated passage of Plato’s Protagoras (351b–58e) Socrates argues that it is impossible for us to do things that we know are better left undone. His claim, roughly put, is that we are capable of acting incorrectly only if and only when we fail to recognize that we are acting incorrectly. Of all the counterintuitive arguments in the so-called Socratic dialogues, this one is probably the most famous. Historians have extensively examined its structure, its motivation, and its place within the broader sweep of Socratic and Platonic moral psychology. As a result of this, perhaps, many contemporary philosophers of action now feel compelled to mention it, if not to scrutinize it, when addressing themselves to the general topic of practical irrationality. But in recent years the historians and the philosophers have begun to diverge in their assessments of the argument’s intrinsic merit. While most of the philosophers have come to agree that it is implausible, either in whole or in part, many of the historians have defended it against this very charge, and have implied that the argument’s detractors are, as a rule, either exegetically misguided or philosophically shallow. Sadly, these two camps seem to have little if any sustained interaction with each other. So it is hardly surprising to find, in the recent literature on the subject, an unresolved and (largely) unengaged dispute between the majority of contemporary philosophers, on the one hand, and a cadre of devoted historians on the other. The purpose of this chapter is to get the dispute back on track, by providing both parties with a reliable guide to the issues that continue to divide them.

Keywords:   Protagoras, Socrates, akrasia, motivation, pleasure, desire, knowledge

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