On self-interest and right action

From Plato (Socrates), Crito, 47e:

“What about the part of us which is mutilated by wrong actions and benefited by right ones? Is life worth living with this part ruined?”

Picture it. Socrates is in jail. He has been convicted on trumped-up charges. He is 70. He is at his most sagacious. He is in conversation with a loyal friend who has come to offer him escape and exile.

Socrates has heard a litany of Crito’s reasons why Socrates should be willing to go into exile. Socrates sees that Crito is in contradiction with himself. That is, what he would claim to be deeply committed to in principle (timelessly) is at odds with what he would claim to be deeply committed to practically (in time, in the moment).

Socrates detects, in Crito’s reasons, a directedness toward what the crowd, the mob, the social club thinks. It is in his slow and methodic questioning leading to the conclusion that no right minded man should give a hoot about what other’s think but only what reason recommends that Socrates asks Crito the above question. And in that question contains the unity of morality and self-interest. And that is what is instantiated in the character of Socrates and the goal of this puritanical libertarian (in his best moments, it is what he wants to want at least).

“What about the part of us which is mutilated by wrong actions and benefited by right ones? Is life worth living with this part ruined?”

The very idea!

How preposterous that there is a part of me that is harmed by wrong and benefited (made better, healthier) by right action! We need to change “part” to “essence” if we are to understand what Socrates himself speaks of. Socrates speaks of the soul. It is the principle of the material organization of life activity.

Right action IS self-interested action. If one wants to be in good condition for life one wants virtue (character), right (action).

Now, I can almost hear some objections: “Of course right action is best, but what I am concerned about is your or anyone else’s conception of right action”. Fine. No problem. Do not presuppose. Aim for right and see what you get. If we ever encounter each other and you want to test your right against mine, let’s do it! Already we will have found much disagreement. I will have decided that you are committed to sitting together without violence, that your expression is guided by the quest for truth and not merely victory. Else, why engage in such debate?

Published by Purilib

Anonymously interested in grasping the good life.

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