A Hobbesian and Heroic Unreflective Citizenship

Powerful Essays
A Hobbesian and Heroic Unreflective Citizenship

In Meno, Plato asks “what virtue itself is” (Plato 60). This dialogue on virtue between Socrates and Meno ably frames a wider dialogue on ethics between Thomas Hobbes, the Greek heroic tradition, and the sophists of 5th century Athens. Hobbes’ Leviathan and Aristophanes’ The Clouds introduce three classes of ethical actors to respond to Plato’s inquiry: Hobbes’ ethical lemmings, the heroic ethical traditionalists, and the sophist ethical opportunists. The Meno also helps capture the essence of contemporary discussion of the morality of desire and emotivism, as articulated by Roberto Mangabeira Unger in Knowledge and Politics and Alasdair MacIntyre in After Virtue. Finally, I will examine—and then problematize— the Hobbesian and heroic responses to ethical subjectivism.

SOCRATES: Meno, by the gods, what do you yourself say that virtue is?

MENO: …There is virtue for every action and every age, for every task of ours and every one of us.

(Meno 60-61)

Meno helps Plato articulate the implications of subjectivism and the arbitrary designation of value. Roberto Mangabeira Unger’s discussion of the “morality of desire” (Unger 49) and Alasdair MacIntyre’s description of emotivism formalize the ethical importance of Meno’s inability to disaggregate the self from a definition of virtue. According to Unger, “[t]he morality of desire defines the good as the satisfaction of desire, the reaching of the goals to which our appetites and aversions incline us. The task of ethics on this view is to teach us how to organize life so that we shall approach contentment” (49). In a similar vein, MacIntyre describes emotivism in After Virtue: “Emotivism is the doctrine that all evaluative judgme...

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...valuation, but can ensure the engagement of informed citizens and offer the choice and contrast between competing paradigms. Plato’s wisdom does not reside in his provision of definitions, but his understanding of the intrinsic good of an autonomous process of thinking, searching, and questioning—all of which absolute standards ignore.

Works Cited

Aristophanes. The Clouds. Trans. and foreword by William Arrowsmith.

Forrest, W.G. The Emergence of Greek Democracy.

Guthrie, W.C. A History of Greek Philosophy.

Hobbes. Leviathan. Trans. Herbert W. Schneider.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue. 2nd Ed. University of Notre Dame Press: Notre Dame, Indiana, 1984.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. A Short History of Ethics.

Plato. Five Dialogues : Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo. Trans G. M. A. Grube.

Unger, Roberto Mangabeira. Knowledge and Politics.
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