By Alasdair C MacIntyre

ISBN-10: 0203131126

ISBN-13: 9780203131121

ISBN-10: 0415173973

ISBN-13: 9780415173971

ISBN-10: 0415173981

ISBN-13: 9780415173988

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There are two assumptions behind this doctrine. One is that what is good for a man and what is good simpliciter cannot be divorced. The sophists see no good that is not the simple getting by some man of what he wants. In the Lysis, however, Socrates points out that giving a child what is good for him is quite different from giving him what he wants. So that “what is good for X” and “what X wants” do not mean the same. At the same time how could a man want what would be bad for himself? Very simply, we are tempted to reply, in the way that a drug addict wants drugs, or an alcoholic wants alcohol, or a sadist wants victims.

But the spirit of the Apology of Socrates at his trial is inconsistent with this, in the light of his claim that he was inspired by a daemon. Moreover, in the Laches the inquiry into the nature of courage yields a partial answer in terms of knowledge of a certain kind, and although the inquiry runs into difficulties which lead to its suspension, the impression is not at all of an inquiry which is necessarily bound to fail. What remains unambiguously clear is that the Socratic position combined the assertion of several bold and apparently paradoxical theses with a good deal of ambiguity and uncertainty in his presentation of them.

In the first case persuasion consists in offering reasons for holding a belief, and if the belief is accepted, an account can be given to back it up in terms of those reasons; in the second case persuasion consists in subjecting the audience to a psychological pressure which produces an ungrounded conviction. Now Gorgias makes it plain that rhetoric is persuasion not of the former, but of the latter kind. One of the praises of the orator is that he can persuade audiences upon topics on which he himself is unskilled; Gorgias’ example is the success of Themistocles and Pericles in persuading the Athenians to build the docks, harbors, and defense works necessary for Athenian imperialism, although they themselves were politicians and neither naval nor military engineers.

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A short history of ethics : a history of moral philosophy from the Homeric Age to the twentieth century by Alasdair C MacIntyre


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