Philosophy 53 (205):325 - 333 (1978)

In Plato's Meno , there is a famous discussion of desire and evil. This paper is not a contribution to Platonic scholarship, but a direct taking up of the issue whether someone can desire evil. One stock interpretation of the putative impossibility of desiring what is evil or bad is the interpretation which emphasizes an internal or conceptual tie between desire and good. This interpretation compares pairs of terms such as ‘fear—danger’, ‘belief—truth’ and ‘desire—good’. To fear something is to regard it as, or believe that it is, dangerous ; to believe something is to regard it as, or believe it to be, true ; to desire something is to regard it as, to believe it to be, good. Since it is obvious that people believe things which are false, it is maintained that it is equally obvious that people may desire what is bad and fear what is harmless or of no danger. Let us call this interpretation of the doctrine that it is impossible to desire evil the weak thesis. The weak thesis allows what seems a plain fact of human reality, that people believe falsehoods, fear things that cannot harm them and desire things which are not good. Equally obviously, it allows that people fail to believe truths, fail to desire goods, and fail to fear things that are dangerous. On this weak interpretation, the manner in which wickedness to others and self-destructiveness are due to ignorance is that people are ignorant about the nature of things and ways of acting, ignorant about what it would be like to possess something or ignorant about what it would be like to do something or other
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DOI 10.1017/S0031819100022373
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