Virtue, Wisdom, and the Art of Ruling in Plato

Dissertation, University of Virginia (1999)

Alex John London
Carnegie Mellon University
This dissertation explores Plato's conception of the nature and value of wisdom and its relationship to the ethical virtues. It is argued that throughout what are referred to as Plato's early and middle dialogues, wisdom is identified with the political art and that, as such, those, dialogues consistently treat moral knowledge as a kind of craft knowledge. When this conception of wisdom is combined with the Socratic doctrine of the unity of the virtues, however, it raises serious problems for Socrates' ethical theory. It is argued that the dilemma that results in the Euthydemus highlights these problems and that there is an important sense in which the Lysis, Gorgias, and Republic represent attempts to solve this dilemma. It is argued that in the early dialogues Plato focuses solely on the contributive value of virtue but that in these latter dialogues Plato changes his account of the nature and value of the ethical virtues. In these dialogues Plato articulates what I will call the "constitutive value" of virtue, where the value of the virtues is rooted the way in which they constitute the good order of the soul. Ultimately, this allows the ethical virtues to be put forth as the beneficial work that wisdom provides for us. A central goal of the dissertation, then, is to explain this new account of the value of the virtues and to explain the sense in which wisdom rules over or governs the other parts of the soul so as to make the soul good. In this way, the dissertation deals centrally with Plato's conception of value and his moral psychology
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