Dr Amber Carpenter
Introductory Lecture (mp3 file)
- Plato, Apology
- Plato, Gorgias (Polus): 464b-481b [pg numbers in right margine in square brackets]
- Plato, Gorgias (Callicles): 481b-523a [pg numbers in right margine in square brackets]
- Plato, Republic IV.441c-445b
- Vlastos 1994, “Socrates and Vietnam”. In Socratic Studies, ed. M. Burnyeat, CUP
The translations of Plato’s dialogues published by Hackett Publishing are reliable and readable; if you want to get a copy of your own to bring to the meeting, I recommend these. The links above are to Jowett’s 100-year-old translations, which are freely available online. The Republic excerpt is from Christopher Rowe’s new translation for Oxford Classics.
Introduction to readings
Even without a Greek word for ‘integrity’, Plato looms large in our understanding of the nature and value of integrity.
We might attend to two contributions Plato bequeathed to us: First, his theories of human psychology and the good stress the central importance of having a unified, well-integrated psyche, and identify a vital sort of consistency in valuing, speaking and action that follows from this (and fails without it). Second, Plato uses the dialogue form to depict characters that have and lack integrity, both in the special sense of ‘having integrated souls’ and in the broader sense of a lack of consistency and fit between values, speech and action.
For the first key contribution, one could read the whole of the Republic, or at least the whole of Book IV. I have here taken this part of Plato’s thought as familiar to all, and decided instead to focus on the second sort of contribution identified above. However, I include in our readings for discussion the culmination of Socrates’ argument in Book IV, that the person of integrated soul (psyche) can be counted on to behave with integrity, with the recommendation that this familiar passage be read in this light. This passage also sets us up for the further important observation that reason only unifies when, and because, it aims it the good.
The Apology could also be read as contributing to some of these themes. It is also an important locus for Socrates’ daimonion, which as he says at 31c, only holds him back from doing wrong – and might be a relative of the notion of ‘conscience’. But I include the Apology here as illustrative of Plato’s second key contribution to our understanding of integrity. Socrates is here depicted as a person of utmost rectitude, and extraordinary integrity. He will not be party to corrupt uses of the law, and he will not allow his priorities to be corrupted by lesser goods of money, reputation or power. Gregory Vlastos, one of the most important Plato scholars of the 20th Century, challenges this judgement of Plato’s portrait of Socrates. Drawing on his own experience of American post-war politics, he cannot overlook the moral demand to get our hands dirty. Maintaining one’s own integrity, as Socrates does, is not enough.
Finally, I include two portions of Plato’s Gorgias, as offering three portriats of persons wrestling with integrity issues. While Polus might seem to represent the unscruplulous pragmatist, he is genuinely committed to his view of human nature and the good, and suspects Socrates of being the one who does not mean what he says. Callicles, in the next excerpt, is here offered as the archetpye of the dis-integrated psyche. He values too many things as ultimately good to be able to think and speak consistently – and so, Socrates suggests, to be able to act morally. We may question whether Socrates’ single-minded devotion to wisdom makes him a moral monstrosity or an exemplar of integrity.
There are many other places in Plato one could go for reflection on components of our concept of integrity – for instance, Socrates’ occasional “say what you mean” rule; the discussion with Thrasymachus in Book I of the Republic; the ‘unity of virtue’ thesis, and denials of akrasia, which see all virtue as knowledge (the Progatoras, for instance, the Euthydemus, and the Gorgias again). But these passages, below, from the Apology, the Republic and the Gorgias will be our starting-point.
[For information about the Portraits of Integrity project, click here]