Is Knowledge Worth Seeking Essay, Research Paper
Socrates argued that actively seeking out knowledge leads to the ability of man to moderate his behavior accordingly. If one examines a situation thoughtfully, and from several angles, the most logical course of action will present itself. By exercising this method of reasoning a person becomes wise. Socrates would call this the ability to govern the qualities of your soul properly and it is undoubtedly what he sought. The process brings out the virtuous qualities in man and allows him to make decisions based on truth, which leads ultimately to good. Discipline of the mind can only benefit its owner; and thus knowledge is worth seeking.
Socrates defines knowledge as absolute truth. He believes that everything in the universe is innately connected; if one thing is known then potentially everything can be derived from that one truth. The fundamental ideas that Socrates seeks to uncover are called forms. This concept is illustrated when Socrates questions Meno on what virtue is. Meno answer with several examples of what is virtuous. This of course is not what Socrates is asking; he is asking Meno what all virtuous acts share in common. For Socrates this relationship between all virtuous acts is what virtue fundamentally is. A person can see virtuous acts but cannot see virtue. Because of this, the idea of virtue must exist somewhere independent of the perceivable world. This is true with all forms or ideas of perfection: they are something that cannot be known by human sense but reasoned out by individual human thought.
One cannot, however, mistake knowledge for right opinion. Socrates makes distinctions between right opinion and knowledge. Opinions are not something that one can seek because they are beliefs held on shaky ground. True opinions are a fine thing and do all sorts of good so long as they stay in their place, but they will not stay long. They run away from a man s mind (97-98, Meno) Knowledge is unmistakable truth that cannot be changed in an argument: it holds true in all situations in all time.
In matters pertaining to everlasting truths, one can argue that such truths are relative only to man in his finite reflective state. If these absolute ideas are true for all of time, did they exist before man did? If so, who was it that thought of them? Since one must contemplate these absolute truths (and the origin of anything contemplated is in the human mind), they are thus absolute only to humans. Socrates would probably argue that our since our souls are immortal these ideas would have existed with them infinitely in time until man as we know it came about. Nevertheless, this is slightly unsatisfying as ideas and concepts cease to exist if there is nothing capable of reflecting on them.
Socrates believes in these abstract ideas and his intention is to reason them out. He whole-heartedly believes that seeking knowledge is a worthy cause. This quest is more important to him than worldly possessions and even his own family. Does it seem natural that I should have neglected my own affairs and endured the humiliation of allowing my family to be neglected for all these years urging you to set your thoughts on goodness? (31, Apology) In seeking knowledge one gains wisdom; seeking knowledge must then be good that can only lead to good
Socrates believes that wisdom then is good judgment with regard to absolute truth. It is a virtue that resides in the rational soul that is possessed by the man who seeks out truths. Wisdom then is a type of knowledge because it is a truth on how to govern yourself or others correctly. It is in the method of uncovering truths that the seeker attains wisdom. In The Republic it is Socrates belief that the people who rule over a state should be wise; and who better to perform this task then the man who s objective is to seek out these truths.
It is the knowledge of the guardians, he replied, and is found among those whom we were just now describing as perfect guardians.
And what is the name which the city derives from the possession of this sort of knowledge?
The name of good in counsel and truly wise. (428, Republic)
The man who actively seeks out knowledge is appointed the task of ruler because he is wise, and thus the one best suited to make good judgments on matters of great importance.
Being wise allows one to exercise the qualities of their soul in a proper manner. The soul as Socrates views it is divided in to three parts: reason, appetitive, and spirit. Reason being the part that allows one to rationalize, the appetitive being the part that desires things, and spirit being the ally to reason which puts reason into action. One who is wise will have great control over these qualities: thus reared and having learned and been educated to do their own work in the true sense of the phrase, will preside over the appetitive part which is the mass of the soul (442, Republic). By having the ability to control ones desires and being able to reason out truth one can avoid the possibility of doing evil out of ignorance. Socrates views reason as being the good man s greatest asset.
Reason, however, does not seem to have been the driving force behind Socrates quest for knowledge. Socrates uncontrollable desire to seek out knowledge ultimately leads to his own demise. Would anyone do anything if there were not some desire influencing his or her actions? He knows that by visiting the people of Athens and questioning their knowledge, he makes more enemies then friends. There is no doubt that he realizes this; but he keeps on questioning. He is then charged and brought to court where he decides not to beg for mercy but to continue searching for the truth. His unquenchable desire for knowledge has gotten him into trouble, which would have been avoided if he controlled it. Socrates might not view his quest for knowledge as something that resides in the appetitive part of his soul; but where else could a desire so strong that one would put his life on the line emerge?
Socrates believes that no man desires evil and only desires the good. For what else is unhappiness but desiring evil things and getting them? (78, Meno) In seeking knowledge, one will come to an understanding of what is truly good; and if this is so, then doing good is the only thing that they can do. No one desires to be hurt or have any wrong done upon him or her. Any evil action committed by someone simply means that they don t recognize evils for what they are, don t desire evil but they think it is good, though in fact it is evil. (77, Meno) This evil act is a result of ignorance. The evil would be avoided if the person in question truly understood what the full consequences of their actions were both to themselves and to the victim. By having the ability to reason out truth, one can avoid
the possibility of doing evil out of ignorance.
Alternately it can be argued that people who are weak willed can reason out the truth but not act in accordance with it. People generally tend to put themselves before others in most matters concerning their well-being. When it comes to harming others to benefit themselves a moral decision has to be made. The difference lies in whether the person has respect for being virtuous but still succumbs to desire occasionally or purposely embraces the desires of their soul. Someone might fully understand the consequences of their wrong actions but desire masks their awareness of what is truly good. Socrates would argue that people who deliberately choose to commit acts of wrong do so because they possess wrong opinions on the matters and no true knowledge of them.
In summary, the quest for knowledge is a worthy one. Since man desires only good then wisdom is what he should seek. What better good is there but to have good judgment over his conduct and properly assert himself in all situations? Even though Socrates view of absolute truths can be argued to be creations of human thought and are not true as an absolute thing that exists independently of man, the method of reasoning is applicable to everyone and can only aid one in further ventures of understanding.