Synopsis

Knowing may not be the good, but apparently it makes us good. Quite possibly knowledge is virtue, or else displaces any need to talk of virtue in the usual way. These outrageous Platonic claims seem indefensible. This course will seek the best possible defence, and in the course of that deepen our understanding of who we are and the importance of reality and integrity in ethical formation.

Unlike Aristotle (at least Aristotelian ethics of the late-20th C. Anglophone ‘virtue ethicists’), Plato is not a naturalist, and does not advocate aiming at – or even think in terms of – the human good; Aristotle’s distinction between theoretical and practical knowledge is unknown to Plato, who would blanche at the quasi-perceptual character of the latter. Aiming at such a thing could not hope to promise to improve our character.

Indian Buddhist philosophers and moralists agreed that knowing reality is transformative, and would have shared Plato’s skepticism that orienting our attention towards the merely human would get us very far along that road. But the Buddhists have a radically different epistemology – they do not admit the regulative principle of the intelligibility of reality, nor therefore can they call the effects of aiming to know integrating in the same way. The contrast should illuminate for us what is at stake in rejecting Plato’s intelligibility principle. For knowledge-seeking to be ethically central, is it sufficient to insist on aiming at truth as something outside of us and independent of our desires?

For more information see the Course Description (58 Kb)