No one knowingly does evil: an essay on the Socratic principle

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The contention that no one knowingly does evil is one of the most fundamental principles championed by Socrates. The very essence of this Socratic principle dwells on the assumption that if a man understands very well that such and such acts are wrong or result to evil, or such that if a man is indeed aware in the first place that this action is wrong in the strictest sense of the word, then that man will tend to revert himself away from committing the act. Socrates stalwartly advances his pivotal idea that men in general cannot, in any conceivable manner, transform man into being fully wise or utterly foolish.

Rather, men are inclined to perform actions at an unfixed and random way, with no great propensity to be inclined to do more evil or to do more good. Consequently, an inexhaustible capability for performing either good or bad conducts is what men do not fundamentally possess. Another principal feature of Socrates’ thoughts is his claim that knowledge is directly associated to that which is good and that ignorance is tied to that which is evil. Thus, it can be clearly observed that by claiming that no one knowingly does evil what is being meant is that to know and understand one’s actions is to understand that which has goodness.

Since ignorance is significantly affixed to evil, Socrates observes, then, that no one knowingly does evil. In instances where man acts, it is immaterial for one to put great emphasis on the goodness or evilness of the action itself. What one should all the more consider is whether such actions are either within the proximity of being just or unjust and not necessarily that of being good or evil. In general, what Socrates is trying to point out is that the very causes of evil acts can ultimately be drawn from ignorance. For example, revulsion of one person to another person results from misapprehension, from ignorance of the related facts.

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Further, the Socratic assertion that no one knowingly does evil refutes normal relativism for a few several points. Given such Socratic principle, it implies that it applies to all men who have the innate capacity to act. Likewise, to assert that no one knowingly does evil is to assert as well the claim that human beings by nature cannot be consciously aware that they are doing evil and that, instead, they assume that they are acting in order to amplify pleasure. The term “no one” in the phrase obviously refutes any relative conception of the principle since “no one” refers to that which is universal.

To have relative views, then, on what actions count as evil and good is to essentially refute the claim that no one does evil voluntarily and willingly, and vice versa. Several contemporary counter-examples can be given to attempt at refuting the Socratic principle. Apparently, suicide, terrorism and sadism all have one thing in common in the context of Socrates’ principle no one knowingly does evil: they purport to exemplify cases wherein human beings appear to be capable of doing evil with their knowing.

All these three may in fact provide crucial grounds for claiming that men have the potential and the actual capacity to inflict harm and do evil while they are fully aware of these actions. However, we might go on to argue that men in these instances are ignorant of the good. Yet, even if they are ignorant of the good, it does not necessarily follow that they know sadism, suicide and terrorism as evil deeds for the fact that no one identifies what is good without actually noting those which are evil or have the actions which have the propensity to result in evil.

Thus, these actions could not have been evil in the first place if one has no sense of what it is that is deemed to be good. It might be held valid and true that people who engage themselves in these actions have a leaning towards the evil as others may view them to be, but nevertheless these very people who are a part of the actions are ignorant of the evil that they might have been doing. This is pegged on the presupposition that men have the mental framework that the things they do are aimed at obtaining that which incites pleasure.

For the most part of the claims of Socrates, there are hardly any strong refutations which might prove to be callous enough to dismantle the ancient philosopher’s arguments. There is a deep sensibility in Socrates’ dialogues with his fellowmen in the Apology as with the other parts of Plato’s Republic such that, with the Socratic method of inquiry, one arrives at an understanding about one’s little knowledge, that much is left to be understood and that only through a removal of one’s ignorance can one begin to achieve genuine knowledge.

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No one knowingly does evil: an essay on the Socratic principle. (2016, Oct 03). Retrieved from

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