Virtue Is KnowledgeThe Moral Foundations of Socratic Political Philosophy

Virtue Is KnowledgeThe Moral Foundations of Socratic Political Philosophy

Lorraine Smith Pangle

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226136547

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book explores the famous Socratic paradox, or claim that virtue is knowledge, in five dialogues in which that claim is most fully elaborated, the Apology, Gorgias, Meno, Protagoras, and Laws. The equation of virtue and knowledge points to the core of the Socratic view of human excellence at the same time as it represents a central puzzle of the dialogues. What is the character of the knowledge or wisdom that is said to be virtue? Can Socrates be serious in his claims that human excellence is constituted simply by one virtue, that vice is merely the result of ignorance, and that the correct response to crime is education and not punishment? Despite the strangeness of Socrates’ claims, the book contends that there is a serious truth at the core of each of them, and especially at the core of his claim for wisdom, that has not been adequately appreciated. By tracing the arguments for the goodness of virtue and the power of knowledge through the dialogues, this book uncovers the radically unconventional nerve of Socrates’ thought: virtue is not knowledge in any ordinary sense, yet true virtue is nothing other than wisdom. The book concludes by exploring the moral and political implications of the Socratic insights: its significance with regard to questions of justice and moral responsibility, as well as its promise for shaping a political understanding that is clear regarding the limits of moral culpability and thereby humane in its recommendations for law and punitive justice.