>>>>The Sophists challenged traditional morality.
Sophocles asserts that tradition is a legitimate grounds for believing in justice. But Plato
would come to doubt that that was a legitimate, that was a strong, that that was a sufficient
defense of morality. And we see the germs of his doubts about tradition already in the
teachings of his great mentor, Socrates. Socrates was famous for inhabiting the public spaces
of Athens and questioning Athenians about their beliefs. And Socrates, through his questioning,
would expose how flimsy ordinary people’s beliefs about morality truly were. Public
Greek culture accepted that there were traditional virtues, especially cardinal virtues like
self-control, like wisdom, like piety, like justice, like courage. And Socrates would
question Athenians about what these virtues meant to them. And he exposed the fact that
people– first of all, had hardly reflected at all upon the kinds of virtues or qualities
that they would say mattered most to them. Two, he would show that in fact, all of these
virtues are ultimately dependent upon reason, upon wisdom. And Socrates seems to teach that
all virtues are a form of wisdom. He has a deeply rationalist, a philosophical account
of what virtue truly is. And Socrates also begins to focus on this core term of Greek
philosophy: eudaimonia. It’s a word as we talked about that can be translated as happiness,
as well-being or as virtue, as some sort of flourishing that implies moral excellence.
And so this word happiness in Greek is a rich word that can mean happiness in the sense
of success and pleasure and well-being, but it can also have deeply moral connotations.
Socrates will question whether people mean by happiness, simply success and pleasure
or whether they mean moral virtue. Whether they mean moral accomplishment and moral commitment.
And he questions ordinary Athenians about their beliefs and what flourishing, what eudaimonia
means to them. Now Socrates comes to believe that people in ordinary life use words like
courage and that there are examples of courage. He believes that there are examples of piety,
there are examples of self-control. But through his questioning he comes to the idea that
there is somehow an underlying, unifying concept of what these virtues all are. That there
is somehow an idea of courage or an idea of wisdom, and that these virtues in their individuality
all have some higher ideal concept that’s somehow grounded in wisdom. And in this pursuit
to define what the individual virtues are: What is courage? What is self-control? We
see the seeds of the teachings of his greatest student – Plato.