What was Socrates/Plato's view on free-will?

  • Socrates (or, rather Plato, through the voice of Socrates) leads us to the conclusion in the dialog Protagoras (see this for example) that our actions are entirely determined by our beliefs of what is the good, and our beliefs of what is the good is determined by our knowledge. In other words, we cannot act against our knowledge of how we should act, and so our actions our determined entirely by our knowledge.

    Does this conclusion mean that Socrates (or at least the Socrates Plato presents us with) in general denies free-will? Or is there some other work in which Socrates acknowledges free will?

    There are few traces of *free will* in ancient Greek phil; *contra*, see Michael Frede, A Free Will : Origins of the Notion in Ancient Thought (2011). The only ref to Socrates is page 22.

    Interesting reference, I'll have to check it out. It seems that even if the word "free will" wasn't used directly, there still could have been some concept of it at the time. As an example, there are several parts in Thucydides where two parties are debating in front of a third party for or against some decision. He never makes it seem that the decision is a fore-gone conclusion.

    I recall reading in Laws a discussion of free will, that it is a false and harmful belief that common folk possess.

    I don't see any particular reference to free-will in the link; it appears to towards the conclusion of a debate on virtue; free-will seems to be something of a fetish in contemporary philosophy (free will, free democracy); and I wonder how much this is to do with the traces of Christian Theology - *free* to choose between right & wrong.

    Our current definition of free will, i.e. libertarian free will, is a modern concept. But the basic debate has been around since the earliest philosophers in the East and West. The debate is very prevalent today because the dominant worldview denies the existence of free will, which strikes most as strongly counter intuitive and morally dangerous. Additionally, the ideologies that fueled the 20th centuries genocidal dictators were based on some form of determinism. So it is a vital concept to preserve.

    Isn't this a corollary of the definition of 'participation'? Whatever is not controlled by the forms, and thus predetermined, is error. So free will exists as a form of error injected by participation. If there were no error, we would all have exact instances of the single perfect human mind, and thus presumably we would all agree on all our decisions, which would require that they be predetermined. At the same time, if this variation did not exist, we would not perceive other forms of error, so it must be present.

  • Socrates' personality was in some ways closely connected to his philosophical outlook. He was remarkable for the absolute command he maintained over his emotions and his apparent indifference to physical hardships. Corresponding to these personal qualities was his commitment to the doctrine that reason, properly cultivated, can and ought to be the all-controlling factor in human life. Thus he has no fear of death, he says in Plato's Apology, because he has no knowledge of what comes after it, and he holds that, if anyone does fear death, his fear can be based only on a pretense of knowledge. The assumption underlying this claim is that, once one has given sufficient thought to some matter, one's emotions will follow suit. Fear will be dispelled by intellectual clarity. Similarly, according to Socrates, if one believes, upon reflection, that one should act in a particular way, then, necessarily, one's feelings about the act in question will accommodate themselves to one's belief—one will desire to act in that way. (Thus, Socrates denies the possibility of what has been called “weakness of will”—knowingly acting in a way one believes to be wrong.) It follows that, once one knows what virtue is, it is impossible not to act virtuously. Anyone who fails to act virtuously does so because he incorrectly identifies virtue with something it is not. This is what is meant by the thesis, attributed to Socrates by Aristotle, that virtue is a form of knowledge.

    Socrates' conception of virtue as a form of knowledge explains why he takes it to be of the greatest importance to seek answers to questions such as “What is courage?” and “What is piety?” If we could just discover the answers to these questions, we would have all we need to live our lives well. The fact that Socrates achieved a complete rational control of his emotions no doubt encouraged him to suppose that his own case was indicative of what human beings at their best can achieve.

    So Socrates' view on free will, believing that the unexamined life is not worth living, was the wisdom and will for self-control, which for him required reflection or a conscience, in other words, for socrates free will is impossible without self-control, for people without self control arent capable of free will because being slaves to their passions they lack the free-will required for self-control. His view in the republic, (in the dialogue with Thrasymachus) is in conflict with the libertarian view, where people who are "slaves" to their passions have the right to self-determination, regardless of what their idea of the best life is, and the reason for his disagreement with libertarian free will in the republic is that justice requires reflection, and that the tyrant is a slave to his passions, does not reflect on his actions and believes he has the right to self-determination.

    I also find the Stoic view (borrowed from Socrates) on emotional self-control interesting, namely, that all emotion emerges from incorrect judgement and that the person with reason properly cultivated is able to control their emotions because they posses the wisdom to properly put the source of emotional conflict into the correct perspective or context, and therefore able to make the correct decision.


    "for socrates free will is impossible without self-control, for people without self control arent capable of free will because being slaves to their passions they lack the free-will required for self-control." Not sure I understand what you mean here: are you saying that Socrates claims free-will is required for self-control or vice versa?

    for socrates free will and self-control are one and the same, combined in his commitment to the doctrine that reason, properly cultivated, can and ought to be the all-controlling factor in human life.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM