From Socrates’ claim in the Apology that a good person cannot be harmed to Plato’s characterizations of virtue as godlikeness in later dialogues like the Theaetetus and Timaeus, Platonic virtue seems to be an ideal of invulnerability. One might conclude that Plato would not count as virtues some of the qualities of character that we count as virtues, such as a compassionate disposition or disposition to pity, insofar as such qualities require their possessor to be vulnerable in ways that the gods are not, or insofar as Platonic justice excludes compassion. I argue that while compassion is indeed not a virtue for Plato, the reason is neither that pity is incompatible with godlikeness, for Plato’s gods do pity human beings, nor that justice rules out compassion, for Platonic justice includes pity for the wrongdoer. Rather, Plato does not recognize compassion as a virtue because compassion without wisdom runs the risk of taking on the (likely erroneous) evaluative perspective of the person undergoing evil, and because compassion is redundant given justice.
If you would like to join the speaker for dinner after the seminar, please email the chair by Tuesday before the workshop.
Workshop in Ancient Philosophy Convenors: Ursula Coope, Karen Margrethe Nielsen, and Luca Castagnoli