According to an interpretative framework with roots in Aristotle, Plato’s dialogues provide a record of a disagreement between Socrates and Plato about the existence and role of non-rational motivation (NRM).1 On this framework, the early dialogues represent the Socratic side of the argument by featuring a combination of views in moral psychology that I will call “austere intellectualism (AI).” The intellectualist component of this combination is the doctrine that an agent’s actions always follow his beliefs about the best while its austerity consists in the denial of the reality of non-rational motivation altogether.2 AI purports to account for all human motivation by adverting only to rationally-informed beliefs about the best and desires that arise from them with no role at all for other sources of motivation.3
This interpretative framework then takes the introduction of and emphasis on the appetitive and spirited parts of the soul in the Republic as evidence of Plato’s rejection not merely of the austerity of the Socratic view, but of its intellectualism as well. Plato (on this view) rejects the Socratic view so thoroughly that he embraces the full motivational sufficiency of non-rational desires and feelings, even in cases of synchronic akrasia.4 On this framework, then, the early and middle dialogues offer a choice between a Socratic view that secures unified agency at the cost of implausible austerity and a Platonic view that rejects not only the austerity but the intellectualism as well.5
In recent years, however, a number of interpreters broadly sympathetic to the distinction between Socratic and Platonic philosophy have argued that the familiar framework misconstrues the nature of the intellectualism defended in the early dialogues. These interpreters argue that even the Socrates of the early dialogues recognizes the existence of bona fide instances of NRM: desires and feelings that arise independently of reason and have motivational force. Nevertheless, Socrates remains an intellectualist about action by restricting the objects of direct influence by NRM to beliefs. When NRM influences actions, it does so indirectly by influencing the agent’s motivation-relevant beliefs. On this “refined intellectualism (RI)” as I will call it, Socrates accepts intellectualism about action (including the denial of synchronic akrasia) but rejects austerity.6
The significance of RI as an interpretative hypothesis should be clear. First, it preserves a distinction between Socratic and Platonic moral psychology; but in contrast to AI, it forges that distinction on the basis of differing views about the role rather than the existence of NRM. Second, it makes the form of intellectualism defended in the dialogues more philosophically formidable, at least insofar as it is capable of accommodating some of the putative data from introspection and folk psychology about the existence and influence of NRM. If Socratic intellectualism is refined rather than austere, it is not a paradoxical view but rather an achievement comparable to the celebrated theory of Republic IV.
The debate over RI as an interpretative hypothesis has focused especially on a passage in the Protagoras in which Socrates seems to posit just the kind of influence on beliefs by NRM that RI emphasizes.7 What I will argue in Section 2 below, however, is that the account in the Protagoras is unclear at the decisive points that would show it to be an instance of the RI strategy. Specifically, although the key passage describes a process by which beliefs and choices are subject to influence, it does not obviously accord NRM a role in that process; moreover, the general conception of desires and feelings operative in the relevant passages is consistent with AI as well.
Still, we are not forced to conclude that the promise of RI is unrealized in Plato’s dialogues. As I argue in Sections 3 and 4, RI is definitively present in the Phaedo – a dialogue not normally regarded as a locus of appealing views about moral psychology.8 In Section 3, I establish the presence of RI in the Phaedo, and in Section 4 I reconstruct the account of the influence of NRM on belief. That account, I argue, answers the questions left open in the Protagoras and does so very clearly along RI lines. The arguments of Sections 3 and 4 show that the Phaedo occupies a space closed off by both traditional developmentalism and the original RI alternative – a space in which the richer resources in moral psychology typically taken to be Platonic are employed within and not against intellectualism about action.
Before turning to the Protagoras, it is necessary to clarify the notion of NRM central to the discussion to follow. Psychological states will count as instances of NRM if and only if they satisfy these three conditions:
The Genetic Condition: they arise independently of the agent’s rational calculations about what is best and the beliefs formed on that basis.
The Opposition Condition: they are capable of standing in motivational opposition to the agent’s rationally formed beliefs about what is best.
The Motivation Condition: they exert a kind of force or nisus in the direction of an object or activity; they establish a line of inclination towards the object or activity.
The first two conditions capture the independence of NRM from the agent’s reasoning about the best.9 In the first instance, the independence at issue is genetic, pertaining to the way in which the motivational states come to be. In the Republic, for example, some non-rational appetites are said to come to be as a result of affections and diseases (439c9–d2). These appetites have a route into existence apart from rational calculation and the beliefs about overall good that it produces.
Second, NRM must be capable of standing in motivational opposition to the force of rationally produced judgments about what is best. Motivational opposition must be distinguished from other kinds of psychological conflict, such as that between perception and informed judgment in recalcitrant perceptual illusions. Such cognitive or intellectual conflicts are evidence of a kind of independence of perception from reason, but they are not evidence of NRM.10 The latter requires conflicting motives, with one thing pulling against another, as in the argument in Republic IV that distinguishes appetite from reason. Finally, to be a motive in the relevant way is to exert a force or nisus in the direction of objects or activities.
A genuine instance of the RI strategy, then, must describe a process by which an agent’s motivation-relevant beliefs are influenced by states that satisfy these three conditions.11 If the influencing states satisfy them, it will be clear that NRM is playing a role that makes a difference to action. With the conception of NRM thus clarified, let us turn now to the Protagoras.
2 The Power of Appearance in the Protagoras
NRM is of interest in Plato’s dialogues in part because its existence would threaten the sovereignty of psychological powers such as reasoning, thought, judgment, and knowledge of good and bad. The question about the possibility of synchronic akrasia arises explicitly in these terms in the Protagoras. Here Socrates and Protagoras agree that knowledge is strong – that once it is within us, it rules, leads, and is never dragged around by anything else (352c3–6).12 Against this, The Many maintain that in some instances something else rules over us, whether anger, pleasure or pain, love, or fear. Even knowledge can be made a slave by these rival forces (352b1–c3).
On the hedonist assumptions that govern Socrates’s argument against The Many, choosing a course of action is a matter of weighing up the pleasures and pains associated with different options.13 To succeed in life, we need some kind of measuring ability – a kind of know-how that allows us to weigh and judge pleasures and pains accurately (357a6–b5). When people go wrong, by contrast, they do so through a lack of knowledge – ignorance and false belief about the pleasure and pain associated with objects of choice (357d3–e3, 358c5–6).
Socrates contrasts the salutary effects of the measuring know-how with another factor he calls “the power of appearance.” The passage that presents this contrast is often cited in support of the RI interpretation of the Protagoras:
(T1) If our doing well consisted in doing and taking large quantities and avoiding and not doing small ones, what would be the salvation for our life? The measuring know-how or the power of appearance? The power of appearance makes us wander and exchange the same things up and down many times and regret our actions (πράξεσι) and choices (αἱρέσεσι) with respect to the large and the small. But the measuring know-how would make the appearance powerless by showing the truth, and remaining in the truth we would have peace in our souls, and so the measuring know-how would save our lives (356c8–e1).14
In this passage, Socrates apparently opens the door to RI by introducing the power of appearance as a non-epistemic factor that influences choices and actions. Moreover, the context plausibly connects the appearances at issue to pleasure and pain; thus, T1 can be read as making implicit reference to states such as desire, fear, and so on (mentioned explicitly at 352b–c). Finally, the phenomena described as the effects of the power of appearance, namely, indecisiveness, vacillation, and regret are often associated with conflict between NRM and reasoned beliefs about what is best.
These are the initial reasons for taking the appeal to the power of appearance in T1 to imply a role for NRM in the Protagoras. But as even the defenders of RI concede, these initial reasons are not decisive, and the fact that T1 explicitly refers to appearances rather than desires and feelings adds a substantial complication.15 For a more careful treatment of the question, let us consider whether the appearances at issue in T1 satisfy the conception of NRM sketched above, beginning with the Genetic Condition.
In the Protagoras, Socrates fails to identify the origin of the appearances (in contrast to Republic IV where he claims that appetites arise from affections and diseases). But Socrates’s reliance on the analogy to misleading sense perceptions seems to imply the genetic independence of the appearances from reasoning (356c–d). The clear suggestion in T1 is that the appearances have the kind of spontaneity and independence characteristic of perceptual states generally; it is just a fact of embodied cognitive life that we are appeared to in various ways, even when our faculties for reasoning are inactive or working on other things.
Moreover, the appearances are inputs to the reasoning processes of weighing and calculating assumed in the passage rather than being results of them. When walking past a barbecue restaurant, for example, the pleasing olfactory appearances are not produced by my thinking about food or reasoning about the place of my appetites in my overall good; they simply occur as a product of the interaction between my sensibility and the environment. Once they occur, they can be material for my reasoning and weighing processes to operate on, but they are not products of those processes. There are thus good reasons for thinking that the appearances at issue in T1 satisfy the Genetic Condition for being NRM. Either as a special case of or an analogy to sense perceptual states, the appearances arise independently of the reasoning and deliberative processes to which they serve as inputs.
Now let us consider the more complicated case of the Opposition Condition. This condition is important because defenders of AI sometimes take the sovereignty of reason to imply that when an agent arrives at a belief about what is best in a given situation, all other psychological factors “automatically adjust” to that belief, eliminating the possibility of opposition or conflict.16 If T1 shows clear evidence of opposition, then, this will be a strong sign that RI rather than AI is in play.
The complicating issue, however, is that the evidence supports RI only if the opposition or conflict at issue is between the appearances and concurrently held beliefs about what is best. AI obviously allows for the possibility that people can change their minds and be subject to conflicting views, judgments, and motivations over time. Thus, satisfaction of the Opposition Condition requires evidence of concurrent conflict rather than shifting commitments or other forms of diachronic opposition.
The initial difficulty in this connection is that Socrates’s language in T1 lacks specificity on the issue of concurrence. In the Phaedo and Republic, the language of concurrent opposition is explicitly employed and illustrated with images and examples that make it clear that one thing is pulling against another (Phaedo 94b7–d6, Republic 436b–439e). In T1, by contrast, the emphasis is on vacillation between options – a phenomenon that may or may not involve concurrent conflict.17
Notice further that the reference to regret in T1 need not imply concurrent conflict but can be explained by any account involving vacillation or a change of mind.18 Any such account will yield a sense in which the agent “knew better” at one point and thus has grounds for regret.19 Indeed, even an agent who chooses on the basis of a momentary attachment to one of a succession of pleasing appearances may subsequently regret not choosing one of the others.20 The mention of regret thus does not clearly indicate the satisfaction of the Opposition Condition and so does not tilt the scales in favor of the RI reading.
Turning finally to the Motivation Condition, the key question is whether the appearances in T1 are best understood as inclinations – states that exert a pull or nisus in the direction of (or away from) objects or activities. But in this context, the use of the expression ‘the power of appearance’ in T1 is especially vexing because it is possible to take the appearances at issue simply to be perceptual, such as the smell of the barbecue wafting from a restaurant. And it seems reasonable for the defender of AI to insist that states of sensory appearance are not themselves inclinations.
In response, it is open to the defender of RI to argue that the perceptual appearances at issue in T1 are motivational because they are appearances of pleasure. On this view, the pleasantness of the barbecue smells confers motivational force on them, perhaps sufficient even to undermine a commitment to a diet. In such a case, we can explain the change of mind by adverting to the power of the olfactory appearances to destabilize the commitment and affect the choice and action.21
While this analysis of the example is congenial to RI, it competes with an alternative that remains consistent with AI. On the austere alternative, the olfactory appearances are states of receptivity, contiguous in time with but crucially distinct from motivational states of inclination or wanting. The motivational states are immediately aroused by the appearances, but they are numerically distinct from them and in fact belong to a different psychological kind.
This alternative can be understood on parallel with the relationship between perceptual appearance and belief. In cases of especially striking sense perceptions, the transition to belief may be immediate and involuntary; nevertheless, it is possible to distinguish between the experience as a state of receptivity and the belief as a state of affirmation. Similarly, the alternative holds that striking appearances of pleasure may lead immediately to inclination and wanting, but the affective experience is different from the wanting.
One advantage of dividing up the territory this way is that it allows for cases in which a person has the relevant appearances without being moved at all. There are teetotalers, for example, who acknowledge that some drinks look and smell pleasant; nevertheless they report no desire or inclination to drink. Similarly, there are committed vegetarians who are appeared to pleasantly by the smell of bacon but do not want it at all. There may be an affective aspect to the appearance in these cases that is missing from other perceptual appearances, but this kind of affection is distinguishable from motivational force, nisus, or inclination toward the object. The states with the status of inclinations belong on the output side of the transition as the influenced rather than the influencing states.
The hypothesis that motivational states are results of appearances (rather than cases of appearance) construes them as analogous to perceptual beliefs. It thus coheres well with the conception defended in the Protagoras. Rather than agreeing with The Many that fear and other inclinations often overrule one’s beliefs about good and bad, Socrates views those inclinations as simply identical to such beliefs:
(T2) Well, then, is there something you call dread or fear? And I address this to you, Prodicus. I say that whether you call it fear or dread, it is a kind of expectation (προσδοκίαν τινὰ) of something bad […]. If what I have said up to now is true, would anyone be willing to go toward what he dreads, when he can go toward what he does not? Or is this impossible from what we have agreed? For it was agreed that what one dreads one believes (ἡγεῖσθηαι) to be bad (358d9–e5).
Recall that on AI, motivation is strongly dependent on an agent’s beliefs about the best. In his defense of AI, for example, Lorenz takes Socrates to hold that all desires are identical to or spring from beliefs about the best.22 T2 provides some evidence for this view by defining fear as a belief that encodes expectations about the bad (pain) associated with options of choice. T1 and the accompanying perceptual analogy suggest that the appearances are among the inputs that serve as the bases for the expectation-beliefs that constitute inclinations such as fear.
Let us now consider an example to illustrate the respective roles of the appearances and fear on this reading of T1 and T2. Imagine a person standing in line for a vaccination. On arrival, he has no fear.23 But as he moves closer to the front of the line, the needle comes into his view. As his turn approaches, the needle starts to appear bigger and sharper, though of course it is not really changing. The visual appearances of the needle are then factored into his process of weighing and calculating pleasures and pains until finally, after a period of vacillation, he comes to believe that there is greater pain associated with staying in line and getting the shot. This belief constitutes fear.24 He acts on his belief/fear and leaves the clinic. Hours later when he is no longer under the influence of the appearances, he regrets his decision.
In this example, there are appearances that cause vacillation and ultimately a change in the agent’s decision that he later regrets; but the appearances in question are states of visual perception that do not satisfy the Motivation Condition. They may have an aversive character that other visual appearances lack; but they do not establish a line of inclination away from the needle. It is only after the visual appearances are factored into the weighing that an inclination arises in the form of fear. Although this inclination satisfies the Motivation Condition, it is not an instance of NRM because it does not satisfy the Genetic Condition.
The RI reading of the Protagoras remains in doubt because the discussions of appearances and inclinations in T1 and T2 are consistent with what I will call “the Perceptual Model.” The Perceptual Model is (partially) defined by two features:
(F1) In cases of non-rational influence, the influencing states are perceptual appearances which may be affective but are not motivational. These appearances satisfy the Genetic Condition but not the Motivation Condition and a fortiori not the Opposition Condition.
(F2) In cases of non-rational influence, motivational states such as desire and fear occur as the output, identical to expectation-beliefs produced by the processes of weighing and calculating. These states satisfy the Motivation Condition but not the Genetic and Opposition Conditions.
On the Perceptual Model, then, none of the states invoked in T1 and T2 satisfies all three conditions for being NRM. Indeed, none satisfies both the Genetic and Motivation Conditions. But this is just to say that the key passages in the Protagoras are consistent with AI. We need not conclude, however, that the promise of RI goes unrealized in Plato’s dialogues. In the Phaedo, Socrates defends an account that clearly departs from the Perceptual Model by including states of NRM among those that influence belief.
3 The RI Framework in the Phaedo
The life of philosophy is defended in the Phaedo as the sole means of establishing and protecting the soul’s naturally ordained status as ruler (68d–69e, 79e8–80a2). The soul must rule over the body – a numerically distinct entity capable of exerting a kind of force or necessity on the soul’s operations (66c7–d2, 82e2–4, 83c5–8). In a passage with deep similarities to the introduction of NRM in book IV of the Republic, Socrates characterizes the soul’s ruling role as fundamentally oppositional:
(T3) Next, of all the things in a human being, is there any other than soul that you would say is the ruler, and especially a wise soul? Does the soul rule by acquiescing (συγχωροῦσαν) to the body’s affections or by actually opposing (ἐναντιουμένην) them? What I mean is something like the following. When heat and thirst are there inside, the soul pulls (ἕλκειν) towards the opposite, not drinking, and when hunger is there inside, the soul pulls toward not eating. And there are surely countless other ways in which we see the soul opposing the bodily affections (ἐναντιουμένην τὴν ψυχὴν τοῖς κατὰ τὸ σῶμα), aren’t there (94b4–c1)?25
This passage and its immediate sequel provide a detailed characterization of the activities the soul performs as ruler over the body. In the sequel, Socrates claims that the soul must oppose and master the body throughout life, using harsh methods such as gymnastic and gentler methods such as threats and reprimands, conversing (διαλεγομένη) with the desires, fears, and rages as if with another thing (94c8–d6).26 The broader context of T3 thus identifies states such as desire, fear, and rage as among the subjects over which the soul must rule while T3 itself identifies bodily appetites such as hunger and thirst as those it must oppose. The use of the concept of pulling (94b9), familiar from the Republic IV discussion of conflict between reason and appetite (439b–c), establishes that the opposition is motivational. Appetites such as hunger and thirst, and presumably the other desires, fears, and rages at issue in the passage (94d5), thus clearly satisfy the Opposition and Motivation Conditions.
These states plainly satisfy the Genetic Condition as well. They are all classified as affections of the body (94b7–8, 94e3–4), a designation that can be read in stronger or weaker ways. On the one hand, some interpreters take T3 to imply that the relevant states are experienced by the body as subject. While this is a plausible reading of T3, other passages suggest the weaker view that these states are produced by bodily affections or conditions but are nevertheless experienced by the soul as subject.27
In any case, the important point for our purposes is that T3 invokes a genetic distinction between motivational states broadly similar to that in Republic IV. Some states come about through affections or conditions of the body; others are produced by the soul itself in its efforts to rule over the body. States that belong to these two classes sometimes stand in motivational opposition, pulling against each other. They therefore satisfy all three conditions on NRM.28
It should be emphasized that the characterization of bodily desires and feelings in T3 is of a piece with the conception operative throughout the dialogue.29 The claims that they come about through the body and exert force on the soul are present in the earliest discussions (66c2–d7); and other passages describe bodily desires and loves as savage or bestial (ἀγρίων ἐρώτων, 81a5–8), employing language familiar from the discussion of the appetites of the tyrant in the Republic (571c–580a). To call desires and loves bestial is presumably to emphasize both their independence from reason and their motivational force. These features are highlighted in explicit language in T3; but this is entirely consistent with the picture that emerges from the earlier discussions. Unlike in the Protagoras, then, a clear and consistent commitment to the existence of NRM is evident in the Phaedo.
The more controversial question, however, is whether the other element of RI, a commitment to intellectualism about action, is evident as well. The question is a matter of controversy because some passages can be read as having anti-intellectualist import. For example, some interpreters take T3 to imply that in those cases where the soul does not oppose bodily desires, the relevant actions (e. g., eating) simply follow with no contribution from rational belief or choice.30 Similarly, other interpreters argue that by using terms such as ‘bestial’ to describe bodily desires and loves, Socrates implicitly suggests that they are sufficiently powerful to override concurrently held beliefs.31
While these considerations may constitute a prima facie case in favor of the anti-intellectualist interpretation, they are far from decisive. It is possible to read T3 as claiming that the soul always faces two options when confronted with the pull of non-rational desire: oppose or acquiesce. On this reading, even when the soul fails to oppose and gives way, it still must agree or acquiesce to the command expressed by the desire if an action is to result. Bodily desires still turn out to be the motivational sources of these actions, but their force always passes through an acquiescing and a choice. Similarly, although classifying certain desires as ‘bestial’ certainly underscores their non-rational origins and motivational force, it does not tell us how they operate in beings with reason. It would be open to Socrates to maintain that the way bestial desires exercise their force in rational animals is by forcibly co-opting reason for as long as their intensity lasts.
It is thus possible to question not only the weight of the evidence for the anti-intellectualist interpretation but even the anti-intellectualist import of the claims that constitute that evidence. Still, questioning the import of those claims is at most a necessary preliminary step in defending the intellectualist interpretation. A successful defense requires providing positive reasons to embrace that interpretation. Here there are two major lines of argument in support of intellectualism in the Phaedo.
The first begins by observing the conspicuous absence of any reference to synchronic akrasia, despite the dialogue’s focus on the threats to philosophy posed by bodily desires and feelings.32 Socrates defends the philosophical ethic by means of a detailed parallel between the liberating power of philosophical practice and the imprisoning power of bodily desires. If it were possible for concurrently held beliefs to be overridden by bodily desires, we would expect Socrates to mention this possibility both because it would constitute an obvious threat to philosophical practice and because it would fit naturally within the theme of the imprisoning power of bodily desires.
Instead, when we examine the passages that clarify the nature of that power, we find two striking facts. First, Socrates identifies an explicit line of reasoning by which philosophers justify their practice of avoiding bodily desires and feelings as far as possible. They justify it by adverting to the threat posed by the influence on belief of intense bodily states, with no mention of any other specific threat (83b5–c8). Having their beliefs overridden by NRM would be a natural object of concern for philosophers, if indeed it were possible. But the justification of their ascetic avoidance betrays no such concern.
Moreover, when Socrates clarifies the meaning of the metaphor of imprisonment and related notions, he always emphasizes that bodily desires and pleasures work by securing the cooperation of the soul’s capacities for belief and choice. In addition to describing influence on belief as the means by which the soul is bound tight to the body (83d1–2), Socrates offers a revisionary account of being overcome and ruled by pleasure. According to this account, there is a kind of slavish, illusory virtue that involves trading pleasures and pains like currency, without any real wisdom. Those who possess illusory moderation seem genuinely moderate because they avoid (ἀπέχονται, 68e7) some pleasures; but they do so only for the sake of other pleasures, not for the sake of wisdom through purification.33
For our purposes, the crucial point is that this passage does not invoke synchronic akrasia to define being overcome (κρατούμενοι, 68e7) and ruled (ἄρχεσθαι, 69a1) by pleasure. Rather, it invokes a pattern of choice and avoidance that superficially resembles the philosopher’s but is ultimately the slavish devotion to worthless pleasures (ἀτιμάζειν, 64d8–e1). The figure who exemplifies weakness and slavishness in the Phaedo is not the akratic but rather the body-lover (68b8–c3).
Similarly, in a subsequent passage, Socrates offers an intellectualist account of what it is to surrender (παραδιδόναι) to bodily pleasure. The soul realizes that if it were to thus surrender, it would be doing so of its own accord (αὐτὴν, 84a4), thereby binding itself again, in a kind of reversal of Penelope’s choice to unravel what she had woven (84a2–6). In both passages, the power of bodily desire and pleasure is always described as working by securing the cooperation of the soul’s capacity for choice rather than by motivating actions directly or by overriding the soul’s concurrent choices or beliefs. These passages are thus entirely consonant with the intellectualist reading of T3, according to which even when the soul fails to rule properly over bodily states, it still must acquiesce if any action is to result.
This is no mere “argument from silence.” The absence of synchronic akrasia is especially conspicuous in these contexts because its possibility would be a grave threat to the practice of philosophy and it would be a natural way of explaining what it is to be overcome or to surrender. Instead, when Socrates gives substance to those concepts, he always describes bodily desire and pleasure as working by getting the soul to cooperate in its own ethical demise – as surrendering by its own accord rather than by being overridden against its will.34
The passages discussed so far provide positive albeit indirect evidence for the presence of intellectualism. The second argument appeals to more direct evidence – texts that identify beliefs about the best and choices as the true causes of human actions. The relevant claims occur in the context of the so-called “autobiographical passage,” in which Socrates expresses his disappointment at Anaxagoras for failing to follow through on his project of making Mind the fundamental cause (96a6–99d2). Rather than explaining that Socrates sits in jail because of his bones, sinews, voice, ears, and so on, one should appeal to Socrates’s judgment of what is better and more just (98c2–e5). The judgment is the true cause of his action.
Socrates extends this point to other cases as well, such as his counter-factual escape, which would be explained by his belief about the best (98e5–99a4); and his conviction by the Athenian jurors’ vote, which is due to their judgment of the better (98e2–3).35 The extension of the doctrine to the case of the jurors indicates that it is not limited to Socrates’s actions; or to the actions of the philosopher; or to actions that are taken correctly. It applies to human actions quite generally: people act as they do because of their choices of what is best (99a4–b4). Call this the “Intellectualist Causal Principle” (ICP).
Two points are worth noting about Socrates’s introduction of the ICP. First, although the passage as a whole is aporetic about a fundamental role for mind in causation generally, this seems not to apply to Socrates’s remarks about action and the ICP. In this context, Socrates makes confident assertions about what it would be true to say and what could be maintained only out of confusion (99a5–b1). The ICP falls into the former category; assigning the status of true cause to material factors, body parts, and so on falls into the latter. Socrates thus seems to be defending the ICP in propria persona.
Second, the ICP expresses a view about human action which would be difficult to reconcile with the possibility of synchronic akrasia. To believe in the possibility of synchronic akrasia is to believe in a class of actions caused not by choices of what is best but by states of NRM which override concurrently held beliefs about what is best. The existence of such actions would falsify the ICP as a general doctrine about the true causes of human action.36
By endorsing the ICP, then, Socrates defends an intellectualist principle about action that (i) has wide application and (ii) would be difficult to reconcile with the existence of synchronic akrasia. Although Socrates does not explicitly deny the possibility of synchronic akrasia in the Phaedo, the two arguments just advanced provide both indirect and direct evidence of the existence of a variety of intellectualism about action in the Phaedo similar in strength to that defended in the Protagoras.
Moreover, when the two arguments are considered in tandem, the intellectualist interpretation of the Phaedo exhibits a high degree of explanatory coherence. The first argument emphasizes Socrates’s refusal to explain the soul’s imprisonment or its means of surrendering to pleasure in terms of synchronic akrasia or being forced against its will; instead, he always assigns the soul some active role in bringing these conditions about. If we treat this refusal as an explanandum, the commitment to intellectualism and the ICP serve as a plausible explanans. Bodily desires and pleasures initiate the process of imprisonment and entice the soul to surrender; but imprisonment and surrender come about only with the cooperation of the soul’s capacity for belief and choice.
What this shows is that the commitment to the ICP should not be seen as isolated within the discussion of causation in the autobiographical passage. Rather, it informs and explains the noteworthy pattern in Socrates’s explanations of the crucial concepts of imprisonment, surrender, slavishness, and so on. In addition to the direct evidence for this commitment, then, it derives further support from its utility in explaining a variety of textual phenomena throughout the Phaedo.
I have argued in this section that the moral psychology of the Phaedo combines a clear commitment to the existence of NRM with a commitment to intellectualism about action. What remains to be examined is Socrates’s attempt to explain how NRM influences beliefs directly and actions and ways of life indirectly. To this examination I now turn.
4 Non-rational Influence on Belief in the Phaedo
One of the defining features of the philosophical ethic defended in the Phaedo is a concern to avoid the influence on belief by states of NRM:
(T4) [A] The soul of the true philosopher believes that he must not oppose this liberation and so he avoids these pleasures, desires, fears, pains and fears as far as possible, reasoning that whenever he experiences intense pleasure, fear, pain or desire, he suffers from them not only the evil one might expect, such as illness or excess because of desires; he also suffers the greatest (μέγιστόν) and most extreme (ἔσχατόν) of all evils, though he fails to recognize it.
What is it, Socrates?
[B] That the soul of every person, when it feels intense pleasure or pain at something, is forced at the same time to believe concerning that which affects it most in this way that it is most clear (ἐναργέστατόν) and most real (ἀληθέστατον), when it is not. And such things are especially the visible, are they not?
And isn’t it in this experience that the soul is really bound by the body?
[C] Because each pleasure and pain fastens it to the body with a sort of rivet, pins it there, and makes it bodily, so that it believes to be real whatever the body says is real. For by sharing the views and pleasures of the body, the soul is forced to share in its ways (ὁμότροπός) and nurture (ὁμότροφος), and in that condition will never depart to Hades in purity, but must always go away contaminated with the body. It sinks quickly into another body again and grows into it, like seed that is sown. Because of this it can have no part in the communion with the divine, pure, and uniform (83b5–e3).
This passage describes a process that begins from intense bodily affections, proceeds through changes in the soul’s beliefs caused by those affections, and ends ultimately with the soul taking on the ways and nurture of the body. The initial significance of the passage for the RI interpretation should be clear. Part B describes precisely the kind of direct influence by NRM on belief emphasized by RI. Although Part B mentions only intense pleasure and pain, Part A includes desire and fear as well (83b5–9). Parts A and B together thus identify influence on belief as the most serious ethical threat posed by bodily affections such as pleasure, pain, desire, and fear.
But as Part C makes clear, the influence of these affections is not exhausted by their immediate effects on belief. As the soul continues to share in intense bodily experiences, it undergoes more permanent changes to its character, nurture, and way of life. These changes fully bind the soul to the body and visible world and exclude the intelligibles entirely from its ken.37 The bridge between the initial influence on belief and the more permanent changes is thus the continued sharing in bodily experiences (83d7–8). In the absence of the philosopher’s ascetic avoidance, the initial influence gives rise to a pattern of attention and action that exposes the soul to further intense experiences; these experiences reinforce the changes in belief, leading to further experiences, and so on until the soul has taken on a structured way of life focused around intensely affecting objects.
This reading receives support from the claim in a companion passage to T4 that the contamination of the soul – the condition that T4 ultimately aims to explain – comes about through the constant association of the soul and body and through extensive practice (διὰ τὴν πολλὴν μελέτην, 81c4–6).38 The role of a structured practice in contaminating the soul preserves the parallel to philosophy and its power to purify and liberate the soul.
The significance of the implicit reference to practices in Part C is that it secures the indirect influence of NRM on actions and ways of life required by RI. Although Part B does not explicitly connect the influence on belief to immediate choices and actions, Part C clearly assumes that in many cases, influence on belief is the first stage in the development of a pattern of attention and action focused on bodily objects. Only if the influence of NRM on belief often gives rise to such a pattern is it reasonable for Socrates to identify such influence as the experience (πάθει, 83d1) by which the soul becomes bound to the body in the way that affects its ways and nurture. The success of the explanation Socrates offers in T4 thus depends on the defining claim of RI that states of NRM influence beliefs directly and actions and ways of life indirectly.
In summary, then, the initial argument in favor of the RI reading of T4 can be captured as follows:
(P1) Bodily desires and fears are included among the states that influence beliefs directly and actions indirectly.
(P2) Bodily desires and fears are explicitly conceived in T3 and its context as states that satisfy the three conditions on NRM.
(P3) This conception is not limited to T3 but is consistent throughout the dialogue.
(C) Therefore, the account of influence by NRM on belief conforms to the RI strategy.
This argument relies primarily on uncontroversial facts about the account of influence in T4 together with the arguments in Section 3 above about how bodily states are conceived in T3. The only plausible locus of resistance to the argument is the claim about consistency in P3. Although this claim receives some defense in Section 3 above, it might be argued that I have not yet shown the relevant conception to be at work within T4 itself. Perhaps Socrates employs a different conception of desires and fears in that passage; or more plausibly, the status of those states as instances of NRM might be irrelevant to the explanation of their influence on belief. If so, the general commitment to RI in the Phaedo would remain, but the crucial explanation would not exemplify it in the relevant way.
Careful examination of the explanation in Parts B and C reveals, however, that both of its essential elements, the notion of bodily assertions and the intensity of the influencing states, invoke the conception in ways that confirm P3 of the initial argument. In Part C of T4, Socrates makes the key explanatory claim that influence on belief occurs when the soul believes to be real whatever the body says (φῆι) is real (83d6). By employing the notion of assertion in this way, Socrates establishes a direct link between T4 and T3 – the passage in which bodily desires and feelings are explicitly conceived as instances of NRM. The immediate sequel to T3 includes the claim that the soul converses with bodily desires and feelings as with another thing (94d5–6). Part C of T4 confirms the implication that the conversations are two-way exchanges with the body not relegated to just a listening role. Intense bodily desires and feelings assert or declare things to be real.
Now it is true that employing the notion of bodily assertions in this way seems especially designed to emphasize the satisfaction of the Genetic Condition. The desires and feelings at issue arise through bodily affections and conditions rather than through reasoning. In that sense, they are assertions made by the body. But the passage that introduces the conversational conception also explicitly conceives of bodily desires and fears as satisfying not only the Genetic Condition but the other two conditions as well. Thus, it is simply not plausible to claim that T4 is operating with a different conception of bodily desires and fears than the one explicitly defended in T3. When Socrates claims that intense bodily desires and feelings assert things to be real, then, he is invoking the conception of those states as instances of NRM.
Moreover, when we ask how bodily desires and feelings make the relevant assertions, it is clear that intensity, conceived as a factor that heightens motivational and affective force, is playing an essential role. Consider first the role of intensity in explaining what the soul ends up believing through the process of influence by NRM. The superlatives most clear and most real are crucial to the ethical significance of the belief produced by the process because they explain why the soul becomes narrowly focused on the bodily things to the exclusion of the intelligibles. This narrowing of focus is an essential part of the soul’s becoming bound to the body and imprisoned in the physical world. But it seems clear that the intensity of the influencing states explains the superlatives in the resulting belief.39 It would be hopeless to claim, for example, that mild hunger pangs force the soul into the belief with the superlatives. If, on the other hand, intense hunger seizes the soul’s attention, monopolizes it, and drives it to relieve the hunger before it can focus on anything else, the transition to the extreme belief becomes more plausible.
But the role of intensity is not limited to explaining the superlatives. The common denominator of the predicates ‘most clear’ and ‘most real’ is that the object stands out from other things as especially deserving of attention and concern. In the case of clarity, the object stands out as being especially evident, salient, and compelling. As suggested just above, one of the ways in which intense hunger, thirst, or sexual desire make their objects salient and compelling is by virtue of their status as urges or drives. Intense hunger moves us to seek relief and food will not cease to be vivid and salient until the appetite is satisfied.40
In the case of reality, there are two related meanings corresponding to two appearance/reality contrasts emphasized in the Phaedo. The first is a broadly ontological meaning that derives from the view of reality as divided between a domain of true beings that are what things really are and a domain of inferior beings that strive to be like the real beings but fall short (65d11–e4, 75b4–8). The second is a more evaluative meaning that derives from the distinction between the philosopher’s virtues as the true measure of value and bodily pleasures and pains as a counterfeit currency (69a6–b8).
The intensity of bodily desire, pleasure, fear, and pain alike asserts the reality of the affecting objects in the first sense. Their common intensity allows them to elevate bodily things as the true beings – the things with a firm foothold in reality. Intensity makes bodily objects subjectively salient and compelling and the soul confuses this with the objective reality and being of the objects themselves. Intense bodily phenomena generally, fear and pain no less than desire and pleasure, force the soul into this mistake by declaring their objects to be the real beings.
The more evaluative meaning of reality is expressed by the extreme positive and negative valence of desire/pleasure and fear/pain respectively. Intense desire and pleasure cooperate to declare bodily objects of pursuit and acquisition the true goods; intense bodily fear and pain cooperate to declare the objects of aversion as the true evils.41 When intense desire for wine is followed by intense satisfaction at drinking, for example, the intense affections cooperate to declare and apparently confirm that wine is a true good – something that merits the soul’s attention and pursuit. Similarly, intense fear of biological death and intense grief at loss cooperate to declare biological death a true evil.
With respect to both of the meanings of reality, the explanation is strengthened when intensity is conceived as heightening the motivational force of desire and fear and the affective power of pleasure and pain. It seems clear that being powerfully moved by an object will increase one’s conviction that the object is a real being with a firm foothold in reality. When intense appetites and aversions are intensified to the point of being bestial, the soul is convinced for that period that it is being moved by something very real.
In the case of pleasure and pain, intensity turns the former into ecstasy and the latter into agony. While it would not be plausible to claim that mild amusement and minor discomfort force the soul to view their objects as true goods and bads, the claim is defensible in the case of ecstasy and agony. It is difficult to imagine someone sincerely denying in thought while in the throes of ecstasy that the affecting object is good; similarly, a person experiencing agony with all of its affective power will be forced for that time to view the object as something bad or evil. Moreover, repeated experiences of the same kind cannot help but affect one’s more permanent views about which things are the true goods to be pursued and which are the dangerous evils.
In these ways, the appeal to intensity implicates the motivational and affective force of the influencing states in the explanation. The status of those states as drives and affects intensified to the point of being bestial plays an essential role in explaining how they force the soul to view the objects as most compelling and most real, in both the ontological and evaluative senses. Unlike in the Perceptual Model, intensity conceived as heightening motivational force is one of the principal means by which NRMs influence beliefs.
The essential role of motivational force in the explanation of influence on belief defeats the last remaining strategy for rejecting P3 of the initial argument. Not only is the conception of desires and feelings from T3 consistent throughout the Phaedo, that conception is operative in the explanation of the influencing role of NRM. That account therefore is a clear instance of the RI strategy for according NRM a role in human actions and ways of life.
Let me conclude this section by explaining how the role of NRM fits within the general RI theory described in Section 3 above. Consider first an example of choice and action with no influence on belief by NRM. When Socrates remains in prison, the true cause is his choice of the best (99b1), which is based on his belief that it would be more just and noble to suffer whatever punishment the city decides than to escape (98e5–99a4). This belief is ultimately the product of various kinds of reasoning and thought using the soul by itself, including inquiries about the natures of justice, nobility, civic responsibility, and so on.
Contrast this with the case of a novice wine-drinker at a tasting. His first tastes produce a rush of pleasure which immediately gives rise to an intense desire for more. The residual pleasure together with the intense desire force him to believe at that moment that wine is most clear and most real. While still guided by the influenced belief, he chooses to buy an extravagantly-priced bottle to take home. This case runs parallel to the Socrates case in two important respects. The true cause of the drinker’s action of buying the bottle is his choice; and that choice is based on a value-attaching belief. But in this case, the value-attaching belief is a product of influence by NRM: the intense bodily pleasure at drinking the wine and the ensuing intense desire force the drinker to believe that wine is most clear and most real. This belief is not the product of inquiry or thought but rather of the influence brought to bear on the soul by the pleasure and desire.
Despite the presence of influence by NRM in this case, however, the true cause of the action remains the agent’s choice. His choice is based on his concurrently held belief about the superior clarity and reality of the wine; just as Socrates’s choice is based on his belief about the superior justice and nobility of remaining in jail. In both cases, the agent views his action as justified at the time of choice. Thus, although the drinker’s action has its ultimate motivational ground in states of NRM, it is not motivated directly by those states nor does it exemplify the kind of conflict and irrationality characteristic of synchronic akrasia.
In this way, the case of the wine-drinker involves no violation of the ICP and therefore no violation of the intellectualist component of RI. If the agent were to continue to act in this way, he would eventually become imprisoned, but always with his own acquiescence and never against his will.
The clear presence of RI in the Phaedo but not the Protagoras poses a challenge to both the traditional developmentalist interpretation and the original RI alternative. Common to both are the claims that a commitment to intellectualism belongs to Socratic but not Platonic moral psychology and that the introduction of NRM in the context of the soul–body distinction in the Phaedo signals an allegiance to the spirit of Platonic anti-intellectualism if not to the letter.42
What the arguments of Sections 3 and 4 above show, however, is that the Phaedo defends a view for which there is no room in either traditional developmentalism or the original RI alternative: a moral psychology in which the resources typically taken to be Platonic are employed within and not against the framework of intellectualism about action. These richer resources include bodily states that satisfy all three conditions on NRM. The richer moral psychology allows the Socrates of the Phaedo to do full justice to the scope of the threat posed by the body to philosophy; but he does so while still defending an intellectualism about action worthy of the name.43
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At Magna Moralia 1182a15–26, Aristotle claims that Socrates did away with the non-rational part of the soul while Plato rightly divided the soul into rational and non-rational parts. For helpful discussion of this and related passages, see Irwin 2008.
It is consistent with AI to claim that Socrates recognizes the existence of non-rational desires and feelings but denies them independent motivational force. Because they lack such force, they are not instances of NRM. This form of AI takes the desires and feelings to be identical or at least strongly analogous to states of sensory perception, as in Reshotko 2006, 83–8.
The claim that the Socrates of the early dialogues accepts AI is defended by Frede 1992, xxix–xxx, Irwin 1995, 209, Lorenz 2006, 28, Moss 2006, 532, Penner 1997, 129; 2011, 261 f., and Price 2011, 276.
For this view of the Republic, see Cooper 1999, 128, Frede 1992, xxx, Irwin 1995, 203–43, and Reeve 1988, 134 f. For an alternative reading of the Republic that denies its departure from intellectualism, see Carone 2001, 121–43, Gerson 2014, 420–8, Rowe 2007, 164–85, and Sedley 2013, 85–9. Carone’s arguments are discussed critically in Brickhouse/Smith 2010, 199–213, and Price 2011, 274–83. Consideration of the relevant evidence in the Republic is beyond the scope of this essay.
This conception of the options is implied by the discussions in Irwin 1995, 242 f., and Price 2011, 276 f.
Defenders of RI include Devereux 1995, Brickhouse and Smith 2010, and Singpurwalla 2006. See also Cooper 2012, 36–8. For attempts to try to pinpoint exactly where RI and AI part company, see Reshotko 2006, 74–91, and Brickhouse/Smith 2012, 234–48.
The case for the existence of NRM in the early dialogues does not rest entirely on the Protagoras. For discussion of relevant further evidence, see Brickhouse/Smith 2010, 50–62. My focus here is on the phenomenon of influence on belief because it is the primary means by which RI secures the crucial link between NRM and actions.
Although see Beere 2010 for an interesting and broadly sympathetic discussion of the moral psychology and ethics of the Phaedo. Beere briefly discusses some differences between the Protagoras and Phaedo on pages 270–2.
Interpreters who emphasize the independence of non-rational states include Lorenz 2006, 28, and Singpurwalla 2006, 243. See especially Ganson 2009 who argues for an independence-based conception against the alternative defended in Moss 2008.
For helpful discussion of Plato’s treatment of recalcitrant illusions in Republic X, see Storey 2014. In that text, Plato seems to take the existence of recalcitrant perceptual illusions as an additional reason to divide the soul into rational and non-rational parts (602c–603a). My point here is the narrow one that only motivational conflict is clear evidence of the existence of NRM.
Notice that it is possible for a psychological state to satisfy these three conditions without being “brute” or good-independent, so long as its evaluative content arises independently from and can oppose the agent’s beliefs about the best. In the Phaedo, for example, intense bodily states are described as making assertions about what is real or true (83d6). This does not preclude them from being non-rational in the relevant sense because they make their assertions independently of the agent’s beliefs about what is best. For helpful discussion of varieties of good-independence, see Moss 2006, 525–30.
Most interpreters take Socrates’s position here to include the denial of the possibility of all synchronic akrasia. However, Callard 2014, 35–63, argues that Socrates preserves the possibility of a kind of akrasia by identifying a mental state weaker than knowledge and belief that people sometimes act against. Full engagement with Callard’s interpretation is beyond the scope of this essay. See also Clark 2012, 238.
For an opinionated overview of the interpretative options for understanding the role of the hedonist assumptions in the dialogue, see Shaw 2015, 11–40.
See Singpurwalla 2006, 250, and especially Callard 2014, 58 n43.
For this view, see Penner 1992, 128. This aspect of the austere view receives critical discussion in Brickhouse and Smith 2010, 50–7.
See Gorgias 481d5-e1 and Hippias Minor 376c2-4 for similar language used to connote intellectual confusion. Similarly, a parallel passage in book X of the Republic (602c-e) is unambiguously about sense perception. The passage contrasts misleading appearances such as the stick that looks bent in the water with measurement and calculation. The appearances are said to cause wandering and confusion.
See Singpurwalla 2006, 247, for a defense of RI that emphasizes regret.
Shields 2007, 65, is correct to argue that regret can follow from many different kinds of failure to implement one’s initial resolutions, not just those that are preceded by motivational conflict. At Republic 577d10-e3, Socrates claims that the soul of the tyrant is full of regret, but the tyrant is obviously very different from the akratic. For helpful discussion, see Wilburn 2014, 69.
For an amusing example of this phenomenon, see David Sedaris’s descriptions of his shopping excursions in Japan. Sedaris 2014, 35 f.
One and the same state might be conceived as both a sensory appearance and a proto-desire, as suggested by Singpurwalla 2006, 252.
Lorenz 2006, 28.
In Devereux’s primary example, he assumes that the person already has a non-rational craving for cigarettes that ends up influencing her belief on a given occasion. But this assumption is not grounded by anything explicitly in the text and it is not necessary to explain the role of the power of appearance. See Devereux 1995, 393.
Interestingly, Singpurwalla 2006, 252 f., agrees that states such as fear and desire belong on the output side of the transition; still, her view counts as an instance of RI because she takes the appearances to be proto-desires with motivational force. She then identifies desires with evaluative beliefs. Similarly, Devereux 1995, 395, claims that non-rational desires are aroused by sense perceptions but then attributes the power to influence beliefs to the desires thus aroused. But it is possible that by the time anything properly called a desire is aroused, the belief is already destabilized so that there is no concurrently held belief that is in conflict with the desire. Devereux’s most careful explanation of how influence on belief comes about is thus consistent with AI.
Translations from the Phaedo follow Sedley/Long 2010 with minor changes.
The fact that even the wise soul must oppose bodily affections everywhere and throughout life raises a severe problem for Whiting’s claims that the philosopher will experience no conflict and that conflict is constitutive of psychic partitioning. See Whiting 2012, 207 f.
For the view that bodily states belong to the body as subject, see Bobonich 2002, 28–30, Irwin 1977, 160; 1989, 235 n27, Lorenz 2006, 37, Price 1995, 36–40, and Reeve 2013, 102. See especially Bailly 2010, 290–6, who gives a nuanced defense of the body-as-subject view. Those who argue that bodily states belong to the soul as subject include Beere 2010, 263 f., Rowe 2007, 96–121, and Woolf 2004, 107–9.
As mentioned above, Socrates claims that the soul converses with the bodily affections as if with another thing (94d5–6). Socrates thus introduces a kind of division or partitioning, even if not the one we find in Republic IV. In the Phaedo, then, when we find a clear embrace of independent sources of motivation we find a kind of partitioning; in the Protagoras, neither emerges clearly.
It is worth noting also that the key concepts from T1 and T2 in the Protagoras, appearance and expectation-belief, are entirely absent from the discussion of NRM in the Phaedo.
See Brickhouse/Smith 2010, 198 f.
This absence is correctly noted by Bobonich 2002, 217, and Brickhouse/Smith 2010, 198 f.
For similar arguments about the tendency to explain non-rational overcoming in ways unrelated to akrasia in the Republic, see Wilburn 2014, 70 f., 82 f.
Socrates sees no need to rule out the possibility that the jury actually judged it better to acquit Socrates but were overpowered by their anger and lust for revenge.
One might attempt to reconcile synchronic akrasia with the ICP by claiming that pressure from NRM leads to a temporary change in the agent’s choice of what is best; but this is simply a version of RI.
When the soul is contaminated and fully bound to the body, it believes that nothing is real except bodily things (81b3–4). This general belief about the exclusive reality of the visible world is the ultimate doxastic output of the process that begins from the kind of episodic influence on belief described in Part B.
Specific non-philosophical practices mentioned in the Phaedo include those of the money-lover, glutton, and drunk (68b8–c3, 81e5–82a1). Souls are said to be reincarnated into different species on the basis of resemblance to their practices during human life (κατὰ τὰς αὐτων ὁμοιότητας τῆς μελέτης, 81e2–82a8).
As Beere 2010, 269, puts it, an extreme belief goes with an extreme affect.
In his discussion of the power of appearance in the Protagoras, Price claims that Socrates needs but does not explicitly invoke a notion of salience to explain the fact that an object might attract attention and loom large in the imagination. Perhaps the appeal to intensity in the Phaedo addresses this shortcoming in the Protagoras account. See Price 2011, 265.
For this meaning, see Beere 2010, 269 f., and Whiting 2012, 207.
See for example Brickhouse/Smith 2010, 198 f., who argue that the characterization of bodily desires and feelings in the Phaedo indicates a kind of implicit commitment to the possibility of synchronic akrasia.
Early versions of this paper were presented at the 2014 NEH Summer Seminar on Socrates and Williams College. Thanks to Nick Smith and Keith McPartland. Thanks also to two anonymous referees for helpful comments. Special thanks to Annemarie Butler and the editor of this journal.