Jeremy Whitty, IE Business School Global MBA Student, 2007-2008
In the Republic, Plato writes, “Virtue is the health and beauty and well being of the soul, and vice the disease, weakness and deformity. He continues, “Good practices lead to virtue and evil practices to vice” and like going to the gym to lose some flab, the “virtues of the soul … can be implanted by habit and exercise.” He argues that a properly ordered city could produce virtuous citizens. Rather than recollection, he proposes systematic teaching and habits for those properly equipped and prepared. Are those who are properly equipped and prepared like a gifted gymnast or musician? To be genuinely virtuous must one be gifted in virtue? Thus, no matter how much is offered by a teacher each student’s ability to be virtuous is different. Some will be receptive, others not.
Does Socrates in his opening speech of the Meno indicate this? Does he fall back to divine inspiration because the limitations of Anytus and Meno do not allow him to develop his ideas on training for virtue which would first need a reliable definition and, from them, a dispassionate recognition of natural differences among men?
Meno is limited by assuming that virtue must come by only one of the three or four ways he proposes in his opening speech. His general position is held by Polemarchus and Thrasymachus in Book One of the Republic. However they respond to serious argument and the groundwork is set for the elaboration of a system of education which may aid the development of virtuous men and women.
Aristotle, writes “some think we are made good by nature, others by habituation, others by teaching … there are three things… which make men good and virtuous: these are nature, habit, rational principle”. This reminds me of the psychologist Carl Rogers who uses the assumption of our rational principle to develop positive, non-directive, client based counselling based on the assumption that we are rational beings who wish to fulfil our potentials – to self-actualise. According to Rogers and Maslow, one can teach rational principles. Perhaps our psychological peers should have finished reading Aristotle who continues, “Nature’s part evidently does not depend on us, but as a result of some divine causes which is present in those who are truly fortunate”. Therefore, perhaps we put too much faith in our ability to rationalise and virtue cannot be taught?