Socrates on Morality and Loving Your Enemy

“Isn’t a moral person a good human?”

“There is no doubt abouut that.”

“It necessarily follows, Polemarchus, that people who are harmed become less moral.”

“So it seems.”

“Now, can musicians use music to make people unmusical?”

“Impossible.”

“Can skilled horsemen use their skill to make people bad horsemen?”

“No.”

“So can moral people use morality to make people immoral? Or in general can good people use their goodness to make people bad?”

“No, that’s impossible.”

“So harming people is not the function of a good person, but of his opposite.”

“I suppose so.”

“And is a moral person a good person?”

“Of course.”

“It is not the job of a moral person, then, Polemarchus, to harm a friend or anyone else, it is the job of his opposite, an immoral person.”[1]

What Socrates argues here is a interesting precursor to what Jesus would preach a few centuries later. The dialogue begins with Polemarchus arguing that morality is doing good to those who are your friends and doing harm to evil. The dialogue evolves and Socrates tears apart Polemarchus’ arguments through various means including question who is a friend, and whether a insane man could determine what a friend or foe is. The conclusion is clear though:

““You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’”But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Matthew 5:43-44 (English Standard Version)

[1] 14. PlatoRepublic. Oxford University Press: London. 1993.

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About JN
I am much afraid because of things that I cannot see must be true.

3 Responses to Socrates on Morality and Loving Your Enemy

  1. youthguyerik says:

    Thanks for sharing. Haven’t read plato in years. This snippet definitely drives home the point of the moral agent’s responsibility in relation to others.Great post!

  2. David says:

    Now the question is, does “loving” your enemy make you a moral person? Socrates may argue that morality is the absence of immorality, and that it does not choose sides. Therefore, whether you harm your friend or your foe, you have become immoral; thereby he agreed with God’s pronounced judgment and condemned even the Jews who prided themselves on keeping portions of the Law but were, themselves, condemned for breaking the whole law whenever they transgressed just one commandment.

    But, it is not the observation of moral reality that Socrates lacked, it was in comprehending the solution to that moral reality that alluded him.

    I know none of this is new news to you, of course.

    • JN Hong says:

      Well, whether loving your enemy makes you a moral person is that’s what Socrates argues in the next section in the book. Someone brings the argument that morality is just means for the stronger party to dominate over the lesser party. But Socrates argues that morals are universal and that all people do moral things because they are moral. We love because we have been loved first.

      He couldn’t have known the solution in Jesus Christ on the cross, but it’s a fair attempt anyway. =)

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