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Happy, wise, or virtuous?

A long, long time ago, Socrates inaugurated (in the west) what we may legitimately I think call "optimistic rationalism".

Put simply, he advanced the idea that no one knowingly does bad, that badness is the result of an error of the intellect. In principle, Socrates held that reason = virtue = happiness. Although he admitted that he himself never attained his goal, he felt that with sufficient rationalistic rigour and conscientiousness the goal was indeed attainable (if only to the wise).

Something of this optimistic rationalism survives today, some of it explicit, some implicit, and some of it can be found frequently on this site. It is not a view that I myself share, certainly not in the strong Socratic form, since I adhere to an essentially tragic view of existence.

I will assume, then, that Socrates overestimated the capabilities of reason and that there is no necessary equivalence between reason, virtue, and happiness; not now, and perhaps not ever. What then? (Any defenders of the strong Socratic reading are welcome to contradict me).

How often do these three things find themselves equally at home in a single individual? Are they not, more often than not, in conflict with each other? And if they are, which of the three do we most value?

p.s. I have deliberately left the three words in question undefined for two reasons. Firstly, if I could satisfactorily define them in a manner pleasing to all, then the problem itself would effectively be dissolved or solved. Secondly, my main purpose here is to show that all conventional definitions of these words are not at all harmonious in the Socratic manner, and thus idiosyncratic definitions are practically superflous.



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