Socrates on law and morality relationship

Socrates Justice – Law and Disorder

socrates on law and morality relationship

By focusing on points in legal theory, R.E. Allen's Socrates and Legal. Obligation' .. ple and this view about the connection between morality and action. Jan 4. The relationship between Civil Disobedience and Intent An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law Any law. Socrates's understanding of legal obligation rests a lot on analogies with personal morality. He holds that there are two reasons why we are.

The conclusion that Socrates drew from the premises is sound only if the premises themselves are true, and that is why their soundness must be examined first. The first premise cannot be questioned, because its truth seems incontestable. However, this is true only insofar as the first premise is related to the second one. It is assumed that the second premise "Laws are just" is correct.

Indeed, respect of unjust laws must be morally doubtful, which means that the claim for their observance must be based on some other, additional reasons, of which one of the most frequently quoted was that "even the worst legal system is still better than no legal system at all.

This, however, is also relevant for unjust decisions, which contributes greatly to an exaggerated fear of anarchy. Indeed, if unjust decisions were relatively rare, then the disrespect of them would not lead to anarchy but rather to excesses.

socrates on law and morality relationship

If unjust decisions became a regular practice within a given state and its legal system, then a question could be raised about the justification of the existence of such a state and such a legal system. Nevertheless, let us proceed to the second premise, because the first one can be easily accepted in conjunction with the second one.

Are all laws just? This could hardly be true, especially if we consider legal systems which discriminate against certain groups or favor some groups over the rest of society. From today's point of view, one could criticize the laws of Athens for their discrimination against slaves, but modern history offers some good examples as well: The question about justice entails yet another, deeper question: If yes, then Socrates had to offer some moral reasons for their rejection.

In the course of centuries, the dilemma gave rise to two, frequently opposed, schools of legal thought: Although the former has denied and the latter affirmed the possibility of moral criticism of laws, the dividing line between the two was never clear-cut but varied from author to author. This means that the legal positivists have sometimes accepted the possibility of moral criticism of laws.

The legal positivists maintain that "laws can have any content. The relationship between morality and law can only be contingent, since law is a sui generis substance.

Thus, Kelsen explicitly states that "legal norms can have any content whatsoever. The moral justification of a law is quite another pair of gloves. However, there are always the situations which pose the dilemma of whether one should obey "immoral" laws or punish individuals who had committed acts that are not punishable in some other legal system. The latter problem occurred frequently in post-Nazi Germany when courts were faced with this practical problem.

On the other hand, the school of natural law insisted on a "metaphysical" concept of law, which includes the notion of justice and thus open a possibility for moral criticism. Justice is not an "irrational" idea, as Kelsen used to think. There are some inalienable, natural rights that no positive legal system could abolish without endangering its own legitimacy. Thomas Aquinas, the founder of the school of natural law, thought that there was a difference between man-made, i.

Consequently, there could not be any automatic moral obligation in respect to positive, man-made laws. In fact, only just laws could command our respect: Therefore, an order has the force of law only when it is just. And in the realm of human acts something can be considered as just when it is governed by the rule of reason.

But the first rule of reason is the law of nature Consequently, every human law has just so much of the nature of law as it is derived from the law of nature. But if in any point it departs from the law of nature it is no longer a law but a perversion of law" 3 This statement implies that a law must be based on correct reasoning and natural law.

Otherwise, we are not dealing with a law but with its perversion. The school of natural law tended to deny the status of laws to unjust laws, but since this is not of the utmost importance, further discussion about the notion of law will be omitted from this paper. What is important, however, is the possibility of fallibility of positive law and its susceptibility to moral criticism. It is obvious that if we adhere to such a view, we can contest the second premise on principled grounds.

If the laws of Athens were not morally correct and if one could demonstrate their moral deficiency, then Socrates would have the moral right to reject the verdict, so that his escape would not constitute an unjust act. Since he gave an affirmative answer to this dilemma, we will proceed to consideration of the third point. How the laws of Athens can be absolutely just, if laws in general can be unjust and, as such, susceptible to moral criticism?

socrates on law and morality relationship

Obviously, we are faced with a specific kind of justice, a specific clause which renders the laws of Athens protected from moral criticism. Socrates, in turn, counters these arguments with his own. In a swift rebuttal, he states: The real question is: Even if his punishment is unjust, he should still not act unrighteously. To answer this riddle, Socrates conjures the Laws, which confront and question the philosopher.

The Laws take the stance that escape is unjust, for disobeying the rules would, in effect, destroy the Laws and what they stand for.

The State is held together by the Laws, and if the latter were to fall into disarray, the former would collapse as well. Not only that, he reared his children in the famous city-state and stayed there his whole, long, 70 years of his life. Therefore, the social contract is an agreement between citizens to live together under the same laws. For Plato, however, this agreement is not made between citizens.

A chair, as we know it, is not just the thing we sit on, that you may be sitting on right now. It is also an idea of something that we sit on. Socrates interpreted this as an invitation from the gods to die, thus refuting the charge that, by conducting his trial in the way he did, he was guilty of theft — i.

His life in particular was a service to god, he thought, because his testing of the wisdom of others was carrying out Apollo's charge given by the oracle at Delphi, implicit in the startling pronouncement that he was the wisest man in Greece Apology, 21a-d. Socrates makes it clear that his view is the second though he does not argue for this conclusion in addressing this question, and he is probably relying on the earlier premise, at Euthyphro, 7c10f, that we love things because of the properties they have.

See Hare, Plato's Euthyphro, on this passage. But his view is not an objection to tying morality and religion together. He hints at the end of the dialogue Euthyphro, 13de that the right way to link them is to see that when we do good we are serving the gods well.

Plato probably does not intend for us to construe the dialogues together as a single philosophical system, and we must not erase the differences between them. But it is significant that in the Theaetetus bSocrates says again that our goal is to be as like the god as possible, and since the god is in no way and in no manner unjust, but as just as it is possible to be, nothing is more like the god than the one among us who becomes correspondingly as just as possible.

In several dialogues this thought is connected with a belief in the immortality of the soul; we become like the god by paying attention to the immortal and best part of ourselves e. The doctrine of the immortality of the soul is also tied to the doctrine of the Forms, whereby things with characteristics that we experience in this life e. This train of thought sees the god or gods as like a magnet, drawing us to be like them by the power of their goodness or excellence.

In Plato's Ion dthe divine is compared to a magnet to which is attached a chain of rings, through which the attraction is passed. This conception is also pervasive in Aristotle —22Plato's student for twenty years. Mention of the divine is not merely conventional for Aristotle, but does important philosophical work. In the Eudemian Ethics b5—22 he tells us that the goal of our lives is service and contemplation of the god.

PHILOSOPHY - The Good Life: Plato [HD]

He thinks that we become like what we contemplate, and so we become most like the god by contemplating the god. Incidentally, this is why the god does not contemplate us; for this would mean becoming less than the god, which is impossible. As in Plato, the well-being of the city takes precedence over the individual, and this, too, is justified theologically. It is nobler and more divine to achieve an end for a city than for an individual NE b9— Aristotle draws a distinction between what we honor and what we merely commend NE, b10— There are six states for a human life, on a normative scale from best to worst: The highest form of happiness, which he calls blessedness, is something we honor as we honor gods, whereas virtue we merely commend.

It would be as wrong to commend blessedness as it would be to commend gods NE, a10—a The activity of the god, he says in the Metaphysics, is nous thinking itself b The best human activity is the most god-like, namely thinking about the god and about things that do not change.

Aristotle's virtue ethics, then, needs to be understood against the background of these theological premises. He is thinking of the divine, to use Plato's metaphor, as magnetic, drawing us, by its attractive power, to live the best kind of life possible for us.

This gives him a defense against the charge sometimes made against virtue theories that they simply embed the prevailing social consensus into an account of human nature.

Aristotle defines ethical virtue as lying in a mean between excess and defect, and the mean is determined by the person of practical wisdom actually the male, since Aristotle is sexist on this point. He then gives a conventional account of the virtues such a person displays such as courage, literally manliness, which requires the right amount of fear and confidence, between cowardice and rashness.

There are tensions in Aristotle's account of virtue and happiness. It is not clear whether the Nicomachean Ethics has a consistent view of the relation between the activity of contemplation and the other activities of a virtuous life see Hare, God and Morality, chapter 1, and Sarah Broadie, Ethics with Aristotle, chapter 7. But the connection of the highest human state with the divine is pervasive in the text.

socrates on law and morality relationship

One result of this connection is the eudaimonism mentioned earlier. If the god does not care about what is not divine for this would be to become like what is not divinethe highest and most god-like human also does not care about other human beings except to the degree they contribute to his own best state. This degree is not negligible, since humans are social animals, and their well-being depends on the well-being of the families and cities of which they are members.

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Aristotle is not preaching self-sufficiency in any sense that implies we could be happy on our own, isolated from other human beings. But our concern for the well-being of other people is always, for him, contingent on our special relation to them.

Socrates on obeying the law

We therefore do not want our friends to become gods, even though that would be the best thing for them. Finally, Aristotle ties our happiness to our end in Greek, telos ; for humans, as for all living things, the best state is its own activity in accordance with the natural function that is unique to each species. For humans the best state is happiness, and the best activity within this state is contemplation NE, b17— The Epicureans and Stoics who followed Aristotle differed with each other and with him in many ways, but they agreed in tying morality and religion together.

For the Epicureans, the gods do not care about us, though they are entertained by looking at our tragicomic lives rather as we look at soap operas on television. We can be released from a good deal of anxiety, the Epicureans thought, by realizing that the gods are not going to punish us.

Our goal should be to be as like the gods as we can, enjoying ourselves without interruption, but for us this means limiting our desires to what we can obtain without frustration.

They did not mean that our happiness is self-interested in any narrow sense, because they held that we can include others in our happiness by means of our sympathetic pleasures. The Stoics likewise tied the best kind of human life, for them the life of the sage, to being like the divine. The sage follows nature in all his desires and actions, and is thus the closest to the divine.

Morality and religion are connected in the Hebrew Bible primarily by the category of God's command. Such commands come already in the first chapter of Genesis. In the second chapter God tells Adam that he is free to eat from any tree in the garden, but he must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

When Eve and Adam disobey and eat of that fruit, they are expelled from the garden. There is a family of concepts here that is different from what we met in Greek philosophy. God is setting up a kind of covenant by which humans will be blessed if they obey the commands God gives them. Human disobedience is not explained in the text, except that the serpent says to Eve that they will not die if they eat the fruit, but will be like God, knowing good and evil, and Eve sees the fruit as good for food and pleasing to the eye and desirable for gaining wisdom.

After they eat, Adam and Eve know that they are naked, and are ashamed, and hide from God. As the story goes on, and Cain kills Abel, evil spreads to all the people of the earth, and Genesis describes the basic state as a corruption of the heart 6: This idea of a basic orientation away from or towards God and God's commands becomes in the Patristic period of early Christianity the idea of a will.

In the Pentateuch, the story continues with Abraham, and God's command to leave his ancestral land and go to the land God promised to give him and his offspring Gen. Then there is the command to Abraham to kill his son, a deed prevented at the last minute by the provision of a ram instead Gen.

Abraham's great grandchildren end up in Egypt, because of famine, and the people of Israel suffer for generations under Pharaoh's yoke. Under Moses the people are finally liberated, and during their wanderings in the desert, Moses receives from God the Ten Commandments, in two tables or tablets Exod. The first table concerns our obligations to God directly, to worship God alone and keep God's name holy, and keep the Sabbath.

The second table concerns our obligations to other human beings, and all of the commands are negative do not kill, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet except for the first, which tells us to honor our fathers and mothers.

The Greeks had the notion of a kingdom, under a human king though the Athenians were in the classical period suspicious of such an arrangement. But they did not have the idea of a kingdom of God, though there is something approaching this in some of the Stoics.

This idea is explicable in terms of law, and is introduced as such in Exodus in connection with the covenant on Mt. The kingdom is the realm in which the laws obtain. This raises a question about the extent of this realm. The Ten Commandments are given in the context of a covenant with the people of Israel, though there are references to God's intention to bless the whole world through this covenant.

The surrounding laws in the Pentateuch include prescriptions and proscriptions about ritual purity and sacrifice and the use of the land that seem to apply to this particular people in this particular place. But the covenant that God makes with Noah after the flood is applicable to the whole human race, and universal scope is explicit in the Wisdom books, which make a continual connection between how we should live and how we were created as human beings.

For example, in Proverbs 8 Wisdom raises her voice to all humankind, and says that she detests wickedness, which she goes on to describe in considerable detail. She says that she was the artisan at God's side when God created the world and its inhabitants. Jesus sums up the commandments under two, the command to love God with all one's heart and soul and mind see Deuteronomy 6: The New Testament is unlike the Hebrew Bible, however, in presenting a narrative about a man who is the perfect exemplification of obedience and who has a life without sin.

socrates on law and morality relationship

New Testament scholars disagree about the extent to which Jesus actually claimed to be God, but the traditional interpretation is that he did make this claim; in any case the Christian doctrine is that we can see in his life the clearest possible revelation in human terms both of what God is like and at the same time of what our lives ought to be like.

He takes the commandments inside the heart; for example, we are required not merely not to murder, but not to be angry, and not merely not to commit adultery, but not to lust see Ezekiel Jesus tells us to love our enemies and those who hate and persecute us, and in this way he makes it clear that the love commandment is not based on reciprocity Matt 5: The theme of self-sacrifice is clearest in the part of the narrative that deals with Jesus' death.

This event is understood in many different ways in the New Testament, but one central theme is that Jesus died on our behalf, an innocent man on behalf of the guilty. Jesus describes the paradigm of loving our neighbors as the willingness to die for them. This theme is connected with our relationship to God, which we violate by disobedience, but which is restored by God's forgiveness through redemption. In Paul's letters especially we are given a three-fold temporal location for the relation of morality to God's work on our behalf.

We are forgiven for our past failures on the basis of Jesus' sacrifice Rom. We are reconciled now with God through God's adoption of us in Christ Rom. And we are given the hope of future progress in holiness by the work of the Holy Spirit Rom. All of this theology requires more detailed analysis, but this is not the place for it. There is a contrast between the two traditions I have so far described, namely the Greek and the Judeo-Christian.

The idea of God that is central in Greek philosophy is the idea of God attracting us, like a kind of magnet, so that we desire to become more like God, though there is a minority account by Socrates of receiving divine commands. In the Jewish and Christian scriptures, the notion of God commanding us is central.

It is tempting to simplify this contrast by saying that the Greeks favor the good, in their account of the relation of morality and religion, and the Judeo-Christian account favors the right or obligation. It is true that the notion of obligation makes most sense against the background of command. But the picture is over-simple because the Greeks had room in their account for the constraint of desire; thus the temperate or brave person in Aristotle's picture has desires for food or sex or safety that have to be disciplined by the love of the noble.

On the other side, the Judeo-Christian account adds God's love to the notion of God's command, so that the covenant in which the commands are embedded is a covenant by which God blesses us, and we are given a route towards our highest good which is union with God. The Middle Ages The rest of the history to be described in this entry is a cross-fertilization of these two traditions or lines of thought. In the patristic period, or the period of the early Fathers, it was predominantly Plato and the Stoics amongst the Greek philosophers whose influence was felt.

The Eastern and Western parts of the Christian church split during the period, and the Eastern church remained more comfortable than the Western with language about humans being deified in Greek theosis. In the Western church, Augustine — emphasized the gap between the world we are in as resident aliens and our citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem, and even in our next life the distance between ourselves and God. He describes in the Confessions the route by which his heart or will, together with his understanding, moved from paganism through Neo-Platonism to Christianity.

Augustine accepted that the Platonists taught, like the beginning of the prologue of John, that the Word in Greek, logos is with God and is God, since the Intellect is the mediating principle between the One and the Many John 1: But the Platonists did not teach, like the end of John's prologue, that the Word is made flesh in Jesus Christ, and so they did not have access to the way to salvation revealed in Christ or God's grace to us through Christ's death.

Nonetheless, it is surprising how far Augustine can go in rapprochement. The Forms, he says, are in the mind of God and God uses them in the creation of the world.

Human beings were created for union with God, but they have the freedom to turn towards themselves instead of God. If they turn to God, they can receive divine illumination through a personal intuition of the eternal standards the Forms. If they turn towards themselves, they will lose the sense of the order of creation, which the order of their own loves should reflect. Augustine gives primacy to the virtue of loving what ought to be loved, especially God.

In his homily on I John 4: He held that humans who truly love God will also act in accord with the other precepts of divine and moral law; though love not merely fulfills the cardinal virtues wisdom, justice, courage and temperance but transforms them by supernatural grace. The influence of Augustine in the subsequent history of ethics resulted from the fact that it was his synthesis of Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire after and Greek philosophy that survived the destruction of the Western Roman Empire, especially in the monasteries where the texts were still read.

To understand this, we need to go back into the history of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. The church had to explain how the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit could be distinct and yet not three different gods. The doctrine of the Trinity comes to be understood in terms of three persons, one God, with the persons standing in different relations to each other.

The church came to talk about one person with two natures, the person standing under the natures. This had the merit of not making either the humanity or the divinity less essential to who Jesus was. In the West knowledge of most of Aristotle's texts was lost, but not in the East. They were translated into Syriac, and Arabic, and eventually in Muslim Spain into Latin, and re-entered Christian Europe in the twelfth century accompanied by translations of the great Arabic commentaries.

In the initial prophetic period of Islam CE —32 the Qur'an was given to Mohammad, who explained it and reinforced it through his own teachings and practices.

The notion of God's Allah's commands is again central, and our obedience to these commands is the basis of our eventual resurrection. Disputes about political authority in the period after Mohammad's death led to the split between Sunnis and Shiites. Within Sunni Muslim ethical theory in the Middle Ages two major alternative ways developed of thinking about the relation between morality and religion.

Religion and Morality

These standards that we learn from reason apply also to God, so that we can use them to judge what God is and is not commanding us to do. He also teaches that humans have freedom, in the sense of a power to perform both an act and its opposite, though not at the same time.

The second alternative was taught by al-Ashari d. He insists that God is subject to none and to no standard that can fix bounds for Him.

socrates on law and morality relationship

Nothing can be wrong for God, who sets the standard of right and wrong. With respect to our freedom, he holds that God gives us only the power to do the act not its opposite and this power is simultaneous to the act and does not precede it.