Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Socrates on Educating the Appetites and Passions

Nicholas Smith.

Socrates was an intellectualist, quite unlike Plato and Aristotle. Socrates argued that one always acted in the way one believed was best for one. Plato and Aristotle both later argued that certain appetites and passions could simply overrule and set aside one’s judgments about what is best for one. Plato and Aristotle, in other words, accepted the possibility of moral weakness (akrasia), whereas Socrates denied it.

For this reason, some scholars have concluded that the appetites and passions simply played no role whatever in Socrates’ moral psychology. But recently scholars have begun to notice several passages in which Socrates does seem to assign an explanatory role to appetites and passions, and several others in which he proposes ways to manage these psychic forces properly. Such passages call for a complete reevaluation of Socrates’ moral psychology, by which Socrates’ intellectualism can be explained in such a way as to maintain some explanatory role for the appetites and passions.

In this paper, we propose to extend the on-going scholarly reconstruction of Socrates’ moral psychology with a special focus on what it means for Socratic education. Past accounts of Socratic education have characterized it exclusively in terms of changes in belief, on the basis of inconsistencies revealed in the belief-sets of those Socrates “examines.” We argue that a complete account of Socratic education must also recognize a role for the proper management of appetites and passions, and we explicate how Socrates would understand that role, and sketch what the more complete Socratic education would be like, in regard to the appetites and passions. The upshot of our study, we claim, is a new and more adequate picture of Socrates’ conception of education.


Nicholas Smith  (United States)
James F. Miller Professor of Humanities
Department of Philosophy
Lewis & Clark College

Co-author (with T. Brickhouse) of Socrates on Trial (Oxford and Princeton, 1989), Plato's Socrates (Oxford, 1994), The Philosophy of Socrates (Westview, 2000

  • Socrates
  • Education
  • Appetites
  • Passions
  • Philosophy
  • Ancient Greek
Person as Subject
  • Socrates

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)