I. Plato and an Ethical Crisis

I share the view that contemporary is in a state of crisis.' Many think that ancient can help, but they usually seek advice from rather than Plato. If ethics is to be seen largely as theory of action, that may be the right course, but Aristotle, I think, assumes Platonic answers to important foundational questions; and in any case this is no place to discuss him. The present paper is concerned to identify Plato's approach to the foundations of morality; readers can draw their own conclusions about the implications of such a discussion for our reading of Aristotle. Let me start with a stipulation. I am going to use the term "transcendental realism" to denote that strong form of moral objectivism which requires the existence of something like a Platonic Form or a moral deity or (perhaps) one of Moore's non-natural qualities. I am going to suggest that in Plato's view—a view too easily dismissed-we have in ethics two basic options: they may be called "morality" and "morality- substitutes."2 Roughly speaking "morality" calls for a strong (ultimately a transcendental) version of moral objectivism, claiming that there are transcendent moral standards, that morality is cognitivist and involves a knowledge of those standards, that such standards afford the only adequate guarantee against arbitrary preference determining what is and bad, that what is objectively right and wrong cannot therefore depend on human reasonings, choices and preferences, or on what we can calculate is to our own advantage. Such a basic dichotomy of ethical options is often admitted; we recall that at the opening of John Mackie's Ethics: Inventing

1 For a summary of recent Anglo-Saxon trends see Darwall, Gibbard and Railton 1992. 2 It is interesting to compare the title of chapter 4 of Finnis 1983. Right and Wrong the author sets out to explain both that there is no objectivism in ethics=if there were, it would have to be theistic, which is impossible—and why it is that we constantly make the error of supposing that there are objective moral truths. Plato was perhaps the first to be clear about the problem of moral objectivism; I cannot enter on the question of how far I should have said "" or how far the Platonic Socrates represents the historical Socrates. Nor will I devote much attention to the Platonic dialogues which precede the Republic, though it will become apparent that I regard the Rep. as both ground-breaking and a summary of the results Plato has achieved "thus far." Permit me also to say that my comments even on the Rep. are directed as much at what I believe to be Plato's awareness of the major question of ethics as with the details of his arguments. I trust that appropriation of this sort is within the remit of BACAP. I should like to attempt to disarm a basic objection to my reading of Plato at the outset. Since my general view of the Rep. is that Plato is offering (through his account of the Good) an argument that a transcendental meta-ethics is required if is to be defeated, it might be objected that the Rep. has nothing to do with meta-ethics at all; Socrates and simply represent two radically different approaches within the parameters of . They both agree that we all seek , but they disagree about how such eudaimonia is to be obtained. But though that is true, I shall maintain, the argument between them is not just about how eudaimonia is to be obtained, but whether Thrasymachus rightly denies the objectivity of moral values. It is the view of Socrates in the Rep. that no search for eudaimonia can possibly be effective if there are no such man-independent realities to make talk either of or of morality coherent and intelligible. If Socrates is right, although Thrasymachus talks about eudaimonia, he not only does not know what is conducive to eudaimonia, he is simply inadequately equipped to consider the matter at all. It is not that Socrates and Thrasymachus are "eudaimonists" who disagree how to secure their end; rather Thrasymachus knows nothing of the world of discourse in which eudaimonia must be located. Since he knows nothing of that universe, he can have no notion of how values, including those he thinks to be his own, can be secured, and no coherent notion of what we ought to do if we want to be happy. The debate between Socrates and Thrasymachus cannot be characterized as between two realists (one of whom— Socrates—later shows that he thinks that eudaimonia has a strong connection with the harmony of the psyche, while the other denies that); it is a debate between a transcendental realist and an anti-realist who