The question put to Socrates was: what good does it do us to do the right thing? And what harm to do the wrong? Only the right thing will make you happy, Socrates answered; the wrong thing will harm your soul, and make you wretched.
Do subway fare jumpers feel this harm to their souls? Or tax cheats? Or adulterers? Or polluters? Or serial killers, for that matter? And are those the sorts of sins you think of when words like “ethics” and “morality” pop up? If, as Socrates said, “no one does wrong willingly” — from his own perspective, anyway — how is it that we all see so much of other people’s wrongdoing in the world? What is that impulse to do the right thing? And what does it impel you to do — at church, for your family, in your life’s work, for Rwandan refugees?
In the third week of a summer series on philosophy, the questions are right and wrong, and living with the line you draw between them.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)
Thomas Scanlon, Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University
Ralph Wedgwood, Professor of Philosophy, MIT