His relation to the sophists.
The Figure of Socrates standing amidst the ruin of shattered institution and opinions, inwardly lamenting the ruin and yet setting a value on the spirit aright, makes a pathetic picture .It is impossible to grasp the true significance of the teaching of Socrates unless we perfectly understand how he characteristically mingled in himself two opposite currents of thought. His teachings were given to the world close on the heels of the sophistic doctrines. They share the free spirit of inquiry which formed the essential feature of Sophisticism, and yet the views embodied in them are in complete opposition to the agnosticism and skepticism of the Sophists.
There were two ways in which the perplexities occasioned by the argumentations of the Sophists could be encountered and rebutted. The one way was to adjure the very spirit of free inquiry which had pulled down everything objective , and to fall back in blind faith on authority. This was the course adopted by the conservative party represented by Aristophanes. They set their faces against the freedom of thought which the Sophists had inaugurated. The other way was to point out that, strange as it might appear, the Sophistic inquiry was not as free as it proposed to be, and to ask that free thought be carried still further. This was exactly what Socrates did .He cordially agreed with the Sophists as to the propriety and the necessity of subjecting the institutions of society, and everything in which Man was interested, to the ordeal of a rigorous examination. No Sophists was ever more keenly bent upon free and searching inquiry then he. But he demanded further that the inquiry should be thoroughgoing and complete, more so that it had been under the direction of the Sophists. He protested that their inquiry had been partial, inadequate and superficial; he proposed to carry out a more radical and comprehensive inquiry.
This peculiar relation in which Socrates stands to the Sophists may be expressed in another way. Pointing to the fact that there were hopeless divergencies between the finding of the philosophers who had attempted to ascertain the element principle of the universe, the Sophists despaired of all objective knowledge .The thought that it was vain to hope for a knowledge of the truth for neither truth nor any absolute moral law existed. Socrates went with the Sophists so far as the consciousness of littleness of man’s knowledge was concerned. In fact he made it part of the mission of his life to bring home to people the profundity of their ignorance. But while preaching this philosophy of the littleness of man’s knowledge he always kept aloof from agnosticism; and rather bravely fought against all the nihilistic tendencies of his times. He was genuinely impressed with the notion that not only he, but all men live, for the most important to be known, the nature of the Good, the true and the Beautiful. But he used this profession of ignorance, on the one hand as a weapon of offence to expose the hollowness of the self-styled knowledge of the so-called wise men, and on the other hand to gradually unfold the nature of truth by use of a characteristic method which later on came to be known as ‘the Socratic method.’
Socrates thus really resembled the Sophists neither in the spirit of his philosophy nor in the tendency and method of thought, nor in the manner of his life. And yet he was confused taken as on of them. In this connection Windelband remarks, ”On the on hand, he brought the principle underlying the sophistic movement to its clearest and most comprehensive expression ;on the other he set himself in the most vigorous manner against its outcome”. These two sides of his activity seem contrary. This external opposition in the two sides had much to do with the tragic fate of the man. But they “stand, nevertheless, in the most exact and rigidly consistent connection ;for just by depth did Socrates succeed in “giving it a construction and fruitful turn.
A passage from eLEMENTS OF ETHICS
PSYCHOLOGICAL HEDONISM has again and again appealed to the imagination of humanity because of certain elements of truth which it contains. It cannot be denied that all types of involuntary activity are not only accompanied by a feeling of pleasure and pain ,but are guided by it. In the process of evolution all pleasure giving activities are ,in the main, identical with life preserving ones. Now this guidance of feeling is not removed even in Voluntary activities; only to it is added the higher and the farther-seeing guidance of will. Pleasure thus undeniably accompanies both the pursuit and the attainment of ends.
But PSYCHOLOGICAL HEDONISM makes an ugly distortion of this truth when it contends that Pleasure, not only accompanies the pursuit and the accomplishment of ends ,but constitutes these ends. It is here that its mistakes essentially lies .It fails to see that “a pleasant act” and “an act of pursuing of pursuit “ is one thing and “the pursuit of pleasure “ another.
Pleasure cannot be the exclusive object of man’s choice. For our experience tells us that if we continuously and consciously pursue pleasure we can not attain it. It seems that to secure pleasure we must rather forget it. This is known as the paradox of “Hedonism” and constitutes an objection which the Hedonist can scarcely overcome.
What actually happens is that man is in the first place, impelled, not by the idea of pleasure but by a Desire for some object. There is undoubtedly pleasure in the satisfaction of this Desire. But that is a very different thing from asserting that the object is desired because it is thought of as pleasant. The hedonistic psychology involves the fallacy of “ hystron-proteron” It puts the cart before the horse. Instead of explaining the pleasure by the Desire, it explains the Desire by pleasure. Rogers observes that pleasure appears as the motive not when we are acting, but when we stop to think. Paulsen remarks that what biology teaches us that Impulse or will is primary and feeling is secondary. Ample evidence against Psychological Hedonism is furnished by Evolution; since if we imagine a normal level of pleasure seeking then it could be easily shown that there are actions without the motive of pleasure both above and below it-actions like the martyr’s sacrifice and the actions of the instinctive type. The ideal object of choice, instead of being always merely the anticipation of the pleased feeling which will result from the proposed course of action, might be anything or subjective. I may choose to do something or to “be” something, as well as to “feel” somehow. The illusion of Psychological Hedonism arises from the confusion between the “content” or constitution of the moving idea on one hand and on the other the “impulsive strength” by virtue of which the idea moves us to its own realization. Psychological Hedonism gives us, instead of teleological only the mechanical and dynamical explanation of choice-it’s “causa” instead of it’s “ratio”.
Historically, Psychological Hedonism has failed to be held consistently. Mill for example thought it expedient to introduce Qualitative distinctions in pleasures. But such a position meant the collapse of pure Hedonism because it really amounted to a confession that pleasures are chosen, not for themselves but for something beyond them like dignity.