Sunday, May 04, 2014

Plato - Hipparchus

Socrates on Greed (Self-interest) –   Think Adam Smith.

1. Friend gives a definition of greed:  SOCRATES: “What is greed?  What can it be, and who are greedy people? 

FRIEND:  In my opinion, they’re the ones who think it’s a good idea to profit from thing of no value.

SOCRATES: Do you think they know these things are of no value, or do they not know?  For if they don’t know, you mean that greedy people are stupid.

FRIEND: No, I don’t mean they’re stupid.  What I mean is this: they’re unscrupulous and wicked people who are overcome by profit, knowing that the things from which they dare to profit are on no value; yet their shamelessness makes them dare to be greedy.”  p. 610

2. Socrates shoots down Friend’s definition of greed: SOCRATES: “. . . does a flute-player who has flutes that are of no value, or a lyre-player with a lyre, or and archer with a bow or, in short , does any other craftsman, or any other sensible man who has worthless tools, or any other sort of equipment, expect to profit from them?

FRIEND: Obviously not.

SOCRATES: Then who do you say the greedy people are?  For surely the ones just mentioned are not the ones who expect to profit from what they know has no value.  But in that case, my wonderful friend, there aren’t any greedy people at all, according to what you say.” p. 611

 3. A second definition presented and refuted:  FRIEND:” What I mean, Socrates, is this: greedy people are those whose greed gives them an insatiable desire to profit even from things that are actually quite petty, and of little or no value.

SOCRATES: Not, of course, knowing that they are of no value, my very good friend; for we have just proved to ourselves in our argument that this is impossible.” p. 611

4. In terms of loss and profit, greed is good:  SOCRATES: “Now, of course, greedy people love to make a profit.


SOCRATES: “And by profit you mean the opposite of loss?


SOCRATES: Is there anyone for whom it is a good thing to suffer loss?

FRIEND: No one.

SOCRATES: It’s a bad thing?


SOCRATES: So people are harmed by loss?

FRIEND: Yes, harmed.

SOCRATES: So loss is bad?


SOCRATES: And profit is the opposite of loss?

FRIEND: Yes, the opposite.

SOCRATES: So profit is good?


SOCRATES: So it is those who love the good whom you call greedy.” pp. 611-612

5. The Natural Law of Self Interest, everyone is greedy:  SOCRATES: “And you can ask me, too, if I’m not the same; for I will also agree with you that I love good things.  But besides you and me, don’t you believe that all other people love what’s good and hate what’s bad?

FRIEND: So it appears to me.

SOCRATES: And we agreed that profit is good?


SOCRATES: Well, the, in this way of looking at it, everyone appears to be greedy; whereas, according to what we said earlier, no one was greedy.  So which of these approaches would it be safe to rely on?

FRIEND: I think, Socrates, we have to get the right conception of the greedy person.  The right conception is that the greedy person is the one who is concerned with and thinks it’s a good idea to profit from things which virtuous people would never dare to profit from.

SOCRATES: But you see, my dear sweet fellow, that we have already agreed that to profit is to be benefited.

FRIEND: Well, what of it?

SOCRATES: We also agreed that everyone always wants good things.


SOCRATES: Therefore, even good people want every kind of profit, at least if they’re good.”  p. 612