Public Engagement


NSSR Philosophy Workshop Series: Iakovos Vasiliou

Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

6 E 16th St., D1103 6 East 16th St.

Iakovos Vasiliou (CUNY Graduate Center) will deliver a lecture entitled: "To Know You is To Love You? Plato, Forms, and Moral Motivation."

Three issues that fall under the heading "moral motivation" arguably first appear in Plato: (1) moral motivation as what justifies why a person ought to act morally; (2) motive as the end or reason for which an agent acts, which affects the nature and/or assessment of what the agent does; and (3) moral motivation as what actually pushes a person to act, which opens the question of whether it is simply the belief or knowledge that something is good or virtuous that is by itself motivating (internalism/externalism).  The locus classicus of Plato's treatment of (1) is of course the Republic, whose central aim is to argue that a person is always better off and happier being just and acting justly (morally).  I shall focus, however, on the latter two issues.  Scholars have thought that Plato is the first person to worry about the motive or reason an agent has in acting, and to think that only someone acting from the appropriate motive acts in way that is genuinely virtuous.  The best motive turns out to be knowledge of the Form the Good. On most commentators' accounts, knowing the Form of the Good ipso facto motivates one to act and to propagate instances of the Good in the world.  So, having the right motive, i.e. (2) above, – the motive that makes apparently virtuous actions genuinely virtuous –fortuitously is also something the having of which automatically motivates the agent to act in the appropriate ways, i.e. (3) above.

Considering passages from the Republic, Symposium, and Phaedo, I shall argue that knowing the Forms, even the Form of the Good, does not have the sort of motivational efficacy typically attributed to it.  I defend the claim that knowledge of the Forms by itself does not motivate one to do anything at all (except to continue to contemplate the Forms); and, moreover, that knowledge of the Forms by itself does not tell a person to do anything. Rather, the motivation for acting virtuously stems from upbringing's properly molding one's first- and second-nature motivational susceptibilities. Knowledge of the Forms in fact plays no role in motivating virtuous action; rather, it plays a crucial epistemological role in enabling the knower to identify correctly what the virtuous action is.

Event Type

Lectures and Panel Discussions




The New School for Social Research




Free; no tickets or reservations required; seating is first-come first-served.

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