A short history of ethics : a history of moral philosophy by Alasdair C MacIntyre

By Alasdair C MacIntyre

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The identification comes about in this way. Plato contrasts the man who uses the word beautiful in an ordinary, confused way with the man who has really grasped what beautiful means, and he interprets this contrast as the contrast between the man who happens to be acquainted with a number of beautiful objects and the man who is acquainted with that which beautiful stands for. The former man is in possession only of “belief”; his judgments are not reinforced by a well-grounded understanding of the A short history of ethics 28 meaning of the expression which he uses.

Nor does the myth with which the Republic closes help Plato. For the suggestion that in the realm after death the just will be rewarded and the unjust punished appropriately depends for its force upon the notion that justice is indeed superior to injustice, that the just man deserves his reward and the unjust his punishment. So that the question of the justification of justice is still left without a clear answer. A very brief reconsideration of the central arguments of the Republic makes it clear why on Plato’s terms this has to be so.

No objection to the Republic is therefore more misconceived than that which would have been made by Humpty Dumpty (“When I use a word . . it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less”)14 and which was in fact made by Professor Karl Popper when he wrote, “But was Plato perhaps right? Does ‘justice’ perhaps mean what he says? I do not intend to discuss such a question. . ”15 The point I have tried to make is that only those demands and decisions are open to us A short history of ethics 24 which there are concepts available to express, and that therefore the investigation of what concepts we either must or may use is crucial.

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