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Explain how (1) Plato's Euthyphro and (2) Milgram's "Obedience to Authority" each make a case for the importance of self knowledge.

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Introduction

Explain how (1) Plato's Euthyphro and (2) Milgram's "Obedience to Authority" each make a case for the importance of self knowledge. Plato presents the character Euthyphro as a person who lacks self-knowledge. In this dialogue Euthyphro has filed murder charges against his own father. In defence of his actions Euthyphro relates the following story to the philosopher Socrates: One of Euthyphro's dependent labourers got drunk and killed a domestic servant of the family. On discovering this, Euthyphro's father bound the labourer hand and foot and left him unfed and exposed to the elements. The father then sought the advice of religious authorities on how to deal with the murderer. During this period, the man died of exposure or starvation. Despite the outrage of his family and friends, Euthyphro feels confident that his father's neglect of the man constitutes murder. He claims that filing charges is the only pious (or holy) thing to do. Euthyphro presents himself as a deeply pious man who does not, like ordinary people, shirk his moral responsibilities simply because they run contrary to his own interests or feelings of loyalty to his family. ...read more.

Middle

This is because something can not be a reason for itself. Euthyphro demonstrates his lack of self knowledge by revealing that he does not actually understand the reasons he has given for prosecuting his father. Although he claims that his actions are pious, in fact he has no idea what piety is. Despite Socrates arguments, at the end of the dialogue Euthyphro is certain that he really does know what piety is, but that he just finds it difficult to explain. Plato makes his case for the importance of self-knowledge by showing how much harm can be done when a lack of self knowledge is combined with a smug certainty of ones moral superiority over others. Stanley Milgram's Obedience to Authority is at attempt to determine whether and to what extent normal people will obey the instructions of an authority figure against their own moral convictions. Milgram designed an experiment in which two people are asked to participate in a study of learning and memory. One person is in the role of the "teacher" and the other is in the role of the "learner." The learner, in full view of the teacher, is strapped into a chair and fitted with electrodes, which will (supposedly) ...read more.

Conclusion

The subjects lacked self-knowledge to the extent that they willingly acted against their stated moral convictions, voluntarily torturing others for no good reason. Milgram makes his case for the importance of self-knowledge by demonstrating that without it, ordinary people are capable of doing extraordinary evil, as well as rationalizing it afterwards. The Nazi holocaust was the inspiration for Milgram's study. It provides support for the Hannah Arendt's thesis of "the banality of evil," i.e., that the perpetrators of the holocaust were not unusually evil, but just ordinary people following orders. Plato approaches self-knowledge in a more intellectual way than Milgram. For Plato, self-knowledge can be understood in terms of a grasp of the meaning of the concepts we use to justify our actions. Milgram's subjects are not represented as people who lack a grasp of concepts, but rather who fail to grasp their own human nature. So, whereas Plato's approach is to try to clarify concepts like piety, Milgram's approach is to inform us of what people are capable of doing in response to certain kids of social pressure. These are simply differences in emphasis. Presumably Milgram's methods could contribute something to our understanding of Euthyphro, and Plato's methods could reveal logical absurdities in the rationalizations offered by Milgram's subjects. ...read more.

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