Virtue Is Knowledge
The Moral Foundations of Socratic Political Philosophy
Lorraine Smith Pangle traces the argument for the primacy of virtue and the power of knowledge throughout the five dialogues that feature them most prominently—the Apology, Gorgias, Protagoras, Meno, and Laws—and reveals the truth at the core of these seemingly strange claims. She argues that Socrates was more aware of the complex causes of human action and of the power of irrational passions than a cursory reading might suggest. Pangle’s perceptive analyses reveal that many of Socrates’s teachings in fact explore the factors that make it difficult for humans to be the rational creatures that he at first seems to claim. Also critical to Pangle’s reading is her emphasis on the political dimensions of the dialogues. Underlying many of the paradoxes, she shows, is a distinction between philosophic and civic virtue that is critical to understanding them.
Ultimately, Pangle offers a radically unconventional way of reading Socrates’s views of human excellence: Virtue is not knowledge in any ordinary sense, but true virtue is nothing other than wisdom.