The understanding of virtue in Socrates was very profound. Through his dialectical approach, it became apparent that several persons had only a superficial understanding of virtue. His exposure of the difficulty gotten into, with any serious attempt to understand the true meaning of virtue was done with a clarity that can only be hailed as excellent. This study is focused on the understanding of Virtue in Socratic and Platonic reasoning. In this attempt, one must be very modest in their claims. This study does not claim to offer a new understanding to the meaning of virtue.

The Meaning and Essence of Virtue
As already mentioned, Socrates had a serious problem with people who focused on the external presentations of themselves (Vlastos, 1991). For him, virtue can be properly said to be that habit which ensues from the mind, and admits of admiration. This habit is had for its own sake. In other words, one should not be externally motivated in order to be considered virtuous. In this case then, virtue involves internal traits in the character of the person. Whenever a certain occasion demands, a virtuous person jumps into action with great spontaneity, not considering any other thing apart from the fact of the virtue itself. Plato considered virtue as excellence in matters of life. This understanding meant that virtue in the strictest sense was perfect. The greatest question that comes to mind with the mention of admiration is; why are people attracted to a virtuous person? What makes a virtuous person admirable? This question looks into the essence of virtue itself. The essence of a virtue is that which makes it to be described as virtue, and as such be considered admirable. The individual becomes the central focus whenever the discourse on virtue is given considerations. In order to sufficiently describe the meaning of virtue, an example may suffice. When someone says that James is a very kind man, what does it really mean? What exactly is that person saying regarding James? This question could appear simple from a common sensical point of view, but in the real sense, its demands are very complex. To aid in the understanding of the meaning of this virtue, a consideration will be made, of what the virtue of kindness is not. Kindness is not a response to the needs of other people in order to be hailed. A person who does a certain thing, like going to the help of a sick person, simply because an authority higher than they, recommends cannot be considered as being kind. This is because such a response comes from a force without the person. In this case, the show of kindness is not made for its own sake; rather it is done in fulfillment of the demand by a higher authority. Therefore, kindness cannot be an act in response to the suggestions or even demands of an external authority. It simply does not come from within the helping agent.

Kindness is not a response to another person’s need in the hope of a repayment in the event that one is in a similar situation in the future. This is because the response is not done with clear motivations, even where spontaneity is present. It is done with the aim of finding a helper in case of need. Outwardly, people would consider such a person very kind, but the virtue of kindness goes beyond what is considered as an outward expression (Vlastos, 1991). It is not necessary for people to judge a person as virtuous as such, because that would involve their consideration of motives and reasons for acting in the ways they act, which would be impossible. Socratic reasoning considers that it would be erroneous to consider virtue from the point of view of the society (Vlastos, 1991). It is an individual thing, because the individual in his/her innermost convictions understands the motivations for responding in the event of cases requiring their response.
A person would be considered kind therefore, where that person responds out of empathy, to the needs of other people. This means that such a person is capable of putting oneself in the position of that other person and feel with them. This is in no way a simple task, because it requires that the kind person be totally abandoned to the self in order to experience the experience of the other person. This is a very hard task, and only a few, if any, are capable of it.

The understanding of virtue as defined here does not exclude the possibility of question. Socrates already cautioned against general rules, and such a definition risks being seen as such (Vlastos, 1991). It is possible that a person, for instance James, empathizes with another, because he has been in a similar situation before, which means that he fully understands the situation of one in need of help, but at the same time, he is interested in helping that person in order to get an inheritance from that person. This counter example shows that it is possible for someone to have empathy, and be motivated by it, but have other motive as well when responding to the needs of that person. In this case, it would be erroneous to consider this person as virtuous.


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