Socrates was known for questioning and meaningful conversations among the youth of ancient Greece. His
approach was rational and always tried to find the truth. The above quote asserts on socratic rejection of a
emotions as the foundation of ethical principles.
Morality based on releative emotional values means what makes you emotionally happy is right and what
makes you emotionally sad is wrong. Socrates calls such morality vulgar. It is based on several grounds.
* First, emotions may obstruct reasoned judgement and hence, the cognitive and agency element which is
basis for socratic morality. An action can be called moral only when a person has agency to do it and makes
call for it. Emotions can be externally driven and respond to external stimuli. Emotions are considered a
bondage of human passions and morality is aimed at liberating the humans from them.
* Second, Socrates asserted that true morality can be discovered through dialectics. Only through knowledge
can moral decisions be made. Socrates asserts no one knowingly desires what is wrong. In this sense,
emotions are antithesis to morality as it undermines knowledge, and even lead to rejection of knowledge.
*Third, emotions are closely connected to animalistic part of human beings. Our bodily Appetites and
responses like hunger , sex , fear could what is unique to human beings – ability to reason and intellect.
Therefore, it is incumbent on human beings to utilise that faculty.
Some examples are opposite here :
A victory in war after immense bloodshed may cause happiness among the victors. But it does not take into
account the character of horror of war and loss of lives. At the same time, it displays complete disregard for
the sufferings of others.
similarly, drunkenness may cause a flurry of euphoria in an individual but it cannot be held morally justified as
it undermines the human quality of agency and reason.
The other side :
However, this view has been nuanced over time. Aristotle’s concept of golden mean can be seen as an effort
to balance the Socrates intellectualism. For example, not having anger even at the insult of loved ones is
hardly defensible. In fact, lack of emotions can make morality cold and insensitive. It will lack an element of
compassion. Cultivating positive emotions and regulating negative ones is more practical route. Modern day
Emotional Intelligence is based on it. Besides, socratic quote ignores the psychology of human beings. Humans
ability to resist inspite of having knowledge is limited. craving for sugar in spite of being diabetic is a common
example. Therefore, while a system of morality cannot be solely based on emotions, the role of emotions in
guiding the human actions, which is the focus on ethics, cannot be ignored. However, Socrates place in
founding the theory of ethics based on reason and universalism is a major contribution.