Integrity

In what follows we describe the first of the project’s three sub-themes: Integrity. We identify its distinguishing marks in the Platonic context and outline its relevance for the project general aims.

First, it is clear that Plato vindicates the unprecedented notion of self-government (Dodds 1945; Williams 1993; Long 2001) on moral and self-constitutional grounds. As such, the idea of personal autonomy that Plato invents by applying a political vocabulary on an individual level is conditioned by moral integrity. For Plato, only insofar as a thought or an action arises from and contributes to the integrity of its agent can it be labeled autonomous and morally valuable or good.

The Latin word integritas, from which the English integrity derives, denotes both ‘blamelessness’ or ‘purity’ and ‘chastity’ as well as wholeness. Already Plato uses one of the Greek equivalents, holoklêros, as psychological wholeness or perfection, resulting from a clear and independent engagement with truth (e.g. Phaedrus 250c1). This latter understanding captures not primarily the actions or behavior considered as expressive of integrity, but a certain understanding of the agent that is capable of such actions. Although the term is not used in the Apology, Socrates’ defense speech reveals the kind of values that the term comes later to denote. The ideal is an agent that has synchronic unity or wholeness, that is, critically assessed and logically related beliefs in which her behavior is grounded. Such a person also stands behind her ideals diachronically, even in challenging circumstances.

For Plato, this means that moral excellence – or virtue – and psychological unity coincide with personal autonomy. It is only when an individual acts or thinks as a functional whole that her thoughts and actions can be said to be determined in a way that is unaffected by external sources of authority. In effect, this does not only suggest that all morally informed thoughts and actions are conditioned by integrity. It also means that the greatest threat to virtue and autonomous agency is psychological discord.

In Plato, psychological discord is spelled out in terms of internal coercion. A disintegrated person, or soul – as is memorably presented in both the Republic and the Phaedrus – is someone whose thoughts and actions are determined by the fragmenting forces of appetite and desire. Her motivational inclinations are formed in a process that operates without rationally informed and synoptic considerations: Instead of being the results of a balanced negotiation that includes concerns for how her particular thoughts and actions contribute to and constitute her as a functional whole, her thoughts and actions are the results of disconnected inclinations. This has two consequences. First, it means that her estimation of what she needs, or wishes to have, is the result of an inaccurate and incomplete evaluative process. Second, it also means that the coercion of appetite that determines her motivational inclinations will orient her towards objects that are either irrelevant or damaging to the whole (Lorenz 2006; Moss 2008; Pettersson 2013).

The importance of the connection between internal coercion and moral integrity is often neglected in contemporary discussion of personal autonomy (one important exception is Korsgaard 2008). We believe that a closer scrutiny of how Plato’s novel idea of self-government was treated in the ancient discussion can both help to better understand the moral value of personal autonomy; and show why any defensible version of rational autonomy must be able to explain how self-government and moral integrity are connected.

The importance of the connection between internal coercion and moral integrity is often neglected in contemporary discussion of personal autonomy (one important exception is Korsgaard 2008). We believe that a closer scrutiny of how Plato’s novel idea of self-government was treated in the ancient discussion can both help to better understand the moral value of personal autonomy; and show why any defensible version of rational autonomy must be able to explain how self-government and moral integrity are connected.

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