Shame and virtue in Plato and Aristotle
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In this dissertation, I examine Plato and Aristotle's reasons for denying that aidôs, or a sense of shame, is a virtue. The bulk of my study is devoted to the interpretation of two key texts: Plato's Charmides and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Although both philosophers see an important role for shame in moral education, they share the view that a fully virtuous person's actions are guided not by aidôs, but by practical wisdom. In the opening chapter, I provide an overview of their conception of shame as an essentially social emotion that expresses our concern for the opinions of others. I present and give a critique of a recent theory of shame that challenges this conception. The starting point of the second chapter is a brief passage in the Charmides where Socrates examines Charmides' claim that aidôs is the same as sôphrosunê ("temperance" or "moderation"). Socrates refutes the definition by citing a single verse from Homer's Odyssey: "aidôs is no good in a needy man." In order to make sense of his dubious appeal to poetic authority, I provide a close reading of Socrates' opening narration, in which he describes his initial encounter with the beautiful young Charmides. I show that the ambivalence about aidôs expressed in the quotation is justified through Socrates' portrait of Charmides. Though admirable at this early stage of his life, Charmides' aidôs is the very thing that prevents him from challenging Socrates' argument and gaining a deeper understanding of virtue. In the third chapter, I turn to the discussion of shame in Book 4 of the Nicomachean Ethics, where Aristotle explicitly argues that aidôs is not a virtue. The two arguments of NE 4.9 have puzzled commentators. My aim is to reconstruct Aristotle's view of aidôs and show that he does in fact have good grounds for excluding it from his list of virtues.