On Akrasia in Decision Making: Socrates’ Hedonism in Protagoras

  • Sunwoo Cho


In Protagoras, Socrates discusses the possibility of akrasia: doing something other than the best while knowing what is, and being able to do, the best. Akrasia is often construed as weakness of will, and if this is correct, then bioethics should be largely devoted to cultivating the willpower of individuals in order to enable them to make the best decisions among various ethical options. However, Socrates in Protagoras suggests that akrasia is a matter of cognitive failure in which one does not know what is best, and it is impossible for one to knowingly do something other than the best. If he is right, bioethics should be largely devoted to cultivating the cognitive ability of individuals rather than cultivating willpower. In order to set the right direction of bioethics, it is important to understand what akrasia consists of, and this paper is a preliminary inquiry focused on Socrates’ discussion on akrasia in Protagoras, before the full-fledged discussion on the nature of akrasia. In his discussion of akrasia, Socrates offers two reductiones through which he shows the impossibility of akrasia. His argument is based on the substitution of “goodness” for “pleasure.” The question which arises here is whether Socrates’ needs to be committed to ethical hedonism for this substitution. In this paper, I address this issue of ethical hedonism and its relationship to Socrates’ argument concerning akrasia. I show that recent scholarship has not clearly proven that Socrates is uncommitted to ethical hedonism in Protagoras. Instead, I will argue that Socrates may actually be committed to ethical hedonism in Protagoras.

Author Biography

Sunwoo Cho

Senior Researcher at Ewha Institute for Biomedical Law & Ethics

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