Virtue and knowledge

Socrates famously links virtue with knowledge.

The example he offers which has stuck in my memory, though I don’t hear others use it, is the deep-sea diver (or whatever the ancient equivalent would have been). An expert, experienced diver takes a risk every time he makes a serious trip into the depths. An ignorant, inexperienced diver who attempts anything but the most basic maneuver might have little chance of resurfacing. For Socrates, the former is the virtuous one, and the later vicious, even though in one sense we might say that the latter was facing a greater fear and so giving evidence of a greater courage.

There’s a strand of moral sensibility today that students of philosophy often associate with Kant, which suggests that the most praiseworthy moral deeds are the ones for which the doer receives no reward. If you do a good thing that costs you nothing and risks nothing, then it’s better than doing a bad thing but otherwise it’s not worth much.

I was thinking about this in relation to self defence recently.

If you ever need to defend yourself or a loved one, being proficient in self defence will in one sense make it easier, less risky, more likely to succeed. Of course, such things can always be dangerous, and no matter how you prepare, courage will always be required.

In that one sense, the unprepared person may be more courageous for doing the same thing. There’s some kind of truth in that view, I think.

But given the choice, it’s better to do it with preparation, I think, and choosing to face such situations unprepared is in no way superior, and in many ways worse.

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