Sunday, April 3, 2011

Socrates, Martha Stewart, and the Definiton of Right Conduct

Plato composed The Republic nearly 2500 years ago. Yet the questions about right conduct that it raises are as timely as today's headlines and Twitter feeds.

In the first section of the dialog, Socrates takes aim at the ethical inadequacy of conventional views of justice. The first of these to be explored is the notion that justice consists in telling the truth and paying one's debts.

Socrates finds much lacking in this view. But even the minimal conception of justice it expresses is at odds with major trends in an American landscape littered with failed Ponzi schemes and a compendium of ethical lapses.

To catalog the scope of the contemporary problem, financial journalist James Stewart has published a book called Tangled Webs: How False Statements Are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff.

Socrates, one suspects, might have found a way to talk Martha Stewart out of her plans for insider trading. He would surely have also been impervious to the pecuniary lures of Madoff's investment fraud.

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