The “What is X?” Question 1.Socrates asked a simple kind of question that revolutionized philosophy: “What is it?” 2.Usually raised about significant moral or aesthetic qualities (e.g., justice, courage, wisdom, temperance, beauty). 3.Such questions are the central concern of the “Socratic” (early) dialogues of Plato. 4.A so-called “Socratic definition” is an answerto a “What is X?” question. 5.Socratic definitions are not of words, but of things. Socrates does not want to know what the word ‘justice’ means, but what the natureof justice itself is. 6.A correct Socratic definition is thus a true description of the essence of the thing to be defined. I.e., definitions can be true or false. II. The Importance of Socratic Definitions A. They are objective. 1.Socrates was opposed to the moral relativism of the Sophists. 2.He believed that there were objective moral standards; that they could be discovered; that there were right and wrong answers to moral questions that went beyond mere opinion and popular sentiment.
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