Is Taoism’s Conception of the Good More Reasonable than that of Socrates?

According to Maspero, over the years, philosophers have become increasingly interested in the concept of good. This is a term that cannot be easily defined and therefore every philosopher who has undertaken the task of shading any light on the matter has done so in his/her own unique way. In a simple way, conception of good can be described as the highest value in ethics. Eastern and western philosophies have been developing separately over the years with each having its own beliefs. The distance between the two forms of philosophy has been the greatest determiner of the differences between them. This distance has been both physical and cultural. Despite these distinctions, there are some philosophical works of philosophers from both sides that share similar concepts. For example, the works of the ancient philosopher Socrates and philosophical ideas of Taoism share some common concepts and ideas. The conception of good is a philosophical concept that has proven to be a distinctive similarity between these two sides of philosophy. This essay explicates that Socrates’ conception of good is more reasonable than Taoism’s because of the strength in Socrates argument, evidence he provides and manner that he presents his arguments. Throughout the essay, one can see that Socrates’s arguments on his conception of good are stronger and more reasonable than those of Taoism philosophy. These arguments from both sides are discussed in the bottom line.

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Conception of Good in Taoist Philosophy

Maspero observes how Taoist philosophical concepts on the conception of good are based on religion. This philosophy suggests that in order for people to live well, they should make decisions with Tao in consideration. Taoism is believed to originate from China. The pioneer of this philosophy was a man named Lau-Tzu. Conception of good is extensively discussed in Taoism and the following arguments have been presented.
Taoism is about doing good acts and not about a person being good. Consequently, intervening in life events and incidences should not be understood as a moral duty. As human beings, we are capable of intervening in life events, but, unfortunately, such intervention is negative in nature and therefore should not be taken. Hecktor asserts that Taoism does not initiate action until a time when such action becomes necessary. Therefore, whenever there is abstinence from action, good behavior becomes universal. Thus in Taoism conception of good, people should not be controlled by their desires and compulsion. This argument on good is weakened in a number of ways. Firstly, the fact that Taoism only focuses on doing good acts while disregarding a person’s goodness is a dubious argument. It is unclear how a person who is not good can do good acts. This is because goodness comes from within an individual therefore it is goodness that will determine his/her good acts and not the good acts determining one’s goodness. The Taoism argument cautioning people not to be controlled by desire and compulsion is a valid statement. This is because the premise of the argument is an acceptable one. It is seen to be true that when people are controlled by their desires and compulsion, the result will be bad behavior, which is a negative consequence of their intervention. This Taoist conception of good is therefore unreasonable.
Taoism conception of good goes on to explain that good behavior is vital for self-improvement and for the improvement of the world as well. This means that according to Taoism, a person can be able to change himself/herself and this new change can serve as an example to others around him/her. Maspero affirms that such change improves the world and makes it a better place to be because when one changes for the better, the effect rubs onto the community, which also strives to be better. According to Kirkland (2004), in Taoism, an individual achieves self-fulfillment and, at the same time, selflessly benefits other people’s lives. Therefore, it can be noted that when a person embraces Tao in his/her life and inside himself/herself, his/her values and virtues will become perfected. There is some truth in this argument. The claim that good behavior can cause self-improvement and improvement of the world is supported by the premise of change in the person and the community around him/her. Self-improvement makes an individual feel good and this feeling can be passed to others around him/her. However, the claim that embracing Taoism will perfect one’s values and virtues is fallacious. This argument casually connects Taoism and perfection of values and virtues when in reality they are not directly connected. This therefore makes this claim unreasonable.
Another Taoist conception of good relates to leadership. Kirklanе points out that according to Taoism, the ideal way for a leader to rule is by example and with least intervention. Thus a good leader is one who is respected by the followers and whose commands are followed willingly. A good leader is able to achieve this form of leadership by living a life of virtue both privately and publicly. He/she is, as a result, able to influence his/her people with good. This can be described as a deductively valid argument. This is because its conclusion logically follows the premise. The conclusion that a good leader is one whose followers respect him/her and follow his/her commands logically follows the premise that a good leader is one who is virtuous. The followers are willing to obey and respect this leader because of his/her virtuous lifestyle, which causes these followers to admire him/her thus giving him/her their respect and obedience without question. This conception of good is therefore reasonable.
Taoist conception of good also requires people to behave in a humble way. Hecktor (2009) shows how this concept of goodness obligates people to make the world a better place. However, due to the fact that people tend to be ignorant, they are likely to make things worse rather than improve them for the better. This is yet another reason why Taoism advices people not to take any action. This argument can be perceived as valid but, unfortunately, it cannot be said to sound. This is because not all its premises are true. Taoism is a way of life promoting peace and thus it requires people to behave in a humble manner. However, it cannot obligate people to change the world. Goodness is a concept that is freely given by individuals; consequently, they cannot be forced or be obliged to do a good act. On the other hand, the premise that ignorance will make people worsen things is a strong point. Overall, this argument is unsound because one of the premises is untrue. Despite followers of Taoism are obliged to make the world better, this is not always the case and the consequence is worsening of things instead of improvement for the better. Therefore, this Taoism philosophical idea on conception of good is quite unreasonable.

Conception of Good According to Socrates

According to Reshotko, Socrates was one of the most influential ancient philosophers of all time. He was a significant figure in the development of western philosophy. The philosopher’s views were universal and well considered since Socrates focused on development of concepts that were applicable to different cultures. In this context, one significant concept developed by Socrates is conception of good. One of his definitions of good is the absence of bad. This definition does not specify which form of good is being referred to but rather the definition brings out into focus all its forms. Through this claim Socrates establishes four virtues of good; wisdom, courage, moderation and justice.
The first virtue, which is wisdom, refers to acquisition of knowledge and understanding. Wisdom is also about knowing what to do with the knowledge that one already has. Stone (2010) asserts this virtue is clearly described by the allegory of the cave. The allegory of the cave is a story about a group of people who have been chained to a wall of a cave all their lives. These people began to watch and give names to the shadows created by the fire behind them. These shadows are the closest thing to reality that these prisoners will ever have. Socrates therefore concludes that a philosopher is like one of the prisoners in the cave that have been freed. He is now able to understand the exact form of reality and not just shadows on the wall. Therefore, what gives a true knowledge, is a person’s mind and power to know what is good. That is why good brings about knowledge and, consequently, wisdom. This Socratic argument on conception of good is very strong and quite valid as explained in the following statements. The claim that wisdom is about knowing what to do with the knowledge that one already has is clear and specific. This has been supported by Socrates’s explanation of the allegory of the cave. This has acted as a very clear illustration for his claim enabling anyone to agree with this statement due to the clarity it exemplifies. Additionally, the argument is persuasive in nature. This is because the claim’s premise is recognizable and possible. The fact that a person acquires wisdom from the knowledge and truth in his/her mind and his/her power to know what is good is a recognizable fact that has a possibility. It can therefore be concluded that this Socratic claim on the conception of good is reasonable.
The second virtue is courage. Socrates’s definition of courage is wise endurance of the soul. He considers it to be a noble quality. Socrates also describes courage as a virtue of passion that is felt and controls feelings like pain, pleasure, fear and longing. Reshotko observes that it is however difficult to substantiate this virtue in a person since an individual can have courage and at the same time have good or bad intentions. The fact that it is not possible to validate a person’s courage makes this argument weak. It lacks a persuasive force of reason on its side. It is difficult to recognize the correctness of the premise. Consequently, this Socratic conception of good has emerged as unreasonable.
The third virtue of good is moderation. Socrates describes moderation as a virtue of self will and self-control. He used the ruling system to demonstrate his meaning of the concept. He described moderation as the stronger party ruling the weaker party. According to Stone (2010), Socrates compared this relationship with a person’s self-control, which is ruled by his/her superego. This rule helps to keep the identity of an individual in check. This person, therefore, emerges as a stronger being who rules the weaker ones. This conception of good by Socrates is very well explained. The philosopher introduces it by making a comparison of one’s virtue of moderation with stronger ruling parties. This makes the claim to have a stronger and clearer point that makes a person to perceive it as logically presented since he/she was able to understand it better thanks to the illustration Socrates has provided. In addition, this has caused his conception on good to be reasonable.
Justice is the other virtue of good described by the Greek philosopher. According to Socrates, justice refers to fairness or the notion that people should receive what they deserve. It insists on people getting only what they deserve whether good or bad. Socrates insisted that people should be treated according to the law and not according to the desires of the leaders or the public. Reshotko shows how Socrates goes on saying that justice and other goods things highly depend on good for their goodness just as their benefit depends on people’s knowledge of good as this is what makes them good. It is through this concept that Socrates introduces the concept of form of good. The philosopher cautions that attention should not be placed on every form of differences or similarities but instead it should be placed on aspects that are relevant to the particular ways of life since that is the definition of form of good. This should then be used to understand all other forms. Socrates uses the sun to analogize form of good. This is because the sun is what enables people to see. The sun gives sight but it is not the sight itself. The sun is acting as an invisible realm and thus form of good is in the realm. This implies that form of good is cause for knowledge and truth. This explanation of justice is very comprehensive and provides support to the claim that justice is a virtue of good. Socrates application of the analogy of the sun explained further the concept of justice. It enabled a logical and clear understanding of the idea of justice being a conception of good. Therefore, this conception of good of Socrates is a reasonable one.
Another Socratic conception of good relates to the soul. The philosopher argues that caring for the soul ought to be the most significant task in one’s life. According to Stone, Socrates describes the souls of the righteous as immortal and divine. This description sets the souls of the righteous apart from the normal souls of people, which he plainly describes as immortal. Thus Socrates argues that to be good and ultimately happy people should take care of their souls. They should further strive to live a virtuous life. Socrates goes on affirming that taking care of the soul involves people working on their self-improvement and self-perfection. This will take care of their souls and provide them with happiness. These claims presented by Socrates can be seen to be good arguments. In the first place, the premises provided for the conclusion have been presented in a logical manner making sense to the claim. It can also be established that the argument is logically valid. Socrates’s conclusion that people can be good and happy is supported by the premise it can only be done if people take care of their souls. This concept is further supported by the other premise requesting people to carry out self-improvement and self-perfection. The argument has also considered the relevant information needed to illustrate the conception of truth in this context. Consequently, this Socratic claim on the conception of good is reasonable as it contains three essential characteristics of a good argument; its premises are true, logically presented and have considered the most essential information.
Socrates goes on exploring the conception of good by arguing that a good person cannot be harmed by other people. Reshotko asserts that this Socratic principle is considered to be very important in philosophy. The philosopher points out that a person can be considered to be rich only when he/she is content with having less since contentment is the wealth of nature. Consequently, Socrates believed that people could achieve happiness through a virtuous life, live in harmony with themselves and with others. The first part of this argument can be challenged. The claim that a good person cannot be harmed by others is false. There is no way of guaranteeing or rather protecting a good person from harm. As human beings we are in danger of being harmed or feeling pain. Consequently, there is no established method that can be used to exclude good people from this pain. Further, there is also no defined method that can be used to determine or measure the goodness of people so as to establish the ones to be spared from harm on the basis of their goodness. Thus it is not true that a good person cannot be harmed by others. Socrates’s second statement regarding contentment has some basis and it is not just an empty claim. The conclusion that people can live happy lives in harmony with themselves and others is supported by the premise of living a virtuous life. Indeed when a person lives a virtuous life, he/she is less likely to get in conflicting situations or develop poor relationships with others. This happiness and harmony will fulfill him/her to the point of commitment. Despite the first aspect of this argument by Socrates, it remains reasonable to a certain extent. Thus Socrates’s conception of good remains reasonable in this context.


In conclusion, conception of good has been an interesting subject of study for many philosophers. Socratic philosophy and Taoism have been among the fields of philosophy interested in it. Each side presents its own arguments and understanding of conception of good. Taoism bases its conception of good on religion. The opening argument of Taoism states that conception of good is about doing good acts and not being a good a person thereby prohibiting intervention in life events. The next point presented about Taoism’s conception of good goes on explaining that good behavior is vital for self-improvement and for the improvement of the world as well. Taoist leadership advocates for leaders to rule by example and not through intervention. The final Taoism conception of good requires people to behave in a humble way.
On the other hand, Socrates’s conception of good discusses four virtues of good; wisdom, courage, moderation and justice. The first virtue, wisdom, is about acquisition of knowledge and understanding. Socrates relates courage to the endurance of the soul while the virtue of moderation is all about self-will and control. The final virtue, which is justice, is about fairness or the notion that people should receive what they deserve. Socrates emphasizes on caring for the soul as the most essential task of people, and he summarizes his argument on conception of good by claiming that a good person cannot be harmed.
From the discussion throughout the essay, it is clear that Socrates’s conception of good is more reasonable than Taoism’s. Socrates has presented his arguments on his conception of good in a manner that is convincing and a way that leaves no doubt in the reader or critic of his work. Taoism, on the other hand, has utilized weak argument structures that have caused its conception of good to become unreasonable.

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