Being Good Is a Choice

In Meno, Socrates gives several examples of fathers who worked their hardest to try and teach their sons how to be good. However, the teachings do not work. (Meno, 94a-e) Then, Socrates says that teaching cannot be taught. Well, I disagree. As children are growing up, they pick up habits from their parents and family, who are the principal people that teach them. Whatever children are being taught to do is what they will do unless they choose not to. You see, in my opinion, being good boils down to a choice- whether or not you will follow the habits and teachings of the people closest to you or not.

There are four types of outcomes that people can choose based on the habits of their parents: good habits from parents = good habits from children, bad habits from parents = bad habits from children, good habits from parents = bad habits from children, and finally, bad habits from parents = good habits from children. Parents can teach their children habits that are either good or bad, and children can learn from those habits and decide which habits they want to continue doing for the rest of their life. In society today, there are two different types of stories that are frequently heard. The first is the story about the parents that give their children a fabulous upbringing and are nurturing and caring, and their child(ren) end up making a mess of their life by practicing bad habits. The second is the story about a child who had a rough start in life (like the deadbeat parent, the “always drunk” parent, the abusive parent, or the uncaring/unsupportive parent) and made it a goal to become successful and, by practicing good habits, achieved that goal.

Everything about a person’s character, which determines if they are good or not, depends on the choices that he or she makes. It is not a matter of you not being receptive to good things that causes you to be a bad person, but a matter of if you decide to be receptive to the things that you were taught, whether they be good or bad.

3 responses to “Being Good Is a Choice

  1. I think you make an interesting point about how one cannot actually teach, but I disagree with you on two fronts. First, I think you misarticulate the point about teaching that Socrates made, when he said people cannot be taught, he went on to explain how rather than being taught, people remember. He makes the argument that people have different images and facts engrained in their mind and soul and upon further probing people can remember more. For example, when Socrates teaches the slave a simple mathematics problem, the slave believed he knew the answer (which he didn’t), and without teaching him, but rather solely asking the slave questions, Socrates got the slave to produce the correct answer, thus demonstrating that the slave knew the answer deep down and just needed help producing it. My second point of disagreement is your explanation of how children will act when they grow up based on their parents’s behavior. You say “Whatever children are being taught to do is what they will do unless they choose not to,” which I don’t really understand. This statement just seems like a long way of saying the child does what the child wants when he or she grows up, so I am not really sure how this relates to the concept of teaching. It seems like a contradiction, you say that teaching is possible and that you can teach a child based on your habits, but then you say that doesn’t matter because the child does whatever he or she wants anyway, thus the child is not actually teachable. I apologize if I am just misunderstanding your argument, but I find it rather confusing.

  2. I think you make an interesting point about how one cannot actually teach, but I disagree with you on two fronts. First, I think you misarticulate the point about teaching that Socrates made, when he said people cannot be taught, he went on to explain how rather than being taught, people remember. He makes the argument that people have different images and facts engrained in their mind and soul and upon further probing people can remember more. For example, when Socrates teaches the slave a simple mathematics problem, the slave believed he knew the answer (which he didn’t), and without teaching him, but rather solely asking the slave questions, Socrates got the slave to produce the correct answer, thus demonstrating that the slave knew the answer deep down and just needed help producing it. My second point of disagreement is your explanation of how children will act when they grow up based on their parents’s behavior. You say “Whatever children are being taught to do is what they will do unless they choose not to,” which I don’t really understand. This statement just seems like a long way of saying the child does what the child wants when he or she grows up, so I am not really sure how this relates to the concept of teaching. It seems like a contradiction, you say that teaching is possible and that you can teach a child based on your habits, but then you say that doesn’t matter because the child does whatever he or she wants anyway, thus the child is not actually teachable. I apologize if I am just misunderstanding your argument, but I find it rather confusing.

  3. Hey Harry! I’m sorry about confusing you. It seems that I was not paying that much attention when I was writing, and instead of typing “teaching cannot be taught”, I meant to write “being good cannot be taught” (which is what Socrates says right after 94e starts) since my whole argument is about how being good is a choice. Again, sorry about the typo! And thank you for bringing my attention to it 🙂

    Now, about the part where you say that you don’t agree with my statement on children and parents. Since I am talking about being good instead of teaching, I meant that a child learns certain habits from parents (for example, waking up early so that they are not late for work, eating in bed and not cleaning up after themselves, etc. ) that all contribute to the child’s learning on how to be good (or how to not be good). Then, I was making a point that children can choose to adopt or not adopt these habits (whether good or bad) as they grow up and are able to make their own decisions, which is why I argue that being good is a choice, and that it can be taught. I understand that from my typo it made my whole argument not make sense, but hopefully this will shed some light!

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