These two characteristics, the concern for practical applications of his philosophy and the use of reason to supplant theological directives, distinguished Socrates. His was an attempt to teach people how to better define the highest good, how to attain justice, and therefore how to attain happiness both individually and socially.
This essay will examine Socrates' notions of a highest good and justice, his linking of the individual and society through an integrated philosophical approach, and the implications of different choices regarding public administration and public order.
As a preliminary matter, it is important to note that Socrates' teachings were most directed at the individual. The highest good, therefore, was a condition that each individual was capable of attaining; however, this highest good could only be known through reason and a knowledge of one's self. Socrates equated this highest good with knowledge and happiness. Significantly, though, he went to great lengths to distinguish true happiness from illusory pursuits of happiness. He did this by drawing distinctions between absolute levels of ignorance and fancy ideals of true knowledge. These distinctions, often grounded in Socrates' claims that he knew nothing, provided the intellectual framework for subsequently exploring ultimate questions of goodness, justice, and proper forms of public administration. In effect, he tore down common assumptions, challenged certain modes of thinking, and in the process attempted to redefine both the proper focus and method of philosophical inquiry as well as the practical application of philosophy to man's life and to social affairs.
Central to man's pursuit of happiness was the intellectual process by which he confronted choices and made decisions. In many ways, Socrates reduced the highest good to a decision-making process in which a noble existence was chosen rather than succumbing to false inducements often coloured with pleasure. He believed in a form of objective happiness, linking it ultimately to justice, "I think justice belongs in the best class of good, that which should be loved for its own sake and for the sake of its consequences by anyone who is going to be blessed" (358a1-3). Here in this passage, Socrates refers to a best good; the implication is that there are degrees of goodness and that a highest good is the ideal. Further, he refers to justice as one part of this best class of good; the other parts are an objective state of happiness, an honest and objective knowledge of one's self, and an ability to know what is necessary and unnecessary. An individual that knows his limits is far wiser and more virtuous than a man that pursues goals beyond his means or in contravention of his own objective happiness.
In short, the highest good is an objective happiness attained through the philosophical process of reason. Knowledge is crucial to this inquiry, and both the highest good and justice are dependent on Socrates' philosophical approach.
Relationship of Highest Good to Justice
Socrates' belief in a highest good, while a reasoning process that was focused on the individual, was also used to discuss larger issues of social organization and policy. This expansion into the realm