The Power of Habit: Why Alcibiades Failed to Mature

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The Power of Habit: Why Alcibiades' Failed To Mature

In the Platonic dialogue "Alcibiades", Socrates attempts to help Alcibiades -a young, power-hungry and aspiring politician - realize his corrupt nature and seek enlightenment through his method of thought-provoking conversation. At one point, Socrates gives a long speech (121-124b) condemning Alcibiades' main sources of pride in an attempt to prove that these traits aren't nearly as impressive as he thinks. A key moment in the dialogue is when Alcibiades responds to this speech by asking what kind of self-cultivation he needs to practice. Does this question reveal a willingness to improve? Or is Alcibiades' question simply inappropriate? Though Alcibiades becomes more aware of his flaws at different points in the dialogue, both this inquiry on the kind of self-cultivation he should seek and his eventual resolve to cultivate justice in himself, indicate that he fails to sincerely grasp Socrates' more important advice on self-knowledge, the prerequisite for self-cultivation.

This is mainly due to Alcibiades' reluctance to understand his truer self - his soul. This reluctance manifests itself in three ways: naïveté, impatience and bad habit. [1: Quoted from the dialogue Alcibiades from John M. Cooper and D. S. Hutchinson, eds., Plato: Complete Works (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub. Co., 1997). Future references will be made in the main text of this essay using the standard system of reference for Pato's works. ]

Alcibiades' naïveté involves a refusal to both fully acknowledge the absurdity of his goals and realistically assess his abilities. From Socrates' opening description of Alcibiades (104b-d), it is clear that Alcibiades' main sources of pride are his lineage, his education and his wealth. Later, in his long speech (121-124b), Socrates takes these sources of pride and condemns each one of them in detail. At 121a, for...