Students, overheard arguing about Gorgias, articulate a universal human fear*:
A: He’s saying that tyrants are not free.
B: Because they don’t do what’s good?
A: Because they don’t do what they want.
B: Because they don’t do what they really** want?
Socrates’s tendency to see virtue as a skill illuminates the problem: Since we immediately stop desiring things as soon as we recognize them as apparent goods, desire has the same relation to good as surgery has to health. That some patients die from surgery doesn’t make some surgeries for death, nor does it mean that health is a restriction on the freedom of the surgeon. Health is the precondition of having surgery at all, as goodness is the precondition of desiring anything at all.
Human*** moral evil always involves ignorance, even where the choice brings guilt (while it is hard for us to “stop thinking about a white bear” it is easy for us to stop thinking about, say, the pain we are causing others, or the real-life consequences of short term pleasures.)
*Sc. that goodness is a restriction on freedom and desire. The other two deep metaphysical fears – which students suffer from in special ways – are that beauty is not real and that all loves are selfish.
**The stress on the word “really” is crucial and indicates complete confusion. The correlative qualification of “really” is “sorta”, which students can add to the verb in any proposition – no, seriously, to any proposition – to make it true.)
*** While human evil requires ignorance, the absence of ignorance in a knower still allows for evil. This is one element in the mysterium iniquitatis of angelic sin.