Socrates and the Marring of the Soul
“For I certainly think that I and you and every man do really believe, that to do is a greater evil than to suffer injustice: and not to be punished than to be punished.” - Plato, Gorgia
Which do you think is the greatest evil: doing wrong or being wronged? Perhaps on its face it seems that to suffer great evil is worse than doing great evil. Plato via Socrates asks that we ponder this question in our quest to uncover the nature of a happy or fulfilled life.
In our conversation there are three evils presented: doing wrong, being wronged, and doing wrong without repercussions. If you were to grade these from “best” to worst what would be the worst.
Socrates would have us come to this truth, that it is the latter that is worst. Why? You see, for Socrates, the one who does evil and is not punished reveals something of his soul, of his inner man - the seat of his reason.
The man who wills evil does so because he regards it as just. But if the action is truly evil then it is not just. Hence, the man’s soul, his reason, is deformed, believing something to be that is not. So now we ask, given the existence of the soul, which is person is worse off, the one whose body is marred or the one whose soul is marred?
It would see that it is the latter, so then while it may be our first inclination to conclude that suffering a wrong is worse than doing a wrong, it appears that it may be the opposite.
How is a soul to be mended? Certainly the body often suffers on the path to health whether that be surgery, or the setting of a bone, or difficult hours spent in the gym. Is there something of like manner for the soul?
Socrates proposes that rebuke and/or punishment are the remedy of an evil or marred soul. He says, “I mean, that if he be justly punished his soul is improved” and “he who is punished is delivered from the evil of his soul.”
So then for Socrates the doing of evil is worse than having evil done to you, but what is even worse than all of that is the one who does evil but is never punished - the one who escapes justice. Justice serves as health to our soul even though it can be accompanied by pain. Still, in the end, the soul is made more perfect through correction and punishment.
Though I know the language is not univocal, there seems to be somethings in common with how Christianity understands the nature of the soul and punishment.
Indeed, when we sin we mar our souls and the only remedy of the marred soul is punishment. That punishment can be meted out either in one’s suffering in Hell or in the suffer of Christ. The mar that we have taken against our soul in sin is so profound in nature that eternal punishment will not suffice to correct our soul (unless of course if you believe in purgatory) though it does serve as justice.
But in Christ, the eternal Son of God, we can find a balm to our soul in that Jesus took our place under the wrath of God. He bore our sin, punishment, and guilt. In His substitutionary punishment, He took on Him our punishment to the ultimate perfection of our soul.
“We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Turn to Christ as the remedy of your marred soul.