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Student explores moral psychology of Socrates and Plato

August 27, 2013

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During the summer, Lewis & Clark students continue to work hard in their fields of study. By collaborating with faculty on research projects, students are able to engage their curiosity, expand their learning, and prepare for life after college, all while making meaningful contributions to scholarship.

Evan Schultz ’14 is working with James F. Miller Professor of Humanities Nick Smith to study Socrates’ theory of the psychology of human emotion and motivation, and its affect on the way in which we think about the world. In the following Q&A, Schultz reflects on his experience.

What are you researching? What question or problem are you trying to answer/solve with your research?

Nick and I are researching Socrates’ theory of the psychology of emotion and motivation; basically we are working on understanding the way Socrates thinks the mind works. In particular, we are interested in the functional role of fear—how fear motivates agents to take or not take certain actions—and also our attraction to pleasures and aversion to pains, and how these affect the way we form beliefs about the world and what is or is not best for us.

Does your research have any potential applications in the real world, or will it influence other work in your field?

There has been a lot of work done recently on Socratic and Platonic moral psychology, but most of it seems to us neither to handle the actual Platonic texts to be explained, nor to make much sense as a moral psychology anyone would ever accept. In particular, it has been common for scholars actually to deny that Plato’s early dialogues even allow appetites and emotions to play any role in the explanation of voluntary human behavior. Our texts provide abundant evidence against this common scholarly claim, but it is another matter to come up with an explanation of various things that Plato has Socrates actually say about these things. This is our project for the summer.

What first sparked your interest in this research area?

Personally, my interest in ancient Greek philosophy came to a head in my sophomore year capstone class on Plato’s Republic. The course not only changed the way I think about and understand a variety of aspects of my life, but also introduced me to what has become my focus within philosophy, which, believe it or not, is a diverse field.

How has working closely with faculty influenced your education?

This is a difficult question to answer—I’m quite used to working and speaking with my professors. I’d say that working closely with faculty has not influenced my education; it simply is a large and indispensable part of my education.

How do you hope your experiences this summer will impact your future studies or professional pursuits?

As of now, I plan on pursuing a postgraduate degree in philosophy and the classics; this research is both a synthesis of the two and a perfect example of the type of scholarship I would love to work on as a career.

About the program

The Mellon Foundation grant provides funds to help faculty infuse collaborative research into a broad range of new and existing courses, and supports an increased number of student-faculty summer research projects.

“We firmly believe that engaging students in the practice of their discipline is the best way to prepare them for life beyond the college,” said Tuajuanda Jordan, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Student-faculty research is seen as one of the strengths of our educational experience, and with this grant we can ensure that students have access to this type of opportunity.”

With this support, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation continues its long legacy of supporting and enriching the arts and humanities at Lewis & Clark.

Department of Philosophy

Zibby Pillote ’14 contributed to this story.