What Socrates’s greatest failure reveals about an ancient question: Can we teach our leaders to be better people?
Is good character something that can be taught? In 430 BCE, Socrates set out to teach the vain, power-seeking Athenian statesman Alcibiades how to be a good person—and failed spectacularly. Alcibiades went on to beguile his city into a hopeless war with Syracuse, and all of Athens paid the price.
In The Quest for Character, philosophy professor Massimo Pigliucci tells this famous story and asks what we can learn from it. He blends ancient sources with modern interpretations to give a full picture of the philosophy and cultivation of character, virtue, and personal excellence—what the Greeks called arete. At heart, The Quest for Character isn’t simply about what makes a good leader. Drawing on Socrates as well as his followers among the Stoics, this book gives us lessons perhaps even more crucial: how we can each lead an excellent life.
About the Author
Massimo Pigliucci is the K. D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. The author or editor of sixteen books, he has been published in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and Salon, among others. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
“An enlightening study… This lucid and accessible tour through ancient philosophy offers valuable lessons for today.”—Publishers Weekly
“Massimo Pigliucci, who has elsewhere taught us to take seriously the precepts of ancient Stoicism, here looks further afield, above all to Plato, for insight into how we become virtuous people—or, too often, fail to. His expert account of ancient ethics will help us save our souls, and thereby, just maybe, save the world.”—James Romm, author of The Sacred Band
“With a deft but magically light hand, Pigliucci turns to case studies from Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, and more to pose the most pressing question of our time: How do we put competent and wise leaders in office? A wonderful raconteur, Pigliucci brings the historical and philosophical texts of Greco-Roman antiquity to life with lessons about good character and leadership, whether we aspire to political office or not.”—Nancy Sherman, author of Stoic Wisdom
“The Quest for Character presents a rigorous theoretical foundation for ethical self-improvement with concrete steps—even a step-by-step syllabus!—for how we can become better people, how we can help others to do the same, and how we might influence our leaders and politicians to act virtuously. If only those in power would grab hold of this literary lifeline and take heed of Pigliucci’s wisdom, humanity might just have a chance to flourish economically, materially, and spiritually.”—Skye Cleary, author of How to Be Authentic