My research focuses on ancient Greek psychology of action, i.e., on the mental states that explain our actions. I am primarily working on our so-called non-rational mental states – our emotions, appetites, pleasures, and pains. The questions I explore are: What exactly are emotions, appetites, pleasures, and pains, and how do they influence our actions – especially bad ones? Why do we sometimes fail to do what is right and how can we prevent future wrongdoing? My past and current research focuses on Socrates’ answers to these questions.


Abstract: Imagine that Socrates gets a cavity treatment. The drilling is painful, but he also knows that it is best to get it done and so he stays. Callicles is not so smart. Once the dentist starts drilling, Callicles takes off. I argue that this scenario presents a puzzle that interpreters have missed, namely: why does Socrates have an aversion to pain? To us, this might not be puzzling at all. Socrates, however, believes that we have an aversion to bad things only and that pain is not in fact bad. If Socrates knows that pain is not bad, why does he still feel aversive pain from drilling? I argue that the Protagoras and Hippias Major suggest that pain immediately appears to be bad to us and that is why even Socrates has an aversion to pain. Pain is a felt evaluation. My interpretation contributes to the debate in the secondary literature in two ways. First, it fills an explanatory gap. Interpreters have acknowledged that a Socratic theory of motivation has room for pain aversions as “itches”, but they leave unexplained why we have an aversion to pain, i.e., why those itches itch. Second, in proposing that pain aversions can motivate some of our actions, I offer an alternative account of Socratic motivation.

Under Review

Can Flogging Make Us Smarter? Socrates on Painful Punishment.

Abstract: In the Gorgias, Socrates seems to endorse painful punishment such as flogging because it can benefit wrongdoers. Wrongdoers benefit from painful punishment because they epistemically improve, i.e., they become less ignorant, Socrates seems to say. Most interpreters have tried to explain away those passages for two reasons. First, they argue that Socratic psychology of action has no room for painful punishment’s being efficacious. Second, they argue that if anything, painful punishment makes wrongdoers worse, but not better. I respond to both objections and propose that we can take the passages at face-value. Socrates believes that painful punishment can epistemically improve wrongdoers by communicating a moral message that in certain cases cannot be communicated effectively through philosophical dialogue. I thereby offer a novel explanation of how Socratic psychology of action is compatible with his approval of painful punishment, and of how pain experiences can make certain wrongdoers smarter.

Work in Progress

A Glutton and A Coward walk into the Socratic Therapy office...

Abstract: A glutton and a coward seek Socrates for advice. Which diagnosis and treatment can they expect? Most interpreters of Socrates would probably say that they can expect to be diagnosed as ignorant and that their treatment consists in philosophical conversations and arguments. I will propose that Socrates would distinguish more carefully between the glutton and the coward and that dependent on the diagnosis, he may propose treatments other than philosophical conversations. If you are a glutton, sit tight! Though you may not have to go through many (or any) sessions of philosophical conversation, your treatment will still take a while, as you might have to train your body and desensitize your soul. If you suffer from cowardice, sign up immediately for traditional Socratic therapy sessions, i.e., philosophical conversations. I will arrive at this conclusion by investigating what kind of states appetites and fear are and how they influence our actions.

© 2019 Freya Möbus