Can I teach my donkey virtue?

Here is the incident that confronted me that gave rise to the question .

Briefly, yesterday I went to the market to buy a sack of grain… The sack is heavy weighing a standard hundred kilos. So I took my donkey with me to carry the sack. On the way back home we ran into a she donkey. my donkey just went nuts and started yelling hee haw and hee haw and he just kept hee hawing and acting like a mad donkey who has never seen a lady donkey before . I tried to restrain him by grabbing hard on the robe. We ended up in a struggle with me pulling on the robe and the donkey going in circles around me trying to pull free. The sack of grain fell and got busted. I let go of the robe and turned my attention to the sack stuffing the spilled grain back into the sack and repairing the rip in the sack . I’ll stop here with relating what happened next with my donkey and the she donkey for reasons of propriety and get directly to the point.

I got to thinking what would Socrates say about this? What would Socrates say about the conduct of my donkey and what lessons can be drawn from the conduct of my donkey and then applied to people? The question that popped in my mind was , can I teach my donkey virtue ? I thought about it and arrived at the conclusion that you can’t teach a donkey virtue …

Frankly visiting this forum has inspired in me a philosophical disposition to examining the challenges presented to me by life , my life of which my donkey is a part as a beast of burden and companion in my journeys back and forth to the market to buy my family our food provisions. I’m considered upper class in this part of the world where I’m at . we own a donkey for the purpose of carrying grocery . this is like you owning a BMW just for the purpose of going to the super market to shop. .but if you don’t have a donkey part in your life I guess a cat or dog will do just as well . just think …. can I teach my cat or dog virtue .if you don’t have any animal part in your life then just use your imagination. Trust me on this because the moment you do you will find your animal.

Now you all know how Socrates was. He was an argumentative sort of guy who used logic and rigorous analysis to punch holes in your ideas. So my bet the first thing he will target would be the rational resources of my donkey. I think it’s a foregone conclusion that the first point Socrates would raise would be the issue of mental capacity or mental . he will question the feasibility of teaching virtue to a donkey because the donkey doesn’t have the mental capacity up to the task.

Now I’m thinking if and when Socrates takes that position I will counter by claiming that for the overwhelming majority of humans there is really little difference in the way they conduct themselves and the way my donkey conducted himself . to prove it I will point to the moral relativists as one case .I will claim that as far as virtue is concerned there is little difference between my donkey and a moral relativist .and here are the reasons.

Mental capacity has nothing to do with it. Man is the measure of things . morality differs and value differs from person to person . To each his own . No man should have to tell me how to live my life . it hard enough as it is to figure out how to live one’s life let alone telling the rest of mankind how to live theirs . its all just matters of tastes and preferences and there is really no truth of ethics so that its perfectly alright to ground one’s conduct on a principle of pleasure whereby you act so as to maximize your pleasure and cut down on the pains as much as you can depending of course on your ideas of what makes for pleasure and pain etc .

See if I use pleasure as the principle of conduct then the conduct of my donkey is justified by moral relativism in terms of personal donkey desire . something like that

Listen hold that thought . I will be back.


The entire cause of Faith is the inability to teach your donkey. If you want peope to stop having faith in others, then learn how to teach.

In every decision, a person chooses to either do what someone else suggests without really understanding exactly why, or to attempt to understand why and make the decision regardless of advice from others. When it comes to complex and long term decisions, the largest portion of any society will not be able to “do the math”. Thus is makes far more sense for the largest portion of any population to not attempt to make such decisions on their own, but to default to the wisdom of others. Do you decide for yourself which molecules are inside that grain, or do you merely have a degree of faith in what others report on the matter?

I used to take a degree of pride in being able to teach my pets to be civil in ways beyond the norm. Dogs are easy to teach of course, but having a cat learn to have no fear of dogs, to follow long on a walk without a leash, to come when called, and to capture any kind of bird except a dove, is not so easy. Once I even taught my fish to keep their droppings on one side of the fish tank. Even wives can learn. But does that mean that one should always do it? I think not.

You can teach your donkey to obey up to a point. He will never know why you want him to do this or that. So is it a virtue that you teach when you teach him to obey? Perhaps so. Perhaps not. But he is far more valuable to you when he obeys, isn’t he? {{virtue to whom?}}

You crack me up! :smiley: Serious and funny simultaneously. Personally, I don’t think relativism is an answer to the question of what is value because it is many answers. What the donkey doesn’t understand is collective or social agreement about values. Humping the female donkey was what he was genetically designed to do. He can’t see far beyond his genetic mandates. We humans believe we can, but that’s sometimes doubtful.
Socrates seemed to believe we have the truth of things already known and it just takes the right questions to get the truth out of us. Now that idea of some innate knowledge of truth is problematic. It could support genetic determinism.

Nietzsche’s notion of society molding man, producing an animal that can make promises (das versprechen darf)
from the Genealogy springs to mind GM II:2

To breed an animal that is entitled to make promises—is that not precisely the paradoxical task nature has set itself where human beings are concerned? Isn’t that the real problem of human beings? . . .

( … alogy2.htm)
( translation by Ian Johnston of Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC)

Mind you I do like the story but shooting down on absolute moral relativism seems a bit like shooting fish in a barrel to me!


That idea of already knowing the truth of things reminds me. Didn’t Plato say that knowledge was a matter of remembering? PK Dick talks about this in VALIS, including Jung’s notion of phylogenic memory and the ancient mystical notion of gnosis. Anyway, in the book there is a channeled character from the 1st century CE (AD) named Thomas. Here’s what the narrator says:

Thomas was the ultimate non-fool of Post Neolithic times. As an early Christian, of the apostolic age; he had not seen Jesus but he knew people who had – my God, I’m losing control, here, trying to write this down. Thomas had figured out how to reconstitute himself after his physical death. ‘All’ the early Christians knew how. It worked through anamnesis, the loss of amnesia . . . .

Later he talks about techniques which overcome time and says: Dante discusses them in the ‘Comedy.’ It has to do with the loss of amnesia; when forgetfulness is lost, true memory spreads out backward and forward, into the past and into the future, and also, oddly, into alternate universes; it is orthogonal as well as linear.
Siddhartha, the Buddha, remembered all his past lives . . . . From him the knowledge of achieving this passed to Greece and shows up in the teachings of Pythagoras, who kept much of this occult, mystical ‘gnosis’ secret; his pupil, Empedocles, however, … went public [and] … told his friends privately that he was Apollo. He, too, like the Buddha and Pythagoras, could remember his past lives. What they did not talk about was their ability to “remember” future lives.

There is just so much more to truth and knowledge than “genetic determinism.”

It seems that Tu Weiming would argue that virtue is present within your donkey and, through proper cultivation, that virtue can be made manifest. While it isn’t discussed here, the archaic notion of the turbidity of qi may be worth considering as a metaphor – especially as pertaining to human notions of virtue. Though it also behooves us to ask whether the virtue of a donkey is the same as the virtue of a man. Given the long running symbiotic relationship between donkeys and man (over 5000 years!) there is no reason, prima facie, for us to assert that their virtuous natures ought be distinct (as compared to, say, a zebra – an animal related to the donkey but never successfully domesticated) but at the same time the different roles played by donkeys and man within the mutually beneficial relationship may result in the proper exercise of virtuous behavior manifesting itself in radically different ways.

James ,

I swear on the life of my donkey that my inability to teach my donkey is not the entire cause of faith. what about the lady donkey? Please don’t go telling me she was not there ? She exists. That is her crime.

decisions . decisions . decisions. You know what James? Speaking for me which is speaking as only an old man would, all decisions lead to zilch. The only difference some are gutsy and some are not .the gutsy ones make you strong . the other ones make you weak. either way the world of phantoms prevails and it has decided that life for us is too short to matter .

but Socrates is going to break it down differently from you and I. he likes to reduce things to their basics to make them manageable to handle I guess . SO my donkey was with the lady donkey and the lady donkey was with my donkey because they drove pleasure from it. Then Socrates is going to ask you what happens when the pleasures ceases to exist ? equally important what happens if someone else comes along who could serve that pleasure better ?

you ask me is my donkey valuable to me ? okay okay . so we go …my donkey is with the lady donkey and the lady donkey is with my donkey because they drive value from it . What happens when there is no value in it ? moreover what happens when someone else comes along who serves that value better ?

watc out now . take care now . it’s a set up. Socrates is going to call it ephemeral and addictive. You have failed to look into further possibilities in the relationship he will say .

Stop faith. But the supreme champion of the world has already dealt with that He said if a man has faith as much as mustard seed he can say to the mountain this and that .

Faith is a separate sphere .

You talked about teaching your dog and cat this and that .unfortunately for us Socrates wasn’t talking about training. He wasn’t talking arts and crafts .techni/techno that’s what he would call it . You can teach a donkey to fix a car engine, to weld to swim , yes , but Socrates was talking Sophia , the kind of wisdom that should guide my donkey all the days of its donkey life and prepare its soul for the after life after the body is kaput .

the burden of the question is what is virtue and can it be taught . the good life and and and

One other thing Socrates says that the polis ceases to exist after like a hundred people

Thanks for bringing my wives into this James .you’re a good friend


All that a man has and all he will ever have is his laughter. So laugh and pass the cup .

Socrates died for what if not for the sake of an objective principle . for someone like Socrates question like what is virtue had to be answered because if not then what’s the point of it all. he certainly didn’t take hemlock to prove moral relativism but to state in no uncertain terms his denial of it .

Not innate. It not about that .with Socrates its about a very serious deadly serious rigorous philosophical analysis about what really is virtue and what is teachable . it leads to moral positions on such things as justice , war . the law, the good life and and and .


We have a saying here that goes … Repetition teaches the donkey. So you have the donkey do the same act until it becomes second nature. So memory maintains the conditioning. its what memory is there for . one element I suppose .

So what you’re saying the guy forget how to reconstitute himself and then remembered it so he was able to reconstitute himself?

You know I am one of those who believe homo sapiens ate the Neanderthal to extinction. Because it will be easier to catch a Neanderthal than a donkey . The donkey can run much faster and escape humans on the chase .

You know jonquil there was a case not long ago in which a man put an ad on the net asking to be eaten. Someone actually answered the ad and they got together .he tied the guy down with robe and he started out by slicing pieces from his legs and eating it .this was in Germany . the authorities found out and the guy got charged and locked up.

So we start from there , from the time we got eaten. I think that’s good point to start so far as our past lives are concerned leading to our reconstitution. . So that the act of eating our dead is not the claim that when we do so we are giving them a home in our stomach . what it is its attempt at reconstitution.

Jonquil. Keep all of that a secret between us until further investigation. Don’t tell anyone about this in the meanwhile ,please.


Lets me just start by telling you Socrates will have a ball with you . he liked to poke fun at people . he is going to take issue with that claim that virtue is present and to be brought out by this and that .

You know there is not one single theory that account for deviancy. Fear of punishment, bonding , language and and and all the fail the statistical tests .

okay the focus here is teaching . that’s what you want to do ? correct . you want to talk teaching . but do you know the hardship of learning ?


Nietzsche’ was syphilitic man , an invalid . he should have been worried about shaping himself than society. charity begins at home.

He collapsed and died right after he patted and hugged a horse who got whipped really bad by its owner. Some say that redeemed him in their minds .i"m thinking it would have been more redeeming if he went after the owner of the horse and gave him one hell of beating for beating the horse and then collapsed and died .

:smiley: =D> :smiley: =D> I LIKE it!


I don’t know about that. A rather central aspect to Socrates’ philosophical vision is that all virtues are one. In the Socratic vision, virtue is a function of the good and the good exists beneath the shadows of existence. It is then the philosopher’s job to plunge beneath those shadows and uncover the truth. That does not describe a process of de novo creation but rather uncovering what is already there. It is therefore not merely reasonable to assert that Socrates did believe in the innate nature of virtue, but it is really the only coherent explanation for his philosophy.

Self-cultivation is a process of learning. I was merely pointing out that learning is a two-way street and that if one wanted their donkey to be virtuous, it would place them in the position of teacher.


Come here son. Sit down please . Would you like me to tell you why the village disbarred me from teaching? I lost it and tried to strangle the students every time I taught. The students used to lose faith in me and leave my grass hut by jumping out the window bruised and gagging. they just couldn’t accept the fact I took learning even more seriously than Socrates. Then the people would come and they call out to me and they ask if they can come in and talk to me . I replied to them…. …come in please….come meet me and my gun and Satan.

Not function of good . its knowledge knowledge knowledge. If you 're going to make it a function of something then you have to say Socrates said its knowledge .

Its not uncover the truth . Its not philosophers either. It’s the individual donkey task to find the means to find the principle. Socrates come once in a blue moon. holy men like me come once in a blue moon too.

Here is how my boy Socrates put it . first he pinned down Protagoras into admitting that virtues are not separate because if they were then you could, for example, be just but intemperate . Then he argued if they are not then virtue can’t be part of any .

anyways I thought you were talking that virtue is innate in the sense that you’re born with it . oh well.

Listen when you come to visit sit very still because I like to practice knife throwing on my students when i teach .

I have to go. We must talk about this some more.

Dodging bullets, knives and other projectiles, I’ll offer two quotes.
“In other living creatures ignorance of self is nature; in man it is vice.”–Boethius
I would not confuse knowledge of self with consciousness of self. I’d say the latter is a prerequisite for the former.
A donkey does not know what a donkey is or ought to be. His natural instincts, if he is owned, are forced into conformity with his owner’s values by reward and punishment. Domestication and forced labor are his owner’s values.
We had a mule. On her day off, unencumbered by the plow, she bit my brother. It was not that she suddenly rembered she was a mule. How could she forget what she never knew?
“Know thyself,” said Socrates. Self-knowledge is the beginning of all virtue. Note that he was not addressing donkeys and mules. They wouldn’t have listened anyway.
Your donkey cannot be taught virtue. He can only be beaten into submission.
Still ducking,

Interesting points, ler. We realize of course that many people extrapolate straight from the donkey to the human in that special Skinnerist mentality this human loves to hate. I am NOT a Pavlov mule, she said stubbornly.

what has self knowledge and self consciousness got to do with it ?. .

as I was walking and talking to my donkey about the latest news in forex exchange I sensed a sudden change in him .I thought it might be a predator , most likely a leopard. So I drew my machete and held it up , pointing up. Leopard have this habit of leaping from high up tree branches at their victims… So when you walk in leopard terrain you always hold your spear pointing up so the animal lands on the tip. Then you skin the animal and use the skin to make a drum . but when my donkey didn’t make the usual moves associated with fear from a predator I knew it was something else . it turned out to be the lady donkey. My donkey knew she was there over a mile away .

Donkey from donkey differs. Each donkey has its own personality. Some are very stubborn and lazy. Some are obedient and hard working . Usually you sell the lazy ones and keep the hard working ones . some are nasty with an evil personality and pose a serious danger to kids . my donkey however is on the whole part a good donkey except he is something of a sex maniac. Many people are like that . I myself used to be like that . but after the second wife my hands kinda of got too full. the problem therefore my donkey needs a bunch of wives. i think if my donkey has a bunch of wives like me he would be okay. he will leave strange lady donkeys alone and conserve his energy for his donkey wives

listen how about we do a comparison between jonquil and my donkey . for the sake of knowledge that is . I’m sure jonquil wouldn’t mind .

Aw, CH, regardless of the infinite variety of donkey dispositions, a donkey has no idea what a donkey is. Self-knowledge has everything to do with any idea of teaching values. You asked if the donkey could be taught values. I’d ask what values–his or yours? Here we are stretching the meaning of value. If you, travelling with your donkey, observed a sexy female (and to the donkey any female is sexy), would you drop your grain and go for her? Don’t you have an ability to consider alternatives that the donkey has not?
Pavlov, Watson, Skinner, a tradition to excuse us from moral responsibility.

Not alternative but social norms. If its boyfriend and girlfriends these are regulated by social norms and expectations and laws . If its husband and wife then it the marriage contract. if its las Vegas whore joint then hell yes .

Son I am afraid as humans we’re constrained by norms and laws.

Otherwise I really don’t see much difference between the lady donkey and her except that the human female has been clocked to reach climax over fifty times in one hour . her sexual organs are far superior to the male. Fact of the matter when the female baby is born the very second she is her sexual organs are tested and then shut down. when it comes back into operation the human female is drenched with estrogen esp the brain. and this is like all the time. my donkey goes in and out of heat.

so we should work this into the teachability of the donkey versus the human female.

and i hasten to add you are wrong about to my donkey all females are sexy. you are confusing between humans and donkeys .donkeys are very picky. if my donkey could talk eh would have told me that lady donkey was something like miss universe in donkey pageant beauty contest.and this is with out all that make up and liposuction and whatnot

That is true, ler. Not only that, but behaviorism also discourages psychic and spiritual transformation. Also, if we are all just conditioned animals, why bother to think about picayuney little matters like quality of life; inalienable rights; altruism; and the pain of others?

This goes against your OP; and I don’t buy the “men are from Mars and women are from Venus” argument that fosters incompatibility. We’re both humans. A picky donkeys does without, as does a picky human. Estrogen has nothing to do with it other than the estrogen-androgen attraction between males and females. I thought you were asking about values and citing Socrates. This post illuminates neither.

What are you talking about? What mars and what incompatibility? These are biological fact. Yes you’re both humans. But one is a female and the other is a male.

That’s a fact whether in mars or Venus

What is this ? you mean for the gender difference to matter you have to be in mars and women in venus?.

Who is talking incompatibility ?

where is my stick. Somebody pass me my stick quickly.come here son.

But it has everything to do with it . Socrates argues eloquently that you can’t teach people virtue without certain conditions being met in them.thats teh two way street he was talking about . not the two way street that xunzian was talking about .

accept it son women are sexually superior to us .that’s why we have to subjugate them . instead of arguing with me you should be on my side.

The sexual superiority of women, also noted by Mark Twain, has nothing to do with your initial argument. Either you are not into clarification of your ideas or you are possessed with an adamantine agenda. Either way, neither enlightens us. And your threats of violence against anyone who disagrees with you are no longer funny.