Very early in Plato’s Republic, Thrasymachus argues that “In any and every situation, a moral person is worse off than an immoral one”. (343d) Furthermore, that a moral person is a simpleton, while an immoral person exercises sound judgement. (348c-d) Socrates is faced with a challenge that sets the stage for much of the rest of the discussion. In response to this argument, Socrates goes to great length in redefining morality in such a way as to dodge this assertion. However Socrates’ arguments are fundamentally flawed. Despite his efforts he is never able to convincingly refute the claim that the consummate wrong-doer leads a better life than the moral person.Cephalus describes morality as consisting of telling the truth and always returning what one has borrowed. (331b) Although this is a narrow definition, it is a good example of an act based definition of morality. One in which your everyday actions determine whether or not you are a moral person. Under this definition Socrates was unable to satisfy his rhetorical opponents. In recognition of his shortcomings, Socrates attempts to evade the problem he is faced with. He redefines how we think of morality by introducing the concept of an agent based definition of morality. Yet this argument is also flawed.Although Plato spared Socrates an embarrassing defeat in the deliberation over the advantages and disadvantages of morality in an act framing, it was evident to even him that the contentions were insufficient. Gloucon’s explanation of the nature and origins of morality is a persuasive argument to which Socrates can not respond. Essentially, Gloucon argues that the social contract on which the idea of morality is based, evolved from the fact that doing wrong is good for the individual while being wronged is bad. An agreement was reached, for most people the badness of being wronged outweighs the goodness of doing wrong. This led to the general agreement that wrongs would not be tolerated in society. (Lecture of Sept. 11) The wrong-doer who breaks this contract is therefore labeled immoral, however this individual has achieved the benefits of committing injustice and avoided the setbacks of being victimized. Hence he leads a better life than the moral man, who doesn’t benefit from the potential rewards of dishonesty.Socrates’ only enjoys one substantial success in his argument with Thrasymachus. He proves that a community of immoral individuals will ultimately fail. He uses the example of a band of thieves to illustrate this point, if each is an immoral actor than they will turn upon one another. (351c-d) This is a valid point in the condemnation of an unrighteous way of life, but it doesn’t contradict the larger question at hand. The consummate wrong-doer is only one individual in a community comprised of honest people.Socrates realizes that he must create a more innovative way of thinking about morality if he is going to refute Thrasymachus’ argument. If living a rewarding life is thought of strictly in material terms, than morality can only be valued for what it can earn you. Although there are certain tangible benefits that can befall a parson who is thought of as moral, such as an appointment to some prestigious position, Socrates argues that the usage of an image of integrity for this purpose is inherently dishonorable. Although this person practices everyday morality as it was described by Cephalus, he is not truly moral. Morality, according to Socrates, should be something that is welcomed for its own sake and for its desirable consequences. Gloucon and Thrasymachus disagree and insist that it is something unwelcome for its own sake, but has desirable repercussions. (Lecture of Sept. 11)In pursuit if his new definition, Socrates creates an analogy between morality in the community and in the individual. Socrates argues that the ideal community, and therefore the moral one, is ruled by specialization. Each person should do the task for which they are most naturally suited, this is most efficient. He divides the people into three social classes; the Guardians (rulers), Auxiliaries (soldiers), and Producers (commoners). (Lecture of Sept. 13) Socrates goes to great length to describe his ideal community, especially the education and life of the Guardians. This is an important part of the book in its own right, but the translation of the moral community to the individual is flawed and not applicable.Socrates claims that if the moral community is one in which each class performs its duty, than the moral individual is one in which each part of his soul performs its duty. He divides the psyche into three parts; reason, passion, and desire. Socrates insists that the moral man is governed primarily by reason while the other two aspects are relegated to subservient positions. He claims that a wise man lets reason rule the soul, a courageous man’s passion is rightly regulated and oriented, and a self-disciplined man defers his desire to reason. (Lecture of Sept. 18) Socrates has therefore changed the way moral people are thought of from an act based definition to an agent based definition. Its not what you do that makes you moral, but rather who you are and why you do it.Socrates assumes that if you are a moral person in the agent sense of the term, you will consequently act conscientiously. Accordingly becoming a moral person in the act based sense of the word as well. This argument is never elaborated on and shouldn’t be taken for granted. There is no convincing evidence in Socrates’ argument suggesting that the proper ordering of one’s soul leads to moral action in everyday life. In fact, Thrasymachus’ argument that the immoral parson exercises sound judgement seems to fit well into the context of a person governed by reason. The consummate wrong-doer may even be governed by stricter cost-benefit analysis than the moralist.In addition, the idea of unequal roles played by the parts of the soul is contradictory to Socrates own argument of specialization on which his whole community was based. It is important to realize that the three parts of the soul correspond directly to the three social classes of Socrates’ community; Guardians as reason, Auxiliaries as passion, and Producers as desire. (Lecture of Sept. 16) Using his own analogy, it is true that the producer class defers to the guardian class. Nevertheless, the necessity of the producer class to the success of the community cannot be disputed. Henceforth, the importance of desire should not be diminished.In conclusion, Socrates never disprove Thrasymachus’ claim that the consummate wrong- doer can lead a better life than a moral person. He never even explains why everyday morality is beneficial to the individual. I believe that Plato was over-reliant on analogies between individuals and community in formulating his argument. Even though immoral individuals play a clearly destructive role in society, their consequence is passed along to the other members of the group. It is obvious for this reason why immorality is so renownedly despised, notwithstanding, the consummate wrong-doer is still in a position of net advantage.
Believing in the Republic
Plato’s Republic is rife with evidence of, and commentary on, the nature of the Greek religion. Some of the treatment is overt, as in the censorship of canonical works of poets and dramatists or in the references to the powers and functions of the gods. In other cases, one can read about religion between the lines, not in what Plato says, but in how and why he says it, and in the evidence he feels it necessary to give.Among the most interesting facets of Greek religion is the nature of the source material. There are no holy texts, no commandments from Zeus. The gods do speak to the people through oracles, but their prophecies are notoriously vague and difficult to interpret. The only available religious texts are the works of the poets and playwrights. These are forms which do not pretend to absolute historical accuracy, since their writers readily incorporate the fictional and hyperbolic; Plato calls them “allegorical” (378d). The entanglement of literature and theology gives Greek religion qualities which modern religions wholly lack. The texts on which the religion is based are known creations of human hands and minds. Every history of the gods’ involvement in the human sphere and every tale about their interactions with one another is therefore accessible to the religion’s believers as a product of their own society, open to both religious and secular (that is to say, aesthetic) interpretation.The concept of the sacred text, and the presence within a religious text of a rigid code of laws, objectifies a belief system in a way that fiction simply cannot. Although poets are occasionally considered to be the offspring of the Muses, or subject to other divine influence, they are nonetheless ordinary human beings in other respects. They are, for example, much more ordinary than the prophets and scribes who committed the Bible to paper, especially if one accepts the idea that biblical scribes were taking direct dictation from the mouth of God. Greek religion, then, is much more a human project; the collective output of a society to meet some inherent need.From this perspective, one can better understand Plato’s seemingly reckless and insensitive censorship of the religious content of poems and plays. That the texts he works on possess no “sacred” cachet is essential. By altering them, he changes not the nature of the gods themselves, but rather the nature of humanity’s representation of them. The Greek gods preserve some sort of autonomy from diverse and conflicting theologies, a power perhaps rooted in the strength of an entire society’s belief. Plato, as a philosopher, is no less qualified to report on the gods’ actions and natures than a poet, even if he does so from a radically different perspective.In the context of The Republic, his perspective is based upon the creation of a hypothetical polis. The theoretical nature of this enterprise allows Plato even greater freedom from traditional theology. The extent of this freedom can readily be seen in Plato’s treatment of other familiar cultural institutions. For instance, he turns the family upside-down, at least within the guardian class. He undermines life-long partnership and, by giving the guardians a communal barracks rather than private homes, eliminates the role of the family as an economic unit. Without households to manage, women have fewer demands on their time and are thus able to participate in guardianship equally with the men, another radical change. Through his assertion of the three kinds of humans (gold, silver and bronze), which is incidentally given a religious basis, Plato also isolates children from their biological family situation, rearranging them according to their merit. He simply decimates the family from all angles, reorganizing it, showing no more reserve than he showed in his treatment of religion.We have established that the conditions are such that Plato feels comfortable changing the nature of the gods, but his motivations for doing so are also of interest. His first assertion is that the gods must be wholly good. This seems to be an unusual assertion for the times; Plato finds a plethora of contradictions to this hypothesis in epic poetry and in drama. It is puzzling that such an apparently uncommon idea is given so very little logical support. The establishing exchange is as follows:”Whether in epic, lyric, or tragedy, a god must always be represented as he is.Indeed, he must. Now, a god is really good, isn’t he, and must be described as such?What else?” (379b)The brevity of this argument and its total dearth of logical support beg some sort of explanation. One could potentially be found in Plato’s firmly held notion of the forms, but that will be left for later. There is perhaps another explanation, one of sheer necessity within the context of the hypothetical polis.Education, which is many ways is the cornerstone of the polis, as it is assigned responsibility for the accomplishments and virtues (or lack thereof) of all of the residents, is considered by Plato to be one-half physical training and the other half music and poetry. Earlier we established theology’s basis in music and poetry, but the inversion of the argument can also be made: music and poetry concern themselves primarily with theology. Gods play both major and minor roles in various texts, but there are few, if any, in which they do not receive mention at all. Plato is then caught in a quandary: if his citizens are to be virtuous, they must be educated, but they must be educated with extant texts, and the content of these cannot always be depended upon to foster virtue. This is why he resorts to censorship; there is no other readily apparent option.Goodness alone is not enough to establish the gods as paragons of virtue. They must also be immutable. Given the specificity of this necessary quality* so much more concrete than “goodness”* and a basic familiarity with the workings of Plato’s general paradigm, it is much easier to explain this demand than the first. Plato associates the mutable with the tangible world of the senses, and immutability with the world of the forms. If one can align humankind with the tangible earth, then the gods must occupy the heaven of the forms. Indeed, much later in the text, Plato establishes the gods’ role as creators of the forms. “The god . . . didn’t make more than one bed in nature, but only one, the very one that is the being of a bed” (597d). In this way, he begins to integrate religion with his larger world-view.Plato never stops to question the workability or efficacy of his newly prescribed notions of god. The question of belief never overtly enters into the dialogue. This is a challenging point: he alters a religion’s fundamental texts without questioning the imapct of this action on the religion as a whole. From a contemporary standpoint, the absence of this analysis is puzzling. The existence of the Apocrypha, and the question of the legitimacy of these books, has long been a point of contention within the Christian world. In one light, Plato’s changes to the Greek religion are even more extreme than those that would be effected by the addition of the Apocrypha to the traditional canon: he actually discards previously held truths, rather than simply accepting new ones. One wonders about the nature of Plato’s faith, since while his actions place him in a critical, detached position* more comfortable for the non-believer* it is by no means certain that Plato is not personally attached to and involved with traditional Greek religious beliefs.The evidence for this belief can be found scattered throughout The Republic. Most impressively, Plato gives the gods something of a power of sanction over the polis he has created. He ascribes at least responsibility for the implementation of his laws to the gods when he says that men can be trusted to create appropriate legislation for themselves “provided that a god grants that the laws we have already described are preserved” (425e). This admission resurfaces later in the text, when Plato says that a true reign of philosopher kings could come only from “some chance event” or else from a god directly interceding to inspire “a true erotic love for true philosophy” in the present rulers (499c). Even Plato’s purely theoretical polis is subject to the rulings and desires of the gods, and this testifies to his own faith.Periodically through the text, Plato makes reference to very traditional actions of the gods. Occasionally, he gives them great power so as to vastly change a situation in service of one of his logical arguments. For instance, he comically gives them the ability to pick up a household from the city and deposit it in the countryside, so as to prove its vulnerability there. On the other hand, he sometimes mentions traditional roles more seriously. Gods were said to originate their own rituals and traditions, and Plato says that to determine a proper course of action he’ll “inquire from the god what kind of distinguished funeral we should give to daimonic and godlike people, and we’ll follow his instructions” (469a). It could perhaps be argued that these are just Greek figures of speech, but they nonetheless prove the cultural hegemony of Greek faith.If Plato is a believer, as he appears to be and as he appears to think the citizens of his republic to be, how can he remain so in this critical environment, so hostile to pure faith? The answer arises from his identification* even conflation* of the gods with the world of the forms. Plato’s faith in the utter perfection of the immaterial forms is so deep that it serves to fuel his faith in the gods, also perfect and immaterial in their perfection.This conclusion is not yet satisfactory, however. The problem remains that Plato, critic and believer, was willing to distort the closest thing to sacred texts that the Greek religion had. Poems and plays, if not absolute truth, constituted the core of source material from which some version of absolute truth* his own ideas about the perfection of gods* arose. Where does Plato get the critical distance and initiative it takes to disrupt the position of such texts? His answer is in allegory, a relationship much like the relationship he imagines between a bed and the form of a bed. Or else, when a thing fails to imitate what it intends to or “when a story gives a bad image of what the gods and heroes are like,” it is essentially what “a painter does whose picture is not at all like the things he intended to paint” (377e). In other words, although true knowledge about the gods resides directly in the canon, many of the stories err in their communication of this truth. In this way, Plato can hold at once knowledge of the perfection of divine inspiration and clear nature of human error, and from the knowledge his faith is secured.
Equal Opportunity in the Republic
Plato thinks that in the Republic Justice is to be found because all persons are treated equally in that each is given a social position and vocational place suited to his/her talents. Do you agree that Plato’s arrangement satisfies what may be called “equal opportunity?”In the Republic Plato outlines a society whose values are radically different from those we possess in western societies today. Plato believes that the “good” will be achieved through justice and that justice can be delivered by structuring a society in a hierarchical manner such that each person is assigned a job based on his/her greatest talent. Justice, while it may seem to be in the same spirit as many of our western democratic views ends up clashing with our most basic inalienable right, in a word freedom. It is for this reason that the values espoused in the Republic, namely justice, happiness, equality etc… Come into direct opposition with our own culturally esteemed values of freedom. One might say that the Republic is sympathetic to our views in that we both claim to value “equality”, “justice”, “goodness” but the fact is that the two social orders are similar only in the words through which they decide to define their cultural values. In essence, the words, justice, equality, freedom, happiness only have relevant meaning within the context of the societies which define them. Now, the question of whether “equal opportunity” exists within the Republic becomes fairly clear.Because Plato’s social order does not value equality as we define it the issue of “equal opportunity” can only be assessed in terms of Plato’s views and our own. From Plato’s point of view equal opportunity absolutely exists in the republic. Every citizen has exactly the same opportunity in the Republic that is of course that they have one opportunity; the opportunity to do whatever the state decides they are best at. Guardians have the right to be guardians, farmers to be farmers, cobblers to be cobblers etc… The same reality exits in terms of character, those who are of gold character have the right to be gold, silver’s the right to be silvers, and bronze the right to be bronze. In other words all people are equally denied rights of social and political mobility.This is where the split between societies becomes apparent, while we can use the term “equality of opportunity” in both cases the reality is quite different. We in the west hold the view as the American declaration of independence puts it ³we hold these truths to be self evident that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness² Because we in the west for the most part believe that all men are created equal, equal opportunity means that we all start out on the same grounds and its up to us where we end up. In our eyes Plato’s society makes no room for social mobility, equal opportunity cannot exist there.From equality, justice seems to be the logical next topic to assess. Justice is obviously an important part of the republic, indeed it was the reason the republic was created and a means to achieving the good. In the Republic this justice is achieved again by the social hierarchy, on the assumption that people doing what they are best at will act in a just fashion, rulers are trained for decades to become as just as possible. Justice flows from the citizens themselves and needs not come from an outside institution.In our society justice is approached through a court system which attempts to apply our laws in the fairest way possible, hopefully without bias. We view it as something dealt out by an authority not to be acted out by citizens, we seek it in a court of law rather than in our own lives. These examples are radically different portrayals of justice and once again both are correct within their own context but cannot reconcile because each bases its definition of justice on different things. For example, if a person who was classified as gold in Plato’s society were to have some kind of dispute with a person of bronze or silver character, when it came time for an authority to rule it would seem only natural that the person of gold character be given preferential treatment and in all likelihood the ruling would go in favor of the gold person. We from a modern western prospective would call this outrageous, we would say that justice must be blind and that it certainly cannot be achieved if the two parties are not considered equal from the outset.In the republic happiness flows from justice, justice created by social order which defines happiness as fulfilling one’s place in society. To be happy in the Republic is to have someone tell you that you are happy. We have a much different definition of happiness in the modern west, namely we call happiness any number of things. We feel that happiness is different for each individual, and provide for that in our definition, because we feel that it is different for each individual we say that the freedom to choose what makes us happy and the choice to peruse it. In our society even a person who occupies his/her role perfectly can still be perfectly miserable and likewise a person who fills no useful role in society can achieve great happiness. Again the two views on the same thing come into direct conflict. Plato’s happiness, like his justice and his “equality of opportunity” are simply different from ours.The examples of equality, justice and happiness all point to one conclusion; that while Plato attempts to form absolute definitions of intangibles he becomes ensared in the trap of relativity. He cannot escape the fact that these values can only be defined within a context. In attempting to escape this fact he only creates a fictional context in which to present them, thus negating much of their useful application as absolutes. The Republic, while being different from a polis such as Athens, still carries its own values which define the intangibles in its own context.
The Metaphor of the Cave
Plato introduces his famous allegory of the cave with the phrase, “like this:” thus establishing that the passage is structured as a metaphor, and therefore must be read both as a figurative description and a symbolic representation of a concrete state of being (VII:514). He also emphasizes that the reader must “imagine,” a command that reinforces the allegorical nature of the work – the reader enters into the text as both a voyeur and an actual conceptualist of the image being imagined (VII: 514). As the passage goes through its multiple spatial and metaphysical levels of creation, the reader experiences the exact procession of which he is reading about in the work, thus creating a replication of the same education that Plato addresses within The Republic as a whole. This experience also clarifies for the reader the role of the philosopher king and the notion of the kallipolis a construct based around this vision of truth and wisdom with its multifaceted synthesis of many topos within the dialogue. Thus the allegory is not only a self-contained vision of “the effects of education on our nature,” but a prolonged metaphor whose figurative language both intrinsically and superficially draws upon the greater themes at play within the work as a whole (VII:514).After Plato’s beginning introduction of the passage as a metaphor, the author goes on togeographically set up the scene for the reader, choosing images that directly reflect their symbolic purpose. The passage works within a pattern of ideological introductions followed by figurative illustrations, an interplay that creates a series of linked revelations that formulate a complete world of allegorical context. The “underground, cavelike dwelling,” inspires connotations of darkness and suppression within the imagination of the reader, and the detailed spatial layout and human inhabitation only serve to heighten the sense of figurative tension (VII:514). These humans have “been there since childhood, fixed in the same place, with their necks and legs fettered,” thus indicating that they have developed fully within the cave, and know nothing but the small plane of vision, shadows reflected upon the cave, offered to them within their shackles (VII:514).This idea of imprisonment becomes significant as the metaphor continues and the fusion of the figurative with the concrete beings to render itself within the text. Glaucon replies to this scene with, “It’s a strange image you’re describing, and strange prisoners,” providing the viewpoint of the reader within the allegory, drawing it once again back to the actual as did the command of “imagine” at the beginning of the metaphor (VII:515).After the monologue of the set up, the passage returns to the traditional exchange of the dialogue, with the startling statement of “they’re like us,” drawing the reader into the world of the allegory even more deeply – the association between the actual and the allegorical now begins to take form as the dialogue progresses, its structure mimicking the actual mental processes of the function of comprehension (VII:515). Plato follows this association with a series of suppositions, invoking Glaucon to conceptualize and legitimate the vision of the cave as Plato ventures deeper into the metaphor. The reader is then asked to consider “what [the prisoners] being released from their bonds and cured of their ignorance would naturally be like if something like this came to pass” (VII:515c). The use of naturally’ here is extremely significant, because it not only evokes the theme of nature, but in doing so also reveals the deeper topos of justice – there is a natural order to a just person that is independent of human decision and passion, an idea of “put[ing] himself in order…not concerned with someone’s doing his own externally, but with what his inside him,” that is an analogous image to the enclosed situation of the cave (IV: 443d). So what happens when one of the prisoners is “suddenly compelled to stand up, turn his head, walk, and look up toward the light?” (VII:515c). Coming from such a spatially stagnant narrative, this rapid movement both prepares the reader for change and places the forthcoming image in a prism of significance.What follows is the basic figurative illustration of Plato’s goal of education, his higher truth or Dialectic. The unshackled prisoner goes into the light and sees “more correctly,” pained and frightened at first, but finally “able to study” and see “in some way the cause of all the things that he used to see” (516c). Thus the intellectual voyage of seeing the truth is illustrated in a spatially governed setting, a scene that is almost theatrical in its technical precision and choreography-based imagery. The ensuing struggle of this enlightened human with his ignorant prisoners both echoes and illustrates Plato’s ideal of the kallipolis with its golden philosophers and silver and bronze populous. The enlightened have to “make the ascent and see the good…[and therefore] must go down to live in the common dwelling place of the others…and will see vastly better than the people there. And because [they’ve] seen the truth about fine, just, and good things, [they’ll] know each image for what it is…[and] the city will be governed…by people who are awake rather than dreaming” (VII:520c-d).Plato’s constant references to the adjustment of the eyes, the blinding of the sun, and the dimness of the shadows all reflect the dominant metaphor of luminosity. Thus the passage has moved from the spatial to the motional to the visual, indicating the different allegorical stages of his metaphor, and also indicating a metaphysical move from the tangible to the intangible as his allegory and its subject fuse more topically together. Plato even goes so far as to explain the meaning of his whole image, saying “it must be fitted together with what [he] said before. The visible realm should be likened to the prison dwelling, and the light of the fire inside it to the power of the sun. And if [we] interpret the upward journey and the study of things above as the upward journey of the soul to the intelligible realm, [we’ll] grasp what [he hopes] to convey” (VII:517b). Thus Plato both begins and ends his allegory with specific directives, creating a framed vision embedded within an interpretive text that explains as well as draws from its image.Plato continues this metaphor of sight when analyzing this allegory just presented to us within his interpretive text. “Education isn’t what some people declare it to be…putting knowledge into souls that lack it, like putting sight into blind eyes. The power to learn is in everyone’s soul and…the instrument with which each learns is like an eye that cannot be turned around from darkness to light without turning the whole body. Education takes for granted that the sight is there but that it isn’t turned the right way or looking where it ought to look, and it tries to redirect it appropriately (VII:518c-d). This redirection happens when the philosophers “go down again to the prisoners in the cave and share their labors and honors, [thus]… spread[ing] happiness throughout the city by bringing the citizens into harmony with each other through persuasion or compulsion and by making them share with each other the benefits that each class can confer on the city” (VII:519e-520). Plato thus illustrates the major tenets of the work, up to and including the nature of justice and the definition of happiness, with the single dominant metaphor of a cave’ in which special, motional, and visual limitations are transcended by the individual and then revealed to the whole.The allegory of the cave culminates a series of allegories in which Plato illustrates his main points within the Republic. This allegory, as the last in the series, is paradoxically almost the easiest to understand – the culmination of the education of the reader has allowed him to be enlightened in a more profound way than previously, as he has experienced alongside Glaucon a dramatization of the fundamental process of education. The vision of the cave explains some of the most complex points within Plato’s work, but does them in such a metaphorical way it is as if we are not being taught, but are enacting the teaching ourselves. This idea of faked involvement, such a noble falsehood, echoes the philosopher’s noble falsehoods to the populous of the kallipolis, and reveals the narrative structure that guides us throughout the work – we are but voyeurs to Plato’s fabulous constructions.
Property in the Ideal State
Since the birth of society thousands of years ago, thinkers have pondered one of the most basic, important questions with which mankind must grapple: How should society be organized? Plato was one of the first to write his response to that question. His work, the Republic, clearly outlines his plan for an ideal society. Aristotle, a pupil of Plato’s, disagreed with much of what Plato offered in his work, and wrote a response, called Politics. At the beginning of book two, Aristotle states that the purpose of Politics was “to study which political community is best of all for people who are able to live as ideally as possible” (Politics, 1260.27-28). In order to accomplish this, it was necessary to analyze the foremost work in the field, Plato’s Republic. In his analysis, though, Aristotle’s logic is imperfect and his criticism of Plato’s structure for civilization is weak.A fundamental part of any society is the way in which citizens share things. Plato argues in the Republic that, among other possessions, “marriage, the having of wives, and the procreation of children must be governed as far as possible by the old proverb: Friends possess everything in common” (Republic, 423e-424a). Instead of presenting an argument against such a system, Aristotle dismisses it without discussion. Plato, however, had a valid reason for putting forth such an arrangementhe wanted to minimize the strife caused by differences in property ownership. Plato believed that by eliminating property entirely, one could also eliminate costly civil suits and other such property-based disagreements. Aristotle never illustrates a reason for disagreeing with such an organization of property distribution.Next Aristotle examines a basic premise of the ideal society and rejects Plato’s stance. Plato asserts in the Republic:Is there any greater evil we can mention for a city than that which tears it apart and makes it many instead of one? Or any greater good than that which binds it together and makes it one?There isn’t (Republic, 462a-b).It is this basic assertion that Aristotle attacks, claiming that “the more of a unity a city-state becomes, the less of a city-state it will be” (Politics, 1261a.15-16). Aristotle believes that if a city-state becomes too cohesive, it no longer remains a city-state, but eventually becomes a household, and then finally an individual human being. What he fails to notice, though, is that Plato, in fact, wanted a city-state to resemble a single person as closely as possible. Plato does not delimit this well enough, as Aristotle indicates earlier in his argument, but still makes a valid point: if a city acts more like a single person, and shares pain, pleasure, and property, it will be able to survive more traumatic incidents. If, for instance, the city was attacked, if the citizens’ reaction was uniform throughout the city, reaction would be easier to mobilize. Aristotle never acknowledges this good of unity.For the sake of argument, Aristotle assumes that Plato is correct in declaring that unity is best for a city-state. Instead, Aristotle attacks Plato’s reason for desiring unity in his ideal city-state. In talking about this unity, Plato asks “then, is the best-governed city the one in which most people say mine’ and not mine’ about the same things in the same way” (Republic, 462c-d)? Plato states that it is. Aristotle counters this by saying that “people give most attention to their own property, less to what is communal, or only as much as falls to them to give” (Politics, 1261b.30). There is a basic flaw in this logic, though. If each citizen truly felt that these communal objects or people was his own, he would treat each as his own property, not as communal property. Plato understands that this is a leap of faith of sorts, but relies on his citizens to understand the property sharing scheme. Aristotle assumes that the citizens will either not understand or not partake in this property distribution schedule.There is another argument that Aristotle puts forth against Plato’s ideal state. Murder, both voluntary and involuntary, is bad, even when committed against outsiders. Against family, though, it is especially impious. Aristotle claims that in a society where no one knows who their family is, murders and other crimes will be more prevalentno one will be treated as family. What Plato argues, however, is that everyone will be treated as family, so murder will not exist in any form against other citizens of the ideal state. With shared parents and siblings, everyone would be treated as family, not no one, as Aristotle contends.Aristotle continues to argue his point against Plato, but is relying on a flawed assumption: that the citizens of the ideal city-state will not truly share all property. If everyone in the state actually shared the way that Plato envisioned, none of the problems that Aristotle raises would ever occur. Although it is true that Plato disposes of many common conventions, such as temperance with women and generosity, he believes those to be unnecessary in his ideal state.Aristotle tries valiantly in Politics to dispose of Plato’s ideal state as delineated in the Republic. However, he never actually addresses problems with Plato’s logic, arguing instead with Plato’s assumptions about human nature. Even so, the question of organization of society remains a constant one in human existence, and the simple existence of this dialogue between great thinkers proves to be valuable in answering that question.
Criticisms of Poetry in Plato’s Republic
After much deliberation and many intense arguments, Socrates finally reaches a definition for justice and claims that leading a just life is worthwhile both for its consequences and for its own sake. Although these conclusions summarize the main dispute of the Republic, Socrates ventures on to clarify his reasoning for prohibiting poets in the ideal city. Socrates’ resolution to forbid poetry may be viewed as extremely harsh at first, especially considering the current concerns people have with censorship. With a close analysis and better understanding of the dialogues, Socrates’ rationale for his judgment becomes much clearer and assists in demonstrating the negative effects poetry would have on the ideal city. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates’ ability to maintain control of the ideal city is upheld by the banishment of poetry and is essential to the protection and survival of the city. One of the key motives for Socrates’ outlawing of poetry can be observed in his notion that the soul is depraved and distorted by poets. Socrates reveals that the best element of the soul is “the one that puts its trust in measurement and calculation” (Republic 603a). This statement refers to the discussion between Socrates and Glaucon about how things appear versus how they truly are based on measurements and calculations. For example, an object can appear big because it is in close range, but when seen from a distance it can appear very small (Republic 602c). The only way to tell the true size of the object is to measure it and make calculations; it is not possible to accurately determine size through imitation. Therefore, when Socrates claims “the one that opposes it would be one of the inferior parts in us” (Republic 603a) he is referring to the people who oppose the idea of using calculations to draw conclusions and dubs them “inferior.” By accepting imitations as actualities, people are moved further and further away from the truth and are consequently altered from rational souls to irrational souls. The impressionable, appetitive, irrational soul is easily swayed by the arts; this is imperative to understand for the complete comprehension of Socrates’ ideas. Poetry and the arts in general were not created for sheer entertainment purposes, although that is the popular belief. According to Socrates, the arts appeal to our deepest feelings and innermost passions, even though most of the time we do not even realize we are being influenced by them. Poetry deceives most people because we do not believe we are affected by it, and are not compelled to feel what the fictional characters are feeling. In actuality, poetry allows us to live vicariously through these characters and behave in ways that are considered shameful. We are too joyous and extremely envious; we mourn excessively and we rage with anger, yet we would not want to behave in such shameful ways in real life. Although we do not want to display these embellished behaviors, we live with them everyday whether we know it or not. Socrates states that “We suffer along with the hero and take his sufferings seriously. And we praise the one who affects us most in this way as a good poet” (Republic 605d). Here, Socrates admits that at times we give in to the arts because of our appreciation for them, although we do not think it is acceptable to behave in such ways in our daily lives. He asserts that everything we see and read in the arts will eventually become subconsciously embedded in our minds and will cause us to act in a certain way, almost as if we have switched places with the fictional characters and have become the performers ourselves. Socrates recognizes the strong negative influence poetry has on the irrational soul and human behavior; he prohibits the arts in order to maintain control of his city. Socrates demonstrates how the poet corrupts this “good” part of the soul by averting people from reality and moving their thoughts and actions towards idealism. Socrates compares a poet who destroys the rational soul by increasing the strength of the irrational soul to someone who can take over and ruin a city by making evil people strong (Republic 605b). He goes on to say that each individual has a tainted soul because imitative poets create images that are not realistic and are secluded from the truth (Republic, 605b). In summary, Socrates equates the soul and the city, stating that the destruction of the soul will be followed by the demise of the ideal city due to the arts. If the poets are successful in persuading people to embrace and observe their irrational, emotional, and impulsive side, the ideal city will surely collapse. The abovementioned irrational feelings that all of humanity will intrinsically feel at some point in time are brought to the surface by the arts, and jeopardize the survival of the ideal city. Socrates explains these desires as the “appetitive soul,” which prioritizes instant gratification. When Socrates addresses the appetite of the human race, he says, “It nurtures and waters them when they should be dried up, and establishes them as rulers in us when– if we are to become better and happier rather than worse and more wretched– they should be ruled” (Republic 606d). Here, Socrates is conveying the idea that the arts manipulate people into having sexual desire, anger, pain, and pleasure. Socrates claims that we are all ruled internally by these feelings due to the extreme influential power of poetic imitation. He suggests that instead of tending to these deep, internal desires, we should conquer them in order to live better lives. This passage is of paramount importance because it clearly expresses how deeply influential the arts are. Socrates must ban poetry from his ideal city because the human appetite is too weak to overcome the temptations of personal desires. If the arts are in control of the individual, bringing to the forefront the irrational soul that separates us from reason, Socrates’ city will indisputably fail. Socrates’ theory on educating the guardians is quite interesting considering the fact that he acknowledges the need for the study of the arts as well as physical training to compliment his city. Although earlier in Book III Socrates underscores the significance of music during the education of the guardians, he also conveys his deep concern for the powerful influence music will have. Socrates’ acknowledgement of the need for music can be observed when he says “it is in musical training that the guardhouse of our guardians must surely be built” (Republic 424d). Here, Socrates recognizes how necessary the arts are for the ideal city and seems to be going against his own proposal that poetry is dangerous. In contrast to his own declaration, Socrates claims, “there must be no innovation in musical or physical training that goes against the established order” (Republic 424b). In this assertion, Socrates attempts to describe the importance of forbidding musical training from exceeding the laws that he so skillfully enacted to create the ideal city. Adeimantus then discusses the concept of the infiltration of music into society through people’s routines and daily practices, which could eventually work its way up to the law, resulting in the total destruction of the city (Republic 424d). The severe censorship of the arts that Socrates suggests is necessary to defend the ideal city from a potential overthrow. Socrates’ banishment of poetry from the ideal city at the beginning of Book X may come as a shock to some readers. In 21st-century America, we live in a world where freedom is of the greatest value and censorship is frowned upon. However, a careful analysis of Socrates’ reasoning reveals that he wishes to ban poetry from the city because it is created and driven by images as opposed to rational ideas. Images are three times removed from the truth, leaving poetry at the lowest level of the self; the imitative part, which Socrates’ believes will corrupt the soul and the ideal city as well. Interestingly enough, Socrates does not ban all forms of poetry from the city; he allows eulogies to good people and hymns to the Gods to remain. In fact, Socrates claims to be well versed in and appreciative of the arts and invites any lover of poetry to argue on its behalf (Republic 607e). Despite Socrates’ apparent leniency in this regard, he stands firm in his belief that poetry must be prohibited. In order to understand Socrates’ criticisms of poetry it helps to consider today’s media: television and ads shape our lives, determining what we wear, how we feel about ourselves, what we eat, where we shop, and essentially our outlook on life. Whether we know it or not, for many people what they see on television are the most “real” things in their lives, which is exactly what Socrates was afraid of: people straying from the truth by trusting in images as opposed to rational ideas. Socrates’ decision to ban poetry may seem like a harsh and tyrannical act, but it is the only way to maintain control and support the survival of the ideal city.
Plato’s Democracy as the Fourth Best of Constitutions
In his Republic, Plato enlivens the character of Socrates with his own views of how a just and virtuous city would grow into existence. In describing his ideal city-state, a society ruled by an aristocratic Philosopher-king, Plato also makes note of the four other possible constitutions: timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. In spite of living in a democracy, he theorizes that democracy is too faulty in its inherent development to be considered a perfect living environment. Rule by the people depends on its citizens’ collective greed to establish laws, which implies that the entire city is ruled by the third and most barbaric aspect of the soul, the appetite. While Plato dismisses a democracy as a breeding ground for mediocrity, there is no denying that the freedoms presented by such a constitution enable the creation of political forums that allow for philosophers to outline their views on the ideal state. Plato’s arguments labeling democratic citizens as lazy and luxurious gain strength through his explanation of the soul, but he severely understates the role of freedom in creating the virtuous and happy people of an aristocracy. Plato’s main critique of democracy lies within his definition of an ideal state as one wherein the ruler rules only by reason, the soul of the city is properly arranged and the people are happy as a result of them each performing their craft to the best of their ability. This is his aristocracy, the one constitution that completely allows for a Philosopher-king’s education. A democracy evolves from an aristocracy, but slowly, and only after a timocracy has divided the city and an oligarchy has started the transformation from rule by reason to rule by spirit and appetite. As the oligarchy is torn apart by corrupt factions and internal strife, the poor overthrow the rich money-lovers who have become too lazy to defend their power. They institute a political structure where leaders, elected by lot, abuse their power to become as rich as possible by taxing the poor. These new leaders therefore contribute to the degeneration of Plato’s ideal character in two ways: they are themselves being ruled by the appetitive third of the soul, while also increasing poverty. People who are too poor to contribute to society hold no value, which, according to Plato, is the worst of all possible evils. Once a democracy has been established, all of Plato’s recommendations about the foundation of ruling are abandoned. The philosopher’s education is forgotten, leaving positions of power open to the under- and over-educated- people who either “have no experience of the truth” or who would “refuse to act, thinking that they had settled while still alive in the faraway Isle of the Blessed,” respectively (191). Rulers without the proper education will rule by spirit and appetite, or anger and desire, not as a Philosopher-king would rule with reason. Spirit would lead to irrational decisions and a lack of restrictions on unnecessary appetites that are dangerous to a stable society. Without laws, people feel no need to restrain themselves and there is a lack of moderation in regards to wealth. People no longer distinguish between the necessary appetites such as hunger and unnecessary appetite that is the desire for wealth. Democratic lifestyles will be devoted to amassing wealth, resulting in people who shouldn’t be in poverty to be so at the hands of outrageous taxes. Finally, Plato sees a democracy as the ultimate creator of mediocrity, a city in which people have no discipline, no commitment and no follow-through. As a society that is tolerant of all actions, the individual is free to do as she wishes without restriction. This leads to a constant stream of changes, as people avoid development of skills and crafts by walking away from any situation where a problem occurs. Unlike Plato’s aristocracy, where a person is confined to their craft until death, in a democracy people have the freedom to move as they wish from craft to craft. When they become bored or frustrated with one task, they leave it uncompleted, resulting in a class of soft and idle money-lovers who cannot withstand the sometimes agonizing pains of creation. Without commitment to a goal, these people jump around, satisfying their desires without discerning between the good pleasures and the evil. In response to an aristocratic questioning of their pleasure seeking, they “declare that all pleasures are equal and must be valued equally” (231). This justification represents the nail in the coffin for Socrates as he evaluates the democratic constitution, leaving him little trouble in calling a democracy fourth best. While the democracy advocates that all people are equal, Plato’s definition of an aristocracy, or a perfect city, places a clear emphasis on the fact that all people are not born equal. The only way to obtain happiness for the entire city is for individuals to realize their place and perform their role to the best of their ability. Although Plato’s critique of a democratic constitution is properly constructed in relation to his perfect aristocracy, he routinely and conveniently forgets to praise the aspects of democracy that allow him to state his views in Republic. A democracy, a “city full of freedom,” that gives every citizen a “license to do what he wants”, may give rise to the appetitive part of the soul, money-loving and idleness, but freedoms such as the freedom of speech allow for individual expression that when left to grow, can result in a happier society for all (227). Plato sees a democracy as fourth best, but in aristocracies, timocracies, and oligarchies, the right to say as you wish is regulated by the limited allowance of social mobility. In effect, a citizen would never suggest a different way of government because they have no forum in which to do so. A more fitting justification of placing democracy as fourth best would be to admit that although the aristocracy is the most ideal of all constitutions, it cannot come into existence without the help of a democratic set of principals. In order for the Philosopher-king to develop as Plato wishes, he must receive a moderate and censored education in music and poetry, along with physical training and other scholarly subjects. Only in a democracy would this type of learning be able to occur, as in a timocracy or an oligarchy the people in power would never sanction a program that has as its primary goal the establishment of a new and more perfect leadership. Democracies have “no requirement to rule,” enabling any person to step up and onto the throne of power, from which he or she can debate their ideas and eventually put them into place (228). This process alone among Plato’s four other constitutions seems like the only viable way to create the education needed for a Philosopher-king (228). If Plato would have stated that the aristocracy comes about through the work of a democracy, or that there is a dependent relationship of some sort between the democratic ways and the development of an aristocracy, his critique of democracy would have left little room for doubt. Plato does give credit to the democratic constitution, but only as an environment where citizens are able to judge for themselves which way of living is the most beautiful and proper. In his conversation with Adeimantus, Socrates praises a democracy as “a convenient place to look for a constitution…on account of the license it gives its citizens” (228). Although this may seem like the exact statement of the aristocracy’s dependence on democracy that Plato was missing, it still leaves out the reasoning behind labeling a democracy as the fourth best of all constitutions. If a democracy is necessary for the creation of the ideal state, that alone should catapult it to second best on the list of possible constitutions. Even though the majority of people in a democracy are either money-lovers too lazy to contribute to their own well-being, or poor citizens too wretched to even work, the few who do exercise their right to freedom are the rightful parents to Plato’s aristocracy and Philosopher-king. In Plato’s discussion of democracy and the democratic ruler he emphasizes that the people of such a constitution will be soft, lazy and without the commitment necessary to become part of a complete and virtuous society. Although the people of a democracy may not be truly virtuous, and therefore will not achieve full happiness, they deserve better than to be cast off as the fourth best of constitutions. A democratic society may breed mediocrity and lead to the honoring of unnecessary appetites, but at the same time the freedoms at the heart of a democracy are the ultimate birthplace of the concepts that lead to Plato’s Philosopher-king and aristocracy. Note: All quotations Plato’s “Republic”, translated by G.M.A. Grube and revised by C.D.C. Reeve, copyright 1992 by Hackett Publishing Company Inc., Indianapolis.
Plato and Gender Equality
Plato employs a meritocratic logic in his proposal for gender equality in Book V of The Republic. In his ideal community, the kallipolis, comprised of producers, guardians, and rulers, Plato advocates a specialization of employment and status based on inherent nature and not on gender-typing. Allowing for slight modifications resultant from indisputable physical differences between the sexes, Plato’s ideas are remarkable enlightened for his time, providing a Classical backing for the feminist movement, although his theories on eugenics anticipate Nazi tactics and are, from a modern perspective, unjust to both men and women.Plato recognizes the contradictory qualities of his statement that “one nature must practice one thing and a different nature must practice a different thing, and that women and men are different. But at present we are asserting that different natures must practice the same things” (453e). After using an analogy that exploits the absurdity of positioning bald-headed men and their coifed brethren in different employment, Plato distinguishes between a truer difference of natures, those of a male doctor and a male carpenter. In his meritocratic society, “if either the class of men or that of women shows superiority in some art or other practice, then we’ll say that that art must be assigned to it” (454c). Plato concedes that, on the whole, “woman is weaker than man,” although Glaucon notes that “many women are better than many men in many things” (455e; 455d). Under the Platonic system, women are allowed, according to their nature, to develop as musicians, doctors, or warriors, since such a specialization is “not only possible but also best for a city” (457a). In recognition of women’s slight physical inferiority, Plato assigns them “lighter parts of these tasks” (457a). The sexes are given equal living standards, with “no one privately possessing anything,” including lodging, and sexual interaction will be governed by the rulers (458). The best men are made to procreate with the best women, and the reverse for the opposite. The children of the elite citizens are tended to by government workers, rather than by their own parents. Parents are not permitted to know the identities of their own children. The procreative period is extended to different ages for men and women (up to 55 and 40, respectively), after which they may copulate as they wish, so long as no children are conceived (and if they, they are to be dealt with “on the understanding that there’s to be no rearing for such a child”) (459c).Most of Plato’s argument is difficult to grapple with in our time and democratic society. Few would dispute that the best arbiter of employment is ability. However, the kallipolis only gains this measure of gender equality through its elitist brand of meritocracy. Government control should only extend so far as to ensure a level playing field, and not to assign positions without compliance and competition from its citizenry – an unfair policy for both sexes. Furthermore, the eugenics present in the kallipolis are unthinkable in our age, depriving citizens of basic human rights to procreate and care for one’s own, and are reminiscent of Nazi philosophy. Despite these qualms, I believe that the most debatable passage in Book V from our perspective is the argument that women should be assigned lighter tasks because of “the weakness of the class” (457a). Much current scientific experimentation tackles this problem. Even in the more straightforward debate over women’s presence in the military or on the police force, questions come up: a female cop may not inspire the same commanding authority on a neighborhood beat, but is this compensated for by a less intimidating relationship with the community? Does a female soldier make up for less muscle mass by possessing greater flexibility? Does physicality even matter much anymore in a technological society? In questions of biological difference in the brain, the situation is more sticky. Some studies suggest that males have better spatial-dimension skills from birth, while others reverse this statement; similar results yield for “care-taking ability,” whatever that term means. Even if science does discover gender advantages, all of one sex will never be better than all of another sex in one field, and allowing that to continue only promotes stereotypes that reinforce the differences (i.e., women as better teachers for young children). We should stick with a modified Platonic system of permitting, and not assigning, employment by nature, and banning the practice of eugenics so long as we call ourselves a democratic society.
Critique of the Democratic Soul
In The Republic Plato fosters an idea of the democratic soul which is fundamentally flawed. He posits that a man with a democratic soul “lives his life in accord with a certain equality of pleasures he has established” (The Republic, VIII, 561b). Conceding the fact that a man with a democratic soul is initially ruled by an equality of pleasures, it is imprudent to assume that man gains no knowledge of the consequence of his actions during his life. Contrary to Plato’s supposition, man does not maintain this initial equality of pleasures, but he is instead ruled by a developing hierarchy of the soul. A democratic soul is not a soul that has no order, but a soul that has no pre-established order; thus it is the character type most conducive to asking questions, and to discerning knowledge of the good.Plato bases his critique of the democratic soul on his verbal model of the democratic regime. He assumes that since democracies are ruled by lot, and have no hierarchy, that as a result they are ruled be an empty acropolis (The Republic, VIII, 560b-c), and have no core. “To whichever [interest] happens along, as though it was chosen by the lot, he hands over the rule within himself until it is satisfied, and then again to another, dishonoring none, but fostering them all on the basis of equality” (The Republic, III, 561a). He posits that because democracies allow for such a large degree of freedom and equality that they are therefore ruled by an arbitrary choice of virtue, and they cannot produce justice, except by chance. He also argues that, “anything done in excess”, such as democracy, “is likely to provoke a correspondingly great change in the opposite direction” (The Republic, VIII, 563e), and thus produces slavery. However, in this formulation Plato fails to incorporate the role of the laws as a historical record, and as a means for tempering freedom. Although the city may be ruled by lot, the acropolis is not empty; the laws rule the city. The laws maintain the progress made by past generations toward the good by serving as a historical record. They are a record of what has been tried and what has been accepted by past generations. If there is a law which has stood for a long period of time, it will not be disregarded without thought, neither will an unjust law escape the scrutiny of an entire nation.Socrates proposes that aristocracy is the best regime because it is the most just. However, this requires that there be a ‘wise’ class; this is impossible. There cannot be a wise class, there can only be a class which questions the foundations of society and thus deconstructs and remakes society, so as to produce a ‘more just regime’. Socrates claims that this is the role of the philosopher kings because these are the individuals who best fit this description. However, the democratic process is a process which produces just laws by questioning the justness of current laws and debating the best reforms to the laws, just as democratic souls are questioning souls which make the most progress toward the good by questioning the justness of the current hierarchy of the soul they have in place and debating the best reforms to that hierarchy. Viewed in this way, democracy seems to fit Socrates’ description of aristocracy, and democratic souls his description of philosopher kings.Aristocracy also goes against Socrates’ original formulation of the ‘good life’. He maintains that “the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being” (Apology , 92), and that the virtue of the examined life is that it progresses toward the good. However, if aristocracy is the rule of the wise, then it must be the rule of those who know the good, and if the philosophers already know the good, then they cannot be leading examined lives because they could not be progressing toward knowledge of the good. However, if wisdom is not a function of knowing the good, but instead a pursuit of the good, which is the logical conclusion, then aristocracy is not the rule of the wise, but the rule of those who ask questions. This definition is not the exclusive definition that Socrates proposes, and instead incorporates all individuals who question what is just.The counter argument to this is that the philosophers are the only people who lead examined lives, and the only people who question the foundations of society. He urges the citizens of Athens, “not to care for any of his own things until he cares for himself… nor to care for the things of the city until he cares for the city itself” (Apology , 90). Socrates believes that citizens cannot be viewed as leading examined lives because they accept traditions and laws. However, Socrates’ inclination towards deconstruction is based on his lack of the incorporation of history into an individual’s or a city’s progress toward the good. He believes that history cannot be relied on as a foundation for society, and that each individual must begin their life by trying to determine for himself what the good is. This is based on the a priori statement that an individual cannot pursue the good unless they know what the good is; since an individual cannot know the good, then they are only able to pursue knowledge of the good (The Republic, VI, 508d), and Socrates reasons that the only way knowledge of the good can be attained is through a dialectic model (The Republic, VI, 511c), where nothing is accepted as just unless it has been thoroughly examined. He argues that,”..in one part of it, a soul, using as images, the things that were previously imitated, is compelled to investigate on the basis of hypotheses and makes its way not to a beginning but to an end; while in the other part it makes its way to a beginning that is free from hypotheses; starting out from a hypotheses and without the images used in the other part, by means of forms themselves it makes its inquiry through them”(The Republic, VI, 510b).Thus, a true dialectic rejects the images, the traditions and laws of the city, and subjects them to examination in order to obtain knowledge of the good. However, in Socrates’ initial statement that an individual cannot pursue the good unless they know what the good is, there is admission that the individual must have some inherent knowledge of the good.It would then be argued that although the individual knows of the existence of the good they are not necessarily seeking the good. Socrates believes that the individual who has a democratic soul, “… lives along day by day, gratifying the desire that occurs to him, at one time drinking and listening to the flute…and there is neither order nor necessity in his life, but calling his life sweet, free, and blessed he follows it throughout” (The Republic, VIII, 561c-d). This may be true; however, if an individual has a democratic soul, then in observing which ruling interest most benefits them, the individual is thereby inadvertently gaining knowledge of the good. The fact that this knowledge is not sought out by the individual does not however, make it any less valuable. If an individual did not admit to the existence of the good, then the effects of their experiences would be lost.This is mimicked in the city in the form of laws providing knowledge of justice. In knowing that a good exists, it is implicit that justice must exist since justice is merely law or action governed by the good; and although knowing that justice exists does not require that a city seeks the just, it does however, allow that in seeing the effects of the laws they pass, that the citizens will gain knowledge of justice. Citizens do not wish to live under unjust laws, and consequently they will rectify any injustice they find in them. Therefore, although they may not seek out knowledge of the good, their laws will be governed by any knowledge of the good that they have found. Therefore in democracy, by abandoning the laws and traditions of the city, you are eliminating the knowledge of justice that is contained in them. If viewed in this fashion, acceptance of the laws and traditions in the city is not an ignorant action which eliminates the possibility of knowing the good, but is instead an intelligent act that leads to a greater knowledge of the good.The laws occupy the acropolis of the democratic regime. In Crito, Socrates allows the laws to make the argument for him to stay and accept the punishment set out for him by the courts. In their argument, the laws assert that “the law that orders the judgments reached in trials be authoritative” (Crito, 109)—even if they are wrong—because they maintain political order. The argument that the laws, and thus Plato, fails to make is that although the laws are not infallible, they are self correcting. This argument also holds for the democratic soul.In a democratic soul, there is initially no order, but as the individual grows older, he establishes certain laws for himself. These laws form a moral core, and this core governs his actions. Although he may be “ruled by the lot” (The Republic, VIII, 561a), there are certain standards of behavior that the ruling component is forced to submit to; these standards of behavior are established by the laws. If the ruling component of his soul is not able to abide by the laws which the individual has developed through experience, then that portion of his soul is not allowed to rule. An example of this is that although it is common for children to have ‘temper-tantrums’, this is hardly ever seen in adults. Children have not learned that this course of action generally does not profit, so they allow that portion of their soul to rule them. However, as adults, most people have come to understand that fits of rage are not constructive, and may be destructive in many cases; thus they do not allow that portion of themselves to rule over their actions. This mimics the role of law in the democratic regime: just as unjust laws are eliminated, so destructive and low elements of a man’s soul are held in check.Although in adopting the laws and traditions of a city, which are a compilation of the citizens’ knowledge of the good, an individual might be accepting false conceptions of the good, the mechanism of democracy is formulated to rectify this. The ability of the laws to serve as a historical record, as well as their ability to demand respect, results in a progression toward the good as well as in political stability. The democratic process allows for the positive effects of questioning the laws, but prevents the negative effect of political instability or prolonged rule of the unjust. Although it is not guaranteed that an unjust law will not be passed, it is (through Plato’s assertion that through questioning we will be led to knowledge of the good which will produce a greater knowledge of justice) certain that the unjust law will be eliminated by future generations. The ability for an unjust law to be passed can be seen as a fault of democracy, however, it also produces a greater knowledge of justice. By allowing for the rule of the unjust, the unjust comes to be questioned and recognized; by learning what is unjust a clearer picture of the just is produced.So far, democracy and aristocracy both of the city and of the soul seem to be virtually the same. The exceptions being the inclusion of a larger number of individuals or interests in the ruling class of democracy, the intentional gain of further knowledge of the good in aristocracy (as opposed to the un-intentional gain in democracy),and the possibility that unjust laws or bad moral priorities to be (temporarily) accepted in a democracy. Some may argue that the advantage of aristocracy over democracy would be in the ability of the philosopher kings to make just laws and the ability of the aristocratic soul to prevent the rule of a non-virtuous interest, and thus avoid this fault which is contained in democracy. However, a few philosophers cannot examine the laws or the good more thoroughly than a nation of people, just as the ‘wisdom’ of an aristocratic soul cannot be assumed to be infallible.The advantage of democracy is that the error of the few is checked by the knowledge of the many. If a philosopher should mistake the unjust for the just, there would be very few individuals to oppose this error. However, if a member of the assembly should mistake the unjust for the just, he would be opposed by a far greater number; and as stated before, even if the whole of the assembly should mistake the unjust for the just, they would then be corrected by the questioning of future generations. By eliminating the ruling class, the city is better able to check against the rule of the unjust as well as to discern the good. This also applies to the democratic and aristocratic formulations of the soul.If an individual with a democratic soul was to mistake the unjust for the just, the ruling interest would be opposed by the non-ruling interests. It is possible for men to form false or morally poor laws for themselves. However, eventually morally poor laws will be recognized. This is provided by the fact that in a democratic soul there is no ruling interest, and thus the non-dominant interests are always challenging the dominant interest. Through this process of internal questioning, progress towards the good is made. “All there is to thinking is seeing something noticeable which makes you see something you weren’t noticing which makes you see something that isn’t even visible” (Maclean ). This questioning causes the individual to notice the injustice of the ruling interest, in looking at the effects of the actions which are ruled by that interest, and in doing so, the individual is able to see a portion of the good that otherwise would not have been visible. On the contrary, in an aristocratic soul, if the ruling interest was to mistake the unjust for the just, there would be no other interests to oppose it, and thus the injustice would go unrecognized. By eliminating a ruling interest, the individual is better able to check against the rule of the unjust as well as discern the good.Democracy, both as a way of ordering one’s soul and a as type of regime, are the most prone to lead to the knowledge of the good. Democracy of the soul allows the individual to develop a personal hierarchy of values, and in doing so, the individual gains knowledge of the good that they could not have discovered if they had merely been ruled by the correct proportions of certain interests. Democracy as a regime allows for the most just laws, as well as for the education of the greatest number of individuals as to further knowledge of the good. The most knowledge is gained not in the correct ordering of the soul, nor in the philosophers questioning society, and the laws of the majority, but in the majority collectively working to create the most just society through combining their knowledge of the good in the creation of the laws, and through the personal experimentation with the rule of different interests within the soul.
The Republic and its Building Blocks: Socrates’ Abandonment of the Individual in The Republic
“[H]ow it would come into being, if it ever were to come into being, you have, in my opinion, Socrates, stated well” (The Republic, 510a). The possibility of the Republic coming into being is the issue which sets the earlier Dialogues apart from The Republic. Although Socrates does “[state] it well,” The Republic as a possible state appears, in light of his earlier writings and in light of political realities, to be merely a mirage. Socrates, in the Apology, states that “the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being” (Apology , 92). For Socrates, knowledge of how a man should live his life is the defining characteristic of a life that is worth living, because without that knowledge, man cannot know how to act.In the Dialogues, Socrates uses dialectic to teach the people he speaks with about the good, as well as to learn something about the good himself. He questions all types of individuals, in the Euthyphro, Socrates converses with the son of a landowner who claims to have the gift of divination, in the Laches Socrates converses with warriors and fathers, and in the Gorgias Socrates converses with several rhetoricians. All the men he speaks with are not only distinct from one another in profession, but also in socio-economic class as well as in age. Socrates’ willingness to converse with these men as well as his statement that “the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being” (Apology , 92) brings the reader to the conclusion that all men are capable of leading the examined life.Dialectic is used in the early Dialogues. However, by the time that The Republic is written, Socrates has transgressed into giving speeches. There are long passages of his speech every few pages in The Republic, where by contrast, in the Dialogues; he only gives a few speeches. In the Dialogues, Socrates seeks to gain knowledge of the good, but in The Republic he speaks as someone who already knows the good, or at least how that good is best to be produced in the city. In Socrates’ model of the city in The Republic, it is only the philosophers who are able to contemplate questions of the good, which contradicts Socrates’ statement in the Apology that all men should seek to gain knowledge of the good. In the Republic, all citizens who are not of the ruling class are to be indoctrinated to their respective positions so that there will be political stability within the Republic. Socrates plans to tell the citizens, “the god, in fashioning those of you competent to rule, mixed in gold at their birth; this is why they are most honored; in auxiliaries, silver; and iron and bronze the farmers and the craftsmen”(The Republic, III 415a). When Adeimantus enquires about the happiness accorded to these men being placed in their hierarchical positions, Socrates states that, “… in founding the city we are not looking to the exceptional happiness of any one group among us, but as far as possible, that of the city as a whole” (Republic, IV 420b). In The Republic, as opposed to in the Dialogues, Socrates is concerned with the city not with the individual. He is no longer concerned with each man leading the examined life, but instead with producing a city in which the city has “exceptional happiness.”The value in The Republic which is placed on the happiness of the city is sorely misplaced; some argue that the city with the greatest happiness will contain men who are the most happy, however if this is his goal, then Socrates could still approach the construction of the city from the point of producing the best individuals (which is the course taken in the Dialogues), and thus would not be advocating aristocratic rule, but democratic rule.Socrates argues later in Book IV that the happiness of the individual is to be accounted for by ensuring that each citizen “[is] brought to that which naturally suits him—one man, one job—so that each man, practicing his own, which is one, will not become many but one; and thus, you see, the whole city will naturally grow to be one and not many” (The Republic, IV 423d)2E Socrates aims to unify the city by placing each man in the job which naturally suits him and thereby placing him into the caste which he belongs. This contrasts sharply with the goals of the earlier Dialogues in which Socrates attempts through dialectic with men of many different professions, classes, and ages to gain a better understanding of the good—attempting to lead all these men to the examined life. Socrates in the Dialogues and in The Republic presents two opposed conceptions of the individual, the first conception is a cynical one in which it is only the men who “[appear] hard to bewitch and graceful in everything, a good guardian of himself and the music, proving to possess rhythm and harmony on all these occasions” that “must be appointed ruler and guardian of the city” (The Republic, III 413e); the second is an optimistic conception of the citizens of the city, that they are able to lead examined lives and thus they must have some knowledge of the good.If the claims of both texts are to be believed, the arguments of the Dialogues are the more forceful. This is because in the Apology, Socrates makes the argument that the only life worth leading is the life which seeks the good, and within the Republic, the only class which is able to lead the examined life is the guardians. This leads the reader to question the truth of the assumption that the ‘most happy’ city is one in which each man had been fitted into his respective niche and left there to perfect that art until his death. Although this may be a type of happy life, it is not the same kind of happiness that can be reached through seeking knowledge of the good2E Therefore, either the claim that only the examined life is worth leading, or the claim that the happiest city is achieved through assigned roles, must fail. Since it is impossible for an individual to lead a meaningful life without seeking the good (if they happened to lead their life according to the good it would be purely accidental and therefore without value) and it is impossible for a meaningless life to be a happy one, then it must follow that the happiest city is not produced by creating roles for individuals and preventing them from considering other alternatives. Thus although the Republic is “stated well,” (The Republic, 510a) it cannot actually produce the results that Socrates claims it will.The counter argument of The Republic to this rationale is that the philosophers are the only people who are capable of leading examined lives, and therefore there is nothing lost in preventing others from seeking knowledge of the good. The proof of the citizen’s inability to seek the good is their acceptance of the laws. Socrates believes that history cannot be relied on as a foundation for society, and that each individual must begin their life by trying to determine for himself what the good is. He argues that,2E..in one part of it, a soul, using as images, the things that were previously imitated, is compelled to investigate on the basis of hypotheses and makes its way not to a beginning but to an end; while in the other part it makes its way to a beginning that is free from hypotheses; starting out from a hypotheses and without the images used in the other part, by means of forms themselves it makes its inquiry through them. (The Republic, VI, 510b).Thus, a true dialectic rejects the images, the traditions and laws of the city, and subjects them to examination in order to obtain knowledge of the good. This belief that the laws should be abandoned is another break with his earlier writings. In Crito, Socrates allows the laws to make the argument for him to stay and accept the punishment set out for him by the courts. In their argument, the laws assert that “the law that orders the judgments reached in trials be authoritative” (Crito, 109)—even if they are wrong—because they maintain political order. In the Republic, the laws are replaced by the caste system and the policy of indoctrinating each man to his position within the city. This system is the new machine of political order; the laws are replaced by education. The difference between these two mechanisms is that when the assembly creates laws there is the possibility that they will be unjust since the assembly does not know the good. However, in the Republic, the guardians know the good and since they are the ones who establish what the citizens will be taught—there is no possibility that the citizens will be taught anything other than the good. In light of this, the Republic seems to be the better system because it educates all citizens to act according to the good. However, the argument in the Crito that the laws, and thus Socrates, fail to make is that although the laws are not infallible, they are self correcting.Although in adopting the laws and traditions of a city, which are a compilation of the citizens’ knowledge of the good, an individual might be accepting false conceptions of the good, the mechanism of democracy is formulated to rectify this. The ability of the laws to serve as a historical record, as well as their ability to demand respect, results in a progression toward the good as well as in political stability. The democratic process allows for the positive effects of questioning the laws (thus leading citizens as Socrates does in his early writing to lead the examined life), but prevents the negative effect of political instability or prolonged rule of the unjust. Although it is possible for an unjust law to be passed, it is (through Socrates’ assertion that through questioning we will be led to knowledge of the good which will produce a greater knowledge of justice) certain that the unjust law will be eliminated eventually. Unjust laws also produce a greater knowledge of justice for a greater number of people than a just law which is accepted without thought. By allowing for the rule of the unjust, the unjust comes to be questioned and recognized; by learning what is unjust a clearer picture of the just is produced. If the just is merely dictated by education—as Socrates advocates in the Republic—then the citizens, although leading their lives according to the good, may have no idea what the good is.In The Republic, Socrates claims that the happiest city is produced through placing men into the positions they are naturally suited to and educating them to live according to the good. However, this system will merely produce men, who although good at their jobs, will have meaningless lives and no ability to distinguish the good for themselves. The problem which Socrates seeks to safeguard the city against through this construction is the rule of the unjust. However, the rule of the unjust in turn translates into knowledge of the just. Therefore, although the Republic is “stated well” it is not the best system of governance for the city because the problems it rectifies for the city as a whole are not outweighed by the cost to the individual.