Plato’s Republic – Plato
What is justice? Is the life upheld by Socrates sufficiently definite for practical guidance? The views of Callicles have been overborne; but have they been thoroughly examined? Socrates claims to be the only politician. But how can that deserve the name of policy which results in doing nothing? These and cognate questions may well have haunted Plato when he planned the Republic, the greatest of his works. The great principle of the political supremacy of mind, though thus held back through half the dialogue, really dominates the whole. It may be read between the lines all through, even in the institution of gymnastic and the appraisement of the cardinal virtues. It is a genuine development of Socratic thought. And it is this more than any other single feature which gives the Republic a prophetic significance as an attempt towards anticipating the work of future generations.
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Summary of Plato’s Republic (from Wikipedia):
While visiting the Piraeus with Glaucon, Polemarchus asks Socrates to join him for a celebration. Cephalus, Polemarchus, and Thrasymachus are then each asked their definitions of justice by Socrates. Cephalus defines justice as giving what is owed. Polemarchus says justice is “the art which gives good to friends and evil to enemies”. Thrasymachus proclaims “justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger”. Socrates overturns their definitions and says that it is your advantage to be just and disadvantage to be unjust. The first book ends in aporia concerning its essence.
Socrates believes he has answered Thrasymachus and is done with the discussion of justice.
Socrates’ young companions, Glaucon and Adeimantus, continue the argument of Thrasymachus for the sake of furthering the discussion. Glaucon gives a speech in which he argues first that the origin of justice was in social contracts aimed at preventing one from suffering injustice without having the ability to take revenge, second that all those who practice justice do so unwillingly and out of fear of punishment, and third that the life of the unjust man is far more blessed than that of the just man. Glaucon would like Socrates to prove that justice is not only desirable, but that it belongs to the highest class of desirable things: those desired both for their own sake and their consequences.
After Glaucon’s speech, Adeimantus adds that, in this thought experiment, the unjust should not fear any sort of divine judgement in the afterlife, since the very poets who wrote about such judgement also wrote that the gods would grant forgiveness to those humans who made ample religious sacrifice. Adeimantus demonstrates his reason by drawing two detailed portraits, that the unjust man could grow wealthy by injustice, devoting a percentage of this gain to religious sacrifices, thus rendering him innocent in the eyes of the gods.
Socrates suggests that they look for justice in a city rather than in an individual man. After attributing the origin of society to the individual not being self-sufficient and having many needs which he cannot supply himself, they go on to describe the development of the city. Socrates first describes the “healthy state”, but Glaucon asks him to describe “a city of pigs”, as he found little difference between the two. He then goes on to describe the luxurious city, which he calls “a fevered state”. This requires a guardian class to defend and attack on its account. This begins a discussion concerning the type of education that ought to be given to these guardians in their early years, including the topic of what kind of stories are appropriate. They conclude that stories that ascribe evil to the gods are untrue and should not be taught.
Socrates and his companions Adeimantus and Glaucon conclude their discussion concerning education. Socrates breaks the educational system into two. They suggest that guardians should be educated in these four virtues: wisdom, courage, justice and temperance. They also suggest that the second part of the guardians’ education should be in gymnastics. With physical training they will be able to live without needing frequent medical attention: physical training will help prevent illness and weakness. In summary, Socrates asserts that both male and female guardians be given the same education, that all wives and children be shared, and that ownership of private property ought to be prohibited amongst them.
Socrates and his companions conclude their discussion concerning the lifestyle of the guardians, thus concluding their initial assessment of the city as a whole. Socrates assumes each person will be happy engaging in the occupation that suits them best. If the city as a whole is happy, then individuals are happy. In the physical education and diet of the guardians, the emphasis is on moderation, neither too much nor too little. Without controlling their education, the city cannot control the future rulers. The absence of laws makes running the city simpler, but it places all the power with the guardians.
Finally, Socrates defines justice. Cephalus defined justice as being honest and paying what is owed; Polemarchus as legal obligations and helping friends and harming foes. Both emphasize giving what is owed as appropriate. For Plato and Socrates, justice is fulfilling one’s appropriate role, and consequently giving to the city what is owed. Socrates creates an analogy between the just city and the just man—both are defined by their different parts each performing its specific function. They thus proceed to search for the four cardinal excellences (virtues) of wisdom, courage, temperance and justice. They find wisdom among the guardian rulers, courage among the guardian warriors (or auxiliaries), temperance among all classes of the city in arguing who should rule and who ought to be ruled, and finally justice as the state in which each part of the whole performs only its work, not meddling in the performance of work belonging to other parts. Some of what has been discussed about the state is then applied to the soul, which was the aim of the digression into discussing the state in the first place.
Socrates, having to his satisfaction defined the just constitution of both city and psyche, moves to elaborate upon the four unjust constitutions of these. Adeimantus and Polemarchus interrupt, asking Socrates instead first to explain how the sharing of wives and children in the guardian class is to be defined and legislated, a theme first touched on in Book III. Socrates is overwhelmed at their request, categorizing it as three “waves” of attack against which his reasoning must stand firm. These three waves challenge Socrates’ claims that
- both male and female guardians ought to receive the same education
- human reproduction ought to be regulated by the state and all offspring should be ignorant of their actual biological parents
- such a city and its corresponding philosopher-king could actually come to be in the real world.
Socrates’ argument is that in the ideal city, a true philosopher with understanding of forms will facilitate the harmonious co-operation of all the citizens of the city. This philosopher-king must be intelligent, reliable, and willing to lead a simple life. However, these qualities are rarely manifested on their own, and so they must be encouraged through education and the study of Good. Just as visible objects must be illuminated in order to be seen, so must also be true of objects of knowledge if light is cast on them. Just as light comes from the Sun, so does truth come from goodness. Goodness as the source of truth makes it possible for the mind to know, just as light from the Sun makes the eyes able to see.
Socrates elaborates upon the immediately preceding Analogies of the Sun and of the Divided Line in the Allegory of the Cave, in which he insists that the psyche must be freed from bondage to the visible/sensible world by making the painful journey into the intelligible world. He continues in the rest of this book by further elaborating upon the curriculum which a would-be philosopher-king must study. This is the origin of the quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music.
Next, they elaborate on the education of the philosopher king. Until age 18, would-be guardians should be engaged in basic intellectual study and physical training, followed by two years of military training. However, a correction is then introduced where the study of gymnastics (martial arts) and warfare – 3 plus 2 years, respectively – are supplanted by philosophy for 5 years instead. Next, they receive ten years of mathematics until age 30, and then five years of dialectic training. Guardians then spend the next 15 years as leaders, trying to “lead people from the cave”. (This refers to “the Allegory of the Cave”) Upon reaching 50, they are fully aware of the form of good, and totally mature and ready to lead.
Socrates discusses four unjust constitutions: timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny. He argues that a society will decay and pass through each government in succession, eventually becoming a tyranny, the most unjust regime of all.
The starting point is an imagined, alternate Aristocracy (ruled by a philosopher-king); a just government dominated by the wisdom-loving element. When its social structure breaks down and enters civil war, it is replaced by Timocracy. The Timocratic government is dominated by the spirited element, with a ruling class of property-owners consisting of warriors or generals (Ancient Sparta is an example). As the emphasis on honor is compromised by wealth accumulation, it is replaced by Oligarchy. The Oligarchic government is dominated by the desiring element, in which the rich are the ruling class. The gap between rich and poor widens, culminating in a revolt by the underclass majority, establishing a Democracy. Democracy emphasizes maximum freedom, so power is distributed evenly. It is also dominated by the desiring element, but in an undisciplined, unrestrained way. The populism of the Democratic government leads to mob rule, fueled by fear of oligarchy, which a clever demagogue can exploit to take power and establish Tyranny. In a Tyrannical government, the city is enslaved to the tyrant, who uses his guards to remove the best social elements and individuals from the city to retain power (since they pose a threat), while leaving the worst. He will also provoke warfare to consolidate his position as leader. In this way, tyranny is the most unjust regime of all.
In parallel to this, Socrates considers the individual or soul that corresponds to each of these regimes. He describes how an aristocrat may become weak or detached from political and material affluence, and how his son will respond to this by becoming overly ambitious. The timocrat in turn may be defeated by the courts or vested interests; his son responds by accumulating wealth in order to gain power in society and defend himself against the same predicament, thereby becoming an oligarch. The oligarch’s son will grow up with wealth without having to practice thrift or stinginess, and will be tempted and overwhelmed by his desires, so that he becomes democratic, valuing freedom above all.
Having discussed the tyrannical constitution of a city, Socrates wishes to discuss the tyrannical constitution of a psyche. This is all intended to answer Thrasymachus’ first argument in Book I, that the life of the unjust man (here understood as a true tyrant) is more blessed than that of the just man (the philosopher-king).
First, he describes how a tyrannical man develops from a democratic household. The democratic man is torn between tyrannical passions and oligarchic discipline, and ends up in the middle ground: valuing all desires, both good and bad. The tyrant will be tempted in the same way as the democrat, but without an upbringing in discipline or moderation to restrain him. Therefore, his most base desires and wildest passions overwhelm him, and he becomes driven by lust, using force and fraud to take whatever he wants. The tyrant is both a slave to his lusts, and a master to whomever he can enslave.
Because of this, tyranny is the regime with the least freedom and happiness, and the tyrant is most unhappy of all, since the regime and soul correspond. His desires are never fulfilled, and he always must live in fear of his victims. Because the tyrant can only think in terms of servant and master, he has no equals whom he can befriend, and with no friends the tyrant is robbed of freedom. This is the first proof that it is better to be just than unjust. The second proof is derived from the tripartite theory of soul. The wisdom-loving soul is best equipped to judge what is best through reason, and the wise individual judges wisdom to be best, then honor, then desire. This is the just proportion for the city or soul and stands opposite to tyranny, which is entirely satiated on base desires. The third proof follows from this. He describes how the soul can be misled into experiencing false pleasure: for example, a lack of pain can seem pleasurable by comparison to a worse state. True pleasure is had by being fulfilled by things that fit one’s nature. Wisdom is the most fulfilling and is the best guide, so the only way for the three drives of the soul to function properly and experience the truest pleasure is by allowing wisdom to lead. To conclude the third proof, the wisdom element is best at providing pleasure, while tyranny is worst because it is furthest removed from wisdom.
Finally, Socrates considers the multiple of how much worse tyranny is than the kingly/disciplined/wise temperament, and even quantifies the tyrant as living 729 times more painfully/less joyfully than the king. He then gives the example of a chimera to further illustrate justice and the tripartite soul.
The discussion concludes by refuting Thrasymachus’ argument and designating the most blessed life as that of the just man and the most miserable life as that of the unjust man.
Concluding a theme brought up most explicitly in the Analogies of the Sun and Divided Line in Book VI, Socrates finally rejects any form of imitative art and concludes that such artists have no place in the just city. He continues on to argue for the immortality of the psyche and even espouses a theory of reincarnation. He finishes by detailing the rewards of being just, both in this life and the next. Artists create things but they are only different copies of the idea of the original. “And whenever any one informs us that he has found a man who knows all the arts, and all things else that anybody knows, and every single thing with a higher degree of accuracy than any other man—whoever tells us this, I think that we can only imagine to be a simple creature who is likely to have been deceived by some wizard or actor whom he met, and whom he thought all-knowing, because he himself was unable to analyze the nature of knowledge and ignorance and imitation.”
“And the same object appears straight when looked at out of the water, and crooked when in the water; and the concave becomes convex, owing to the illusion about colours to which the sight is liable. Thus every sort of confusion is revealed within us; and this is that weakness of the human mind on which the art of conjuring and deceiving by light and shadow and other ingenous devices imposes, having an effect upon us like magic.”
He speaks about illusions and confusion. Things can look very similar, but be different in reality. Because we are human, we at times cannot tell the difference between the two.
“And does not the same hold also of the ridiculous? There are jests which you would be ashamed to make yourself, and yet on the comic stage, or indeed in private, when you hear them, you are greatly amused by them, and are not at all disgusted at their unseemliness—the case of pity is repeated—there is a principle in human nature which is disposed to raise a laugh, and this which you once restrained by reason, because you were afraid of being thought a buffoon, is now let out again; and having stimulated the risible faculty at the theatre, you are betrayed unconsciously to yourself into playing the comic poet at home.”
With all of us, we may approve of something, as long we are not directly involved with it. If we joke about it, we are supporting it.
“Quite true, he said. And the same may be said of lust and anger and all the other affections, of desire and pain and pleasure, which are held to be inseparable from every action—in all of them poetry feeds and waters the passions instead of drying them up; she lets them rule, although they ought to be controlled, if mankind are ever to increase in happiness and virtue.”
We at times let our passions rule our actions or way of thinking, although they should be controlled, so that we can increase our happiness.
(The text of the last section was taken from a Wikipedia entry and is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)
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