Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Plato's Republic

The Republic of Plato translated, with notes, an interpretive Essay, and A New Introduction by Allan Bloom. 2nd ed. Basic Books, 1991.

The Republic

Books I-II

Cephalus states that justice is "giving back what a man has taken from another." However, it would not be just to give back a gun to a person who will harm himself with it. Simonides said "it is just to give to each what is owed." This seems to be true. If we owe someone, it is just to pay them. It is then said that justice is to do good to friends, and harm to enemies. They think they owe an enemy arm. Socrates argues that people are to do good, not harm. For example, a doctor should not harm his patient. Socrates asks is it "the part of a just man to harm any human being whatever"? No seems to be the implied answer. How can a man be just if he does harm to others? Thrasymachus states that "the just is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger." In other words, if someone can get the better of someone else, it is just. This seems to be wrong because if everyone is trying to better each other, this is a world at war. In addition, he says that people create laws that benefit themselves. This seems to be true, at least sometimes. We have those in power oppressing minorities or outsiders. This cannot be just. What would happen if the tables are turned? Thrasymachus argues that the unjust man is stronger than the just man, so it is better to be unjust if you do not want to be taken advantaged of. Socrates uses the example of a robber gang to show that being unjust does not lead to success. If the robbers are unjust in all matters to each other, they could never work together to achieve their aims. The argument turns with the question, does the just or the unjust live happier? They end Book 1 with the argument that the just will lead better lives. Basically, the idea is that those who develop the virtues will live better lives. For example, those who pursue the seven deadly sins will suffer from it. 

In Book 2 a big question voiced by Socrates, "Is there in your opinion a kind of good that we would choose to have not because we desire its consequences, but because we delight in it for its own sake." This seems to be distinguishing ends from means. Socrates tells about a ring that makes one invisible. Would you seek the good if you could get away with doing the bad without harmful consequences or would you do the good if you did not receive good consequences, but bad ones. It reminds me of the book of Job when it is asked, Does God serve Job for nothing? They decide the best way to know what is justice by enlarging the framework by creating a city in speech. Basically, the city is divided between the farmers, soldiers, and rulers. Everyone will do the one thing they are good at. It seems everyone will be happy by doing the task that they are good at. The argument seems to be at the end of Book 2 that this would be just if everyone worked from their particular strength. One question about Book II is that it endorses censorship. The only poets are musicians allowed will be those whose ideas agree with the beliefs of the city. This chapter also emphasizes training children in the moral virtues. The city will not allow bad representations of the gods are heroes. I do not know if censorship is what is required for a just city. He will return to this subject in book X.

Books III-X

A Major theme of Plato's Republic is What is Justice. I summarized some of the answers to this question above. Socrates thought it might be more clear by seeing what is justice in a city. He argues that there is a close relationship between the city and the individual. The City is made up of three groups: Guardians, Soldiers, and Farmers. He describes three parts to the soul: the calculating or rational part, and the spirited part. The idea is that the guardians or rational part is to direct the other parts. In desribing this, he emphasizes the importance of cultivating both the moral and intellectual virtues.Of course, one of the most known parts of the Republic is the allegory of the cave. It is Socrate's idea on how we know the forms or the transcendentals. He describes this journey to knowledge as a quest. It is interesting that he describes that a only a few will take this journey to wisdom. He shows how many things can interfere in this quest for wisdom. He also says that intellectual pleasures are the greatest pleasure. 

Another theme of the Republic is whether the just man or the unjust man lives the good life. There are many answers to this question during the dialogue. Socrates believes that the just life is the good life and the unjust life is the wretched life. In some sense, the Republic is Socrate's argument that the just life is the best life. The Republic is a many layered work that discusses Plato's ideas of justice, society, government, education, and aesthetics. It is a book that requires many readings. I look forward to reading it again in the future.

Socrates states that education "is not what the professions of certain men assert it to be. They presumably assert that they put into the soul knowledge that isn't in it" (Book VII, 518 b-c). This reminds me of an experience I had many years ago. I enjoyed going to Tastee's Donuts to drink coffee and read. One night I was there grading papers. The owner's wife saw my grades and were appalled. She asked me why I was not "learning" them. The reason was that I could not learn them, but could just assist them in gaining knowledge. The main actor is the student, not the teacher. As Plato says, we are like midwives in assisting in the delivery. If we took this idea seriously, would it change how we taught? 

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