September 21--Plato III
Professor William R. Long
This is the first of three pages I am writing for class on 9/21/04. The purpose of this page is to review the major ideas of Books II- III and to lay out the flow of the first third of Book IV (419-427d). I take the time to do this because of the signal importance in reading a difficult text of trying to understand the basic flow of the argument. Some sections will remain unclear even after breaking down the text into briefer units, but the best way to try to limn meaning is to try to understand discrete units of text.
Review of Books II and III
Though Socrates gave five arguments in Book I to try to rebut Thrasymachus' definition of justice as "the advantage of the stronger," he and his friends seemed dissatisfied with his attempt. Thus, in Book II Glaucon refuses to accept Thrasymachus' abandonment of the argument (357a), but will reprise it in 358b-361d. He will first state what the origins of justice are; second, he will tell a tale (the Tale of Gyges) to show why all who practice justice do so unwillingly; third, he will show how practitioners of injustice have good reason to do as they do. After he takes up the argument, his brother Adeimantus then adds that those who do injustice know that the gods forgive all faults when entreated; thus they pray and the gods exonerate them.
After having made this great show of force, they beg Socrates to describe what justice or injustice "does of its own power by its presence in the soul of the person who possesses it (366e)." They want not merely a theoretical argument that justice is stronger than injustice, but "tell us what each itself does, because of its own powers, to someone who possesses it, that makes injustice bad and justice good (367b)." Socrates then takes up the challenge beginning in 368d by saying that he has to draw on a larger surface and hope to find justice there before being able to say what it is in the human soul.
Hence the focus on building a city, the kallipolis, beginning in 369. Important in the building of the city is the principle of specialization. Each person should have his own trade and should pursue it uniquely. Socrates posits that a class of guardians is necessary for the city, and that focused attention should be devoted to their education. "Philosophy, spirit, speed, and strength must all, then, be combined in the nature of anyone who is to be a find and good guardian of our city (376c)." Hence, most of the rest of Book II and a good deal of Book III is devoted to the education of the guardians.
The education consists of both "music and poetry" (see Reeve's note on p. 33) as well as physical activity. Important for the former are stories of the gods and heroes that honor each. Gods cannot be portrayed as immoral; heroes cannot be described as fearful of death or displaying uncontrolled emotions. Because the young "can't distinguish what is allegorical from what isn't (378d)," the kallipolis will not tolerate anyone in its midst who tells undignified stories of Hera or Hephaestus, for example. Imitation, as a literary style, is to be discarded in favor of narration (392-395). The long discussion on meter and style leads to the conclusion that "fine words, harmony, grace, and rhythm follow simplicity of character." The goal is to create a harmonious character; "gracelessness, bad rhythm, and disharmony are akin to bad words and bad character (400e-401a)." The summary statement of the importance of education in music and poetry appears in 401d-e. Education in these allows the guardian to sense acutely whether something has been omitted from a thing and when it hasn't been finely crafted or finely made by nature. Such a person will praise fine things and receive them into the soul. The body should match the spirit in beauty and thus be in harmony with it.
The Role of Law
Plato does not spend a lot of time in Books II-III describing the function of law in the kallipolis. Indeed, because he is trying to describe an internal reality, he often will not closely consider the nature of laws needed to manage the external reality. He seems to feel that if enough harmony is cultivated within the soul that laws will be unnecessary for the state. But a few specific passages should be cited.
1. 405b-c. He speaks of how "shameful" it is when someone spends a good part of life in court before a sleepy or inattentive judge rather than spending time arranging his own life so as to have no need for judges and a judicial system.
2. 409a-c. Here, however, he has some things to say about judges and their roles. A judge must remain pure and have no experience of bad character while s/he is young. "A good judge must not be a young person but an old one, who has learned late in life what injustice is like." Such a person finds that injustice is not a part of his/her own soul and discovers that injustice is bad not from personal experience but through knowledge.
Book IV, 419-427d
This first part of Book IV takes us to the statement, "Well, son of Ariston, your city might now be said to be established (427d)." You should notice at least six points in the first several pages of Book IV.
1. Socrates needs to rebut the objection that because of the abstemious life that the guardians need to live, that he is really not building a happy city for them. His point is that his goal is not to make any one class supremely happy "but to make the whole city so, as far as possible (420b)."
2. One of the tasks of the guardians is to "guard against" wealth and poverty. "The former makes for luxury, idleness and revolution; the latter for slavishness, bad work, and revolution as well (422a)." The guardians also need to make sure that each of the citizens "is to be directed to what he is naturally suited for, so that, during the one work that is his own, he will become not many but one, and the whole city will itself be naturally not one but many (423d)."
3. The important thing for Socrates is that the city, as it grows and makes alliances is to remain "one city." "As long as it is willing to remain one city, it may continue to grow, but it cannot grow beyond that point (423c)."
4. He mentions in passing that the guardians will have all things in common. They will see "these things for themselves, as well as all the other things we are omitting, for example, that marriage, the having of wives, and the procreation of children must be governed as far as possible by the old proverb: Friends posssess everything in common (424a)." He explores this idea in much more detail in Book V.
5. So significant is education in the kallipolis that "they (the guardians) must guard as carefully as they can against any innovation in music and poetry or in physical training that is contrary to the established order (424b)." Once the musical modes are changed, for example, revolution cannot be far off (424c-d).
6. A few more comments on law. The goal of education is a "single newly furnished person (425c)." With such a person, law is unnecessary. When the question is raised about the bringing of lawsuits, the establishing of juries and the regulation of the market, he says that no attention should be spent on legislating on any of these. "It isn't appropriate to dictate to men who are fine and good. They'll easily find out for themselves whatever needs to be legislated about such things (425d-e)." The most amusing people are those who "pass laws on the subjects we've just been enumerating and then amend them, and they always think they'll find a way to put a stop to cheating on contracts and the other things I mentioned, not realizing that they're really just cutting off a Hydra's head (426e)." Thus, the true lawgiver "oughtn't to bother with that form of law or constitution, either in badly governed city or in a well-governed one (427a)." In the former laws would do no good and in the latter they would be unnecessary.
Question for Thought/Discussion. We are students of the law and, as such, often are skeptical and practical people. We know that societies can't get along with good feelings or with eloquent appeals to the importance of education. Is Plato's idealism in the Republic, through his focus on the internal nature of justice, a helpful corrective to our focus on statutes, rules and regulations, or does it bespeak a terrible naivete on Plato's part? If it is naive, how to explain his seeming depth of insight into the critique of justice by Thrasymachus, renewed by the brothers Glaucon and Adeimantus?
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long