Plato Carson Holloway, University of Nebraska Plato’s Historical Context Political philosophy’s origin occurred around 400 B.C. in the city of Athens. Socrates, the first known political philosopher, considered human things as opposed to the pre- Socratics who focused on the fundamental principles governing the universe. Socrates scrutinized the human condition by seeking common opinions about political and moral subject matter and then submitted these opinions to rational scrutiny through a dialectical method. Plato’s Historical Context - Continued Plato recorded the activities of Socrates in a series of dialogues that are still appreciated for their beauty and wisdom. Plato was part of an aristocratic Athenian family, some of whose members were dedicated to overthrowing the Athenian democracy. He traveled late in his life to the island of Sicily and tried unsuccessfully to reform the rule of the Syracusan tyrant Dionysius II. He founded a school of philosophy in Athens known as the Academy and Aristotle was one of his students. Plato’s Historical Context Plato focused on the problem of the relationship of the philosopher to his community. The philosopher’s quest for truth about political things places the unquestioned opinions necessary for the community’s survival into jeopardy. Plato’s Republic attempts to reconcile the philosopher and the community by showing how the interests of the city (polis) and the philosopher can be harmonized. The Dialogue versus the Treatise Plato’s political philosophy is expressed in a number of dialogues, in none of which Plato appears as a speaking character. In contrast, most other political philosophers have used treatises: straightforward arguments advanced in the author’s own name and voice. What might be the strengths and weaknesses of each approach? The Ethics of the Republic Inquiry into Justice The choice of dialectic over rhetoric Definitions of Justice Cephalus – Paying one’s debts What about giving an insane man a weapon? Polemarchus – Doing Good to Friends and Harm to Enemies Do we not make something worse if we harm it? The Ethics of the Republic - continued Definitions of Justice Socrates – According to Polemarchus justice would lead just men to make other men unjust by harming them. Thrasymachus – Injustice is more profitable than justice. Socrates – Injustice destroys people’s ability to work towards a common enterprise; similarly injustice disrupts the individual. The Ethics of the Republic - continued Socrates subdues Thrasymachus, but his victory is built upon the analogy of ruling as an art. Socrates gives justice a victory without defining it. New definitions of justice. Glaucon – Justice is an onerous task pursued for gain rather than for its own sake. Justice in the Ring of Gyges, from the Republic, Book II Glaucon advances his argument about injustice by using a tale of a magic ring that would bestow invisibility upon its possessor. Even if just a man had this ring, he would act unjustly, and if he did not everyone would think he was an idiot though they would praise him to his face. The Ethics of the Republic - continued Class Virtue Soul Founding a city in Artisans Moderation Desire speech to find the Guardians Courage Spirited- nature of the soul. ness One man and one art, Rulers Wisdom Reason minding one’s business as the definition of justice If reason rules, the soul is in order. The Ethics of the Republic - continued The just order of the soul is the source of just order of the city, but how do we know that reason will not be unjust? Allegory of the cave - Reason is grounded in the Good that is beyond bodily desires. The pursuit of justice is connected to the happiest life, the life of the philosopher. Tyrants are the mirror image of the philosopher and are ruled by desires and are unhappy. The Cave Analogy, From the Republic, Book VII The allegory of the cave illustrates how gaining knowledge about what is true would make one seem like a madman to those who remained acquainted with the world of illusion. The man blinded by the sun (the true, good, and beautiful) would not be competent when returned to the world of the shadows (the world of opinion). The Ethics of the Republic - continued A tension exists between the philosopher and the community. Socrates was sentenced to death by the city. The community is deluded by opinions that are like shadows in the cave. The philosopher is likely to be perceived as mad in stead of as a savior. The Philosopher versus the Tyrant While many think that power will ensure their happiness, Socrates teaches instead that true happiness is found in wisdom or knowledge, especially knowledge of the highest things. In a sense, the most powerful person, the tyrant, is the weakest, because the disorder in his or her soul makes him or her powerless to be happy. Does Socrates’ argument ring true? Would we count Saddam Hussein a happy man if he had been able to live out a complete life as rule of Iraq? The Nature of Politics The purpose of the community is to provide citizens education in virtue. Education (Paideia) – Is character formation. Virtue (Arete) – Habits necessary for community and the highest activities of the soul. Plato attacks traditional politics in works like the Gorgias by assaulting the goodness of rhetoric when it is not wedded to philosophy. The Nature of Politics - Continued The Apology is the dialogue where Socrates deploys rhetoric to convince the city that his philosophy is not impious and corrupting, but holy and virtuous. Socrates is convicted but he almost succeeds and the success of Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum indicate his death was persuasive for his cause. The Nature of Politics - Continued Socrates’ sentence also indicates that some people are closed to virtue. Philosophical statesmanship will be concerned with education. The training of guardians of the city will require the harmonizing of spiritedness to protect the city and gentleness towards fellow citizens. Gymnastic and music are a part of this education, but music gains special attention. The Nature of Politics - Continued The Greek definition of music includes rhythm, harmony, melody, speeches, poetry, and literature. Socrates rejects the stories in the Iliad and the Odyssey because they contain gods animated by unruly passions. They should be censored Rules for good poetry The divine is not the source of evil. The gods will not change form. The next life should not be disparaged The Nature of Politics - Continued Rules for good poetry (continued). Guardians must not grieve excessively. Guardians must be truthful, but rulers may violate this rule. Socrates uses the analogy of the doctor and the patient to make this point. Guardians must be moderate with control over desires and obedience to rulers. Plato’s critique of his culture and its excessively spirited ideal of manliness shows philosophy can transcend its culture to bring about human flourishing. Bad actions will not be shown in poetry. Imitation has moral consequences. Censorship, from the Republic, Book II Socrates documents the injustices chronicled by Greece’s greatest poets including Hesiod and Homer. Censorship is initially advocated as a means of protecting the young. Imitation and Narration What would Plato likely think about the movies, television shows, and music produced by America’s entertainment industry? Would he say that it is too willing to imitate excessive passions and wicked behaviors? Can a good story be told by narrating but not imitating such things? To what sort of moral standards, if any, should creative artists be held? Who, if anyone, should enforce those standards? The Nature of Politics - Continued Socrates believes the right rhythm and harmony or the wrong rhythm and harmony have moral consequences for the city. The good city’s music education is to produce graceful citizens. Morality is bound to what is beautiful. Music education edifies the citizen and turns them toward higher things. Appropriate music is a form of lawful play and produces law abiding citizens. Music, From the Republic, Book III And therefore, I said, Glaucon, musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful; and also because he who has received true education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason why; and when reason comes he will recognize and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar. Law and Character Over the last 50 years or so, American law and culture have sought less and less to form character with a view to moderation. At the time there has been an explosion of laws and regulations trying to govern the conduct of individuals and institutions. Would Plato see a connection between these two trends? Would he be correct? The Nature of Politics - Continued The moral education of the Republic is insufficient and requires assistance in the guise of a noble lie. All citizens are brothers and sisters from the earth though they are not completely equal. Those who rule have more gold mixed in their souls, whereas the guardians have more silver, and the craftsmen and farmers have bronze and iron. Even a reasonable city needs a myth of divine sanction. The Noble Lie, From the Republic, Book III (Socrates speaking to Glaucon) how then may we devise one of those needful falsehoods of which we lately spoke-just one royal lie which may deceive the rulers, if that be possible of the rest of the city? What sort of lie ? he said. Nothing new, I replied; only an old Phoenician tale of what has often occurred before now in other places (as the poets say, and have made the world, believe), though not in our time, and I do not know whether such an event could ever happen again, or could now even be made probable, if it did. How your words seem to hesitate on your lips! You will not wonder, I replied, at my hesitation when you have heard. Problems of Politics and the State Founding the city in speech reveals the gap between true politics and “real” politics. Limits need to be placed on the guardians accumulation of property to prevent them from exploiting their charges. Communism is necessary for the establishment of true politics. Socrates suggest three waves to establish a city dedicated to human happiness. The Problems of Politics and the State - Continued Three Waves The equality of the Sexes – gymnastics should be conducted together and the most fit for the role of guardians should be selected regardless of gender. Community of women and children – No private families are to exist and sexual lives are to be governed by a rigged lottery. Philosopher Kings – Those who appear to be useless are the true navigators. Gender Equality, From the Republic, Book V I should rather expect, I said, that several of our proposals, if they are carried out, being unusual, may appear ridiculous. No doubt of it. Yes, and the most ridiculous thing of all will be the sight of women naked in the palaestra, exercising with men, especially when they are no longer young; they certainly will not be be a vision of beauty, any more than enthusiastic old men who in spite of wrinkles and ugliness continue to frequent the gymnasia. Sex and Work Many human societies have tended to assign different social functions to men and women. In recent generations, however, many developed nations have moved away from a sex-based division of labor toward opening all vocations to whoever can demonstrate an aptitude for them, regardless of whether they are men or women. That is developed countries seem to be adopting notions of nature and justice similar to those advanced in Book V of the Republic. Other political philosophers, however, like Aristotle and Tocqueville, have defended a sexual division of labor as natural, arguing that men and women tend generally to have different emotions and moral dispositions that suit them for different tasks. Are there important natural differences between the sexes that have implications for how society should be organized? The Abolition of the Family Is the private family an impediment to justice because it is a powerful source of partiality and conflict, as Book V of the Republic suggests? Or does the family serve the city well by fostering natural bonds of affection that can later be extended to the whole community, as Aristotle argues in the Politics? Can a plan to abolish the private family succeed, or will it necessarily cause so much frustration that sooner or later people will reject communal arrangements. The Problem of Politics and the State - Continued Karl Popper interprets Book V as an indication of Plato’s commitment to totalitarianism. Leo Strauss interprets Book V as an effort to deflate utopian political aspirations. Darrel Dobbs interprets Book V as effort to reform the individual’s soul by fostering a sense of responsible detachment. Policy Blueprint, Cautionary Tale, or Thought Experiment Should the institutions discussed in Books V and IV of the Republic be understood as a program for political reform, as a way of illustrating the practical costs of an excessively idealistic commitment to justice, or as a way of revealing the proper order of the soul? Plato’s Contribution: the Critique of Democracy Democracy is like a many colored cloak decorated in all hues. Democracy allows for the search for the best, but it is not the best. Democracy’s emphasis on freedom makes it soft and unwilling to impose good behavior. Commitment to equality fosters a certain lawlessness of the soul and in the city. This disorder paves the way for tyranny. Plato’s Contribution: the Critique of Democracy - Continued Freedom creates economic differences. Industrious and rational become rich and the rest become poor. The poor use democracy to try to alleviate their poverty. The rich become enemies of democracy to protect their wealth. The poor appoint a tyrant to protect their interests. The tyrant oppresses everyone in the city. The American constitution with its protection of property rights and checks and balances owes much to this critique of democracy.