SOCRATES AND PLATO
1. It is Plato's requirements for the ruling class of his ideal Republic.
2. Scholars refer to Plato as the greatest of the philosophers that Western Civilization has produced -- before Christ and Saint Paul, he is said to be the greatest of the moralists and social philosophers of all time.
3. The British philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead said of Plato that the History of Western Philosophy is only a series of footnotes to Plato.
4. The American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said of him, "Plato is Philosophy, and Philosophy, Plato," and also, "Out of Plato came all things that are still written and debated among men of thought."
The Historical Context
1. Plato was born in Athens ca. 427 B.C. at the end of what is historically called the Golden Age of Athens or the Age of Pericles(ca. 445 - 431 B.C.).
2. Athens of this period is viewed as our ideal and model as the First democracy, and as a city devoted to human excellence in mind and body.
3. By the 5th Century B.C.: Athens had become a democracy as the result of the struggle between a small number of land-owning families (of the aristocracy) and great numbers of the poor.
a. Pericles, elected annually as the first citizen of the state, maintained political rights for all citizens (the aristocracy and the commoners/the rich and the poor).
b. He also extended and consolidated the empire of the Athenian city-state, and at the same time strengthened within Athens the new political doctrine of egalitarianism (equal rights for all citizens under the law).
4. Most of the prominent and influential citizens of Athens were democratic or had become democratic in their political views.
a. Athenian society considered the poor to be virtuous and as capable as the rich.
b. The Greek dramatist Aeschylus: "Justice shrines in the houses grimy with smoke."
c. The Greek philosopher Protagoras: "Anyone who is just and reverent is qualified to give advice or public affairs."
5. The Athenian state had a constitution and a supreme court, which incorporated a jury system of 6,000 jurors, divided into panels, and formed the basis of Athenian democracy.
a. All citizens were equal under the law, in basic education, and in political life through direct democratic debate and voting.
b. There was freedom of speech and humane treatment of aliens (metics) and slaves.
c. The city government was viewed as a model of justice for the known world and Athenians had feelings of intense pride and loyalty for the city itself.
6. The years 445 - 431 B.C. were years of peace and internal improvements -- Pericles attracted to Athens the intellectually gifted from all parts of Greece.
a. These included in:
Literature: Greek dramatists, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.
Philosophy: Parmenides, Zeno, Anaxagoras, the Sophists and Socrates.
History: Herodotus and Thucydides.
b. The historian Thucydides writes that Pericles in a famous oration said of the Athenians:
"We are lovers of the beautiful, yet simple in our tastes, and we cultivate the arts without loss of manliness."
7. Pericles' policy ran into opposition by the extremists from both the aristocratic right and the democratic left.
a. The strong sense of loyalty, though, unified the city politically when war with Sparta came in 431 B.C.
b. Most of Greece was either under the leadership of the Athenian Empire (democratic, commercial, and industrial) or the Spartan Empire (authoritarian, militaristic and agricultural).
c. The Peloponnesian War became a struggle between Athenian democracy and the authoritarianism of Sparta which was ruled by a military elite with absolute power.
8. The Peloponnesian War ended in 404 B.C. when Democratic Athens surrendered to Sparta.
a. This resulted in a revolution within Athens staged by the aristocrats, who conducted a vicious reign of terror, the
Rule of the Thirty.
b. Among its leaders were Charmides (Plato's uncle) and Critias
(Plato's cousin) - they represented the rich and noble families who had been virtually destroyed by the war conducted by democratic Athens.
c. When democracy was restored and the Rule of the Thirty came to an end, the philosopher Socrates was tried and sentenced to death by an Athenian jury.
9. Plato's Life:
a. Plato was born three years after the war with Sparta began, a year after Pericles' death.
b. He was the son of one of the most aristocratic families in Athens.
1. His father, Ariston, was descended from the last king of Athens.
2. His mother, Perictione, was a descendent of Solon, the aristocratic reformer who wrote the constitution that established Athenian democracy.
c. Plato was brought up to think that democracy was a form of corruption in government.
d. Plato probably believed that the Rule of the Thirty would bring about a new order and that his teacher Socrates would provide its philosophy.
10. The Trial and Death of Socrates:
a. Plato was 28 years old at the time of Socrates' trial whom he had been studying with for eight years.
b. Socrates had been charged with impiety, speaking against the gods, and with corrupting the youth of Athens.
1. The real charges were unmentioned since the government had banned any public mention of specific war crimes (it was an attempt to put to an end bitter hatreds that had developed within Athens during the war).
2. Socrates with the aid of his friends, Charmides and Critias along with his favorite pupil, Alcibiades (a notorious traitor) had conspired to bring about a counter-revolution against the Athenian Democracy during the war --also, he was still continuing to incite the aristocratic young men of Athens to revolt against the democracy.
c. The trial was intended to frighten Socrates away from Athens to stop his constant criticisms of democratic government.
1. Plato points out in his Apology (lit., a defense or explanation of the truth or justice) that Socrates could have avoided death by leaving Athens before the trial began, a customary practice at that time.
2. He would have been acquitted if he had shown any deference to democratic feelings of the public - even with his open contempt, he could have been acquitted if he had proposed a moderate fine when he was requested to do so.
3. He could have easily escaped after his sentence, since he was detained for a month before he was forced to drink hemlock.
d. Socrates would not compromise with his view that he had been the benefactor of the Athenian public.
1. He maintained that to escape or to propose any penalty or fine would be to admit guilt.
2. Socrates argued that it would be legally and morally wrong to escape, since every citizen of a state has entered into a social contract to obey its laws.
e. Socrates' defense was what he believed to be the truth of His philosophy.
Socratic Philosophy (Plato's recount of his trial speech):
1. The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing:
"Socrates says this because the famous oracle at the shrine of Apollo at Delphi had said that no man living was wiser than Socrates. So, says Socrates to the Jury, I wanted to test what the oracle had said in order to prove that it was false. And so first I went to the statesmen, he says in his speech, and I found that those whose reputation for wisdom was the very highest were in fact the most lacking in wisdom. And I knew that I was wiser than the statesmen, because at least I know that I knew nothing. Then, he continues, I went to the poets to see if some of the poets were not wiser than I. But I soon found out that they create their poetry not by wisdom but by inspiration. Like prophets who say many fine things but understand nothing of what they say. But the poets thought that they were the wisest of men in all other matters too, because of their poetry. Then I went, he says, to the craftsmen, the artisans, and I found that they indeed did know many things that I did not know, like how to build ships or to make shoes, but like the poets, they believed themselves to be wise in matters of the greatest importance because the skill that they have in their own craft, such as shoemaking. This tended to diminish the real knowledge that they did have. And so, says Socrates, I concluded after discovering that wisdom cannot be found among the statesmen, the poets, or the craftsmen, that what the oracle at Delphi meant was not that Socrates is wise but that he at least knows that he really knows nothing.
2. The improvement or "tendence" of the soul, the care for wisdom and truth, is the highest good.
a. Not until you have pursued wisdom and truth ought you to think of money or fame or prestige or of the body.
b. Virtue does not come from money, but from virtue comes money and every other good thing for mankind, public and private.
3. Socrates says to the Athenians that if you condemn me, you will Sin against the gods who have given me to you.
a. I am a gadfly whom the gods gave to the state.
b. The state which is like a great horse, sluggish and slow in his motion because of his vast size needing to be stirred tolife by my sting.
4. His most important point in the speech is the principle that virtue is knowledge.
a. To know the good is to do the good -- evil and vice are due to the lack of knowledge or to ignorance (and nothing else).
b. Then wrongdoing (sin) comes only from failure to know whatis good.
Socrates: "No one does evil voluntarily."
ie. Knowing the good, no man would voluntarily choose evil.
c. Socrates insists that when one does an evil act, it is always with the thought that it will bring some good or benefit.
d. People spend their lives striving for power, or prestige, or wealth thinking that it is good and will make them happy.
e. One needs to know human nature, the true nature of human beings, in order to know what is good for humans and what brings happiness.
f. The Unexamined Life: Never to know what is good for human beings is to live a life of striving to achieve but never finding happiness.
Socrates: "The unexamined life is not worth living."
5. Socrates' view of virtue, of what is right and what is good may be called a rationalistic moral philosophy.
a. It is a view that claims that reason or rationality is the exclusive or the dominant factor in moral conduct.
b. Modern View: would probably maintain that the knowledge of human nature is no assurance that an individual would act upon it and do good.
* it would be maintained that there are many nonrational forces in human personality which combat reason (ie. instincts, emotions, passions, impulses, drives).
Plato's Theory of Knowledge
The Republic, Book VI
" Take a line divided into two unequal parts, one to represent the visible order, the other the intelligible, and divide each part again in the same proportion...."
1. A vertical line is divided into four segments, each of which from the lowest to the highest represents a level of knowledge.
2. Each level of knowledge: imagining or conjecture, belief, understanding, reason -- has its own objects and its own method for knowing them.
3. The basic division is between knowledge whose objects are in the intelligible world, and opinion whose objects are in the visible world.
The Divided Line
THOUGHT ____________________________________________ OBJECTS
Reason ____________________________________________ Higher Forms
Knowledge ____________________________________________ Intelligible World
Understanding __________________ Forms of Science and Mathematics
Belief ____________________________________________ Things, Objects
Opinion ________________________________________________ Visible World
Conjecture _________________________ Shadows, Images, Reflections.
Imagining or Conjecture
1. Imagining represents the lowest level of knowledge, and its objects yield the lowest degree of truth.
2. It is the level of knowledge in which mental activity is at a minimum, as in the awareness of such objects as shadows, images, and reflections in water or mirrors.
3. Plato maintains that awareness of images is the lowest level of knowledge, since images are only shadows of actual objects (they can only be known through perception).
4. Plato was suspicious of all forms of communication which use images. (ie. painting, poetry, sculpture, drama, religious ritual.)
a. Plato feared that the passions of the public are easily stimulated, influenced and controlled by their persuasive imagery.
b. He also feared politicians as skillful image makers - believing that the art of rhetoric which the Sophists taught was in its intent and effect the art of manipulating the public by false and cleaver images.
1. The next level of knowledge is that of belief, which is the perception of actual objects.
2. We can see that the perception of objects makes the level of imagining intelligible as the knowing of shadows and images of actual objects know on the second level.
3. Belief is the level of knowledge at which the classification and organization of perceived objects begin.
4. Knowledge at this level does not grasp the abstract concept of the object which is perceived (such as the botanist's concept of the apple identifying characteristics of each species of apple).
5. Plato maintains that perception by the senses of objects in the visible world can never give us true knowledge for two reasons.
a. The senses can only know the world of flux (the world of Heraclitus), the world of particular things that are in the process of change.
1. Since the features that we perceive are continually changing, we can never be sure of our knowledge of them.
2. Plato says that we do not have knowledge at this level but only opinion.
3. In is true opinion since it does recognize actual objects, and can be distinguished from the level of imagining which only knows images and shadows which can only be called false opinion.
b. Plato's second reason is that sense-perception can never give us true knowledge.
1. Knowledge derived from the senses can never give us general, universal, unchanging, and abstract truths of the intelligible world.
2. True Knowledge must provide certainty and universal truths about reality.
3. True knowledge, as Plato maintains, can only come at the third and fourth levels (understanding and reasoning).
6. Plato is saying that belief is the level on which the common sense mind, the mind of the man-in-the-street operates.
Rational Understanding or Intellect
1. The change is from belief in the concrete, changing, particular objects of perception, to the rational understanding or comprehension of abstract, unchanging, universal concepts, which are the objects known by the intellect.
2. At the third level, one has crossed over the major division of the line of knowledge -- one has left the visible world and entered the intelligible world.
3. The objects of perception are concrete, the objects of intellect are abstract -- the particular/general or universal concept; the changeable in flux/unchanging (the Parmedian eternal unchanging One).
Theory of Forms
1. Plato's theory of ideas or forms is his most creative and influential philosophical contribution and the central theme of his entire philosophy.
2. Concepts such as a circle, a triangle, beauty, justice, as well as concepts that make-up everyday vocabulary, such as house, yellow, man have two crucial functions.
a. They make it possible for us to know the actual world of things as well as the objects of mathematics, the sciences, and philosophy.
b. They also enable us to evaluate and criticize all these objects.
3. Abstract concepts enable us to have knowledge of all objects -- the objects both of the visible world, and of the intelligible world.
a. Plato's point is that to think or to communicate at all requires the use of concepts -- concepts are the means by which the universe is made intelligible.
b. Each concept refers to the qualities which a group of particular things share.
4. Forms are the eternal and immutable, absolutely true definitions of concepts.
a. The form triangle is the set of all those qualities which define the concept triangle. These are the common qualities shared by the entire class of particular triangles (for example, the quality thatthe sum of the internal angles of a triangle equals 180 degrees.
b. The objective, universal and immutable qualities which define our concepts (such as justice or man) are what Plato means by forms.
c. Plato sometimes speaks of the forms as essences -- meaning that they constitute the essence or essential qualities of particular things.
5. Actual particular things of the visible world are knowable only insofar as we can name or identify them by a form such as a man or an apple.
ie. As members of a class of things which share the same form, the same set of defining qualities - they become knowable.
6. Thus, Forms make true knowledge, which must meet two requirements, possible.
a. It must be immutable, unchanging, and unchangeable.
b. It must be about what is real.
The Evaluative and Critical Functions of Forms
1. The forms themselves establish the qualities which define our concepts (ie. apple, man).
2. In the world of flux, things are in a state of change, they are coming into existence or passing away -- the qualities are very imperfectly copied (aging and decaying of an apple or man).
3. Nothing in the visible world is ever perfect in its kind - only the pure, intelligible, immutable forms which establish the qualities defining the specific concepts - man, justice, circle etc. - are perfect.
4. Plato's most important use of forms was in regard to ethical and political forms of goodness and justice.
5. To the Sophists, the concept of justice is relative -- Plato's form of justice is immutable and eternal.
Rational Understanding or the Intellect
1. This is the level of knowledge which characterizes mathematics and natural sciences.
a. The objects of the mathematician's knowledge are forms, such as triangles, circles, and other mathematical objects.
b. These forms do not vary with changes of the visible world (they are constant).
2. Natural Sciences have as their objects the forms such as air, water, animals, stars etc.:
3. It is only an understanding of the form and not an analysis of its essence, and an awareness of its relationship to other forms.
1. The true philosopher moves toward knowledge of the forms by the activity of his reason and through the use of dialectic as his method.
ie. the method of analyzing the essences or forms of all things in the universe and seeing their relationship to one another.
2. Dialectic identifies the entire range and variety of forms (ie. artifacts such as beds and chairs; lowly things such as apples and dogs; relations such as equality and similarity; values such as beauty and goodness and justice.
3. By the power of Dialectic, the philosopher moves toward organizing the forms into a single structured order of truth and value.
a. The forms tend to constitute a hierarchical structure, a pyramid -- from the many least universal to the few most universal.
b. It moves from the most concrete to the most abstract; from the forms of inanimate physical things to the Idea of the Good.
4. This level is achieved by the philosopher's love of truth which enables him to reach the highest reality, the supreme form -- the Idea of the Good which is the ultimate aim of the soul.
a. It is the purpose for which all things exist, and thus it alone gives intelligibility, truth, and goodness to all other forms.
ie. It provides for their coordination and unity.
b. The plurality of the many forms becomes the unity of total reality.
ie. Heraclitus to Parmenides
5. Plato compares the Idea of the Good to the Sun.
a. The light of the sun makes the concrete things of the world visible and is the source of their life, growth, and value.
b. The Idea of the Good gives truth which makes the forms intelligible and is the source of their being and goodness.
c. Plato perceives the Idea of the Good as the source of the World's moral purpose.
The Theory of Forms and Ethics
1. Plato's theory of forms denied (and refuted) the Sophists skepticism about whether true knowledge is possible and their insistence that all standards of justice and morality are merely relative to time, place social group, or even to the individual.
2. Moral Forms
a. The Sophists argued that the Spartans were committed to the standards of authoritarianism and militarism; and Athenians to the standards of democracy (ie. relative to the standard).
b. In opposition of relativism, Plato argues that moral forms, such as courage and justice, are knowable with absolute certainty.
c. Plato also argues that they are eternal and unchanging, and they are absolute standards by which actions, persons, and institutions in the visible world may be judged.
3. Cultural Relativism
a. Every society, primitive or advanced, must be seen to be unique having its own history, language, institutions of law, education, family, production and trade, and religion.
b. It is then assumed that no outside standard can be used to evaluate any other society.
4. Ethical Relativism
a. It is the view that moral concepts vary fundamentally with culture, history, or the individual person and that a universal or absolute ethic is impossible.
b. Then - no absolute standards for societies exist, and since none exist, none are available to evaluate them.
c. It is maintained that no society can be evaluated or compared with any other, since there are no universal standards for such issues and no society can be judged better or worse than another.
d. In Plato's World, it would be concluded that Athens was therefore no better than Sparta, but only different, the product of a different set of circumstances.
5. Plato was attacking the Sophists for being cultural and ethical relativists, for failing to recognize that human beings share universal human standards, such as, justice and human rights, and that they have a moral responsibility to judge, to speak out when-ever the universal and absolute standards of justice are denied, violated, or distorted.
6. The Forms of Justice
Justice: The Republic, Book I
1. It is believed that Plato may have originally written Book I as a complete dialogue on the concept of justice -- and later decided to use it as an account for his quest for the form of justice.
2. It sets out to show what is wrong with various commonly held beliefs about justice, and especially to refute the Sophist view.
3. The first view is of an elderly, conventional, decent businessman named Cephalus.
a. Cephalus says justice is speaking the truth and paying one's debts.
b. By the Socratic method of counter-example, Plato shows this definition does not fit.
c. Would it be just for you to pay your debt to a madman if you owed him a weapon which he gave you when he were sane?
d. Would it be just to tell the insane man where he could find his enemy in order to kill him with the weapon you repaid?
4. Polemarchus, Cephalus' son, is one of a group of wealthy young men who gather about Socrates -- Polemarchus says justice is "giving every man his due", being a friend to your friends and an enemy to your enemies.
5. Thrasymachus, the Sophist, denies that the laws of the state or the morality of individual persons have anything to do with justice.
a. Thrasymachus maintains what the strong wish is what becomes law, justice is nothing but the interest of the ruler, the interests of the stronger.
b. Conforming to the laws is the morality of the weak, who do not recognize that the laws do not serve them, and are not in their own interest, but serve only the ruler.
ie. "Might makes right."
c. This is a form of ethical relativism which holds that the morally right is established by and is relative to the more powerful party in any situation.
d. Socrates: argues that the Sophist position implies the ruler is infallible in always achieving his own gratification.
1. But if he makes a mistake and rules in a way that benefits his subjects, is he just?
2. He maintains that if the ruler is a real craftsman in ruling, he will seek to benefit his subjects, not himself.
6. At the end of Book I Socrates is still trying to defend justice as what the wise ruler and wise man practice, but what the form is and how to define it still eludes him.
7. Plato's theory of forms is a view of all kinds of existence (physical, animal, human) each has its own form or essence which defines and sets standards for its nature.
a. Every being has virtue and is just according to its nature (the standards set by its form).
b. Therefore - we must find out what is the form, idea, or essence of man -- in order to know what is virtuous or just or right for man.
The Tripartite Soul
1.Plato points out that man does not have a simple essence or form -he is made up of several elements with its own natural capacity and function.
a. Man's power to use language and to reason is the element that distinguishes man from other living creatures.
b. The next element is his spirited element -- emotional drives such as anger, aggression, ambition, pride, honor,loyalty, courage.
c. The other element is his bodily appetites, desires, and needs.
2. The three elements of the form of man fall into a natural hierarchy.
a. The highest in power is the rational element with the capacity of truth and value.
b. The bodily appetites are at the bottom level and the intermediate level is occupied by the spirited elements.
3. This is the outline of Plato's Tripartite Theory of the self or soul.
Justice In the Soul
1. Justice or virtue for a Man consists in functioning in accordance with his form or essence.
2. For man, this form/essence consists of three distinct elements (ie. from bodily appetites to reason).
3. In Plato's account of these three elements, Plato shows an insight into the psychological conflict between them.
a. He has gone beyond Socrates' doctrine that virtue is knowledge, and that to know the good we will do the good.
b. Plato maintains that although reason may know the good, the element of reason runs into conflict with bodily desires.
Justice and Happiness
1. Plato says the highest good for man cannot come from pleasure since that would only satisfy bodily appetites.
2. Man's highest good comes from functioning in accordance with his nature -- fulfilling the needs of all three elements of the tripartite soul.
a. The complex nature of Man can only be satisfied by fulfilling all three with reason governing spirited elements and bodily functions.
b. When all three function in accordance with its appropriate role, a person may be said to be just and he experiences this justice of the soul -- this integration of his personality is happiness.
3. Plato is maintaining that morality consists in knowing and maintaining the harmony and balance between the rational and the irrational elements of the soul.
The Soul as An Organism
1. Plato thought of the soul not just as a hierarchical structure or order, but as an organism.
2. Each part has a function which serves the whole organism, and any malfunction of any part of the organism has an adverse effect on the rest of it.
ie. a malfunction will then drain away its sense of well-being, happiness (justice).
3. For Plato - a life devoted exclusively to bodily pleasures nor a life devoted to ascetic self denial of bodily pleasure would be functional.
Conflict Within the Soul
1. Plato is aware that there is a capacity in the human soul for inner conflict (ill health and misery).
2. Reason, the drive or need to reach the truth of the forms and the Idea of the Good, comes into conflict with bodily appetites.
3. The key to mental health and to morality and justice is the proper integration of these potentially conflicting parts of the soul.
4. In the Republic, Plato compares the element of reason to a man, the spirited elements to a lion, and bodily appetites to a many-headed dragon.
5. When reason performs it proper function (integration-harmony of all three elements), it shows it proper virtue which is wisdom.
6. When the spirited element performs its proper function within the soul, it shows its proper virtue which is courage.
7. When bodily appetites perform their proper function within in the soul, they show their proper virtue of temperance.
The Theory of the Three Types of Souls
1. Plato develops the theory that there are three kinds of souls or personalities -- each is dominated by a different element (the fulfillment of which is its goal).
2. The soul that is dominated by reason has the goal (desire) for truth and wisdom.
3. The soul that is dominated by the spirited element lives only for success and public acclaim.
4. The soul that is dominated by the bodily appetites lives only for money and material gain.
Freud's Tripartite Theory of Personality
1. The most famous tripartite theory of personality to appear after Plato is that of Sigmund Freud whose famous id, ego, and superego constitute a tripartite structure of personality.
2. Freud's theory also stresses the needs of harmony and interdependence of parts for the good of the whole, but also the potential for much conflict between the elements.
3. The id: is the seat of sexual and aggressive instincts as well as of self-preservative instincts.
4. The superego: is the seat of one's own conscience which places harsh restrictions upon the gratification of instincts.
5. The ego: is the seat of intelligence, which mediates between the id's unrealistic demands for immediate gratification and the punitive superego's constraints upon them.
6. Plato's concept of the bodily appetites may be compared with Frued's concept of the id which is actually a much more complex concept.
7. Basic Differences: Plato and Freud
a. Freud demotes aggression, a part of Plato's spirited elements, to one of the drives or instincts.
b. Plato had given aggression a more honorable status as a spirited element reflecting the importance of war in the Greek World and the status of a warrior.
c. Freud breaks reason into two parts: the ego and superego
1. The ego has the functions of perception and intelligence.
2. The superego has the functions of moral judgment and knowledge of the good.
d. Reason reflected in the ego only provides scientific under-standing without knowledge of forms.
e. Reason reflected in the superego only provides rationalizing of psychological instincts and defense mechanisms without the knowledge of moral forms and the Idea of the Good.
8. In reference to the Id (the seat of sexual and aggressive desires) Freud said that the ego, reason, is like a man on horseback who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse.
Ethics: The Good Life
1. Question: Why not live a life gratifying bodily appetites, the hedonistic life of pleasure.
a. Pleasure is not the highest good for humans.
b. If you pursue pleasure as the highest good, as your moral end, it will destroy you.
2. Plato maintains that the highest good for anything, human or non-human, is fulfilling its own nature (its form/its essence).
3. The highest good is in fulfilling the three elements (tripartite soul) in accordance with their proper harmony or order.
The Harmony of the Soul
1. The good life is the harmoniously balanced life, the life which satisfies in proper order the needs of the three parts of the self.
2. It is the life of virtue and excellence for a human being -- it offers human happiness, the sense of well-being of the whole person.
3. Plato describes the Good Life as the Life of Reason.
a. Plato does not mean it in a narrow sense of an overintellectualized person lacking strong drives and a healthy body.
b. It is the dominance of reason over the spirited elements and bodily appetites.
4. For two and half millenia the Western World has loved and idealized the ancient civilization of Athens.
Plato's Ethics: Summary
1. Moral philosophy or ethics is the branch of philosophy which studies the nature of good and evil, right and wrong, duty and obligation.
2. Plato maintains that there is a highest good for man, and it is absolute, eternal, and immutable -- it is also knowable and rational.
3. For Plato - it is the happiness which comes from the fulfillment of the three parts of the soul under reason.
4. Virtue, the right conduct of life, comes form the knowledge of the tripartite soul, the forms, and the Idea of the Good.
5. Plato says that only the few have such knowledge and they should control the conduct of the other members of society.
(re. Socrates: Virtue is knowledge.
1. Political philosophy studies such problems as -- what is the good society, what is justice, what is power and control and in whose hands should they be placed, does the state exist to serve the individual or does the individual exist to serve the state?
2. Plato's political philosophy is built upon his moral philosophy.
3. Plato (the Greek View) maintains that man is a social animal and has a desire to live in communities.
a. The Greek View is that cities and their governments are therefore just as natural as human beings (their self-soul).
b. This view is in sharp contrast to the Christian Doctrine that the state is neither natural nor good, but is a necessary evil which would result from uncontrolled human passions and violence.
4. Plato maintains that the elements which make up a city correspond to the elements that make up the individual human soul.
a. Justice, excellence, or morality of the city is the same as that of an individual.
b. For Plato, there is no distinction between individual morality and the morality of the state.
5. Like the tripartite soul every state has three elements which are its social classes:
ie. a producer class, a military class, and a governing or ruling class.
6. Each of these three classes will perform a vital function for the well-being of the whole society.
a. The producer class corresponds to the bodily appetites.
b. The governing class corresponds to the element of reason.
c. The military class, which aids and supplements the work of of the guardians, corresponds to the spirited element.
TRIPARTITE SOUL ______________________________________ TRIPARTITE STATE
Reason ____________________________________________________ Guardians
Spirited Element _________________________________ Auxiliaries, Military
Bodily Appetites ____________________________________________ Producers
d. The producer class comes from those in whom bodily appetites are dominant and they live for money.
e. The ruling class comes form those in whom reason is dominant and they live for truth.
f. The military class comes from those in whom the spirited element is dominant and they live for success in aggressive and courageous acts.
7. This structure parallels the justice and excellence of the soul with each performing its appropriate function under the direction of reason.
8. Question: Should the state be ruled by an elite group of the most rational?
a. Plato maintains that the many lack the intelligence and knowledge needed for governing -- that they only care for money and are dominated by bodily appetites and their volatile and unpredictable emotions.
b. They would easily be manipulated by demagogues -- and Plato concludes that such characteristics makes them unfit to rule.
9. Plato says that "when you are in ill health you go to the most competent medical specialist you can find. You don't ask everyone you meet on the street for advice, you don't take a vote among as many people as possible to determine what your illness is or what to do about it. Why is it that we regard the problems of the body politic affecting the health of the state, the problems of the ut-most political importance in domestic and in foreign affairs so little that we consult the advice of the ignorant many?
The Guardian Class: Selection and Education
1. Membership in the ruling class, the class of those in whom reason is the dominant element, is by natural level of intelligence.
a. By nature, some human beings are equipped to be philosopher-rulers, some to be soldiers, and some to be producers.
b. Plato believed heredity is the prime factor in intelligence, and that the children of the most intelligent will also be of the highest intelligence.
2. Thus - selection of the guardians would come from all classes based on natural intellectual capacity.
a. In the early years of child development all children would be kept under constant observation and testing to identify those children with the intellectual capacity to be trained as guardians.
b. Plato maintained that women as well as men possess the natural capacity of intelligence to become members of the ruling class.
c. Plato stands out in he history of Western Philosophy as the first to recognize the intellectual equality of the sexes.
d. Plato argued the only differences between men and women is that men beget and women bear children.
e. Women like men have natural capacities which will enable some to be rulers, some to be warriors, and others to be producers.
3. The Training of the Guardians: by education and service to the state.
a. Education for those selected to be guardians begins with strictly censored music and literature for the mind and gymnastics for the strength and health of the body.
b. They will ascend the divided line by training in mathematics, astronomy, and other sciences whose objects are in the intelligible world.
c. Their mathematical training will not be that of a merchant, but so that they may pass from the world of flux to the knowledge of true being.
ie. from the changing objects of the visible world to the eternal truths of the intelligible world.
4. By the age of thirty, candidates will have completed their education on the third level of the divided line.
a. The group of candidates will again be weeded out (reduced) -the ones remaining will be eligible to advance to the study of dialectic.
b. Five Years will be spent in the study of dialectic, the highest level of knowledge where by reason alone the candidate will come to know the eternal truths which are the forms.
5. At the age of thirty-five - each is compelled to hold any military or other post which the young are qualified to hold.
a. Purpose: is to give them the experience of everyday politics,and to see how they handle various temptations.
b. They will be required to spend fifteen years in this probationary period.
c. At age fifty - those who have met the test of intelligence and character will be admitted to the governing class.
ie. They will govern themselves and others -- they will become philosopher-kings because of their knowledge and virtue.
6. Both the guardian and military class are forbidden to possess any private property or money.
a. They must live, men and women, like soldiers in barracks with common meals and sleeping quarters.
b. Their food, clothing, and equipment will be provided by the producers.
c. They are to have no family life, in order to avoid conflicts between family loyalties and their loyalty to the state.
7. The Sacred Marriages
a. Temporary and designated unions for the breeding of children for the guardian class.
b. These marriages are far too important to permit them to be made on the basis of personal preference.
c. Plato's own theory of forms provided him with a standard of human excellence in mind, body, and character.
d. The older guardians will make the determination -- the best male guardians will be mated with the best female guardians.
8. Participants in the Sacred Marriages will not know that their mates have been chosen for them.
a. They will be told that these decisions have been made by a lottery.
b. Plato calls this a Noble Lie which he justifies for the good of the state.
c. Children born of these unions will be raised in a communal nursery.
d. They will not be allowed to form personal and exclusive attachment to their natural parents.
e. The children will regard as their mothers and fathers all the guardians who mated at the same Sacred Marriage as their biological parents.
f. Mentally or physically defective infants will be immediately exposed to die in some unknown place.
The Life of the Producer Class
1. Except for governmental regulations imposed by the guardians, the lives of the producers follow the pattern of home and property, family and children, work and rest etc.
2. By nature the producers love money -- Plato says the many love "getting and spending".
a. Plato planned governmental regulation of the accumulation of wealth in order to maintain economic moderation in the Republic.
b. Plato feared that unless the accumulation of money was regulated, the smarter producer would get richer and the rest poorer, and conflict would arise.
3. Each member of the producer class will be educated and taught a trade or profession.
ie. farming, banking, carpentry, according to their capabilities and the needs of society.
4. In the plans for the Republic, Plato includes provision for governmental agencies of censorship and propaganda.
a. The producer must be controlled by state propaganda to cultivate and ensure loyalty, patriotism, work motivation, and social cohesion.
b. Plato says that the task of the guardians is to safeguard all classes from the "insidious attractions" of poets, dramatists, musicians, and painters.
c. Plato offers two arguments for censoring violence: its frequent portrayal renders it common place, and thus its portrayal stimulates acts of violence.
Critics of Plato's Republic
1. Critics have accused it as being anti-democratic, some as being communist, and others as being fascist.
2. Question: Is Plato totalitarian in his politics?
a. Plato rejected individualism and democracy and argued for the subordination of the individual to the supremacy and power of the state.
b. Plato denied individual rights, civil liberties, due process of law -- he advocated government by an elite group with state censorship, thought-control by propaganda, state control of the economy, and the intrusion of the state into almost all areas of one's private life.
3. There are scholars who have maintained that Plato would have detested modern totalitarianism.
a. He opposed Thrasymachus' philosophy that might makes right.
b. For Plato - the only justification for his regimented, absolute state was that it is founded on true knowledge, on the eternally true essence (form) of justice.
c. Plato would condemn as illegitimate governments justified by power, race, wealth, aristocratic birth, glorification of a certain social class or a particular leader.
d. Plato viewed the guardians as having true knowledge of the essence of a good society and human being -- thus the knowledge entitled them to absolute power.
4. Problems with Plato's Republic:
a. Are there - can there be - absolute, true, eternal, unchanging forms of justice, human nature, society and the good.
b. What is the guarantee that the rulers will not be corrupted by absolute power.
5. Plato still stands out as the original source of rationalist tradition in Western Civilization.
a. A philosophic view that there is a realm of eternal truth, beauty and goodness above the flux of the changing world.
b. Vision that through the human love of truth and the power of human reason -- we may come to know the essence of all things and the Idea of the Good.