Socrates In Plato`S The Republic Essay, Research Paper
At the end of Book II in Benjamin Jowett’s translation of The Republic, Socrates began a detailed description of the construction of a good city. The good city is Plato’s view of the perfect state and its relation to the human soul, and its four virtues. In the following paper I will discuss Plato’s views about the various parts, or aspect, of the soul and their proper relation to one another. I will also discuss how Plato would apply his theory of the individual soul to his theory of the proper political order of the state. I will also discuss whether I would find Plato’s application successful.
The first concept we must discuss if we are gong to talk about Plato’s vision of the human soul are the four virtues the human soul posses. The four virtues described by Plato are prudence, courage, temperance, and justice. Plato relates the virtues to a community, which is made up of the rulers, army, and workers. With the base line being the workers, who do not try to blend with the army as the army doesn’t blend with the rulers. When all of these do their own job, the community becomes one.
The first virtue to be discussed is prudence. Prudence, also known as wisdom, is found in the rulers. “The people who have it are those rulers…” (The Republic 428d) In order to have wisdom one must be resourceful, in which he/she has obtained knowledge. Plato says, “… resourcefulness is obviously a kind of knowledge… it’s not ignorance which makes people resourceful; it’s knowledge.” (The Republic 428b)
The second virtue is courage, which is found in the military section of the community. Courage is not the virtue of standing in front of a tank and say it will not hurt me, that is stupidity. Courage is the ability to apply what you have been taught: what is to be feared and what is not to be feared. Plato relates retention to courage, “I’m saying courage is a sort of retention…the retention of notion.” (The Republic 429c) The ability for one to retain what one has learned is courage. “Ability to retain under all circumstances a true and lawful notion about what is feared and what is not to be feared is what I’m calling courage.”(430b)
The next virtue temperance, is found in the workers of Plato’s community. Temperance, also known as self-discipline, is needed by the workers, so that they do not desire to be in the ruler’s position. It is seen that each position has its own importance in the community, and for the community to function correctly each one must agree on their position in life. Plato relates, “… in this community… the rulers and their subjects agree on who the rulers should be.” (The Republic 431e) Temperance is also used to control the desire to go against one’s free-will. Plato says, “To be self-disciplined is somehow to order and control the pleasures and desires.” (The Republic 430e)
The last virtue to be discussed is Justice otherwise known as morality. Justice is found when all of the three work together, and no crimes are committed. If one breaks pattern then the community becomes immoral, or if one becomes out of place then it is immoral. “…when each of the three classes… perform its own function and does its own job in the community, then this is morality…” (The Republic 434c)
Now that we have discussed the virtues we can now discuss the human soul, and it’s three parts. The human soul is a larger version of Plato’s community, therefore each of the virtues relate to the human soul. The first part is reason, which is the capacity to think rationally. Next is passion, which is the fighting for what is right, and the two together work as allies. “… the rational part is wise and looks out for the whole of the mind, isn’t it right for it to rule, and for the passionate part to be its subordinate and its ally.” (The Republic 441e) As passion and reason work together, passion is found in the military. The last part is desire, which can be found in temperance, and is closely related to passion. Desire is the temptation to do what is wrong, but self-discipline corrects it. “…desirous part, which is the major constituent of an individual’s mind and is naturally insatiably greedy for things.” (The Republic 442a) Justice is again found in all three parts of the soul, because when they all work together justly, they are successful.
The virtues are arranged in a hierarchical pyramid, in which the rulers are found at the top. The top resembles the highest position, in which the rulers are in charge of the community. The next position is the military, which takes orders from the rulers and sends orders to the workers, which are last on the pyramid. The only virtue that cannot be placed in the pyramid is justice. Justice is found in all three of the virtues, therefore it reigns in all of them. The way that the virtues are arranged makes it impossible for any of them to mix, be missing, or trade places. One must have all four virtues to be completely moral. Each virtue is directly related to each other in an indirect way. “The rational part will do the planning, and the passionate part the fighting. The passionate part will obey the ruling part and employ its courage to carry out the plans.” (The Republic 442b)
The three “H’s” which underlie each virtue are Head, Habitual, and Happiness. In the Head the person must contain the rational ability to know what he/she is doing. In the Habitual, the person does something all the time aimed toward the good. In Happiness, the person must simply be happy at what they are doing. When the three “H’s” are obtained one is considered moral, or just, and also has underling of all of the virtues.
The next issue we will discuss is how Plato would apply his theory of the individual soul to his theory of the proper political order. In order to discuss this we mush first discuss Plato’s beliefs in the theory of the forms because, Plato’s concept of what politics and government should be is a direct result of his belief in the theory of forms. The theory of forms basically states that there is a higher “form” for everything that exists in the world. Each material thing is simply a representation of the real thing, which is the form. According to Plato, most people cannot see the forms, they only see their representation or their shadows, as in the simile of the cave. Only those who love knowledge and contemplate on the reality of things will achieve understanding of the forms. Philosophers, who by definition are knowledge lovers, are the only beings who can reach true knowledge. This concept has to be taken a step further because in The Republic, Plato states that philosophers should be the rulers since they are the only ones who hold the form of the good. Plato seems to be saying that it is not enough to know the forms of tables or trees, one must know the greatest form–form of the good–in order to rule. The reasoning is: if you know the good, then you will do the good. Therefore, philosopher rulers are by far the most apt to rule.
In The Republic, Plato builds around the idea of Philosopher Rulers. Even though it is not his primary point, it certainly is at the core of his discussion of the ideal state. The question that arises is, ‘Why do you need ideal states which will have philosophers as rulers?’ There are many layers to the answer of this question. The first thing is that a state cannot be ideal without having philosophers as rulers. This answer leads to the question, ‘Then why do you need ideal states to begin with?’ The Republic starts with a discussion of Justice which leads to the creation of the ideal state. The reason why an ideal state is needed is to guarantee the existence of Justice. This does not mean, though, that there cannot be states without Justice. Actually, Plato provides at least two reasons why the formation of a state cannot be avoided. These are: 1. human beings are not self-sufficient so they need to live in a social environment, and 2. each person has a natural aptitude for a specified task and should concentrate on developing it (The Republic 56-62). Although a person is not self-sufficient, a composition of people—a state–satisfies the needs of all its members. Furthermore, members can specialize on their natural fortitudes and become more productive members of
States are going to form, whether purposefully or coincidentally. For this reason, certain rules have to be enacted for the well-being of the state. The main way to institutionalize rules is through government and in the form of laws. Plato’s The Republic is not an explication of laws of the people. It is a separation of power amongst three classes–Rulers, Auxiliaries, Commoners—that makes the most of each person’s natural abilities and strives for the good of the community. The point is to create a harmonious unity amongst the three classes which will lead to the greater good of the community and, consequently, each individual.
The three classes are a product of different aptitude levels for certain tasks amid various individuals. Plato assigns different political roles to different members of each class. It appears that the only classes that are allowed to participate in government are the Auxiliaries and, of course, the Philosopher Rulers. The lower class does not partake in politics because they are not mentally able. In other words, they do not understand the concept of the forms. Thus, it is better to allow the Philosophers, who do have this knowledge, to lead them. Providing food and abode for the Guardians is the only governmental responsibility the lower class has. The Auxiliaries are in charge of the military, police, and executive duties. Ruling and making laws is reserved for the Philosopher Rulers whose actions are all intended for the good of the state. To ensure that public good continues to be foremost on each Ruler’s agenda, the Rulers live in community housing, hold wives/children incommon, and do not own private property. The separation of classes is understood by everybody Self-interest, which could be a negative factor in the scheme of things, is eliminated through a very moral oriented education system. All these provisions are generated to maintain unity of the state. The most extravagant precaution that Plato takes is the Foundation Myth of the metals. By making the people believe, through a myth, that the distinction of each class is biological as well as moral, Plato reassures that there won’t be any disruption in the harmony of the state.
Jowett, Benjamin. “The Republic by Plato.”
The Republic by Plato Translated Into English
Online Version 1.02. 1/26/1999.
http://members.nbci.com/the_republic/restatem.htm (28 Mar. 2001).
Woodcock, Raymond. “The People’s Republic: Plato’s Classic Republic, Edited and
Restated in Plain English”
Online Version 1.02. 1/26/1999
http://members.nbci.com/the_republic/restatem.htm (28 Mar. 2001)