Socrates, Oresteia Essay, Research Paper
The tragic poet Aeschylus, and the philosopher Plato have arguably
written two of the most influencing works ever in western history. The Oresteia, and The Republic each respectively depicts its individual accounts of how justice came to exist in human society.
In the ancient
In the famous dialogs of Socrates, The Republic attempts to analyze society rationally and change the state so that individuals could attain the Socratic goal of moral excellence. For Socrates, the just state could not be founded on tradition because tradition was not based on rational thinking, nor on the doctrine of power and strength being right. This just state to which Socrates refers adhered to universally valid principles aimed at the moral improvement of its citizens, not at increasing its strength and material possessions. In order for this just state to succeed, only the best rulers distinguished by wisdom and virtue could exert power. By and large the scope of The Republic was to establish the guidelines for a just state.
The just state, according to Plato, is composed of three classes. The classic story of the metals appropriately distinguishes the craftsmen class as the bronze, the guardians as silver and the most precious metal of all, gold are within the philosopher kings.
The economic structure of the state is maintained by the craftsmen. Security needs are met by the military class, and political leadership is provided by the philosopher-kings. A particular person’s active role or class in this society is determined by natural inclination (myth of the metals) and educational process that begins at birth and proceeds until that person has reached the maximum level of education compatible with interest and ability within themselves.
The most common of all three classes are the bronze/iron people. They are the last of the three classes, that of the craftsmen includes all those citizens who take no part in governing or protecting the state. These men and women are only needed to carry on the necessary lines of work to keep the state running. Socrates states that “A money-minded person swears that his own way of life is the most enjoyable and wouldn’t think that respect or learning, and other pleasures, were anywhere near as important as making money, unless there was also a profit to be made out of them…” p328 By virtue a proper and just state’s moral goal is to better the lives of the citizens not through the accumulation of great wealth or power, and the foundation must be solid and void of any such appetites.
Thus the most basic building blocks of the just state must be protected by what Socrates deems as Guardians. The Guardians are the professional soldiers who are bred away from the imperfect society that are immersed in ancient traditions and customs. The guardian children learn what is “best apted for their moral improvement” (73) so they can grow into a more perfect person. Socrates believes that they should only be exposed to an education that is controlled by the supreme government without the impurities of the normal education by commoners. “Founders ought to know the broad outlines within which their poets are to compose stories, so that they an exclude any compositions which do not conform to those outlines…” (73) According to this type of lifestyle, guardians then become keepers of a just and proper state since they are selfless and immune to private material rewards. On the contrary, Plato explains that “the guardian’s victory is more splendid, and their upkeep by the general populace is more thorough-going. The fruit of their victory is the preservation of the whole community, their prize the maintenance of themselves and their children with food and all of life’s essentials. During their lifetimes they are honored by their community, and when they die they are buried in high style.” P181
The third class known as the gold people are those who complete the entire educational process and become philosopher-kings. They are the keepers of the guardians, and the elite minds that have acutely developed the ability to grasp the Forms, and become the “sightseers of the truth” p196 Plato explains “When a community is founded on natural principles, the wisdom it has as a whole is due to the smallest grouping and section within it and to the knowledge possessed by this group, which is the authoritative and ruling section of the community. And we also find that this category, which is naturally the least numerous, is the one which inherently possesses the only branch of knowledge which deserves to be called wisdom.” P135 The philosopher kings Plato writes about are atypical of ordinary rulers. Their education and intrinsic understanding of knowledge elevates them to the highest level of being in that they have no interest of material goods and the power with in it. Therefore the occupation of ruler would be an undesired duty for philosopher kings because the truth of the matter is this: “the less keen the would be rulers of a community are to rule, the better and less divided the administration of that community is bound to be, but where the rulers feel the opposite, the administration is bound to be the opposite.” P248 Ironically this is the ultimate ruler, one who does not want to rule and who does very little of it. Thus philosopher kings would never abuse their power and are the perfect rulers that all societies should emulate to achieve a just state. Plato believes this and suggests “Unless communities have philosophers as kings…or political power and philosophy coincide, and all the people with their diversity of talents who currently head in different directions towards either government or philosophy have those doors shut firmly in their faces- there can be no end to political troubles, or even to human troubles in general.” P193
After discerning the three classes Plato further explains the Four Cardinal Virtues that are found within the classes that creates the ideal state. Self-discipline is the unique virtue of all the classes, it sustains “…a unanimity, a harmony between the naturally worse and the naturally better elements of society as to which of them should rule both in a community and in every individual.” P139 Courage is the virtue peculiar to the guardian class which gives them the “…ability to retain under all circumstances a true and lawful notion about what is and is not to be feared.” P139 Wisdom then characterizes the rulers who have the ability to “…think resourcefully about the whole community, not just some element of it, and about enhancing the whole community’s domestic and foreign policies.” P13 Justice, the fourth virtue characterizes society as a whole, and Socrates explains “…it is the principle which makes it possible for all those other qualities to arise in the community, and its continued presence allows them to flourish in safety once they have arisen.” P141 Therefore Plato suggests that justice/morality is the virtue that makes the existence of the other virtues possible.
Plato has now defined and formulated his ideal state. It is “…said that morality is keeping one’s own property and keeping to one’s own occupation.” P142 One in which each class performs its own function well without infringing on the activities of the other classes “…for there’s nothing more disastrous for the community, then, than the intrusion of any of the three classes into either of the other two, and the interchange of roles among them, and there could be no more correct context for using the term ‘criminal’.”p142
Plato divides the human soul into three parts: the rational part, the will, and the appetites. The just person is the one in whom the rational element, supported by the will, controls the appetites. An distinct analogy exists here with the threefold class structure of the state, in which the enlightened philosopher-kings, supported by the soldiers, govern the rest of society. All this comes together to create what Plato called a harmonious state, one which recognizes human inequalities and diversities and makes the best possible use of them for the entire society.
It seems to me that a major flaw in Plato’s philosophy is that a just state would be unrealistic to achieve. The only way it could work is if all of society is willing to accept knowledge and work hard for education. Even though there is no such thing as a truly unjust society a totally just society will never happen until people are willing to work for it. Another reason there can never be a perfectly just society is because everyone’s perception of just is different. We know that the idea of justice is there, but to explain it so everyone agrees would be hard to achieve. However, in trying to find true justice the society becomes stronger and more just. Expressing individuality that benefits or hurts a society however reflects assertiveness, incentive, thought, and creativity, which strengthens the society. If a society ever got to the point of being just, the society would no longer have greed, nor strive for a better life. The society would not have poverty or wealth. The society would just stop. There would be no more invention, growth, or change. The only change from Plato’s time to ours is technology. We are still searching for the perfect government, the question of who is better than who is still being asked, and education is still a major factor in achieving success.