Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Plato Blogging: The Republic Book II

The parallels of justice between Polis and Soul have already been established sufficiently from the comments I've received. So I won't dwell unnecessarily on every quotation which proves it.

Both Glaucon and Adeimantus speak of injustice being superior to justice, but Socrates thinks they don't believe it. Socrates then begins to construct a city in speech because justice will be more readily apparent in the form of a State than an individual.

A line I find telling as part of this discussion about justice being easier to find in the form of a Polis is this:
When the State is completed there may be a hope that the object of our search will be more easily discovered.

Here he's saying, implicitly, that the Just City isn't the object of the search. Sure, he's trying to find justice, but also I think this hints that the book isn't simply about how a Just City should be erected. In fact, my take is that this hints that the Just City is simply a means to an end to illustrate Justice, and not the literal embodiment of Justice itself. I won't belabor this point, but it is something to keep in mind.

As Socrates begins to build the city, he starts with our bodily wants:
let us begin and create in idea a State; and yet the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention.

Of course, he replied.
Now the first and greatest of necessities is food, which is the condition of life and existence.

The second is a dwelling, and the third clothing and the like.
And now let us see how our city will be able to supply this great demand: We may suppose that one man is a husbandman, another a builder, some one else a weaver --shall we add to them a shoemaker, or perhaps some other purveyor to our bodily wants?

Quite right.
The barest notion of a State must include four or five men.

This, however, is consider a "city of pigs" because it doesn't have conveniences like "sofas," "tables," and "sauces and sweets in the modern style." They then basically start over because the inhabitants of the city are no longer confined to necessities, but "give themselves up to the unlimited accumulation of wealth."

This, in turn, leads to conflict with the neighbors, which generates war. Therefore, the city will need guardians. I would like to point out that the original state, the city of pigs, is called "For a "healthy State" by Socrates.

The discussion then proceeds to the nature of these guardians:
They are to be strong, but also "his soul is to be full of spirit." Gentle to friends, while dangerous to enemies.

There we have a problem:
He will not be a good guardian who is wanting in either of these two qualities; and yet the combination of them appears to be impossible; and hence we must infer that to be a good guardian is impossible.

Ah, but dogs demonstrate this capacity. And this is where we get the first inkling that not all is as it seems:
your dog is a true philosopher.

That's just fucking absurd even in the context.

Then comes the education of these guardians.

gymnastic for the body, and music for the soul...Shall we begin education with music, and go on to gymnastic afterwards?

Socrates then includes literature in the music education. Part of this discussion includes one of the most important sentences in the entire book:
Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad; and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorised ones only. Let them fashion the mind with such tales, even more fondly than they mould the body with their hands; but most of those which are now in use must be discarded.

Of what tales are you speaking? he said.
You may find a model of the lesser in the greater, I said; for they are necessarily of the same type, and there is the same spirit in both of them.

Very likely, he replied; but I do not as yet know what you would term the greater.

Those, I said, which are narrated by Homer and Hesiod, and the rest of the poets, who have ever been the great story-tellers of mankind.

But which stories do you mean, he said; and what fault do you find with them?

A fault which is most serious, I said; the fault of telling a lie, and, what is more, a bad lie.

My emphasis. This comes up later.

He then goes on about gods and how they are good and must be represented as such. How things that are less alterable are good, and the gods aren't alterable:
But surely God and the things of God are in every way perfect?

Of course they are.

Then he can hardly be compelled by external influence to take many shapes?

He cannot.

But may he not change and transform himself?

Clearly, he said, that must be the case if he is changed at all.

And will he then change himself for the better and fairer, or for the worse and more unsightly?

If he change at all he can only change for the worse, for we cannot suppose him to be deficient either in virtue or beauty.

Very true, Adeimantus; but then, would any one, whether God or man, desire to make himself worse?

This is, for me, a key passage in talking about how the Just City is a Utopian metaphor for the soul and Dystopian if considered literally.

What I take away is this:
Gods are good.
Gods are not compelled by external influence.
Therefore, it is good not to be compelled by external influence.
Consequently, the important thing is the Soul and not the City.

We then return to the subject of lying:
I mean that no one is willingly deceived in that which is the truest and highest part of himself, or about the truest and highest matters; there, above all, he is most afraid of a lie having possession of him.

Still, he said, I do not comprehend you.

The reason is, I replied, that you attribute some profound meaning to my words; but I am only saying that deception, or being deceived or uninformed about the highest realities in the highest part of themselves, which is the soul, and in that part of them to have and to hold the lie, is what mankind least like; --that, I say, is what they utterly detest.

There is nothing more hateful to them.

And, as I was just now remarking, this ignorance in the soul of him who is deceived may be called the true lie; for the lie in words is only a kind of imitation and shadowy image of a previous affection of the soul, not pure unadulterated falsehood. Am I not right?

I think my theory is becoming clearer in the text. The good change themselves, not through outside compulsion. Also, people hate being lied to. It's a big point. And the words are less heinous than the ignorance in the soul. That is the true lie.

Yet, later, sorry for the spoiler, Socrates argues that we have to lie to the guardians in profound ways. We need to deny them knowledge of who their children are and even more so to trick them about how their mating is arranged. Talk about compulsion.

We're still not there, but it's becoming clearer. Next, Book III. As always, comments, either positive or negative, are welcome.

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