Wednesday, January 11, 2017

On Misunderstanding Plato

In the Age of Trump, FLG has been rereading Plato for a variety of reasons.   Plato, perhaps more than any other philosopher, is open to a variety of interpretations; however, and FLG has mentioned this before (and has possibly even already written this exact post years ago), he has little patience for people* who take his description of the ideal city, Kallipolis, literally.

Most readers pay attention to the literal specifics of the City in Speech and the broader societal implications, but too often pay far less attention to the description of the Justice within the individual and the right ordering of the soul.   Here's how the creation of the City in Speech begins:

suppose that a short-sighted person had been asked by some one to read small letters from a distance; and it occurred to some one else that they might be found in another place which was larger and in which the letters were larger --if they were the same and he could read the larger letters first, and then proceed to the lesser --this would have been thought a rare piece of good fortune.
Very true, said Adeimantus; but how does the illustration apply to our enquiry?
I will tell you, I replied; justice, which is the subject of our enquiry, is, as you know, sometimes spoken of as the virtue of an individual, and sometimes as the virtue of a State.
True, he replied.
And is not a State larger than an individual?
It is.
Then in the larger the quantity of justice is likely to be larger and more easily discernible. I propose therefore that we enquire into the nature of justice and injustice, first as they appear in the State, and secondly in the individual, proceeding from the greater to the lesser and comparing them.
That, he said, is an excellent proposal.
And if we imagine the State in process of creation, we shall see the justice and injustice of the State in process of creation also.
I dare say.
When the State is completed there may be a hope that the object of our search will be more easily discovered.
Yes, far more easily. 

Clearly, the creation of the State is a means to an end, not the end in itself.   Granted, one could easily argue that, 'yes, the State is a means to an end, the end being Justice.  Thus, he is describing the State that manifests Justice.'   FLG contends that the State is merely an allegory for Justice because it is, as he says, 'larger letters.'    But, we then need to proceed to the individual.   But we need to proceed from the beginning directly to the end to really solidify the argument:

[The man of understanding] will look at the city which is within him, and take heed that no disorder occur in it, such as might arise either from superfluity or from want; and upon this principle he will regulate his property and gain or spend according to his means.
Very true.
And, for the same reason, he will gladly accept and enjoy such honours as he deems likely to make him a better man; but those, whether private or public, which are likely to disorder his life, he will avoid?
Then, if that is his motive, he will not be a statesman.
By the dog of Egypt, he will! in the city which 's his own he certainly will, though in the land of his birth perhaps not, unless he have a divine call.
I understand; you mean that he will be a ruler in the city of which we are the founders, and which exists in idea only; for I do not believe that there is such an one anywhere on earth?
In heaven, I replied, there is laid up a pattern of it, methinks, which he who desires may behold, and beholding, may set his own house in order. But whether such an one exists, or ever will exist in fact, is no matter; for he will live after the manner of that city, having nothing to do with any other. 

FLG contends that the City in Speech serves two purposes --   1) it helps to articulate the way soul ought be rightly order and 2) (although he hasn't made is case as strongly for this one) that horrible injustice is required, for example, the state has to lie its citizens about its match-making.



* Even though that seems to include Aristotle

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