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Topic #C28

Plato, Republic 347a-369a

 

12 November 2001
Scribes: Carol Yeung and Muhammad Athar Lila

 

These minutes were spoken on 14 November;

for another version, go to the unspoken minutes

 

 

In this lecture, Professor Hutchinson picked up the threads of the remaining parts of Book I and the first part of Book II of Plato’s Republic. We began with a look at 347a, where we find Thrasymachus having just lost his first argument.  This loss, however, is not as bad as the next one, which completely embarrasses him and even causes him to blush [350d].  Before Glaucon intervenes on Thrasymachus’ behalf, Socrates concludes that people must be paid a wage if they are willing to rule, whether in the form of money, honour, or some sort of penalty.  When Glaucon asks how a penalty can be a wage, Socrates says that good people do not rule for money or honour.  Their real incentive, according to Plato, is that they would be worse off if they allowed other (less qualified) people rule over them. 

 

Later, when Glaucon’s arguments are exhausted, we find his brother, Adeimantus, taking up his cause [ref:  362d].  Both Glaucon and Adeimantus were Plato’s brothers, noble sons in the line of Ariston.  What we see here are people of Plato’s generation taking up the arguments of Socrates’ generation.  Later, when Socrates praises Plato and Glaucon (and others of Plato’s family), Plato is really praising his own generation.  This also occurs at the pinnacle of suspense in the Phaedo, where Socrates has a certain vision on his deathbed and reminds Crito that they owe a cock to Asclepius, since they have to thank the god of healing for someone’s health being restored [Phaedo, 118a].  The list of people given at the beginning of the dialogue, however, explicitly mentions that Plato was absent because he was sick. In this vision then, Socrates sees that Plato’s health will be restored.  In this way, Socrates hands the torch of philosophy to Plato before his death.  We also find in the Republic that Plato has ingeniously managed to praise himself without having to mention his own name.

 

         Later in the dialogue, we find Thrasymachus resorting to sarcasm, telling Socrates at 352b “Enjoy your banquet of words!”  Then we skipped forward to 352e, where Socrates asks Thrasymachus about the function of horses.  His remark may seem out of place, but what Socrates is trying to do is prove that the virtue of a thing is closely related to its function.  For human beings, then, virtue depends on the function of the soul.  This claim is similar to the one made in Alcibiades, where Plato argues that human beings consist of a body and a soul, and that the soul must use the body and not vice-versa.  In 353d, we find Plato emphasizing again that the soul must effectively deliberate, control, manage, rule over, and steer the body.  This is the most prominent feature of the soul in Socratic thought and books 2-9 are essentially an elaboration on what kinds of political authority the soul has.  This idea of the “function of the soul” is also featured in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, but unlike Plato, Aristotle argued that the function of the soul was primarily cognition (thinking, knowing, reasoning, etc.). 

 

         The first words of Book Two are a major interpretative key: “When I said this, I thought I had done with the discussion, but it turned out to have been only a prelude.”  In 357b, Glaucon divides good into three:  That which is good for its own sake (i.e. as an end in itself), that which is good for its own sake and for its corollary benefits, and that which is good only for its corollary benefits.  These three analyses were of fundamental importance to Aristotle, as evidenced in his Ethics.  What is interesting here is that Plato’s audience is now demanding an argument that is actually persuasive, and in response Plato must establish doctrines that satisfy strict criteria (doctrines which he never retracted).  Glaucon then draws an argument from the ancient fable of Gyges, a man who possessed an invisible ring and used it to secure gains for himself at others’ expense.  Glaucon uses this to suggest that given the opportunity of impunity, we would not care for justice.  Professor clarified the original story, in which Gyges wanted to catch a glimpse of a beautiful queen. When the queen found out, she decided that either the king or Gyges had to die. The tale ended with the king’s death, and Gyges getting both the queen and her kingdom!

 

We then jumped to 361d, which bears a resemblance to when Callicles was defeated in the Gorgias:

 

Having hypothesized such a person, let’s now in our argument put beside him a just man, who is simple and noble and who, as Aeschylus says, doesn’t want to be believed to be good but to be so.  We must takeaway his reputation for a reputation for justice would bring him honor and rewards, so that it wouldn’t be clear whether he is just for the sake of justice itself or for the sake of those honors and rewards.  We must strip him of everything except justice and make his situation the opposition of an unjust person’s.  Though he does not injustice, he must have the greatest reputation for it, so that he can be tested as regards justice unsoftened until he dies – just, but all his life believed to be unjust.  In this way, both will reach the extremes, the one of justice and the other of injustice, and we’ll be able to judge which of them is happier.  [Plato, Republic 361d, tr. Grube, in Plato: Complete Works]

 

  Here, Glaucon is playing the devil’s advocate, representing the opposing line of argument that Plato had to overcome. In this view [mentioned in 362e], the concept of justice is buying off the gods, helping friends and harming enemies.  This is similar to a fragment from Antiphon, the pre-Socratic, who said that the apex of self-interest was to serve our own ambitions while still being perceived as good by the people.  In other words, we should develop a reputation for being just, while pursuing our own interests at every opportunity.

 

         The next speech, made by Adeimantus, was meant to be equally persuasive, and focuses on the religious aspect of justice.  At 364b, Adeimantus, complains of the primitiveness of justice in the heavenly realm:

 

But the most wonderful of all these arguments concerns what they have to say about the gods and virtue.  They say that the gods, too, assign misfortune and a bad life to many good people, and the opposite fat to their opposites.  Begging priests and prophets frequent the doors of the rich and persuage them that they possess a god-given power founded on sacrifices and incantations.  If the rich person or any of his ancestors has committed an injustice, they can fix it with pleasant rituals.  Moreover, if he wishes to injure some enemy, then, at little expense, he’ll be able to harm just and unjust alike, for by means of spells and enchantments they can persuade the gods to serve them.  And the poets are brought forth witnesses to all these accounts. [Plato, Republic 364b, tr. Grube, in Plato: Complete Works]

 

This represents a view of religion that Plato is fundamentally opposed to.  For example, in Book Ten of his Laws, one of the last things Plato wrote was a passionate passage explaining how wrong this view was.  He argued that God has designed it so as to punish the bad and reward the good. God is just and will not be persuaded by bribes, spells, or incantations.  This point is also mentioned in the Euthyphro.

 

This led Professor Hutchinson to reminisce about a time when he was living in a 17th century villa estate in Italy, and a priest came to his door offering to “bless” his house and “cleanse” the house of unclean spirits.  This is exactly the kind of spirituality that Plato believed was primitive.  He believed prayer was a spiritual re-orientation of the self, and that prayer required worshipping with one’s heart.

 

When discussing justice, Plato always combined the divine and the secular, arguing that cannot understand justice unless we understand ourselves as being part of a Divine system. Thus, justice necessarily has a religious side to it.  When Adeimantus asks why we should be concerned with gods, he is presenting an issue that was, and still is quite relevant today.

 

An even more persuasive case for a cynical view of religion had already been put forward; in fact we have already seen it in The First Philosophers:

 

There was a time when human life was chaotic

As subject to brute strength as the life of beasts,

When not only did the good go unrewarded,

But neither was there any punishment for the bad.

And then, or so it seems to me, men introduced

The restraint of law, so that justice would be the tyrant

Of the human race, the master of abuse

And punisher of any transgression

Next, since the laws made it impossible

For people to commit obvious crimes by force,

They began to act in secret, this was the point, I think,

At which some shrewd and clever man first

Invented fear of the gods for mortal men, so that

The wicked might have something to fear, even if

Their deeds or words or thoughts were secret.

So that is why he introduced the divine, saying:

He will hear all that is said among mortals,

And he will be able to see all that is done.

Your evil schemes, plotted in silence,

Will be noticed by the gods.  For intelligence

Is one of their qualities.  With these words

He introduced the crucial doctrine

And covered up the truth with a fictional story.

 

[F1, Anonymous and Miscellaneous Texts, in Waterfield, The First Philosophers.  p.305-6 = Sextus Empiricus , Against the Professors ix.54. (Sextus attributes this fragment to a satyr play by Critias “the Atheist”; but modern scholars may well be right in ascribing it, on other evidence, to a lost play by Euripides .)]

 

This cynical argument suggests that we invented laws and religion to keep us from being unjust in secret.  This position holds that justice is man-made, and that if we abandon religion, we lose our grip on justice.  But in his conclusion, the Professor pointed out that even in our own recent history (19th century) in Canada, the US, and UK, there were serious debates about whether or not people who did not subscribe to a religion could ever be just or trustworthy!  Plato believed they could not, and later, towards the end of Book Ten, even suggested that good souls would receive their rewards in the next life (621d).