maxjmartin.com

The Republic

The Republic
============

Book notes for “The Republic”, Plato

#### Quick Review

Because a freeman ought not to be a slave in the acquisition of
knowledge of any kind. Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to
the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no
hold on the mind. Very true. Then, my good friend, I said, do not use
compulsion, but let early education be a sort of amusement; you will
then be better able to find out the natural bent.




I am not a huge fan of the Socratic style as used by Plato. Whereas for
example John Stuart Mill will imagine a steel-man interlocutor who
raises strong refutations to his claims to help him explain them:

“The objection likely to be made to this argument, would probably take
some form as the following鈥?


the people Socrates is talking to rarely say much other than

“Of course, this is clear鈥?

and don’t seem to add much to the argument.

(I also find Mill’s arguments supporting freedom of speech generally
more convincing than those of Plato for limiting speech.)

One finds oneself reading “A State, I said, arises, as I conceive, out
of the needs of mankind; no one is self-sufficing, but all of us have
many wants. Can any other origin of a State be imagined? There can be no
other.”
and wanting to shout “yes, yes I can! hold on!”.

It is even lampshaded in the text with :

Here Adeimantus interposed and said: To these statements, Socrates, no
one can offer a reply; but when you talk in this way, a strange feeling
passes over the minds of your hearers: They fancy that they are led
astray a little at each step in the argument, owing to their own want of
skill in asking and answering questions; these littles accumulate, and
at the end of the discussion they are found to have sustained a mighty
overthrow and all their former notions appear to be turned upside down.
And as unskilful players of draughts are at last shut up by their more
skilful adversaries and have no piece to move, so they too find
themselves shut up at last; for they have nothing to say in this new
game of which words are the counters; and yet all the time they are in
the right.


But of course (the Straussian reading of the text) the point may not
really be to address all possible refutations through the
interlocutors, rather to promote discussion of them by other
philosophers.



The concept of the “guardians” with loyalty only to the state was
interesting. Indeed, protectors finding ways to pass power to their kin
seems to have been behind the collapse of many states, and similar
things have been attempted a few times in history. As discussed in “The
Origins Of Political Order”:

But the institution of military slavery responded to the same
imperatives as Plato’s just city. The slaves were not told they were
born of the earth; rather, they were born very far away and told they
had no other loyalty than to their caliph, who was the embodiment of the
state and the public interest. The slaves did not know their biological
parents; they knew their master only and were intensely loyal to him
alone. They were given nondescript new names, usually Turkish, that left
them unconnected to any lineage in a society based on lineage. They did
not practice a communism of women and children, but they were segregated
from Arab society and not allowed to sink roots into it. In particular,
they were not permitted to set up private households to which they could
drag off “whatever they could get their hands on”; the problem of
nepotism and conflicting tribal loyalties that was pervasive in
traditional Arab society was thus overcome.




The idea of a prisoner’s dilemma crops up

they affirm to be the origin and nature of justice;-it is a mean or
compromise, between the best of all, which is to do injustice and not be
punished, and the worst of all, which is to suffer injustice without the
power of retaliation; and justice, being at a middle point between the
two, is tolerated not as a good, but as the lesser evil, and honoured by
reason of the inability of men to do injustice. For no man who is worthy
to be called a man would ever submit to such an agreement if he were
able to resist; he would be mad if he did. Such is the received account,
Socrates, of the nature and origin of justice




Overall, it does contain many interesting ideas, and was worth reading
just to better understand the many references to this text in other
books, and see the well known allegories and arguments in context.

#### Highlights

The division into books, like all similar divisions (Cp. Sir G.C. Lewis
in the Classical Museum.), is probably later than the age of Plato. loc
73

Thus in a succession of characters Plato represents the successive
stages of morality, beginning with the Athenian gentleman of the olden
time, who is followed by the practical man of that day regulating his
life by proverbs and saws; to him succeeds the wild generalization of
the Sophists, and lastly come the young disciples of the great teacher,
who know the sophistical arguments but will not be convinced by them,
and desire to go deeper into the nature of things. These too, like
Cephalus, Polemarchus, Thrasymachus, are clearly distinguished from one
another. Neither in the Republic, nor in any other Dialogue of Plato, is
a single character repeated. loc 222

But what if I give you an answer about justice other and better, he
said, than any of these? What do you deserve to have done to you? Done
to me!-as becomes the ignorant, I must learn from the wise-that is what
I deserve to have done to me. loc 3934

they affirm to be the origin and nature of justice;-it is a mean or
compromise, between the best of all, which is to do injustice and not be
punished, and the worst of all, which is to suffer injustice without the
power of retaliation; and justice, being at a middle point between the
two, is tolerated not as a good, but as the lesser evil, and honoured by
reason of the inability of men to do injustice. For no man who is worthy
to be called a man would ever submit to such an agreement if he were
able to resist; he would be mad if he did. Such is the received account,
Socrates, of the nature and origin of justice. loc 4279 Note: prisoners
dilemma. but iterated this is best for all Edit

into their assembly he came having the ring on his finger, and as he was
sitting among them he chanced to turn the collet of the ring inside his
hand, when instantly he became invisible to the rest of the company and
they began to speak of him as if he were no longer present. loc 4292

A State, I said, arises, as I conceive, out of the needs of mankind; no
one is self-sufficing, but all of us have many wants. Can any other
origin of a State be imagined? There can be no other. loc 4449 Note:
many.. Edit

Gold and silver we will tell them that they have from God; the diviner
metal is within them, and they have therefore no need of the dross which
is current among men, and ought not to pollute the divine by any such
earthly admixture; for that commoner metal has been the source of many
unholy deeds, but their own is undefiled. And they alone of all the
citizens may not touch or handle silver or gold, or be under the same
roof with them, or wear them, or drink from them. And this will be their
salvation, and they will be the saviours of the State. But should they
ever acquire homes or lands or moneys of their own, they will become
housekeepers and husbandmen instead of guardians, enemies and tyrants
instead of allies of the other citizens; hating and being hated,
plotting and being plotted against, loc 5265

Not long ago, as we shall remind them, the Hellenes were of the opinion,
which is still generally received among the barbarians, that the sight
of a naked man was ridiculous and improper; and when first the Cretans
and then the Lacedaemonians introduced the custom, the wits of that day
might equally have ridiculed the innovation. No doubt. But when
experience showed that to let all things be uncovered was far better
than to cover them up, and the ludicrous effect to the outward eye
vanished before the better principle which reason asserted, then the man
was perceived to be a fool who directs the shafts of his ridicule at any
other sight but that of folly and vice, or seriously inclines to weigh
the beautiful by any other standard but that of the good. loc 5803

That also, he said, is a reasonable proposition. But how will they know
who are fathers and daughters, and so on? They will never know. The way
will be this:-dating from the day of the hymeneal, the bridegroom who
was then married will call all the male children who are born in the
seventh and tenth month afterwards his sons, and the female children his
daughters, and they will call him father, and he will call their
children his grandchildren, and they will call the elder generation
grandfathers and grandmothers. All who were begotten at the time when
their fathers and mothers came together will be called their brothers
and sisters, and these, as I was saying, will be forbidden to
inter-marry. loc 5969

Here Adeimantus interposed and said: To these statements, Socrates, no
one can offer a reply; but when you talk in this way, a strange feeling
passes over the minds of your hearers: They fancy that they are led
astray a little at each step in the argument, owing to their own want of
skill in asking and answering questions; these littles accumulate, and
at the end of the discussion they are found to have sustained a mighty
overthrow and all their former notions appear to be turned upside down.
And as unskilful players of draughts are at last shut up by their more
skilful adversaries and have no piece to move, so they too find
themselves shut up at last; for they have nothing to say in this new
game of which words are the counters; and yet all the time they are in
the right. loc 6369

Why, that all those mercenary individuals, whom the many call Sophists
and whom they deem to be their adversaries, do, in fact, teach nothing
but the opinion of the many, that is to say, the opinions of their
assemblies; and this is their wisdom. I might compare them to a man who
should study the tempers and desires of a mighty strong beast who is fed
by him-he would learn how to approach and handle him, also at what times
and from what causes he is dangerous or the reverse, and what is the
meaning of his several cries, and by what sounds, when another utters
them, he is soothed or infuriated; and you may suppose further, that
when, by continually attending upon him, he has become perfect in all
this, he calls his knowledge wisdom, and makes of it a system or art,
which he proceeds to teach, although he has no real notion of what he
means by the principles or passions of which he is speaking, but calls
this honourable and that dishonourable, or good or evil, or just or
unjust, all in accordance with the tastes and tempers of the great
brute. Good he pronounces to be that in which the beast delights and
evil to be that which he dislikes; and he can give no other account of
them except that the just and noble are the necessary, having never
himself seen, and having no power of explaining to others the nature of
either, or the difference between them, which is immense. By heaven,
would not such an one be a rare educator? loc 6468

And thus our State, which is also yours, will be a reality, and not a
dream only, and will be administered in a spirit unlike that of other
States, in which men fight with one another about shadows only and are
distracted in the struggle for power, which in their eyes is a great
good. Whereas the truth is that the State in which the rulers are most
reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and
the State in which they are most eager, the worst. loc 6894

Because a freeman ought not to be a slave in the acquisition of
knowledge of any kind. Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to
the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no
hold on the mind. Very true. Then, my good friend, I said, do not use
compulsion, but let early education be a sort of amusement; you will
then be better able to find out the natural bent. loc 7182

His origin is as follows:-He is often the young son of a brave father,
who dwells in an ill-governed city, of which he declines the honours and
offices, and will not go to law, or exert himself in any way, but is
ready to waive his rights in order that he may escape trouble. And how
does the son come into being? The character of the son begins to
develope when he hears his mother complaining that her husband has no
place in the government, of which the consequence is that she has no
precedence among other women. Further, when she sees her husband not
very eager about money, and instead of battling and railing in the law
courts or assembly, taking whatever happens to him quietly; and when she
observes that his thoughts always centre in himself, while he treats her
with very considerable indifference, she is annoyed, and says to her son
that his father is only half a man and far too easy-going: adding all
the other complaints about her own ill-treatment which women are so fond
of rehearsing. Yes, said Adeimantus, they give us plenty of them, and
their complaints are so like themselves. And you know, I said, that the
old servants also, who are supposed to be attached to the family, from
time to time talk privately in the same strain to the son; and if they
see any one who owes money to his father, or is wronging him in any way,
and he fails to prosecute them, they tell the youth that when he grows
up he must retaliate upon people of this sort, and be more of a man than
his father. He has only to walk abroad and he hears and sees the same
sort of thing: those who do their own business in the city are called
simpletons, and held in no esteem, while the busy-bodies are honoured
and applauded. The result is that the young man, hearing and seeing all
these things-hearing, too, the words of his father, and having a nearer
view of his way of life, and making comparisons of him and others-is
drawn opposite ways: while his father is watering and nourishing the
rational principle in his soul, the others are encouraging the
passionate and appetitive; and he being not originally of a bad nature,
but having kept bad company, is at last brought by their joint influence
to a middle point, and gives up the kingdom loc 7367

And so, when we hear persons saying that the tragedians, and Homer, who
is at their head, know all the arts and all things human, virtue as well
as vice, and divine things too, for that the good poet cannot compose
well unless he knows his subject, and that he who has not this knowledge
can never be a poet, we ought to consider whether here also there may
not be a similar illusion. Perhaps they may have come across imitators
and been deceived by them; they may not have remembered when they saw
their works that these were but imitations thrice removed from the
truth, and could easily be made without any knowledge of the truth,
because they are appearances only and not realities? Or, after all, they
may be in the right, and poets do really know the things about which
they seem to the many to speak so well? loc 8164