plato's republic, politics and ethics

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A lecture given to Arts One at the University of British Columbia-Vancouver. Sept. 29, 2014


  • 1. Plato, RepublicPolitics and EthicsChristina HendricksArts One, Fall 2014Slides licensed CC-BY-SA 4.0:

2. Repetition, remaking in Republic Justice has the same form in the state and in theperson (Bk IV) Restarting the whole argument again, starting in BkII after Bk I unsatisfactory (357a-358b, pp. 33-34) Re-creating an entire city in theory, starting fromscratch (Bk VII, 541a, p. 212) Giving here a theoretical model that can only bepartially imitated in reality (Bk V, 472c-e, pp. 147-148; Bk VI, 501b, p. 174) Dangers of imitating bad characters in poetry &drama (Bk III); dangers of imitative art that doesntstem from true knowledge (Bk X) 3. Does this sound familiar?Part of the city RoleCitizens Military See each other as similar, as equals; not great differencesin wealth Live together in military groups; dont live with ownfamilies until partway through adult life Cant engage in manufacture of goods or trade or amasswealth Children educated by state from age 7 (men & women) Can engage in political ruleManufacturerclass Make goods, engage in trade, can amass some wealth Cant engage in political rule at allSerfs Farmers; work the land owned by the citizens Can make money on surplus they grow Cant engage in political rule at all 4. It was Sparta, actually Athens and Sparta had been bitter enemies in awar from 431-404 BCE; this text written just a fewdecades later. Plato remaking the Spartan constitution to someextento Though by focusing the rulers on reason and objectivetruths about justice rather than on military values such ashonour and victoryo Spartan consitution seems to be the timocratic one in BkVIII, 547c-d, p. 217-218 5. Athens & Sparta 6. Democracy in AthensAssembly of Citizens: male, Athenian parents,completed military training (age 20)o No women, children, slaves, foreignerso Met around 40 times/yr, about 5000-6000 people each mtgo Anyone allowed to speak at assemblyo Decided on laws & policies put forward by Council of 500elected the generals"Pnyx, Athens - Panorama" by Nikthestoned, via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CreativeCommons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 7. Democracy in AthensCouncil of 500 Voted on which laws/policies to take to Assembly Chosen by lottery; one year terms; 50 out of each of 10tribes (geographical areas) Each tribe serves as presidents for 1/10 of the year;presidents organized meetings of council One person serves as Chair of the presidents for one 24-hour period only (can only serve once)Ten Generals Elected by assembly, one from each tribe Planned military campaigns 8. Democracy in AthensPeoples courts All citizens over 30 can serve as jurors Jurors chosen by lot on day of trial at last minute Anywhere from 500-1500 jurors per trialThings to note Significant equality in rulemany positions chosen bylottery Speaking well in public could be very importantswaypolitical votes in assembly, sway jurors in courts Sophists: teachers of rhetoric (Thrasymachus was one)were popular 9. PelopponesianWar(w/Sparta) 431-404 BCE; Athens loses Rule of 30 tyrants (404-403 BCE)o Set up by Sparta, anti-democratso Took over judicial function; only 3000 people had right totrial and to bear armso Exiled democrats, took their lands; killed people to taketheir money and landso Tried to get Socrates to arrest an innocent person (herefused)o Platos uncle (Charmides) and great-uncle (Critias) werepart of the 30 (Critias was their leader) 10. Plato (c. 428-347 BCE) From aristocratic, wealthyand politically active family Did not go into politicswhy?Intro to our text p. ix Invited to try to get a ruler ofSicily to be a philosopher-king;ended badly Set up a school of philosophy(The Academy) around 385BCE Plato Silanio Louvre, viaWikimedia Commons. Publicdomain. 11. Socrates (c. 469-399 BCE) Wrote nothing, so far as we know Walked around Athens engagingpeople in phlphcl discussions Xenophons Memorabiliasuggests he may not have been afan of democracy Tried and executed for impietyand corruption of the youtho Friends with infamous traitor to Athens,Alcibiades; didnt leave town when30 in power, like other democrats did;not punished like other democrats"Socrates Louvre" by Eric Gaba, viaWikimedia Commons. LicensedCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 12. Title, characters, setting Republic:constitution Not a realconversation, butcharacters were realpeople Setting: Piraeus, portof Athenshow/whysignificant?o Connected to rule of30 and thedemocratic resistance 13. Socratic method of elenchus1. Ask another person what they think X is, where X is oftensome abstract concept like piety, beauty, justice,courage, etc.o Flatter that person by telling them theyre smart; say youdont know the answer and need to be taught2. Use questions to get that person to see that there areproblems with their view3. The person revises their view, tries again4. Do (2) again5. RepeatIn some dialogues, no answer is reached; the interlocutorjust gets fed up and leaves 14. Socratic method of elenchusPlato, Apology:Socratic wisdom: I am wiser thanthis man; it is likely that neither ofus knows anything worthwhile, buthe thinks he knows somethingwhen he does not, whereas whenI do not know, neither do I think Iknow; so I am likely to be wiserthan he to this small extent, that Ido not think I know what I do notknow (21d). 15. Socratic method of elenchusWhat might be the point of this sort of method? Whatmight it accomplish?What could be some of its dangers?Where/how do you see the elenctic method in Book Iof Republic? 16. Book I: Cephalus andPolemarchus Cephalus: Example of someone who lives well butonly b/c getting old and appetites relaxing, andhas enough money so doesnt have to cheat others(329c-331b)o Justice is speaking the truth and paying debtso Drops out of discussionnot interested in looking further Polemarchus: gives a poets view of justice (but dothe poets really have knowledge? Book X says no)o Justice is giving each what is owed: good to friends, harmto enemieso P goes along with Ss criticisms of his views & eventuallyagrees 17. Book I: Thrasymachus Many sophists (incl. Thrasymachus): moral relativists(no objective truth about moral values); just aim forwhat is in your best interest Ts view of justice: the advantage of the stronger(338c, p. 14)o In each city/state, the stronger element is the rulerso The rulers make laws to their own advantageo They declare these laws to be just for the subjectsjusticemeans obeying the lawso Therefore, justice works to the advantage of the stronger 18. Book I: ThrasymachusSocrates view of rulers: The true rulers are those whorule not in their own interest, but in the interests of theirsubjects (341c-342, pp. 17-19) Analogies with doctors, ships captains, shepherdsthese will reappear later in the textNote: In rest of the text Socrates repeats aspects of Tsargument with some changes The rulers are the ones who determine what is justand unjust and others must follow this But rulers get the objective truth about justice andthat is what is enforced Which works in the interests of all, not just the rulers 19. Book I: ThrasymachusTs view of the unjust person: has the best life becausegets more than the just (money, power, etc.) (343d-344c, pp. 19-20) The very best life is that of the tyrant (344a, p. 20)Socrates view of the unjust person: injustice causesdissention within, making someone incapable ofachieving anything (351e-352a, p. 28) returns to this question and criticizes the life of thetyrant in Book IX as the worst life 20. Book I: ThrasymachusThrasymachus is not convinced (350e, p. 27); Socratesis not satisfied with the argument either (354a-b, p. 31)Why use elenctic style only to drop it later? Maybe Plato repeating it to reveal its problems If people think philosophical discussion is just aboutwinning b/c there is no objective truth, elenchus notgoing to work Note criticism of elenchus in Book VII (538d-539c, p.210-211) Maybe need to be brought up in entirely differentstate to recognize the truth about justice 21. Overall argument in RepublicTwo questions1. What is justice, in the state and in the person(soul)?2. Is it better to be a just person than an unjust one?Answers1. Justice in each exists when the various parts eachperform the work they are supposed to, stay in theirroles2. Better to be a just person, both in itself & becauseof the external rewards you can get (end of Bk IV,Books VIII-X) 22. Book II: What most peoplebelieve about justice Injustice better, but the weak agree amongstthemselves to be just b/c too weak to do injusticew/impunity (358e-359b, pp. 34-35) Justice is good only instrumentally, not intrinsically(357b-358a)o if external sanctions taken away, everyone would be unjust(Ring of Gyges example) Ranking of liveso Best: be unjust, appear justo Middle: be just, appear justo Worst: be just, appear unjust 23. Book II: What Soc needs toargue forGlaucon and Adeimantus want Socrates to show:(358b, p. 34 and 367e, p. 42) Justice is good in itself (intrinsically good), no matterhow people appear, no matter the rewards theymight get Injustice is intrinsically bad, no matter if peoplenever seen to be unjustso life of clever tyrant isnot best 24. Book II: Starting the stateWhy argue for thenature and value ofjustice in the city andthe person by startingoff creating anentirely new city intheory?Map of Assos, via WikimediaCommons, public domain. 25. The kallipolis Division of professions according to our natures(Bk II, 370b, p. 45) Political, social, economic structurePart of city Role Virtue (Bk IV)Rulers Rulers WisdomAuxiliaries Military, police force;enforce the ruler of therulersCourageProducers Manufacture goods, engagein trade(Moderation) 26. The kallipolisWhat keeps the rulers and auxiliaries from beingcorrupted and ruling for their own interests? Living conditions (Bk III), including families (Bk V) Educationo Rules for poetry and


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