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Plato, Republic - Revisited > Republic Redux, Book 5

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Having finished the basic construction of the city, Socrates is ready to go on to discuss forms of badness when Polymarchus and Adeimantus stop him and claim that he is "robbing us of a whole section of the argument." (Bloom 449c)

So we start a three book diversion on the general issues of education and philosophy. But it starts with the question of the manner of the community, particularly as it pertains to women and families. Which section has ignited a lengthy academic discourse, still as far as I can tell unresolved, on whether Plato was a feminist.

The second section of Book 5 deals with what is wisdom, and who is a philosopher. It takes us the first steps down the road toward Plato's theory of ideas, or forms, a wonderfully controversial topic that is worth years, even generations, of discussion and debate, which we have one week to delve into. [g]

So let's get started.


message 2: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1704 comments I search with dying hope for some sign that Socrates's ideal city is somehow meant metaphorically. But when he works out the details of how the guardians-in-training will go out with the army to see the less dangerous battles, and be given swift horses so that the can escape any unexpected catastrophe, it's hard to see any metaphorical meaning. It seems that Socrates really means to entertain the idea that his horrifying city, built on lies and thought control and destruction of the natural family, is the best way to live. Does he really think that the decrees of a totalitarian government will revoke human nature and dispel all jealousy arising from erotic love, or acquisition of goods, or favor for one's own children? It seems so. Perhaps that is what you get when philosophers become kings--a mixture of bizarre ideas that defy all common experience and tradition, some of them ultimately good (like equality between the sexes) and some of them insanely destructive (like Socrates's cult-like city), and you don't know which is which.


message 3: by N.P. (new)

N.P. Ryan (npryan) Roger wrote: "I search with dying hope for some sign that Socrates's ideal city is somehow meant metaphorically. But when he works out the details of how the guardians-in-training will go out with the army to se..."

Context is important. The time in which he wrote while surrounded with great turmoil. I found uncertainty in that Plato felt he had to attribute the ideas to Socrates rather than own them himself; though it may just be a case of self preservation given his tutor's fate. I disagree that lies are put forward as a foundation for the Republic, quite the opposite. The family unit is clearly seen as a hindrance and in that respect it's worth remembering the origin of the term Platonic and also we are here as a result of accident not design, thus 'natural' is a construct not a moral right. In that respect, I find Plato's suggestions quite Zen - even if the parameters he applies it to are far removed from what we might expect. Overall Republic clearly would be a disaster if applied to Plato's letter, however this doesn't (imo) diminish the abundance of great points he raises that still to this day generally remain ignored due to the selfish rather than communal way we insist on structuring society.


message 4: by David (new)

David | 2478 comments Concerning the defense the second wave that would attack parents not raising their own children, it may be interesting to compare the phrases, "It takes a village to raise a child", to, "It takes a Polis to raise a child". Would this be a lesson in figuratively vs. literally? How can a child be raised figuratively?


message 5: by Lily (last edited Feb 01, 2017 02:25PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 4961 comments David wrote: "Concerning the defense the second wave that would attack parents not raising their own children, it may be interesting to compare the phrases, "It takes a village to raise a child", to, "It takes a..."

"It takes a village to raise a child" -- what do you consider that phrase to mean, David?

For me, it is a John Donne "No man is an island, entire of himself" type of statement.

https://web.cs.dal.ca/~johnston/poetr...


message 6: by David (new)

David | 2478 comments Everyman wrote: "Which section has ignited a lengthy academic discourse, still as far as I can tell unresolved, on whether Plato was a feminist. "

Equal education and opportunities aside, being a trophy of male achievement does not appear to resemble feminist sentiment:
[460b]“And on the young men, surely, who excel in war and other pursuits we must bestow honors and prizes, and, in particular, the opportunity of more frequent intercourse with the women, which will at the same time be a plausible pretext for having them beget as many of the children as possible.”
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/t...



message 7: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 4961 comments David wrote: "Equal education and opportunities aside, being a trophy of male achievement does not appear to resemble feminist sentiment:..."

LOL! Why make this into a male versus female battle at a point in history where the role of humankind on this precious planet Earth in the galaxy those humans have named the Milky Way seems so somehow as relevant when looking at issues as big as justice and morality and government and ....


message 8: by David (last edited Feb 01, 2017 03:17PM) (new)

David | 2478 comments Lily wrote: ""It takes a village to raise a child" -- what do you consider that phrase to mean?"
It takes a village to raise a child is a proverb which means that it takes an entire community to raise a child: A child has the best ability to become a healthy adult if the entire community takes an active role in contributing to the rearing of the child.

In Lunyoro (Bunyoro) there is a proverb that says 'Omwana takulila nju emoi,' whose literal translation is 'A child does not grow up only in a single home.'

In Kihaya (Bahaya) there is a saying, 'Omwana taba womoi,' which translates as 'A child belongs not to one parent or home.'

In Kijita (Wajita) there is a proverb which says 'Omwana ni wa bhone,' meaning regardless of a child's biological parent(s) its upbringing belongs to the community.

In Swahili, the proverb 'Asiyefunzwa na mamae hufunzwa na ulimwengu' approximates to the same.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It_take...
It seems to partially echo Socrates call to raise the children in common.


message 9: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4383 comments Roger wrote: "I search with dying hope for some sign that Socrates's ideal city is somehow meant metaphorically. But when he works out the details of how the guardians-in-training will go out with the army to se..."

At various times, Socrates refers to the city as a fancy, a paradigm, and a paradox. More than once, Glaucon insists on knowing whether the city is "possible," and Socrates changes the subject, until he finally admits that the city can only exist in theory. A paradoxical theory, no less. The city is impossible even on paper, if only because Socrates completely ignores human nature.

So I wonder... what is the point of all this? If it is an exercise in idealism, it seems to have backfired.


message 10: by David (new)

David | 2478 comments Thomas wrote: "The city is impossible even on paper, if only because Socrates completely ignores human nature."

This is a hard thought because contained within it is the sobering reminder that justice may forever ebb and flow with human nature occasionally moving us backward and limiting any strides forward to only half steps.

Is injustice the cost of human happiness like war is the cost of "relishes"?

Can we at all say that harsher times suggest harsher methods?


message 11: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4383 comments David wrote: "This is a hard thought because contained within it is the sobering reminder that justice may forever ebb and flow with human nature occasionally moving us backward and limiting any strides forward to only half steps."

Or it could be that Plato uses the wrong approach. What if justice is not an idea, an object of knowledge, but a practical art instead? Perhaps there is a middle ground between justice in itself (whatever that is) and the law of the jungle, an imperfect but acceptable compromise. Maybe Thrasymachus can become a friend.

Plato is not ready for a compromise, of course. But I have to wonder if his focus on justice itself, as a pure idea, makes justice in reality impossible.


message 12: by Lily (last edited Feb 02, 2017 08:33PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 4961 comments David wrote: "Can we at all say that harsher times suggest harsher methods? ..."

Is it possible that harsher times may also need kinder, gentler methods?

Stream of consciousness, I think of The Book Thief. The toughness, the tenderness, the risk taking involved in shielding the refugee, not unmixed with courage or fool-hardiness, depending on perspective and attitude towards providing sanctuary.


message 13: by David (last edited Feb 04, 2017 06:44AM) (new)

David | 2478 comments In 1.343b the point is made that Thrasymachus's rulers are the bosses and tyrants and the metaphor of shepherding there implies Kings should shear their sheep and not skin them. Now in book V we learn that for Socrates, in "no true Scotsman" form declares the true rulers should be philosopher kings.

in 1.339c Socrates and Thrasymachus agree that the rulers in the various states are not infallible and are sometimes capable of error - then specifically they are capable of judging what is to their advantage with infallibility.

Wouldn't this general admission that rulers are not infallible carry over to the philosopher kings? If so, then all rulers are fallible and justice is not what any ruler declares or enacts when they are mistaken. It seems the trick to being a just ruler is to not be a tyrant or make any mistakes, otherwise, all other things being equal, one ruler seems as good as another.


message 14: by Thomas (last edited Feb 04, 2017 01:06PM) (new)

Thomas | 4383 comments David wrote: "Wouldn't this general admission that rulers are not infallible carry over to the philosopher kings? If so, then all rulers are fallible and justice is not what any ruler declares or enacts when they are mistaken."

The philosopher king must be infallible, but he is also completely transcendental and outside everyday experience. The image Socrates uses when he is demonstrating the theory of "forms" is helpful:

Now, if a painter drew a standard or paradigm of what the most beautiful human being (anthropos) would be, and rendered everything in the picture satisfactorily, do you think he would be any less skilled as a painter if he could not also prove it possible for such a person (andra) to exist?

Emphatically not, Glaucon said.

Well then, are we not constructing in discourse a standard or paradigm of a good city?

Of course.
472d

That's R.E. Allen's translation, but he misses something important. The word Plato uses for the paradigm of the most beautiful human is anthropos, which includes both men and women. The word he uses for the beautiful human who actually exists is andra, which refers to a man only. An instantiation of the beautiful anthropos, the paradigm, must be a male or female individual.

(This reminds me a little of the story about love that Aristophanes tells in the Symposium, where originally human beings were "whole" and included both sexes. At some point they were separated, and now each half of a person searches for his or her other half, and we call this love. The "whole" human being is a paradigm, and a myth, but a telling one.)

I think the philosopher king is this kind of paradigm or standard. It is the ideal against which something is compared, but it doesn't actually "exist" in the same way that the things we compare against it exist. It is a useful myth.


message 15: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4383 comments Something else I wonder about: how are the less gifted citizens to recognize the Philosopher King? Or any philosopher, for that matter.

Using Socrates' analogy of sight, it is as if the citizens are all near sighted to one degree or another. How are they to know that the Philosopher can see better than they can? Can they know, or must they be convinced? How? Won't the philosopher king say "Nobody can see better than me. Believe me. I have the best sight. I'm telling you, folks." That's not a convincing argument, but how does someone with faulty vision disprove it?


Xan Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 386 comments Going back to Glaucon's argument, the unjust will fool the people into believing they are just. Socrates says at one point, I think, this is impossible because the unjust cannot act like the just. But to your point, can someone with faulty vision be fooled anyway? All of the reasoning seems based on faulty premises and could be countered effectively by someone who is willing to truly challenge Socrates.


Xan Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 386 comments I'm guessing here, but this looks like it goes back to the forms. Pure justice -- remember this is the ideal city -- can have no part of it that is unjust and cannot look unjust. The same is true of the injustice. The philosopher-king, I believe comes closest to embodying the true form. But the people are not as wise nor as smart as the philosopher-king and so do not come close to the true form. They can be fooled, maybe. There is a mixture of types in this city, and that may be the chink in argument's armor. The pure form does not exist on this plane, only impure copies, and some are more impure than others.


message 18: by Aleph (last edited Feb 05, 2017 04:29PM) (new)

Aleph | 50 comments After a week of diversion to a time-bound project, today catching up with Book 5. What most snagged my attention was the deep contradictoriness embedded in S/P's observations on "the power of the art of contradiction" in 454.a-b. – with distinction made between eristic and dialectic. S/P disparages "arguing" and favors a "wrangling" that applies "proper divisions and distinctions to the subject." This methodological privileging of rationalism/idealism straightaway disrespects the just avowed nature and significance of contradiction. Thomas in #9 on Feb 1 makes a good point about S/P's failure to take account of human nature. Go ask Xanthippe?


message 19: by Thomas (last edited Feb 05, 2017 10:32PM) (new)

Thomas | 4383 comments Xan Shadowflutter wrote: "But the people are not as wise nor as smart as the philosopher-king and so do not come close to the true form. They can be fooled, maybe. There is a mixture of types in this city, and that may be the chink in argument's armor. The pure form does not exist on this plane, only impure copies, and some are more impure than others. "

Yes, and this is what bothers me -- the suggestion that most people have no access to the truth. The truth is for philosophers only. Perhaps there is something to that, if truth is something that is learned, an art like medicine or car mechanics. We go to experts like doctors or mechanics because we need opinions about things we don't understand, and no one can be an expert in everything. But is justice like that? Is truth like that? Aren't these things open to everyone, and isn't it necessary that they be open to everyone?


message 20: by Kathy (new)

Kathy (klzeepsbcglobalnet) | 461 comments Coming late to the party again, but I would like to go back to Roger's initial comment, because I had a similar reaction when it came to the details of mating festivals followed by celibacy. Roger wrote:
I search with dying hope for some sign that Socrates's ideal city is somehow meant metaphorically. But when he works out the details of how the guardians-in-training will go out with the army to see the less dangerous battles, and be given swift horses so that the can escape any unexpected catastrophe, it's hard to see any metaphorical meaning.
In the same vein, how on earth could the mating rituals be read metaphorically as models for the way our souls operate? This is a genuine question, not rhetorical.
I'll add, in response to N.P., that lies most certainly are put forward in this section (around 459; my edition isn't clearly numbered): "...it seems [the Rulers] will have to give their subjects a considerable dose of imposition and deception for their good."


message 21: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) | 117 comments Kathy wrote: "Coming late to the party again, but I would like to go back to Roger's initial comment, because I had a similar reaction when it came to the details of mating festivals followed by celibacy. Roger ..."

I also felt like the metaphors went pretty far afield when S/P was outlining not just the mating rituals but also the selection of good children over bad, and then went on to talk about the whole communal atmosphere. Best I can make of it is what Waterfield noted, that the bad children are the bad ideas that need to be winnowed out.. plus, the whole communal structure could be referring to the unity of the parts of the psyche and body etc. Maybe.


message 22: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Adams | 327 comments Thomas wrote: (This reminds me a little of the story about love that Aristophanes tells in the Symposium, where originally human beings were "whole" and included both sexes. At some point they were separated, and now each half of a person searches for his or her other half, and we call this love. The "whole" human being is a paradigm, and a myth, but a telling one.)

Hi, all. I'm still here, just fallen woefully behind. For a visual (and Broadway musical) depiction of this myth, please see:
Hedwig and the Angry Inch


message 23: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 4961 comments Kathy wrote: "...it seems [the Rulers] will have to give their subjects a considerable dose of imposition and deception for their good."

At times, one can wonder if one is reading Plato/Socrates or Machiavelli.


message 24: by Kathy (new)

Kathy (klzeepsbcglobalnet) | 461 comments Agreed!


message 25: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 559 comments Roger wrote: " Does he really think that the decrees of a totalitarian government will revoke human nature and dispel all jealousy arising from erotic love, or acquisition of goods, or favor for one's own children? It seems so. Perhaps that is what you get when philosophers become kings--a mixture of bizarre ideas that defy all common experience and tradition, some of them ultimately good (like equality between the sexes) and some of them insanely destructive (like Socrates's cult-like city), and you don't know which is which."

I found the social engineering aspects quite chilling. It is amazing to me how up and down the millennia men come up with these sorts of schemes again and again and never learn that you can't fool or change human nature.


message 26: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1704 comments Kerstin wrote: "Roger wrote: " Does he really think that the decrees of a totalitarian government will revoke human nature and dispel all jealousy arising from erotic love, or acquisition of goods, or favor for on..."

We can give Plato a break, since he was (I guess) the first one to come up with the idea. We have a lot more experience now of coercive social engineering, and we know that it never works as intended, however good the motives and beautiful the plan.


message 27: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 559 comments Roger wrote: "We can give Plato a break, since he was (I guess) the first one to come up with the idea. We have a lot more experience now of coercive social engineering, and we know that it never works as intended, however good the motives and beautiful the plan."

Good point!


message 28: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie I have just finished the section about child rearing, selecting spouses and the disposal of unsuitable children. The rearing of children in common seems like a sensible idea, but the lottery for spouses can lead to this: But the law will allow intercourse between brothers and sisters, if the lot chances to fall that way, and if the Delphian priestess also gives it her sanction. (461c- 462c). I find that last statement frightening, not to mention the "disposal" of "unsuitable" children.


message 29: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1704 comments I'm afraid the disposal of unsuitable children was routine in ancient Greece, at the discretion of the father.


message 30: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie That is what happened to Oedipus, wasn't it? But unfortunately those infants probably didn't get saved. I wonder if more girls than boys were abandoned?
The more frightening aspect of this topic is that it continued for a long time thereafter.
I am having difficulty in believing that anyone is able to conceive a just society, or even just a city.
No matter how brilliant, we all have our limitations-including Socrates.


message 31: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1704 comments According to the Wikipedia article on infanticide, letters have survived from the ancient world instructing pregnant wives to expose the child if a girl, but let it live if a boy. I'm afraid this was common. This must have let them with a surplus of young men who could not find mates, but maybe they had wars to use them up.


message 32: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie That comment about the wars is probably correct, unfortunately.


message 33: by Lily (last edited Mar 27, 2017 08:06PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 4961 comments Roger wrote: "...This must have left them with a surplus of young men who could not find mates, ..."

This is a problem that exists in the world today.


message 34: by N.P. (last edited Mar 21, 2017 06:42PM) (new)

N.P. Ryan (npryan) 'The letter home to Rome' is one of the most famous examples; a merchant instructs his wife 'if a boy keep him, if a girl throw it away'. It was such a huge problem for the Romans they created a law attributed to Romulus that said 'All males and the first born female must be kept'. Plato does two things. On one hand he uses the ways of the time to control the problem of over population, but he also tries to prevent it occurring in other ways, such as the age of a bride having to be 20 and the woman a virgin at that point. These suggestions were a boon to women, but didn't see the light of day until they reemerged under the banner of early Christianity, which as an ideology is often said to be based on Plato.

Women, allowed to adopt any religion they wanted under Roman law and then have their husbands abide by it (what could be called a loophole from a male Roman's point of view due to how they viewed religion - only in relation to war) flocked to Christianity, which also specified no arranged marriages, as it offered them comparative protections to a husband demanding they take an abortion remedy that could easily kill them. Christianity banned contraception in all forms, thus exposure and including homosexuality as that's what is was considered at the time, tho not before the Romans made a dangerous abortion-inducing herb extinct (the name of which escapes me) through overuse.


message 35: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) | 117 comments N.P. wrote: "Christianity banned contraception in all forms, thus exposure and including homosexuality as that's what is was considered at the time, tho not before the Romans made a dangerous abortion-inducing herb extinct (the name of which escapes me) through overuse...."

Pennyroyal?


message 36: by N.P. (new)

N.P. Ryan (npryan) I looked it up today - Silphium. A type of fennel apparently.


message 37: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 4961 comments Rosemarie wrote: "...But the law will allow intercourse between brothers and sisters, if the lot chances to fall that way,..."

As I am sure you are aware, the practice of sperm donors and egg donors is increasing the risk of an analogous problem today. Some of the articles I have seen surprised me on the probabilities they have described.


message 38: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie That is a disturbing development.


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