Monday, November 24, 2008

Plato's Republic

by Hanno

As part of my series setting up my talk on Dec. 5th, I will describe some key features of Plato's thought in his masterpiece, The Republic. Last time, we saw how Plato understood the origins of war and the need for an army. Earlier, he set up the origins of the state in the production of material goods and the need for the division of labor. The people who produce goods are allowed to become wealthy, but not to the extent that they cease to have a motive to work. The poor are allowed to be poor, but not to the extent that they become unable to work. Crafts will be mastered, and many will hire themselves out as wage laborers, those who do not or cannot master a craft. All of these people desire the luxuries of life, and as we saw, that desire has no limit. Using money as a symbol for this desire, the desire for money also having no limit, Plato calls these producers/consumers money-lovers. This group of people will be the largest part of the state.

The army is to be made of professional soldiers, in some sense volunteers. A good part of the beginning of the republic goes into the proper education of a soldier class. They need to be loyal to the people they defend, yet full of martial spirit towards the enemies of the state. For this group of people, to use the common expression, it is not the size of the dog in the fight that is important, but the size of the fight in the dog. The will to fight the right enemies is everything. Hence the education Plato conceives, the developing of the right habits, shapes those who will defend the state. These people do not seek wealth. They seek honor, and hence are called "honor-lovers." You do not need to reward them with money for a job well done, but with honor. Parades, medals and praise go a long way. Indeed, this can quickly reach contempt for those that value money above honor. Interestingly, as women have the same soul structures as men, Plato thinks women can love honor as well, and hence make excellent soldiers. In Plato's Republic, women are to be found as part of all three classes.

Some of the honor loving soldier class will show dedication to protecting the city above all else. From these, the leaders of the society will emerge. So the leaders come from the soldier class. Knowing what is in the interest of the society, who the enemies properly are, and how to accomplish the goals we might call wisdom. Wise leaders know what is best for the state. The key feature of the leaders is that they consistently and throughout their live put the good of the community above their own. Knowledge of that good will the essential to that task. Hence, the leaders will love wisdom as they love the society. It is the lovers of wisdom, then, that will lead the state, and develop wise laws and practices. Of course, the love of wisdom, in ancient Greek, is philos sophia, or philosophers.


ce said...

Of course, the love of wisdom, in ancient Greek, is philos sophia, or philosophers.

Lovers of wisdom, eh? Sounds like a new age band. And we all know that stuff is s---.

Matthew Butkus said...

Oddly enough, I understand the latest JFP has a listing for "Philosopher King".

Ashley E. said...

Wow that's really cool. I actually understand.