Crawl Across the Ocean

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

102. The Republic, Part 1c

Note: This post is the one hundred and second in a series about government and commercial ethics. Click here for the full listing of the series. The first post in the series has more detail on the book 'Systems of Survival' by Jane Jacobs which inspired this series.

Note also: this is a continuation from post 100 and post 101.

Note finally: Quotes are taken from this version of The Republic

After Glaucon and Adeimantus make their case for justice being just a means rather than an end in itself, they ask Socrates to convince them justice is more than that, and to show them how living a just life makes a man good and living an unjust life makes a man evil, regardless of what benefits or honours might flow from just or unjust behaviour.

Socrates suggests that they search for an answer by examining the state, rather than the individual since the truth will be easier to find in the larger case. What follows is the longest section of The Republic, where Socrates outlines the ideal state.

Initially, Socrates constructs a small state which is enough to satisfy man's basic needs. But Glaucon argues that people need more than just their basic needs, they need comfort as well,

"you should give them the ordinary conveniences of life. People who are to be comfortable are accustomed to lie on sofas, and dine off tables, and they should have sauces and sweets in the modern style."

Socrates sees where this simple, but potentially unlimited desire for comfort will lead,

"Yes, I said, now I understand: the question which you would have me consider is, not only how a State, but how a luxurious State is created; and possibly there is no harm in this, for in such a State we shall be more likely to see how justice and injustice originate. In my opinion the true and healthy constitution of the State is the one which I have described. But if you wish also to see a State at fever-heat, I have no objection. For I suspect that many will not be satisfied with the simpler way of life. They will be for adding sofas, and tables, and other furniture; also dainties, and perfumes, and incense, and courtesans, and cakes, all these not of one sort only, but in every variety; we must go beyond the necessaries of which I was at first speaking, such as houses, and clothes, and shoes: the arts of the painter and the embroiderer will have to be set in motion, and gold and ivory and all sorts of materials must be procured."

Then we must enlarge our borders; for the original healthy State is
no longer sufficient.


And the country which was enough to support the original inhabitants
will be too small now, and not enough?


Then a slice of our neighbours' land will be wanted by us for pasture
and tillage, and they will want a slice of ours, if, like ourselves,
they exceed the limit of necessity, and give themselves up to the
unlimited accumulation of wealth?


And so we shall go to war, Glaucon. Shall we not?"

(emphasis added)

From the desire for luxury, from always wanting more than what is currently had, comes conflict, and with conflict, the need for guardians to protect the state.

Note: Der Spiegel had an interesting interview with economist/philosopher Tomas Sedlacek the other day, "Greed is the Beginning of Everything," which touched on this theme repeatedly.

Socrates explains that the guardians must have a somewhat philosophical nature, since they must welcome knowledge, since they will need to be gentle with their friends whom they know, while remaining ruthless with enemies, who are strangers.

Socrates identifies loyalty as a primary job requirement for guardians,
"Neither, if we mean our future guardians to regard the habit of quarrelling among themselves as of all things the basest, should any word be said to them of the wars in heaven, and of the plots and fightings of the gods against one another, for they are not true."

A little later on, he also notes that lying is not always a bad thing,
"the lie in words is in certain cases useful and not hateful; in dealing with enemies--that would be an instance; or again, when those whom we call our friends in a fit of madness or illusion are going to do some harm, then it is useful and is a sort of medicine or preventive"

Later on, Socrates emphasizes the importance of only people with the right nature being in the guardian class (and vice-versa),
"Citizens, we shall say to them in our tale, you are brothers, yet God has framed you differently. Some of you have the power of command, and in the composition of these he has mingled gold, wherefore also they have the greatest honour; others he has made of silver, to be auxiliaries; others again who are to be husbandmen and craftsmen he has composed of brass and iron; and the species will generally be preserved in the children. But as all are of the same original stock, a golden parent will sometimes have a silver son, or a silver parent a golden son. And God proclaims as a first principle to the rulers, and above all else, that there is nothing which they should so anxiously guard, or of which they are to be such good guardians, as of the purity of the race. They should observe what elements mingle in their offspring; for if the son of a golden or silver parent has an admixture of brass and iron, then nature orders a transposition of ranks, and the eye of the ruler must not be pitiful towards the child because he has to descend in the scale and become a husbandman or artisan, just as there may be sons of artisans who having an admixture of gold or silver in them are raised to honour, and become guardians or auxiliaries. For an oracle says that when a man of brass or iron guards the State, it will be destroyed."

(emphasis added)

Socrates emphasizes that in order for guardians to be true guardians, they must renounce greed and a desire for material possessions,
"In the first place, none of them should have any property of his own beyond what is absolutely necessary; neither should they have a private house or store closed against any one who has a mind to enter; their provisions should be only such as are required by trained warriors, who are men of temperance and courage; they should agree to receive from the citizens a fixed rate of pay, enough to meet the expenses of the year and no more; and they will go to mess and live together like soldiers in a camp. 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, they will pass their whole life in much greater terror of internal than of external enemies, and the hour of ruin, both to themselves and to the rest of the State, will be at hand."

Later on, Socrates defines justice as each man sticking to his own line of work and not meddling in areas he is not suited for.

"Think, now, and say whether you agree with me or not. Suppose a carpenter to be doing the business of a cobbler, or a cobbler of a carpenter; and suppose them to exchange their implements or their duties, or the same person to be doing the work of both, or whatever be the change; do you think that any great harm would result to the State?

Not much.

But when the cobbler or any other man whom nature designed to be a trader, having his heart lifted up by wealth or strength or the number of his followers, or any like advantage, attempts to force his way into the class of warriors, or a warrior into that of legislators and guardians, for which he is unfitted, and either to take the implements or the duties of the other; or when one man is trader, legislator, and
warrior all in one, then I think you will agree with me in saying that this interchange and this meddling of one with another is the ruin of the State.

Most true.

Seeing then, I said, that there are three distinct classes, any meddling of one with another, or the change of one into another, is the greatest harm to the State, and may be most justly termed evil-doing?


And the greatest degree of evil-doing to one's own city would be termed by you injustice?


This then is injustice; and on the other hand when the trader, the auxiliary, and the guardian each do their own business, that is justice, and will make the city just."

The final key element is that Socrates now explains that, like the state which has a philosopher at its head, loyal guardians protecting it and supporting the ruler, and a mass of citizens who seek to satisfy their desires for comfort and convenience, a man is the same, with a tri-partite nature, and that, like the state, a man is just when the rational part of his brain is in control of his material desires, with his spirit supporting the rational part of his brain in suppressing the material desires of his body from interfering with his pursuit of justice.

"now model the form of a multitudinous, many-headed monster, having a ring of heads of all manner of beasts, tame and wild, which he is able to generate and metamorphose at will.


Suppose now that you make a second form as of a lion, and a third of a man, the second smaller than the first, and the third smaller than the second.


And now join them, and let the three grow into one.


Next fashion the outside of them into a single image, as of a man, so that he who is not able to look within, and sees only the outer hull, may believe the beast to be a single human creature.


And now, to him who maintains that it is profitable for the human creature to be unjust, and unprofitable to be just, let us reply that, if he be right, it is profitable for this creature to feast the multitudinous monster and strengthen the lion and the lion-like qualities, but to starve and weaken the man, who is consequently liable to be dragged about at the mercy of either of the other two; and he is not to attempt to familiarize or harmonize them with one another--he ought rather to suffer them to fight and bite and devour one another.

Certainly, he said; that is what the approver of injustice says.

To him the supporter of justice makes answer that he should ever so speak and act as to give the man within him in some way or other the most complete mastery over the entire human creature. He should watch over the many-headed monster like a good husbandman, fostering and cultivating the gentle qualities, and preventing the wild ones from growing; he should be making the lion-heart his ally, and in common care of them all should be uniting the several parts with one another and with himself.

So, to summarize Plato's argument:

A state functions best when the three classes each stick to their own work. A philosopher to rule with wisdom, a guardian class to serve with honour and courage, shunning all material possession and desire, and a trading class to pursue material comfort and provide for the basic needs of the state. Mixing people into the wrong tasks is, by definition, injustice, and will lead to the destruction of the state.

And a man is the same, his sense of reason must be the primary decision maker, his spirit or passion acting in service of reason, and the insatiable desire for material wealth and comfort must be tamed and controlled so that it does not exceed it's natural domain.

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