Sept. 26, 2013
1. Plato’s life in brief – formative events (4) – why not politics
-Plato’s critique of democracy (letter)
-he believed the mediocre politics would be replaced with distinct leaders (the 30)
-oligarchy became corrupt and dysfunctional
-disappointed/horrified/shocked about Socrates’ treatment
-democracy seems like a ‘golden age’ compared to oligarchy
-he was disgusted by politics, but never ceased to consider ways to improve the
constitution of Athens (p. 8-9)
-political philosophy gave him the tool to discern what is just for a city or individual in
-Platonic philosophy – a universal philosophy – something true in all cases
-a way of living that is good for every individual regardless of age, gender, economic
-philosophy taught him that the human race will have no respite from evil until
philosophers become kings, and kings become philosophers
-Plato decides to leave Athens after Socrates’ death – travels around the Mediterranean
*-influenced by Pythagoreanism
-Plato – there’s no reason why women can’t be philosophers or rulers
*-while in Sicily, he was asked to serve as teacher to the next ruler of Syracuse – train a
‘philosophy king’ – didn’t work out
-returned to Athens to teach philosophy at his academy
*-he grew up in the shadow of the P War, left Athens broken, humiliated, etc., this had
an impact on him – lives lost, civil strife, persecutions, disunity – he becomes obsessed
with social and political unity
2. Significance of the dialogue form
-you can inject a lot of meaning into drama
Socratic method - the progression of arguments until it becomes very heated
-pedagogical value in readers having to follow question/answer form – he thinks it’s the
best way to learn – by struggling – knowledge should not just be told – we derive
knowledge through critical thought
-using different characters to hide his own position 3. Book I: 2 conventional views of justice – Cephalus vs. Polemarchus
-Glaucon & Adeimentus (Plato’s brothers designed to represent the upper society in this
dialogue) – interested in politics and learning – on the fence about justice
-go to Cephalus’ house
-as the desires of youth die with age, philosophy becomes more interesting
-what is old age like? Cephalus says those around him think old age is difficult, no sex,
abused by your youngers, no more partying. Cephalus enjoys old age because he
experiences more freedom – free from desires.
-Is it easier to be old when you’re rich? Money helps, but it’s not sufficient. Cephalus
represents money. In real life, Cephalus was not a citizen of Athens, he was from
Syracuse; made money in trade and manufacturing arms, had slaves. Cephalus has
chosen to live in Athens without the rights of a citizen – which he exchanged for making
lots of money. Comfort over citizenship. Best benefit of having a fortune (331b) –
wealth saves us from having to cheat someone against their will, avoid going to the
afterlife in fear.
1-Justice is speaking the truth and paying your debts – giving back what is due and what
Counterexample: Mentally ill man asks for his gun – is it right to give it to him? There
are exceptions, therefore ‘giving back what you owe’ can’t be justice.
-fear of consequences, fear of suffering after death – just wants the rewards associated
with being good
-Cephalus will do certain things just for the benefits that he might get – he doesn’t
actually give a damn
-Cephalus leaves and his son, Polemarchus rephrases justice: To give to each their due
and treat your friend well and your enemies badly (332d).
S – justice as a craft – what is it good for, when is it useful? – makes Polemarchus admit
that as a craft, justice doesn’t approve much, the just man looks like a thief – capable of
good or evil things.
Isn’t it the case that sometimes we make mistakes regarding who our friends are and
who are enemies are?
P – harm decreases justice
Challenge to Polemarchus:
-could a just person make others unjust?
-harming a human being or community will make him worse in his virtue?
-if all this is true, shouldn’t be concur that since harm decreases virtue/justice, then the
person harmed will be less just?
“It is never just to harm anyone.” (335e) why do we need soldiers then? Thrasymachus’ challenge