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Lecture 3

POLB70 - Lecture 3 Plato continued.pdf

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Political Science
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POL B70: Classic Texts of Political Theory I: Professor Lee Lecture 3: Plato Readings for this lecture: Plato, The Republic Book V (471c – 480) Book VI (complete) Book VII (514a – 521b) Book VIII (complete) Book IX (complete) Review: The Republic (Politeia) begins with a debate about justice but quickly becomes a discussion about political leadership and the virtues required for effective political leadership over a city. Someone must rule the city, for it to act as one unit and with a common purpose. Plato asks, who should rule? Answer: III.412c: The ‘best’ – the ‘aristoi’ – should rule. It’s a matter of justice: It is just that ‘the best’ – and only ‘the best’ – should rule the city. Or, to put the same point differently, it would be unjust if anybody else ruled the city (we return to this last point later). But who counts as ‘the best’ – as aristoi? And what would the rule of the best – literally, ‘aristocracy’ (a compound word from aristos + kratos) – look like? Hint: There is a linguistic connection between ‘the best’ [aristoi] and ‘virtue’ [arête]. The ‘best’ must be distinguished by the possession of virtue. And we know that ‘justice’ must be a part of what it means to be virtuous. Plato now begins to give us an answer to this question, by describing for us the kind of person that is best suited to rule the virtuous city – the philosopher. In fact, Plato claims the kallipolis can only come into existence when (V.473c; cf. VI.499a-c) ‘philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide.’ The ‘best’ ruler, then, is what Plato calls the ‘philosopher-king.’ Philosophy is what makes one best suited to rule. Philosophy and the Philosopher-King What, then, is philosophy? And what is so special about philosophy that makes one best suited for ruling the city? II.375e-376b: ‘the philosopher is like a dog’ – the dog loves what it knows, but treats what it doesn’t know as an enemy. It separates knowledge from ignorance. Similarly, the philosopher is the lover of knowledge, but avoids ignorance. Philosophy [Gr. philosophia] as ‘the love of learning…the love of wisdom.’ 1 Philosopher must be: ‘without falsehood (485a-b)…high-minded (486e)…a fast learner (486c)…a good memory (486d)…measured and graceful (486d).’ The problem of false philosophers: But there are some who seem to be like philosophers, but are not true philosophers, but instead ‘the lovers of sights and sounds.’ (V.475d- 476b). Plato wants us to see the difference between: (1) those who love only the sight and the sound of things (2) those who love the nature of the thing itself, permanent and unchanging E.g., those who love the sight and sound of ‘beautiful things’ (1) and those who love the nature of beauty itself (2). Only philosophers can apprehend the nature of beauty; this is true knowledge of beauty. Most other people can only appreciate and understand instances of beautiful things, but not the nature of beauty itself; this is not knowledge but opinion. Then there are others who have no knowledge or opinion of either beauty itself, or instances of beautiful things; this is ignorance. Allegory of the Cave in Book VII One of the most famous images in the history of Western thought, symbolizing the nature of philosophical knowledge and the human condition. The prisoners of the cave – Socrates: ‘they’re like us.’ They see only shadows, but not the reality which produces the shadows. Only the philosopher is liberated from the chains restraining him/her in the cave and can see the world as it truly is. One who sees and knows not only good and beautiful things, but the very source or Form of goodness and beauty. This is the sort of person that should rule. The best rulers should not rule from ignorance or mere opinion, but according to reason and from full knowledge. Since only true philosophers are lovers of knowledge and have knowledge, philosophers would make the best rulers. Only they know what is true goodness and justice for the city. By contrast, lovers of opinion or ignorance are not philosophers; and for that very reason they are not qualified to rule. If you don’t govern according to reason and from full knowledge, then necessarily you must be governing from opinion or ignorance which, for Plato, is unacceptable. This is why he thinks: VI.484d: ‘It would be absurd to choose anyone but philosophers [=lovers of knowledge]’ as rulers of the ideal city. Philosophers govern only according to reason and by virtue, unlike others who govern according from ignorance or opinion and by vice. Why does Plato insist on the superiority of philosophers as rulers? Consider those who are not philosophers: 2 -Sophists -Democrats -Those driven by appetites rather than governed by reason Implication of this analysis for Plato’s city: VI.503b: Guardians must be philosopher-kings. But the money-making or auxiliary classes must be excluded from government. It is here that Plato’s deep-seated suspicion of ‘democracy’ begins to come out. ‘Democracy’ = rule [Gr. kratos] of the (poor) people/the masses [Gr. demos] Democracy can never be the best form of rule: Rule of the demos is necessarily not ‘the best’ [aristoi] because it is not according to virtue [arête]. In fact, it is the second-worst form of rule (Book VIII), only one step away from full-blown tyranny. We see why later. Some problems with Plato’s theory of philosopher-kings 1. Not everybody can be a philosopher-king; this is because true philosophers are rare. See VI.494a, VI.497b-c, VI.503-4. ‘Mass politics’ (like Athens) is a sub-optimal arrangement in Plato’s political theory; he requires clear separation from the ruling elite from the popular mass. In fact, (VI.497b) ‘None of our present constitutions is worthy of the philosophic nature.’ (especially Plato’s native Athens which is a democracy!) Two emerging models: Mass politics vs. Elite politics – which better answers the question of political leadership? Can the people at-large govern the polis better than a small elite with political expertise? 2. No true philosopher wants to rule – but that is precisely why they are best-suited to rule. Remember I.347d: ‘In a city of good men, if it came into being, the citizens would fight in order not to rule.’ VII.520d: ‘A city whose prospective rulers are least eager to rule must of necessity be most free from civil war.’ Philosophers must be ‘forced’ to rule; the least eager to rule would make the best rulers. Plato’s criticism of the retreat into private life (VII.519c-d): ‘we mustn’t allow them to do what they’re allowed to do today…to stay there and refuse to go down again to the prisoners in the cave.’ 3 3. The problem is philosophers have a bad reputation – especially in a democracy. Bad reputation: Either vicious or useless; not honored but slandered in the cities – Plato’s commentary on the incompatibility of philosophy and Athenian democracy. Inequality as central to Plato’s political doctrine: If the best (aristoi) should ideally rule the city, it also implies that there must be less-than-good members of the city who are obliged to obey the rulers. Equality is not an important value in Plato’s theory – in fact, equality is an evil for Plato. The problem is that a condition of inequality generates resentment within the city. Analogy of the ship captain and the ship (VI.487e-489a) The true ship captain is one who has learned the art of navigation; but sailors think they know better and believe that navigation is not something that can be taught. ‘They call the person who is clever at persuading or forcing the shipowner to let them rule a ‘navigator’, a ‘captain’ and ‘one who knows ships.’ VI.489a: ‘ships resemble cities and their attitude to the true philosophers.’ Is there such a thing as an ‘unqualified’ political ruler? Plato thinks yes. Political rulership is like a ‘craft’ or ‘trade’ that has to be learned and mastered. 4. If ‘the best’ truly are in control, is there is any need for law? (An analogy: Does the master-chef need a cookbook to make her dishes? Does the best doctor need a medical handbook to practice medicine? So we also can ask, Does the best ruler (the philosopher-king) need law to govern the city?) Plato introduces a conflict between two competing ideals: Rule of law vs. Rule of (the best) man Cp. Plato’s Statesman: statesmanship is a kind of ‘expert knowledge’ (258b), and the essence of statesmanship is possession of knowledge, not possession of power (292e-293a). What should you do when your rulers can’t access the ‘expert knowledge’ of statesmanship? In these non-ideal, second-best conditions, you must have laws (300e-301a). Critical shift from rule-of-man approach (personal rulership) to a de-personalized rule-of-law approach (institutional/legalistic rulership). Plato’s Typology of Souls and Constitutions Up to now, Plato has presented us with an account of the cons
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