POL200Y1Y L5101 1
L4: Republic I
May 21, 2009
•Republic: 2 Passages on Ethics + Politics
•Conversation with Cephalus
•Conversation with Polemarchus
•Foreshadowing later themes
•From: Nicias' speech
oHe brings out the quandaries of democratic leadership. How can leadership
exist when those democratic leaders emphasize such inequality? This character
trumpets his importance. Hence, he is the perfect child of empire. If Athens had
displayed its wealth, then culturally, domestic Athens would value that which
values self-interest. The human good would become valuing superiority over
oThe human passions discussed with regards to Corcyra, which the Athenians
had channeled outwards now appear to be returning to Athens and Alcibiades
represents this. Democracy (and by extension human nature) succumbed.
oAlcibiades case shows that imperialism erodes democratic equality at home.
The ideals of manly courage have also eroded free speech. If democrats are the
imperialists, imperialism in effect manages to tear down democratic equality.
•Constraints of Empire
oAlcibiades argues that they cannot stop the rollercoaster of empire.
"Household stewards." They are simply forced to consider their expansion. Hence
the democrats moved forward with the idea that they were conquering so as to
increase freedom. They are forced to fight so as not to be enslaved.
oAccording to Thucydides, democracy at war (esp. imperialistic democracy) is
very unstable regime.
oIn his second speech, Nicias tried to lie/deceive the Athenians in order to get
them to go back on their decision; yet in this case, there is no democratic advisable
decision. Speech has become highly distorted and no longer erects healthy form of
political action or binding people to patriotic ties to the city. This is a breakdown of
all the elements of democracy which Thucydides espoused.
oThis is a critique of democracy of war
POL200Y1Y L5101 2
•Plato tried to construct a work which would be meaningful for all time
•Plato's character Socrates is trying to explain why justice is beneficial to the just and
why justice leads to greater happiness for the just.
oSocrates is trying to defend the claims of justice so as to justify the just way
•He recognizes that political life and individual justice are closely entwined
oEthics and politics are very closely related
oThey are in a sense, the same subject
•The politics attributed to Socrates suggests that politics must be about educating the
soul and making it healthy
oStatecraft MUST equal soul craft
oThe polis is a form of collective organization that only makes sense if it is
dedicated to producing flourishing lives
oBut what is a flourishing political life? It is closely intertwined with
membership in the political community
•His theory is both traditional and revolutionary
He defends the traditional virtues (e.g. justice) against any new
He not only places the virtues on a deeper, newer basis, but he also
performs a thought experiment (a political utopia) that is unattainable given
our understanding of the human condition.
•Plato is a careful observer of political realities
•His ideal political community is not a blueprint for political action
oHe attempted to get people thinking what people are capable of and what
politics are for (the wellbeing of individuals). What does this wellbeing consist in?
Two Passages on Ethics and Politics
•End of book seven
oThe good young man
oHe can't give any account of his rationale/answers. He has been taught by
can't make sense of the answers he parrots. He cannot justify his beliefs. He had
no firm ethical convictions. Perhaps these terms are meaningless or subjective.
Socrates tries to offer a spirited defense of justice. That there are answers to
questions such as what is the noble/just.
•Recall that in the Corcyra passage ethical terms had become political trouble
•They tried to contend that morality and law were simple human conventions
POL200Y1Y L5101 3
oSocrates tried to defend justice showing that it is part of the natural order.
Hence the attack that justice was merely a human convention would be
•What does this have to do with political theory?
oPolitical stability has to do with the ethical character of individuals
oMore important, the psychology of the individual depend on the
teaching provided by the city
•The individual and the city are closely connected
oSocrates argues that the city educates the citizens to be just the sort of people
it wants them to be
oSocieties reproduce themselves in character and psychology
Hence why Alcibiades was emphasized
•The city had encouraged certain behaviors in him
oHence what sort of teachings are necessary to produce well being?
•Hence it is important to be educated in a city where the leaders themselves may
convene correct ethical beliefs
oHe tries to give a glimpse into an ideal political order through
arguing that a good city is one which argues its citizens to virtue
independent of what anyone may think of it
•This conversation takes place before the end of the Peloponnesian War
•Glaucon makes the decisions in what to do and perhaps Socrates had come down to
the Piraeus in order to provide wisdom to Glaucon
•Glaucon may have had tyrannical tendencies and hence Socrates tried to educate
oPerhaps he is another child of democracy like Alcibiades
oPlato is worried that talented young individuals, educated by Athenian
imperialism, to pursue injustice in the city
oThe republic may be aimed at chiefly educating talent individuals capable of
philosophy and politics but are vulnerable to the education provided by Athens
Conversation with Cephalus
•We find that he is unfavorable. He is a foreign citizen here in Athens in order to
oBut he says that character and improving character is what matters and not
oHence Socrates probes wealth and character and asks Cephalous: what is the
greatest good his wealth has brought him? (330d)
oWhat has his wealth given him? Has it actually given him anything good?