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Lecture 20

Pols 2900 Lecture 2013-1

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York University
Political Science
POLS 2900
Stephen Newman

POLS 2900B Lecture Summary 9/26/2013 In my previous lecture I discussed two of three “waves” of criticism Socrates said he must address in order to vindicate his proposal that the Guardians share wives and children. The first wave pertained to the equality of women among the Guardians. The second pertained to the arrangements for sexual reproduction outside the traditional family structure of ancient Greece. Socrates closes his reply to the second wave of criticism by arguing that the scheme he has proposed would have the added benefit of protecting against factionalism among the Guardians, since the entire Guardian class would think of itself as one family. Thus, feelings of kinship will tie them all together and ensure their unity. Plato treats filial loyalties as a serious impediment to class unity, and so he destroys the conventional family in order to make a family out of the entire ruling class. The third and final wave of criticism Socrates must address concerns the feasibility of women’s equality and the sharing of wives and children. Could these things in fact be applied in practice? Philosopher-kings Socrates’s proposal for the “slightest” alteration in existing practice that would make something like the arrangements he has defended in this book feasible is, in fact, a call to revolution. He insists that real cities will have no respite from evil “unless philosophers rule as kings... , of those whom we now call kings and rulers genuinely and adequately study philosophy” (473d). His companions find this idea ridiculous. Perhaps they, like some people today, subscribe to the notion that “those who can’t do, teach.” The statesman is a man of action, while the philosopher devotes himself to contemplation. It does seem a little absurd to put the thinker in charge when the job calls for a man of action. Not surprisingly, then, Socrates offers a defense of philosophy. He begins by exploring what it means to love a thing. This is because philosophy literally means “love of wisdom.” It emerges that love is a passion, eros, an extremely powerful desire that attaches to some object. It can be sexual passion, or a passion for food and drink, or –as in the philosopher’s case –a passion for knowledge. Pressed by Glaucon, Socrates distinguishes the philosopher from persons who love the physical manifestation of beauty and truth, such as lovers of spectacles. These persons resemble philosophers, according to Socrates, in as much as someone who loves music and fireworks really loves beautiful sounds and colors, which are representations of the idea, or Form, of Beauty. Philosophers, on the other hand, are compelled by their love of knowledge to go beyond these representations to comprehend Beauty itself. Although this notion remains somewhat obscure at this point in the dialogue, it should be clear enough that Socrates distinguishes between empirical knowledge of the world gained through our sensory experience and a form of knowledge that would unify the multiple and quite different empirical representations of, say, Beauty in a singular idea that provides a complete understanding what Beauty is. 1 In other words, Socrates would have us understand that an object of perception is considered beautiful by us because in some way it represents the idea of Beauty but is not identical with the idea itself. Thus, we perceive a melody or a painting as beautiful because these objects of perception represent to us the idea of Beauty. But the fact that melodies and paintings are unlike one another –one is an audible perception, the other a visible perception – should alert us to the fact that neither is identical with the idea of Beauty. The idea is singular while the representations of beauty are multiple and of different sorts. The idea unifies the multiplicity of sense perceptions, allowing us to see each and every beautiful object, however different they appear, as a representation of the same idea. Socrates continues his defense of the philosopher by portraying him as someone who possesses all of the virtues that his companions have come to associate with guardians. As a lover of truth and wisdom, he will prefer the pleasures of the mind to those of the body (i.e., he will be rational rather than appetitive). Because he loves knowledge rather than money or the things money buys, he will be moderate. Engaged in the contemplation of the divine (i.e., the truth that lies behind the world revealed to our five senses), his soul will not be mean-spirited or petty. Having grasped the ideas of eternity and existence, he will not think the life of the body of great importance or have a morbid fear of its death, which makes him brave. Finally, because his soul is well balanced, he will be just. Nonetheless, Adiemantus objects. He fears that he and his companions, inexperienced at the dialectical reasoning of the elenchus, have been led step by step to a conclusion they cannot accept. He says this because, in his view, the greatest number of philosophers are odd, often vice-ridden, and of no use to the city (487b-d). Socrates acknowledges that many people think philosophers are useless, but he explains that this is because they themselves are ignorant. He illustrates his point by telling a parable about the one man onboard a ship who knows astronomy and who is thought utterly useless by his shipmates because he tells them that they must study the heavens in order to navigate the ship. The knowledge sought by the philosopher seems useless to non-philosophers because they fail to grasp its importance. As for the charge that philosophers are vicious, Socrates insists that love of truth cannot produce evil (490c). Although he does not elaborate the point here, Socrates is famous for equating evil with ignorance. In his view, people who commit evil acts actually intend a good result but err through their ignorance. Virtuous acts, on the other hand, result from knowing what one is doing. Thus, so long as the philosopher remains steadfast in the pursuit of truth, he will avoid doing evil. Socrates concedes, however, that even the philosopher’s nature can be corrupted, undermining his commitment to truth.
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