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
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
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
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
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.