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PLATO.docx

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Department
Philosophy
Course
PHI1101
Professor
Mark Brown
Semester
Fall

Description
A circle is a perfectly round geometric figure. -True or False? 2 + 2 = 4 -True or False? It is unjust to punish an innocent human. -True or False? With certainty we can describe the first two statements as being analytically true or objectively true. An objective truth is a truth about the world, about the way the world is regardless of what we may believe about it. -But what about the third statement? PLATO (427 BCE – 348 BCE) Metaphysics: The name for the branch of philosophy that reflects upon fundamental reality and asks, what are its characteristics, what is the nature of reality? Plato’s metaphysics puts forth the idea of two realities that can be explained as the “divided line.” World of Forms --------------------------------- World of Sense Experience World of Sense Experience: The reality of physical objects in space and time, which are objects of the senses, which are in flux, and growing, decaying, and changing. This world can be described as an impoverished and imperfect world, a world of shadows. World of Forms: Another kind of reality, a reality not subject to change, a reality of forms, a world of perfection which are objects of thought like the idea of a circle, and are not in space and time. The “forms” are eternal. It can be added that the form of something like “the chair” would be relatively low and trivial, while the forms of “Law,” “Good”, “Justice” or “the Just Society” would be near the top and very important. A circle is a perfectly round geometric figure. ○ According to Plato, this is an attempt to represent a circle. It is a fairly close approximation of a circle, but it is not a genuine circle. We cannot see true circularity we can only know it conceptually, with our reason. 2 + 2 = 4 This mathematical statement is not invented, in the eyes of Plato, rather it is discovered. Again, we know the truth of this statement via our reason. It is unjust to punish an innocent human. This statement would relate to the form of justice or the just society and it too, according to Plato, can be discovered via our reason. The Figure of Socrates Socrates was Plato’s mentor, teacher and friend. Socrates was found guilty by the state of Athens for impiety and corrupting the youth and, as a consequence, he was executed. Socrates was known as a gadfly, as was constantly challenging the beliefs that people held. Socrates’ execution led Plato to contemplate many questions, with one being: What kind of society was it that could not tolerate a Socrates in its midst? In the eyes of Plato, Socrates was probably the closest thing to a Guardian or a Philosopher-King that society had ever witnessed. The state or city of Athens that executed Socrates committed a terrible mistake, in the eyes of Plato. Because Plato thought that something was nefariously wrong with this state, he set out to provide a blueprint for a just or perfect society, which is the focus of his highly influential work, the Republic. Plato’s Republic Its main theme: the ideal or perfect state or society. Its prime concern: Justice. On one hand, justice relates to a correct ordering of society that is fair and decent. On the other hand, justice also relates to the quality within a person, the person who has a well-ordered soul. Book 1 The Republic opens with a festival about to take place, and Socrates heading into town to see how it is shaping up. He runs into some acquaintances of his, one of whom is Cephalus, an elderly man who is at the point in life that the poet’s call old age’s threshold. In other words, he doesn’t have much time left. Socrates asks Cephalus about what he has to say about being very old, and Cephalus responds that he and group of older men often get together to discuss their old age. What do they discuss? They wax nostalgically about their youth: They recall fondly the drinking parties they once had, the sex they had, and the feasts they participated in, and so on. In other words, they yearn for the days of their long-lost youth. Essentially, Cephalus admits that old age is not that bad. Socrates tells Cephalus that many people would say that he can say that old age isn’t that bad because he can take comfort in his wealth. Cephalus admits that there’s some truth to such a claim, as one of the main consequences of being wealthy is that it allows one to live an honest life and not have to cheat and deceive. Also, one can repay any debts one may have incurred. Cephalus adds that one sleeps well at night in knowing that one has not been unjust in one’s lifetime. On the other hand, if one is old and comes to the realization that one has committed many injustices in one’s life, one awakes from sleep with terror, according to him. With the mention of the likes of “unjust” and “injustice,” Socrates ears perk up. First definition of justice, courtesy the individual Cephalus: Speaking the truth and paying whatever debts one has incurred. (331c) Socrates finds this definition to be problematic. Second definition of justice from Polemarchus: It is just to harm unjust people and benefit just ones. (334d10) Another way to put this second definition is like this: It is just to harm one’s enemies and unjust to harm one’s friends. This definition is also problematic, in the eyes of Socrates. The third definition of justice comes from the Sophist philosopher, Thrasymachus. The Sophists, for a fee, taught the art of rhetoric: the art of winning an argument. Sophist: Person who uses clever but invalid arguments. Thrasymachus elaborates upon justice as this: Justice is, the same in all cities: what is advantageous for the established rule. Since the established rule is surely stronger, anyone who does the rational calculation correctly will conclude that the just is the same everywhere – what is advantageous for the stronger. (339a) Justice, according to Thrasymachus, is nothing other than what is advantageous for the stronger. Any type of social formation is characterized by the fact that those in power, the rulers, simply set the rules for others to follow. And these rules are nothing other than what is in the interests of those who are in power. As an aside: A similar view of Thrasymachus’ idea of justice (or morality reappears) in the 19 century in the thought of Karl Marx. The good life for Thrasymachus entails obeying the laws of the state when you have to, but also breaking the laws when you know you can get away with it. Thrasymachus puts forth a convincing argument that Socrates attempts to refute, but not so convincingly. Book 2 Theme: Justice and why be good? The individual Glaucon is not impressed by Socrates’ argument against Thrasymachus, and claims that he thinks Socrates charmed Thrasymachus like a snake. Glaucon: Three categories of what makes something good (357b) – 1. Things which are good for their own sake and not their consequences (intrinsic value). 2. Things which we value both for their own sake and for their consequences. 3. Those burdensome things that we value only for their consequences (instrumental value). Socrates describes justice as belonging to the finest category, the second one. Glaucon observes that the majority believe that justice falls into the third category. To make his point Glaucon provides the example of a ring with magical powers, the ring of Gyges. This example, provided by Glaucon, is intended to demonstrate that if we could do whatever we wanted, we would. Left unchecked, humans are cruel and selfish. Perhaps left unchecked, we could describe humans as being psychological egoists. Psychological egoism is the position that people in fact act only in their own interests. (As an aside: This idea of Glaucon’s resurfaces in the th thought of the 17 century thinker Thomas Hobbes.) The character Adeimantus challenges Socrates to show how justice is desirable for its own sake, to explain why justice has intrinsic value. (367d) Recall, near the beginning of Book 2, Socrates described justice as belonging to the second category of what makes something good: Justice is something which we value both for its own sake and for its consequences. By placing justice in the second category, Socrates is arguing that it has both intrinsic and instrumental value. Intrinsic value – something has intrinsic value when it is valuable for its own sake and not merely as a means to something else. Instrumental value – something has instrumental value when it is valuable as a means to some other end. Note: Adeimantus is challenging Socrates to show how justice on its own has intrinsic value. In other words, why is justice valuable for its own sake? Socrates answer to Adeimantus’ challenge Socrates approaches this challenge by noting that there is a sense justice that belongs to a single man and one that belongs to a whole city (or state). (368e) He mulls over the possibility of which sense of justice will it be easier to learn about first, and observes that justice as it pertains to the city should be easier to initially discern since a city is larger than a single man. First, Socrates provides a speculative evolutionary account of the city. As envisioned by Socrates, a city is a necessary creation that arises out of n
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