plato the republic-exam question about virtue.docx

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Political Science
Clifford Orwin

Divisions of the State The principle of specialization thus leads to a stratified society. Plato believed that the ideal state comprises members of three distinct classes: rulers, soldiers, and the people. Although he officially maintained that membership in the guardian classes should be based solely upon the possession of appropriate skills, Plato presumed that future guardians will typically be the offspring of those who presently hold similar positions of honor. If citizens express any dissatisfaction with the roles to which they are assigned, he proposed that they be told the "useful falsehood" that human beings (like the metals gold, silver, and bronze) possess different natures that fit each of them to a particular function within the operation of the society as a whole. (Republic 415a) Notice that this myth (Gk. μσθος [mythos]) cuts both ways. It can certainly be used as a method of social control, by encouraging ordinary people to accept their position at the bottom of the heap, subject to governance by the higher classes. But Plato also held that the myth justifies severe restrictions on the life of the guardians: since they are already gifted with superior natures, they have no need for wealth or other external rewards. In fact, Plato held that guardians should own no private property, should live and eat together at government expense, and should earn no salary greater than necessary to supply their most basic needs. Under this regime, no one will have any venal motive for seeking a position of leadership, and those who are chosen to be guardians will govern solely from a concern to seek the welfare of the state in what is best for all of its citizens. Having developed a general description of the structure of an ideal society, Plato maintained that the proper functions performed by its disparate classes, working together for the common good, provide a ready account of the need to develop significant social qualities or virtues.  Since the rulers are responsible for making decisions according to which the entire city will be governed, they must have the virtue of wisdom (Gk. ζοφια [sophía]), the capacity to comprehend reality and to make impartial judgments about it.  Soldiers charged with the defense of the city against external and internal enemies, on the other hand, need the virtue of courage (Gk. ανδρεια [andreia]), the willingness to carry out their orders in the face of danger without regard for personal risk.  The rest of the people in the city must follow its leaders instead of pursuing their private interests, so they must exhibit the virtue of moderation (Gk. ζφφρζσνη [sophrosúnê]), the subordination of personal desires to a higher purpose. When each of these classes performs its own role appropriately and does not try to take over the function of any other class, Plato held, the entire city as a whole will operate smoothly, exhibiting the harmony that is genuine justice. (Republic 433e) We can therefore understand all of the cardinal virtues by considering how each is embodied in the organization of an ideal city. Rulers Wise Decisions Soldiers Courageous Actions Farmers, Merchants, and other People (Moderated Desires) Justice itself is not the exclusive responsibility of any one class of citizens, but emerges from the harmonious interrelationship of each component of t
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