Knowing What To Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics


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The irrational and ethics

It comes about when the rich become too rich and the poor too poor c-d. Too much luxury makes the oligarchs soft and the poor revolt against them c-e. In democracy most of the political offices are distributed by lot a.


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The primary goal of the democratic regime is freedom or license b-c. People will come to hold offices without having the necessary knowledge e and everyone is treated as an equal in ability equals and unequals alike, c. The democratic individual comes to pursue all sorts of bodily desires excessively dd and allows his appetitive part to rule his soul. He comes about when his bad education allows him to transition from desiring money to desiring bodily and material goods d-e. The democratic individual has no shame and no self-discipline d. Tyranny arises out of democracy when the desire for freedom to do what one wants becomes extreme b-c.

Socrates points out that when freedom is taken to such an extreme it produces its opposite, slavery ea. The tyrant comes about by presenting himself as a champion of the people against the class of the few people who are wealthy da. The tyrant is forced to commit a number of acts to gain and retain power: accuse people falsely, attack his kinsmen, bring people to trial under false pretenses, kill many people, exile many people, and purport to cancel the debts of the poor to gain their support ea.

The tyrant eliminates the rich, brave, and wise people in the city since he perceives them as threats to his power c. Socrates indicates that the tyrant faces the dilemma to either live with worthless people or with good people who may eventually depose him and chooses to live with worthless people d. The tyrant ends up using mercenaries as his guards since he cannot trust any of the citizens d-e. Socrates is now ready to discuss the tyrannical individual a. He begins by discussing necessary and unnecessary pleasures and desires b-c.

Those with balanced souls ruled by reason are able to keep their unnecessary desires from becoming lawless and extreme db.

The tyrannical person is mad with lust c and this leads him to seek any means by which to satisfy his desires and to resist anyone who gets in his way dd. Some tyrannical individuals eventually become actual tyrants b-d. Tyrants associate themselves with flatterers and are incapable of friendship ea.

Knowing what to do: imagination, virtue, and platonism in ethics

Applying the analogy of the city and the soul, Socrates proceeds to argue that the tyrannical individual is the most unhappy individual c ff. Like the tyrannical city, the tyrannical individual is enslaved c-d , least likely to do what he wants d-e , poor and unsatisfiable ea , fearful and full of wailing and lamenting a. The individual who becomes an actual tyrant of a city is the unhappiest of all ba.

Socrates concludes this first argument with a ranking of the individuals in terms of happiness: the more just one is the happier b-c. He proceeds to a second proof that the just are happier than the unjust d. Socrates distinguishes three types of persons: one who pursues wisdom, another who pursues honor, and another who pursues profit dc. Socrates proceeds to offer a third proof that the just are happier than the unjust b. He begins with an analysis of pleasure: relief from pain may seem pleasant c and bodily pleasures are merely a relief from pain but not true pleasure b-c.

The only truly fulfilling pleasure is that which comes from understanding since the objects it pursues are permanent b-c. Socrates adds that only if the rational part rules the soul, will each part of the soul find its proper pleasure da. He concludes the argument with a calculation of how many times the best life is more pleasant than the worst: seven-hundred and twenty nine ae. Socrates discusses an imaginary multi-headed beast to illustrate the consequences of justice and injustice in the soul and to support justice c ff. Thereafter, Socrates returns to the subject of poetry and claims that the measures introduced to exclude imitative poetry from the just city seem clearly justified now a.

Poetry is to be censored since the poets may not know which is; thus may lead the soul astray b. Socrates proceeds to discuss imitation. He explains what it is by distinguishing several levels of imitation through the example of a couch: there is the Form of the couch, the particular couch, and a painting of a couch ab. The products of imitation are far removed from the truth ec. Poets, like painters are imitators who produce imitations without knowledge of the truth ea.

Socrates argues that if poets had knowledge of the truth they would want to be people who do great things rather than remain poets b. Now Socrates considers how imitators affect their audiences c.

Virtue is Knowledge

He uses a comparison with optical illusions c to argue that imitative poetry causes the parts of the soul to be at war with each other and this leads to injustice cb. The most serious charge against imitative poetry is that it even corrupts decent people c. He concludes that the just city should not allow such poetry in it but only poetry that praises the gods and good humans ea. Imitative poetry prevents the immortal soul from attaining its greatest reward c-d.

Socrates points out that we cannot understand the nature of the soul if we only consider its relation to the body as the present discussion has b-d. Socrates finally describes the rewards of justice by first having Glaucon allow that he can discuss the rewards of reputation for justice b-d. Glaucon allows this since Socrates has already defended justice by itself in the soul. Socrates indicates justice and injustice do not escape the notice of the gods, that the gods love the just and hate the unjust, and that good things come to those whom the gods love ea.

Socrates lists various rewards for the just and punishments for the unjust in this life a-e. He proceeds to tell the Myth of Er that is supposed to illustrate reward and punishment in the afterlife b. The souls of the dead go up through an opening on the right if they were just, or below through an opening on the left if they were unjust d.

The various souls discuss their rewards and punishments ea. Socrates explains the multiples by which people are punished and rewarded a-b. The souls of the dead are able to choose their next lives d and then they are reincarnated e. Socrates ends the discussion by prompting Glaucon and the others to do well both in this life and in the afterlife c-d. The Republic has acquired the recognition of a classic and seminal work in political philosophy.

It is often taught in courses that focus on political theory or political philosophy. Moreover, in the dialogue Socrates seems primarily concerned with what is an ethical issue, namely whether the just life is better than the unjust life for the individual. These two observations raise two issues. The first is whether the Republic is primarily about ethics or about politics. If it is primarily about ethics then perhaps its recognition as a seminal political work is unwarranted.

Moreover, considering it a political work would be somewhat mistaken. The second issue is that even if thinking of it as a classic in political philosophy is warranted, it is very difficult to situate it in terms of its political position. Interpreters of the Republic have presented various arguments concerning the issue of whether the dialogue is primarily about ethics or about politics.

In Book II, he proposes to construct the just city in speech in order to find justice in it and then to proceed to find justice in the individual a. Thus, he seems to use a discussion in political matters as a means by which to answer what is essentially an ethical question. But, Socrates also spends a lot of time in the dialogue on political matters in relation to the question of political justice such as education, the positions and relations among political classes, war, property, the causes of political strife and change of regimes, and several other matters.

Each of these could provide important contributions to political philosophy.


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Another relevant consideration is that there are several indications in the dialogue that the aim in the discussion is more pressing than the means the just city. Thus, the argument goes, Socrates does not seem primarily interested in discussing political philosophy but ethics instead.

Another related argument indicates that the discussion entails great doubts about whether the just city is even possible. Socrates claims this along with the idea that the function of the just city in the argument is to enable the individual to get a better idea of justice and injustice b-d, a-b. Thus, it is very difficult for us to conclude that Socrates takes the political discussion as seriously as he does the moral question see Annas, Julia. Platonic Ethics, Old and New. Other interpreters indicate that the Republic is essentially about both ethics and politics among others see Santas, Gerasimos.

Plato: Political Philosophy ; Reeve C. Philosopher Kings. Thus, these social reforms seem to be developed for their own sake. In Book VIII he criticizes democracy as an unjust regime and thus he seems to launch a critique against Athenian democracy. He also adopts several measures in the just city, which were part of the Spartan constitution. Like Spartan citizens, the guardians of the just city are professional soldiers whose aim is the protection of the city, the guardians eat together, and they have their needs provided for by other classes.

But unlike Sparta, the just city has philosophers as rulers, a rigorous system of education in intellectual matters, and it is not timocratic or honor loving. Thus, the argument suggests, in addition to the main ethical question the dialogue is also about political philosophy. Another position is that even though the discussion of political matters is instrumental to addressing the main ethical question of the dialogue, Socrates makes several important contributions to political philosophy.

One such contribution is his description of political regimes in Book VIII and his classification of them on a scale of more or less just. Another such contribution is his consideration of the causes of political change from one political regime to another.

Moreover, Socrates seems to raise and address a number of questions that seem necessary in order to understand political life clearly. Thus, according to this view, it is warranted to regard the Republic as a work on political philosophy and as a seminal work in that area.

Timothy Chappell

A further relevant consideration has to do with how one understands the nature of ethics and political philosophy and their relation. Since modernity, it becomes much easier to treat these as separate subjects. Modern ethics is more focused on determining whether an action is morally permissible or not whereas ancient ethics is more focused on happiness or the good life. Thus, ethics and political philosophy are more closely linked for ancient thinkers than they may be for us since modernity.

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Ethics and political philosophy seem to be different sides of the same coin. There are several competing candidates. The Republic entails elements of socialism as when Socrates expresses the desire to achieve happiness for the whole city not for any particular group of it b and when he argues against inequalities in wealth d. There are also elements of fascism or totalitarianism. Several commentators focused on these elements to dismiss the Republic as a proto-totalitarian text see Popper, Karl.

Knowing What To Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics Knowing What To Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics
Knowing What To Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics Knowing What To Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics
Knowing What To Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics Knowing What To Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics
Knowing What To Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics Knowing What To Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics
Knowing What To Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics Knowing What To Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics
Knowing What To Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics Knowing What To Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics
Knowing What To Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics Knowing What To Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics

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