Plato and the Perfect Society essays

The best human life is ruled by knowledge and especially knowledge ofwhat goodness is and of what is good for human beings. So, too, is the best city. For Plato, philosophers make the ideal rulers for two main reasons. First, they know what is good. Second, they do not wantto rule (esp. 520e–521b). The problem with existing cities is correspondingly twofold. They are ruled by people who are ignorant ofwhat is good, and they suffer from strife among citizens all of whom want to rule. These flaws are connected: the ignorant are marked by their desire for the wrong objects, such as honor and money, and this desire is what leads them to seek political power. All existing regimes, whether ruled by one, a few, or many, show these defects. So in the Republic Socrates does not distinguish between good and bad forms of these three kinds of regime, as the Stranger does in the Plato’s Statesman (301a–303b, cf. Aristotle, Politics III 7).

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In Plato’s explanation of an ideal state, there is an extreme emphasis on unity and harmony.

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Still, Plato’s full psychological theory is much more complicated thanthe basic division of persons would suggest. First, there aredifferent kinds of appetitive attitudes (558d–559c, 571a–572b): someare necessary for human beings; some are unnecessary but regulable(“lawful”), and some are unnecessary and entirelyuncontrollable (“lawless”). So there are in fact fivekinds of pure psychological constitutions: aristocraticallyconstituted persons (those ruled by their rational attitudes),timocratically constituted persons (those ruled by their spiritedattitudes), oligarchically constituted persons (ruled by necessaryappetitive attitudes), democratically constituted persons (ruled byunnecessary appetitive attitudes), and tyrannically constitutedpersons (ruled by lawless appetitive attitudes). The first three of these constitutions are characteristically ordered toward simple aims (wisdom, honor, and money, respectively), but the last two are not so ordered, because there is no simple aim of the unnecessary appetites, be they lawful or lawless. In effect, the democratic and tyrannical souls treat desire-satisfaction itself and the pleasure associated with it as their end. The democrat treats all desires and pleasures as equally valuable and restricts herself to lawful desires, but the tyrant embraces disordered, lawless desires and has a special passion for the apparently most intense, bodily pleasures (cf. Scott 2000, Johnstone 2013, and Johnstone 2015).

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Furthermore, the dialogues have certain characteristics that aremost easily explained by supposing that Plato is using them as vehiclesfor inducing his readers to become convinced (or more convinced thanthey already are) of certain propositions—for example, thatthere are forms, that the soul is not corporeal, that knowledge can beacquired only by means of a study of the forms, and so on. Why, afterall, did Plato write so many works (for example: Phaedo,Symposium, Republic, Phaedrus,Theaetetus, Sophist, Statesman,Timaeus, Philebus, Laws) in which onecharacter dominates the conversation (often, but not always, Socrates)and convinces the other speakers (at times, after encountering initialresistance) that they should accept or reject certain conclusions, onthe basis of the arguments presented? The only plausible way ofanswering that question is to say that these dialogues were intended byPlato to be devices by which he might induce the audience for whichthey are intended to reflect on and accept the arguments andconclusions offered by his principal interlocutor. (It is noteworthythat in Laws, the principal speaker—an unnamed visitorfrom Athens—proposes that laws should be accompanied by“preludes” in which their philosophical basis is given asfull an explanation as possible. The educative value of written textsis thus explicitly acknowledged by Plato's dominant speaker. Ifpreludes can educate a whole citizenry that is prepared to learn fromthem, then surely Plato thinks that other sorts of written texts—for example, his own dialogues—can also serve aneducative function.)

Plato explains how the ideal state must have citizens who are united in their goals.

Plato, in the republic, imagines a perfect society ruled by.

Although this is all that the city-person analogy needs to do,Socrates seems at times to claim more for it, and one of the abidingpuzzles about the Republic concerns the exact nature andgrounds for the full analogy that Socrates claims. At times Socratesseems to say that the same account of justice must apply to bothpersons and cities because the same account of any predicate‘F’ must apply to all things that are F (e.g.,434d–435a). At other times Socrates seems to say that the same accountof justice must apply in both cases because the F-ness of a whole isdue to the F-ness of its parts (e.g., 435d–436a). Again, at timesSocrates seems to say that these grounds are strong enough to permit adeductive inference: if a city’s F-ness is such-and-such, then aperson’s F-ness must be such-and-such (e.g., 441c). At other times,Socrates would prefer to use the F-ness of the city as a heuristic forlocating F-ness in persons (e.g., 368e–369a). Plato is surely right tothink that there is some interesting and non-accidental relationbetween the structural features and values of society and thepsychological features and values of persons, but there is muchcontroversy about whether this relation really is strong enough tosustain all of the claims that Socrates makes for it inthe Republic (Williams 1973, Lear 1992, Smith 1999, Ferrari2003).

Platonic idealism This article has multiple issues

Although these propositions are often identified by Plato's readersas forming a large part of the core of his philosophy, many of hisgreatest admirers and most careful students point out that few, if any,of his writings can accurately be described as mere advocacy of acut-and-dried group of propositions. Often Plato's works exhibit acertain degree of dissatisfaction and puzzlement with even thosedoctrines that are being recommended for our consideration. Forexample, the forms are sometimes described as hypotheses (see forexample Phaedo). The form of good in particular is describedas something of a mystery whose real nature is elusive and as yetunknown to anyone at all (Republic). Puzzles are raised—and not overtlyanswered—about how any of the forms can be known andhow we are to talk about them without falling into contradiction(Parmenides), or about what it is to know anything(Theaetetus) or to name anything (Cratylus). When onecompares Plato with some of the other philosophers who are often rankedwith him—Aristotle, Aquinas, and Kant, for example—hecan be recognized to be far more exploratory, incompletely systematic,elusive, and playful than they. That, along with his gifts as a writerand as a creator of vivid character and dramatic setting, is one of thereasons why he is often thought to be the ideal author from whom oneshould receive one's introduction to philosophy. His readers are notpresented with an elaborate system of doctrines held to be so fullyworked out that they are in no need of further exploration ordevelopment; instead, what we often receive from Plato is a few keyideas together with a series of suggestions and problems about howthose ideas are to be interrogated and deployed. Readers of a Platonicdialogue are drawn into thinking for themselves about the issuesraised, if they are to learn what the dialogue itself might be thoughtto say about them. Many of his works therefore give their readers astrong sense of philosophy as a living and unfinished subject (perhapsone that can never be completed) to which they themselves will have tocontribute. All of Plato's works are in some way meant to leave furtherwork for their readers, but among the ones that most conspicuously fallinto this category are: Euthyphro, Laches,Charmides, Euthydemus, Theaetetus, andParmenides.

Republic, perfect forms, Greek philosophy by Plato 427-347 BC

Most of the above ways of characterizing general ideas or concepts has been brought out severally or together in Plato's elenctic dialogues. Yet his Socrates did not in these dialogues put forward the Theory of Forms. The Theory of Forms, as first fully developed in the , is a unified formulation of these several points, but it is also more than this. For Plato now proffers an ontology of concepts. A general idea or concept, according to this new doctrine, is immutable, timeless, one over many, intellectually apprehensible and capable of precise definition at the end of a piece of pure ratiocination . As our everyday world contains people, trees, stones, planets, storms and harvests, so a second and superior, or transcendent world contains concepts-objects. As "Socrates" and "Peloponnesus" name perceptible objects here, so "justice," "equality," "unity," and "similarity" name intellectually apprehensible objects there. Furthermore, as the human mind or soul gets into contact, though only perfunctory and imperfect contact, with ordinary things and happenings in this world by sight, hearing, touch and so on, so the human or soul can get into non-sensible contact with the ideal and eternal objects of the transcendent world. We are ephemerally at home here, but we are also lastingly at home there. The immortality of the soul is proved by our ability to apprehend the everlasting concept-objects that Plato often calls the Forms. . ."