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The questions about the philosophy of life in platos the republic

The Question and the Strategy 1. After Socrates asks his host what it is like being old 328d—e and rich 330d —rather rude, we might think—Cephalus says that the best thing about wealth is that it can save us from being unjust and thus smooth the way for an agreeable afterlife 330d—331b.

  • Socrates fails to show why having a balanced soul will lead one to act justly or why psychic health amounts to justice;
  • After the training in dialectic the education system will include fifteen years of practical political training 539e-540c to prepare philosopher kings for ruling the city.

This is enough to prompt more questions, for Socrates wants to know what justice is. Predictably, Cephalus and then Polemarchus fail to define justice in a way that survives Socratic examination, but they continue to assume that justice is a valuable part of a good human life. Thrasymachus erupts when he has had his fill of this conversation 336a—band he challenges the assumption that it is good to be just. The strong themselves, on this view, are better off disregarding justice and serving their own interests directly.

See the entry on Callicles and Thrasymachus. The brothers pick up where Thrasymachus left off, providing reasons why most people think that justice is not intrinsically valuable but worth respecting only if one is not strong enough or invisible enough to get away with injustice. They want to be shown that most people are wrong, that justice is worth choosing for its own sake.

More than that, Glaucon and Adeimantus want to be shown that justice is worth choosing regardless of the rewards or penalties bestowed on the just by other people and the gods, and they will accept this conclusion only if Socrates can convince them that it is always better to be just.

So Socrates must persuade them that the just person who is terrifically unfortunate and scorned lives a better life than the unjust person who is so successful that he is unfairly rewarded as if he were perfectly just see 360d—361d. The challenge that Glaucon and Adeimantus present has baffled modern readers who are accustomed to carving up ethics into deontologies that articulate a theory of what is right independent of what is good and consequentialisms that define what is right in terms of what promotes the good Foster 1937, Mabbott 1937, cf.

Prichard 1912 and 1928. But the insistence that justice be shown to be beneficial to the just has suggested to others that Socrates will be justifying justice by reference to its consequences. In fact, both readings are distortions, predicated more on what modern moral philosophers think than on what Plato thinks. At the beginning of Book Two, he retains his focus on the person who aims to be happy.


But he does not have to show that being just or acting justly brings about happiness. The function argument in Book One suggests that acting justly is the same as being happy. But the function argument concludes that justice is both necessary and sufficient for happiness 354aand this is a considerably stronger thesis than the claim that the just are always happier than the unjust.

After the challenge Glaucon and Adeimantus present, Socrates might not be so bold. Even if he successfully maintains that acting justly is identical to being happy, he might think that there are circumstances in which no just person could act justly and thus be happy. This will nonetheless satisfy Glaucon and Adeimantus if the just are better off that is, closer to happy than the unjust in these circumstances. See also Kirwan 1965 and Irwin 1999.

He suggests looking for justice as a virtue of cities before defining justice as a virtue of persons, on the unconvincing grounds that justice in a city is bigger and more apparent than justice in a person 368c—369band this leads Socrates to a rambling description of some features of a good city 369b—427c. This may seem puzzling. The arguments of Book One and the challenge of Glaucon and Adeimantus rule out several more direct routes.

  • In the great majority of cases only one decision is possible, but there are instances—some of crucial importance—where several courses can be adopted and where the resulting readings have widely differing import;
  • Moss 2008 and Singpurwalla 2011.

But Book One rules this strategy out by casting doubt on widely accepted accounts of justice. Socrates must say what justice is in order to answer the question put to him, and what he can say is constrained in important ways. Most obviously, he cannot define justice as happiness without begging the question. But he also must give an account of justice that his interlocutors recognize as justice: Moreover, Socrates cannot try to define justice by enumerating the types of action that justice requires or forbids.

We might have objected to this strategy for this reason: But a specific argument in Book One suggests a different reason why Socrates does not employ this strategy. When Cephalus characterizes justice as keeping promises and returning what is owed, Socrates objects by citing a case in which returning what is owed would not be just 331c.

Wrongful killing may always be wrong, but is killing? Just recompense may always be right, but is recompense?

  1. There are also some miscellaneous works, including letters, verses attributed to Plato, and dialogues of contested authenticity.
  2. Socrates moves on to discuss the manner in which stories should be told 392d.
  3. He proceeds as if happiness is unsettled. This suggests that Plato believed that the theory of forms could be developed in a way that would make it immune to the objections raised against the super-exemplification view.
  4. It is essentially about the process of becoming a philosopher and looking beyond the surface of things.
  5. They should do so since they are better able to know the truth and since they have the relevant practical knowledge by which to rule.

So Book One makes it difficult for Socrates to take justice for granted. What is worse, the terms in which Socrates accepts the challenge of Glaucon and Adeimantus make it difficult for him to take happiness for granted. If Socrates were to proceed like a consequentialist, he might offer a full account of happiness and then deliver an account of justice that both meets with general approval and shows how justice brings about happiness.

But Socrates does not proceed like that. He does not even do as much as Aristotle does in the Nicomachean Ethics; he does not suggest some general criteria for what happiness is. He proceeds as if happiness is unsettled.

But if justice at least partly constitutes happiness and justice is unsettled, then Socrates is right to proceed as if happiness is unsettled.

Key Concepts of the Philosophy of Plato

In sum, Socrates needs to construct an account of justice and an account of happiness at the same time, and he needs these accounts to entail without assuming the conclusion that the just person is always happier than the unjust. Socrates can assume that a just city is always more successful or happy than an unjust city.

The assumption begs no questions, and Glaucon and Adeimantus readily grant it. If Socrates can then explain how a just city is always more successful and happy than an unjust city, by giving an account of civic justice and civic happiness, he will have a model to propose for the relation between personal justice and flourishing.

There must be some intelligible relation between what makes a city successful and what makes a person successful. 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 abiding puzzles about the Republic concerns the exact nature and grounds for the full analogy that Socrates claims.

At other times Socrates seems to say that the same account of justice must apply in both cases because the F-ness of a whole is due to the F-ness of its parts e. Again, at times Socrates seems to say that these grounds are strong enough to permit a deductive inference: At other times, Socrates would prefer to use the F-ness of the city as a heuristic for locating F-ness in persons e. Plato is surely right to think that there is some interesting and non-accidental relation between the structural features and values of society and the psychological features and values of persons, but there is much controversy about whether this relation really is strong enough to sustain all of the claims that Socrates makes for it in the Republic Williams 1973, Lear 1992, Smith 1999, Ferrari 2003.

Rather, it depends upon a persuasive the questions about the philosophy of life in platos the republic of justice as a personal virtue, and persuasive reasons why one is always happier being just than unjust.

What Justice Is 2. So his account of what justice is depends upon his account of the human soul. According to the Republic, every human soul has three parts: This is a claim about the embodied soul.

  • A Philosophical Commentary New York;
  • Plato reserves the use of force to one functional group alone, that of the guardians; and he intends to give supreme power to knowledge, represented by the philosophers, chosen from among the guardians;
  • After all, what greater concern could Socrates show for the women than to insist that they be fully educated and allowed to hold the highest offices?
  • The characteristic pleasure of money-lovers is making money.

In Book Ten, Socrates argues that the soul is immortal 608c—611a and says that the disembodied soul might be simple 611a—612athough he declines to insist on this 612a and the Timaeus and Phaedrus apparently disagree on the question. At first blush, the tripartition can suggest a division into beliefs, emotions, and desires. But Socrates explicitly ascribes beliefs, emotions, and desires to each part of the soul Moline 1978. In fact, it is not even clear that Plato would recognize psychological attitudes that are supposed to be representational without also being affective and conative, or conative and affective without also being representational.

The Republic offers two general reasons for the tripartition. First, Socrates argues that we cannot coherently explain certain cases of psychological conflict unless we suppose that there are at least two parts to the soul.

  1. In Book Ten, Socrates appeals to the principle of non-opposition when considering the decent man who has recently lost a son and is conflicted about grieving 603e—604b cf.
  2. The Lysis is an examination of the nature of friendship; the work introduces the notion of a primary object of love, for whose sake one loves other things.
  3. Socrates argues that if poets had knowledge of the truth they would want to be people who do great things rather than remain poets 599b.
  4. One drawback may be that several unjust actions may be motivated by desires that are compatible with the desire for knowledge. He distinguishes between pleasures that fill a lack and thereby replace a pain these are not genuine pleasures and those that do not fill a lack and thereby replace a pain these are genuine pleasures.
  5. In short, on the sexual level, women are considered as instruments of reproduction, not as objects of desire or pleasure.

The core of this argument is what we might call the principle of non-opposition: Because of this principle, Socrates insists that one soul cannot be the subject of opposing attitudes unless one of three conditions is met. One soul can be the subject of opposing attitudes if the attitudes oppose each other at different times, even in rapidly alternating succession as Hobbes explains mental conflict.

One soul can also be the subject of opposing attitudes if the attitudes relate to different things, as a desire to drink champagne and a desire to drink a martini might conflict.

Last, one soul can be the subject of opposing attitudes if the attitudes oppose in different respects. Initially, this third condition is obscure. The way Socrates handles putative counter-examples to the principle of non-opposition at 436c—e might suggest that when one thing experiences one opposite in one of its parts and another in another, it is not experiencing opposites in different respects Stalley 1975; Bobonich 2002, 228—31; Lorenz 2006, 23—24.

That would entail, apparently, that it is not one thing experiencing opposites at all, but merely a plurality. The most natural way of relating these two articulations of the principle is to suppose that experiencing one opposite in one part and another in another is just one way to experience opposites in different respects. But however we relate the two articulations to each other, Socrates clearly concludes that one soul can experience simultaneously opposing attitudes in relation to the same thing, but only if different parts of it are the direct subjects of the opposing attitudes.

Socrates employs this general strategy four times. In Book Four, he twice considers conflicting attitudes about what to do. First, he imagines a desire to drink being opposed by a calculated consideration that it would be good not to drink 439a—d. We might think, anachronistically, of someone about to undergo surgery.

This is supposed to establish a distinction between appetite and reason. Then he considers cases like that of Leontius, who became angry with himself for desiring to ogle corpses 439e—440b. These cases are supposed to establish a distinction between appetite and spirit.

In Book Ten, Socrates appeals to the principle of non-opposition when considering the decent man who has recently lost a son and is conflicted about grieving 603e—604b cf. Austin 2016 and when considering conflicting attitudes about how things appear to be 602c—603b cf.

Moss 2008 and Singpurwalla 2011. These show a broad division between reason and an inferior part of the soul Ganson 2009 ; it is compatible with a further distinction between two inferior parts, spirit and appetite. In the Protagoras, Socrates denies that anyone willingly does other than what she believes to be best, but in the Republic, the door is opened for a person to act on an appetitive attitude that conflicts with a rational attitude for what is best.

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How far the door is open to akrasia awaits further discussion below. First, what kinds of parts are reason, spirit, and appetite? Some scholars believe that they are merely conceptual parts, akin to subsets of a set Shields 2001, Price 2009. They would object to characterizing the parts as subjects of psychological attitudes.

Plato's Republic Questions and Answers

At face value, Socrates offers a more robust conception of parts, wherein each part is like an independent agent. Indeed, this notion of parts is robust enough to make one wonder why reason, spirit, and appetite are parts at all, as opposed to three independent subjects.

But the Republic proceeds as though every embodied human being has just one soul that comprises three parts. No embodied soul is perfectly unified: She must, as we shall see, in order to be just. But every embodied soul enjoys an unearned unity: It is not as though a person is held responsible for what his reason does but not for what his appetite does.

There are questions about what exactly explains this unearned unity of the soul see E. There are also questions about whether the arguments from conflict establish exactly three parts of the soul and see Whiting 2012.