Saturday, July 28, 2012

Justice, the Individual and the State in Plato's Republic

Plato's Republic is a work of dialectic fiction in which Socrates and a group of gentlemen discuss the questions: “What is justice?” and “How do you obtain a utopia?”. These questions focus on two key things, the individual and the state. In The Republic, Plato concludes that a utopia can be reached if each individual is just and virtuous within themselves and if the state, as a whole is just and virtuous. Plato was able to theoretically and philosophically create a utopian state. In Plato's philosophical work, The Republic, it is seen that everything works well on paper, but when put into practice it is seen that a utopian state, a just and virtuous state with just and virtuous individuals is an idea that goes against human nature, and ultimately to try to achieve such a state goes against free will.

Plato's Republic begins in Book I, which tries to answer the question, “What is justice?”. This is an interesting question, that despite the groups best efforts, is still left unanswered going into Book II. The characters in The Republic traverse through many possible definitions of justice, ultimately not reaching a single conclusion. Author William Bennett states that the meaning of Plato's “Justice” would come closer to our modern notion of “Integrity” (Book of Virtues, 657). In recognizing this, it can be seen and better understood as to why a definition of justice could not be reached. As in modern times, though on paper it may be claimed that the definition of integrity is known, in practice and reality, integrity is a myth. The leaders of the state, the ones who are supposed to hold the most integrity in fact hold the least, and let go of the little they have by performing acts of infidelity, theft, bribery, gambling, etc. This to is seen in the individual, this lack of integrity, this confusion as to what justice actually is.
As the dialogue moves into Book II, the question, “What is justice?” is still left widely unanswered. Socrates moves from, “What is justice in the individual” to “What is justice in the state.” As it is, justice, he argued, is to be seen more easily in the state than in the individual. It was hoped that they would find justice by looking at it from a different, larger, angle. In this, they began to try to construct a utopian state and tried to calculate everything such a state would require.
In the beginnings of the construct of the state it was stated that 'A state arises out of the want of men.' It is said that when 'these partners and helpers are gathered together in one habitation the body of inhabitants is termed a State. So, minimally, a State is a small group of people of whom one provides food while the other provides shelter. A state then, begins as a place without business or government. A state starts free of power and thus free of any form of corruption. People in this stage of State want sustenance, not yet is power or money or more of anything desired or required.
The true creator of the State is necessity. It is seen here that it is not in human nature, and may not be within the power of human beings, to exist wholly by themselves, as individuals, but instead require other human beings to help provide for them what they cannot provide for themselves as they focus on providing one product or service. It is in this that we can see the beginnings of the corruption that is human nature, and the choices driven by free will, where one will give as little for as much as they can. Whether it be a basic bartering system or an advanced monetary system, person A will always give person B one loaf of bread for three dozen tomatoes, if person A feels that they can get away with it. It's not a matter of what's fair or what's good, it's a matter of how much you can accumulate for you and your own, despite what others do or do not have.
It is said, in The Republic, that those participating in the thought experiment are trying to establish a luxurious state, though it seemed at first that they were attempting to form a state that would help them see the definition of justice. Luxury takes away from justice, as it offers comfort and contentment and these things give way to boredom, and the bored are less likely to be just, because being just is less dramatic or interesting. People want some kind of amusement. They will sell the soul of the person they love to achieve a quick high, a cheap shot of adrenaline that will leave them alone and thirsty for more.
It is said in The Republic that 'the territory of our State must be enlarged; and hence will arise war between us and our neighbors.' As is well known, Karl Popper asserted in his book The Open Society and Its Enemies (1943) that Plato advocates in The Republic a dangerous kind of political extremism characterized by a totalitarian conception of justice (Society, 195). This political extremism is seen in his acceptance of the 'necessity' of a luxurious state and in his saying that war is necessary. According to Plato, there is no justice in murder, but there is justice in the death of both citizens of Plato's state and that of the opposing state in the name of land so that a State may be 'luxurious.' Karl Popper's analysis of The Republic as extremism is most correct, and it can also be seen that Plato's extremism is dangerous, as it would justify people's murderous actions.
There is yet neither a definition for justice nor a utopian state and already Socrates and company have allowed for a corrupt and ever fragile economic system to be established and have also called for war, the extension of land and of luxury. It is stated in Book IV that the State must be judged as a whole. Under this credo, it is not about the individual, but about the State. Countless numbers of individuals can starve in the back streets of a State, according to this theory, just as long as over all the State has the ability to look beautiful, to look good. The book has moved from searching for what definition of justice is in the individual to what justice is in the State to now being to the point that the conversation is not about either the just individual nor the just state, but instead, it is about the State that has to look good as a whole, instead of having all the individuals that came together to make up the State looking good.
The discussion then moves into why a state needs to be neither too wealthy, nor suffering of poverty. An analogy that is used is that of an artist. They say that if an artist is too wealthy he will become careless and that if he is too poor he won't be able to afford the tools that he needs. It is said in The Republic, “Wealth, and poverty; one is the parent of luxury and indolence,, and the other of meanness and viciousness, and both of discontent.” The economic philosophy of The Republic at this point says that a state and an individual need to find a balance. That wealth breeds indifference and indifference can lead to the downfall of both the state and the individual; while a person who is poverty stricken will find themselves out of luck and will blame it on other people. This will lead to them being mean and vicious to people whom do not deserve it. Whether discussing the State or the Individual, it is good to practice moderation as wealth is a corrupting force.
The next topic of the discussion moves back to the individual. More so, the individual's affect on the State. It says that the power of each individual in the state to do his own work competes with other political virtues, wisdom, temperance, and courage. The virtue, the necessity of competition, is justice. This builds off the prior point of a balance between wealth and poverty. No person should lie, cheat, steal or monopolize. In this theoretical utopia of Plato's, people do not act for more money than they need. This means that the husbandman does not attempt to be a shoemaker, and the shoemaker does not care to be a husbandman. Yet, in the reality of human nature, it can be seen that a husbandman will make shoes if it benefits him and allows him to afford some kind of luxury, such as a bigger house. It is also seen in the reality of human nature that the politician will lie and cheat so that he may be a politician, so that he may make the pay of a politician, regardless of what is good or important to or for his constituents.
Rather than extending the parallel between the city and the individual soul that takes center stage throughout the preceding material, Socrates turns to consider exclusively the city-state in Books V-VII (“The Transformation of Plato's Republic,” 293). In Book V Plato begins to discuss the family. It may be in the institutions of the family that Plato had the best philosophies. He is also able to use the organization of the family to help establish the state. It is said in The Republic that convention should not be permitted to stand in the way of a higher good. This is a good philosophy on all levels. This is a good philosophy for the State, the Individual and for the family. Convention leads too often to complacency and complacency in an institution is not a good philosophy, as the world is ever-changing, the individual and the state that they inhabit must always be willing to change, grow and adapt.
To end Book V the dialogue asks the question, “Who then are the true philosophers?” The answer given is, “Those who are lovers of the vision of truth.” If, however, philosophy is in the business of Truth and the art of Freedom, and truth trumps freedom as Plato claims, then clearly the famed 'quarrel' between them must lead to a divorce (Classical bulletin, 64). The true philosophers are lovers of the vision of truth. The true artists are lovers of freedom. By juxtaposing these two things you can see that an artist can be a philosopher and vice versa as it is possible to go beyond the vision of truth and, through the freedom that an artist seeks, actually experience freedom and truth. In fact, it seems dangerous to be a philosopher and only seek the vision of truth, and never actually pursue truth, because then it is left that an individual lives in a hypothetical world, where on paper everything works., where as the artist expresses a desire for freedom and this is freedom in the real world, in a realm of reality. It seems the only way for the individual to exist and obtain true justice is to be a philosopher and an artist.
Book VII is the famous simile of the cave. In this book it can be quoted, “To them [The people in the Cave], I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.” this quote speaks a lot of the modern human, and of the lack of human progress, if humans are comparable to their 2000 year old counterparts. But especially in a media culture, humans are susceptible to getting something watered down, incorrect, or fake. Humans are usually stuck in a reality that has city limits, a reality that their parents and teachers set for them. A reality that only has one truth, and all other truths are falsehoods, even if they seem more logical to a different human being, stuck in a different reality. The cave in Plato's Republic can be compared to almost any small town in the world. Parents, teachers and preachers are all the fire that produces the shadows of the images. People do not question or wonder or even care to leave their cave, for they were raised and taught that this was foolish, and anyone who does want to leave, or asks funny questions is eccentric and should be closely observed. Plato, in Book VII of The Republic begs and pleads with each and every individual to exit the cave and to enter the world of intellect. For the only way to see and know the truth, and not to live a bland, boring existence of ignorance is to enter into the higher ways of thinking. “Yet he also ends up showing them that politics is less important than the wise governance of one's own soul (See the end of Book IX) and that there is a goal higher than both a just city and a just soul: the investigation and contemplation of the cosmos and the forms (“City and Soul in Plato's Republic” 262).”
In Book IX Plato comes to observe the individual's soul. He says, “And the fifth is the image of the human soul consisting of a little human being (reason), a lion (spirit), and a many – headed beast (appetite).” He says that the human being and the lion must not be sacrificed to the beast. He compares the effects of appetite on the tyrant and the philosopher. “The tyrant is enslaved because he is ruled by an utterly unlimited appetite, which prompts in him appetitive desire whenever any chance object of appetite presents itself to his consideration.” This states that the individual with no self control, that hungers ever for more and more, and usually thus hungering for the most is to become a tyrant because they will always crave power and money and obedience. Inversely, Plato says this about the philosopher, “The philosopher, by contrast, is most able to do what she wants to do, for she wants to do what is best and as long as one has agency, there would seem to be a doable best.” The philosopher has restraint, purpose and objectives. The appetite of a philosopher is to do the best for the individual and the State.
The dialogue began with the questions, “What is justice?” and “How do you obtain a utopia?”. This was explored by looking at justice, integrity, morality, ethics, arts, philosophy, music and the Individual and the State, to name a few things. A utopia, if ever reached, was only reached in theory and justice was never defined, but it was stated in Book IX that, “Justice begins with the individual, his first aim not health but harmony of soul.” It is seen then why a definition of justice was never reached and why no example of justice exists. It is because humans are stuck either in one of two situations. They are too simple and content to ever think about leaving the cave, or they are ruled by the many – headed beast (appetite). In seeing why there is no definition or example of justice it is seen why there is no utopia in reality, and it is because there is no pure example of justice in reality. It may be, in the end that Plato gave us a starting line on the road to a utopia, but two thousand years after he wrote The Republic all human-kind has done is feed the many – headed beast.
Work Cited

Bennett, William J. “The Book of Virtues”. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. 1993. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. 08 February 2010.

Dorter, Kenneth. “The Transformation of Plato's Republic.” History Reference Center Classical Bulletin. 2007. Vol. 83, Issue 2 p293.

Feeney, Joseph J. “Is Literature Still Human? Beyond Politics and Theory.” America Nov. 18, 1995: 26-27. SIRS Renaissance. Web. 08 February 2010.

Ferrari, G.R.F. History Reference Center Classical Bulletin, 2006, Vol. 82 Issue 2, p262.

Griffin, Jasper. “Plato's Grand Design.” New York Review of Books. 06 May 1999: 41+ SIRS Renaissance. Web. 08 February 2010.

Grippe, Edward J. “Socrates, Plato and the Tao.” Philosophy in the Contemporary World. Spring/Summer 2002: 61-70. SIRS Renaissance. Web. 08 February 2010.

Gocer, Asli. “Exiling the Poets: The Production of Censorship in Plato's Republic.” History Reference Center Classical Bulletin, 2004, Vol. 80 Issue 1, p64.

Rosen, Stanley. Plato's Republic: A Study. Howland, Jacob Society; March 2009, Vol. 46 Issue 2, p195-198, 4p.

Unknown. “Political Theory”. The Hutchinson Dictionary of Ideas 2004; n.p. SIRS Renaissance. Web. 08 February 2010.

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