Intro to Philosophy

Introduction to Philosophy

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Reading Guides:
Plato's Republic
Descarte's Meditations
Perry: Dialogue on Personal Idendity and Immortality
Sartre: Nausea


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Reading Guide: Plato's Republic

Outline of the Republic:

Book One: Prelude Most themes of the Republic are introduced in this first book, often through the way in which the characters interact with each other. Initial, conventional attemps to define justice are interrupted by the sophist Thrasymachus, who wants to argue that justice is an idealistic smokescreen behind which the powerful always get what they want. The stage is set for the rest of the work by Socrates' cheap victory over Thrasymachus. It leaves his friends wanting a better explanation of what justice is, and whether just people and a just society are possible.

Books Two and Three: Construction of the Ideal City State, and the education of its guardians Glaucon and Adeimantus are not satisfied with Socrates' defeat of Thrasymachus. They still wonder if justice is worthwhile for its own sake, no matter the consequences. And they also wonder whether justice will be rewarded.

Socrates proposes trying to define justice on a larger scale, by constructing a picture of an ideal society. He assumes that if they can see justice there, they will also be able to tell what it looks like on a smaller scale, in the character of a just individual.

As the society is constructed, it turns out to have a hierarchical structure. There is a working class, a soldier class, and a wise ruling class. This order, he argues, is appropriate, because each must do what he or she is suited to do. Those with the wisdom to do so should lead. Those with the courage to do so should protect the society and fight for it, taking direction from wise leaders. The mass of people fit neither category. But they too should do what they do best, and provide food, clothing, and other necessities for the society. The result will be best for all.

Socrates describes the education of the guardians, including some famous thoughts about the arts and censorship. The goal is to preserve the ideal society from corruption once it has been set up.

Book Four: Finding justice in the ideal state; finding justice in the individual soul The themes from books two and three continue at the beginning of this one, with Socrates pointing out that the city is not organized for the benefit of a few lucky individuals, but rather for everyone's benefit. Philosopher-rulers would really rather not rule, but they do so anyway because it is their duty.

At 427d, Socrates is finally ready to answer the question that was asked in book 2. What does justice look like in the ideal society, and how does it work? It is the structure of the society that makes it just, he says, since wisdom should guide, courage should take control under wisdom's guidance, and daily physical necessity (food, clothing, sleep, sex, entertainment) should support the social good rather than getting in the way of it or controlling it. What is true of the group is true of the individual. A just individual is one in whom a courageous heart channels passion and desire into the service of goals set by a wise mind.

Book Five: Gender, sex and reproduction in the city. The happiness of the guardians, and the role of philosophers as rulers. Picking up on a remark by Socrates, his friends ask him what he meant by saying that the guardians have everything in common, including wives. In response, he describes a communal city where no-one knows who is his or her biological parent, child or sibling, but where citizens are bred to produce more good citizens. In charge of the whole city and its arrangements are the only people with the wisdom to manage it, the lovers of wisdom (philosophers). To support this opinion (as odd to his hearers as it is to modern readers), Socrates describes what a true philosopher is.

Books Six and Seven: The theory of the forms and the allegory of the cave. Socrates continues his description of the lover of wisdom. Here, at the philosophical heart of the book, Plato gives some famous pictures of this favorite theory. See below for more about it. The Forms are the true essences of things; the rest of the world comes closest to being genuine when it comes closest to embodying them. True knowledge is knowledge of the forms (in-form-ation), and they are what stays the same from case to case in the changing world. An easy way to start making sense of Plato's theory is to think about numbers and scientific laws. The relations of numbers to each other stays the same whether you are numberiing books or beds or bills. Scientific laws stay the same as well (more or less; Plato of course wasn't thinking about some of the strange limiting cases of alternate universes with different laws that modern physics considers.) So E=MC2 for every action in the universe, regardless of its particular details.

Books Eight, Nine and Ten: How the Ideal Society decays and is destroyed. Socrates describes each condition of the city, the typical citizen of that form of the city, and the way in which it deteriorates into the next social form. (Notice where he puts democracy!) Finally, having described the slide into anarchy and unprincipled tyranny, he closes with another parable about the journey of souls through the world. In a Greek version of reincarnation and the law of karma, Socrates proposes a way in which justice might prevail in the universe, even if it usually does not do so in human societies.

Book One:

327a -- 328d

Background: social structure: slavery, women not prominent, public religion, polytheistic, associated with the state. City states, Socrates religiously observant (though he's later executed for corrupting the youth and undermining traditional religion).

Preliminary reference to the "right makes right" theme in Polemarchus' playful threat to make Socrates stay at their house for a while.

328e Cephalus and old age: The values of moderation and of the life of the mind versus that of the senses. To be focussed on sensual pleasure is to be a slave of one's passions.

Socrates suggests that Cephalus is happy because he's rich. Cephalus agrees that riches help; in particular, they help you avoid the temptations of poverty. But self-control is still necessary, and love of what is good (?) for the good life.

331 c First Definition of Justice

Socrates infers it from Cephalus' remarks: Justice = Speaking the truth and paying one's debts.

331 c,d First counter-example

It is not always just to pay one's debts. Property held in trust is a thing owed (a debt); but it is not always a debt that would be just to pay. For example, one ought not return a weapon to someone who has gone mad and would do harm with it.

332a First revision: "Paying what's owed" means giving one's friends what is beneficial to them, and doing harm to one's enemies.

332c ff. Soc & Polemarchus go round on what specific skill justice is. P. is letting S. get away with assuming that "justice" is a specific craft like farming. Of course this leads to silly consequences. P. picks warfare as the occupation in which the skill is to be used; but Soc shows that there as everywhere it is other specific skills that define the craft. Because the use of each thing is a craft or skill, it's that skill, not justice, that produces the best use of the thing. So justice is first a skill of not using things (whether arms or money). Then, when Soc tries to make it turn out to be a real skill (in re money), it develops that the person who has a skill is also better at misusing the thing than an unskilled person would be. (E.g., a doctor can do more medical harm than someone not trained in medicine. So the just person turns out to be a kind of thief. (The person good at hanging on to money is also good at taking it.)

Justice as benefitting friends and harming enemies

334b Socrates drops this line of questioning. You might want to carry it further yourself, and ask what you think is wrong with the assumptions that are being made, if anything is. Then compare your results with what Plato comes up with later in the dialogue. Meanwhile , Soc. starts talking about the "benefit your friends, harm your enemies" definition of justice.

First exploration: It is possible to be mistaken about who your friends and enemies are? Is it those you think do you good that are your friends, or those who really do you good? If the former, and your judgment is mistaken, then justice will mean harming those who actually do you good and wish you well.

334d Polemarchos redefines "friend" and "enemy" non-intentionally (i.e., whther you are my friend does not depend on what I think about you, but on how you act toward me). This notion of a True Friend (and of a Truly Just person, a True Philosopher, a True Ruler, and so on) will reappear throughout the dialogue. We use it often as well. It is a very tricky notion, and arguments often get very confused when it shows up. (Ask yourself what is actually going on when someone dismisses music they don't like by saying "That's not music!") Pay close attention to how this way of speaking is functioning when it shows up in the dialogue, and make sure you are clear about what Plato is and is not saying when he uses it.

335b-d Second exploration Soc now asks if it is just to harm anyone at all? If harming reduces human excellence, and justice is a human excellence, then by harming someone you make them less just. But this would mean just action would include things that make people less just; Soc doesn't like that. Good men, by the practice of virtue, cannot make men bad. (Note the ambiguity here between harm and pain or punishment. Eliminate it, then ask if Soc is right or wrong, and why. I.e., causing pain may not always be causing harm in the sense that is relevant here. Check this against what Socrates actually proposes later in the dialogue, where discipline and even capital punishment become part of the rules of the way the Republic is run - see 410)

Where would the argument go next? No telling. Thrasymachus interrupts. (The original form of the Simonides definition, "giving to each what is due to each," returns much later; Plato's own definition is a form of it.)


Second Definition of Justice: the advantage of the stronger

Thrasymachus: 336a

He bursts in. He wants Soc. to say what justice is, and not to say that it is "the needful, or the advantageous, or the beneficial, or the gainful, or the useful". Socrates doesn't want to accept these conditions, since one of these might be the right definition. He suggests Thrasymachus say what he thinks justice is, since he seems to know.

338c Reluctantly, and after making sure he'll get paid, Thras. gives his definition: Justice is the advantage of the stronger. Being a sophist, he expects to be paid. Soc says, sure, if you're right; but first "let me see what you mean." (look out!)

Do you mean, justice is what's good for athletes? (Lot's of beef, for example.) Of course not. Then what do you mean? "The advantage of the established government." (Justice as ideology.)

339c First attack: Is justice the actual or the perceived advantage of the stronger? T. says, it's the actual advantage. It is possible to be mistaken about one's own advantage. But people aren't rulers except when they are acting to their own actual advantage, because they are only strong then; and no-one is doing justice who is not acting for the advantage of the stronger.

341a First attack, part two: You will be talking about the ruler in the strict sense, now? Yes. Soc proceeds to claim that every practitioner of a craft practices it for the benefit of those who receive it. (So we've returned to where the argument was before T. came in.) A craft (skill, techne) seeks the advantageous in a particular way; not its own advantage, but that of its object; and part of the pure techne is to (investigate and to know) the advantage of its object. A techne doesn't seek its own advantage because, as a techne, it needs nothing; it is perfect. All sciences seek the advantage of the weaker over which they rule. As physician, (vs. moneymaker), a doctor seeks the advantage of the patient. As captain, i.e. as ruler over sailors, a ship's captain seeks the advantage of the sailors. If this is the case with all specific kinds of rulers, mustn't it be the case with rulers in general? Mustn't rulers seek the advantage of those they rule?


Socrates has turned T's definition into its opposite; the ruler seeks the advantage of those ruled. T, in frustration, asks Socrates if he has a nanny.

T. uses derision. But he also uses a counterexample. He mentions a craft, that of the shepherd, which is not carried out for the benefit of its object, the sheep. (So maybe ruling is this kind of craft, not the physician's kind.) And in fact, this is the way rulers carry on; they abuse their subjects with impunity. Justice doesn't pay. T. thinks that this long speech about political realities clinches his case. (Notice that T is claiming that justice is an illusion. A good defense, for him, would be to change his definition. He's actually arguing that "justice" is only disguised power relations. But by insisting that it is the actual (not the perceived) advantage of the stronger, and by allowing the more traditional meaning of justice to continue operating "behind the scenes", Thrasymachus sets himself up for defeat.)

344dff Socrates wants to be persuaded that justice is worth more than injustice, or vice versa. (He is operating with T's implied and not his stated definition.)

345c Countermove by Socrates. T. is not speaking about the true shepherd in the strict sense. That person, as a shepherd, cares for the sheep. Perhaps he wears another hat, as butcher or meat-merchant or whatever. But as shepherd he cares for the sheep. & in general, no craft cares for its own good.

347e The real question, says Soc, is not about T's bogus definition, but rather about his claim that injustice (understood in the usual way) is more profitable than justice.

348d Is justice then a vice, and injustice a virtue?

Not exactly, says T. But justice is high-minded foolishness, and unjust people are clever and good (i.e., those who are "completely unjust, who can bring cities and whole communities under their power." And in fact T. does end up saying (349a) that injustice is a virtue.

Attack #1 Does a just person seek to outdo other just people, or only the unjust? The unjust only, says T. What about the unjust? They seek to outdo just and unjust alike. (349d) But if such a person is clever and good, he or she would not be trying to outdo others with the same skill. Only the ignorant person tries this. Soc proves this with the analogy of the musician, who does not strive to outdo other musicians in tuning the instrument, but rather to tune just as they do (i.e., to get exactly the right pitch). The same holds true for doctors, and for any other practicioners of a craft.

T. is stumped by this, and grudgingly allows Soc. to question him further (350e). Soc claims that if justice has now been shown to be good and clever, it must also be wise and powerful, since ignorance is weak.

Attack #2 351b Soc now pursues another line, that of just or unjust behaviour by a city. An unjust city, of course, will unjustly enslave others as much as it can, whereas a just one will not. The question is, will the unjust city need injustice or justice in order to accomplish its goals?

Injust will produce dissension; hence, no group of people will be able to act effectively if injustice is their guiding principle. To the extent they succeed in cooperating, it is justice, not injustice that guides them (352c). In fact, even within an individual, injustice will produce dissension and render action ineffective (351e-352). It will also make a man the enemy of the gods, who are just.

Investigation #3 352d Who will be the happiest, the just or the unjust?

Soc first establishes that each thing has a function, namely that which can be done best by means of that thing. (Both a horse and a pruning knife have a function, on his view.) Each thing also has a virtue, which of course is the excellence which enables it to perform its function well. Likewise for the soul. It has unique functions, that only it can perform, including ruling, deliberating, and of course living. Only a good soul will do these things well. But justice is a virtue of the soul. Hence, only with justice will a soul be able to live well. And no one can be happy who is not living well. So only the just person can be happy. The point has been proved...Except that justice has not yet been defined.

Summary: Some results established in Book One : Injustice produces dissension in individual and community (351-352), so that some measure of justice is needed even for the effective functioning of a gang of crooks.

Functional definitions 352e

virtues (excellences)

justice as excellence of the soul 353e

So of course justice will make people happy 354

Review of what has been touched on (but not really covered) 354 b

Book Two

Extrinsic and intrinsic goods. Justice is both. 357-358

358d: The contest between justice and injustice, and Gyges ring. G. suggests that injustice is more profitable than justice, if you can get away with it, and that the only reason people are just is that everyone knows you can't get away with it most of the time. The choice is lined out in 359e-361d. A just person with a reputation for injustice, and an unjust person with a reputation for justice. Which would you be? What would you do if you had Gyges ring?

363a Adeimantus says that most people praise justice for its results, and not for itself. He asks Soc to show the intrinsic goods of justice 367

365e-366 Interesting argument about justice and the poets and the gods

368c Soc sets up the macro-micro project of the Republic. Let's look at justice on the macro level, in a city; that may help us find justice in the individual. We will have to define justice, before we can say whether justice or injustice is more profitable.

368d Construction of Republic begins. Begin with needs for food, clothes, shelter. Division of labor immediately established, on grounds that to do a thing well requires focus on it, rather than trying to do everything.

371 Introduction of trade with other cities, including production of surplus, and merchants. Likewise trade within the city; a market, not simple barter, with currency, and retailers (371b). Likewise there will be wage labor for the strong of back and weak of mind (371d,e). These people have a simple and pleasant life. But Glaucon immediately asks for more sophisticated culture. This is introduced before the search for justice begins in earnest. Soc thinks the simple city is best; but he thinks looking at the city with a fever (373a) may be more instructive.

So now there will be hunters, artists, musicians, poets, doctors, "tutors, wet-nurses, nannies, beauticians, barbers, chefs, cooks, swineherds." Also more doctors, since the luxurious way of life will make more people sick. (373c)

373 d,e Now we will need more room, and are likely to go to war with our neighbors in order to get it. This introduces the guardian class as soldiers (374); the principle of division of labor indicates that ordinary citizens should not perform this quite separate function. 375 What is the guardian's nature? Physically fit, and spirited, yet gentle, just like good watch-dogs.

376b The dog as philosopher. (Joke?)

376c The guardians are also philosophers

376d The education of the guardians comes up; and we begin hearing about the arts, especially about the poets. Only fine and beautiful stories (377c). No lies (d), and nothing that encourages shamdful behaviour by example (e.g. the myths about Ouranos, Chronos and Zeus - fn. 19) Don't say the gods war with one another (surely they don't) 379 c-e. Gods, being good, can only do good things (379c). So we also won't blame the gods for evil things that happen in the world ((379c -380). 380b However, it may be said that the evil are wretched, and that the gods benefit them by punishing them.

380d No more stories about the gods taking human or animal form (since gods are unchangeable).

382a Difference between a "true falsehood," what is false to your soul, and a useful falsehood. But gods, unlike humans, have no need for useflu falsehoods. They are not ignorant, that they need to make up stories; not weak, that they need to deceive enemies; not friends with the mad or ignorant, that they might need to decieve them for their own good. So no stories about deceitful gods!

Book Three

Poetry & education, cont.

?No poems which mention hell; you don't want people scared of death.

?In general, good men (and even good women(!)) are portrayed as not displaying emotion. No lamentations, no romantic swoons, no rages, no fits of laughter. Moderate and self-sufficient. "Mediocritie is the highest virtue." NB top of page 61: Odysseus & self-control. No wrong-doing by gods and heroes. As to tales about humans, they will portray the just individual (whom we must now describe).

394d ff. against imitation of anything bad or inappropriate. (argue on the other side)

pp. 69 ff. Purifying the city of modes of music that tend to stir up the passions, and instruments that are too sensual.


(What sort of contemporary music would Plato like?) Ditto with certain metres (p. 70).

pp. 71ff. Moral purpose in art.

p. 72 Training the beautiful soul. "Platonic love"

pp. 73-75 The ascetic life is best

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