Thursday, July 30, 2009

Plato's Republic, Book VI

Socrates continues his line of thought regarding philosopher-kings. The guardians will simply have to be philosophers, "those who know each thing that is and who are not inferior to the others, either in experience or in any other part of virtue." But first, Socrates wants to demonstrate that both qualities are possible.

Proceeding along, we come across a famous definition of the philosopher: "a lover of wisdom." Socrates also remarks that such a thinker would not "consider human life to be something important." Subsequent remarks make it clear that the idea is that the philosopher will thus be courageous, and not afraid of death. But I wonder whether or not such disregard for one's own life may lead to disregard for others. One thinks of Paul Johnson's essay on Shelley titled "The Heartlessness of Ideas" in his book Intellectuals. As we have previously noted, the Republic seems to give little regard for the rights of the individual.

Moreover, the philosopher should be "good at remembering, quick to learn, high-minded, graceful [in thought], and a friend and relative of truth, justice, courage, and moderation."

Adeimantus interjects that philosophy doesn't always produce the types of men that Socrates claims. Many would observe that of philosophers, "the greatest number become cranks, not to say completely vicious, while those who seem completely decent are rendered useless to the city." I wonder if our resident philosopher will take these words in stride.

Socrates points out that the lack of honor accorded to philosophers by the cities is not a reflection upon the former. The true philosopher cannot be blamed if his fellow citizens condemn him as useless when they should be coming to him for advice.

Admitting that the great number of philosophers are, in fact, vicious, Socrates then proceeds to show why this isn't a slight on philosophy. His dismissal here is essentially the no true Scotsman fallacy. Since philosophers love that which is true and good, those who are not so cannot be philosophers. Yet even if Socrates' tautological definition is accepted, it seems to me that a seeker of truth could still be unjust and courageous, so long as he were truly striving to be true and making general moral progress. Surely one does not become a true philosopher only when one becomes a true saint.

Having expunged the bulk of humanity from the camp of the complete philosophers, Socrates examines the ways in which one who seems fit for philosophy may be corrupted. He points out that the better a nature is, the more potential it has for corruption, and hence the worse it may become; paradoxically, the very good things which a man has will be those whereby he is corrupted. Some of this anticipates the Christian idea--which was borrowed, if memory serves, from Plotinus, who was of course a follower of Plato--of evil as a privation, rather than a positive entity. And Socrates's point about corruptibility is used by C. S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters, where Screwtape laments the pitiful quality of souls who entered Hell during the age of modernity.

Railing against the Sophists, Socrates places especial blame on the practice of punishing one who isn't persuaded by their empty words. We must ask ourselves what is objectionable here: the methods or merely the truth taught. One wonders whether pupils will be allowed to disagree with the teachers in Socrates's city.

After a little more railing on his eternal enemies, he throws up his hands against the folly of the mob. The majority will never love beauty; hence they can never be philosophers. And even if someone is wise, and just, and the like, the praise of the masses, or at least those close to him--here Socrates seems to contradict himself severely, even as he gives proof to his earlier paradox--will ensure he never sets down the hard road of actually learning philosophy.

He offers another complaint: philosophical training is gone about precisely the wrong way. Instead of completing one's training in philosophy while young, one should prepare one's mind early, only becoming a true philosopher after years of hard work. This strikes me as sensible advice.

Then, seeming to reverse his earlier opinion, Socrates notes that if only so-called philosophers were better men--or if people did not incorrectly identify false philosophers as representatives of the class--that true philosophers would be thought better of. And here I thought we were allowed to disdain the masses. Perhaps some other time.

After a long diversion, Socrates gets back into the discussion of constitutions. He insists that a philosopher would never deign to rule unless he were allowed to wipe the legal slate clean. And he wonders why people don't trust philosophers. As a thought exercise, writing a constitution is a decent idea; but, in practice, overthrowing the entire legal edifice is never a good idea. Once that precedent has been established, the law no longer has any permanent basis and degenerates into the whims of the rulers. Sooner or later, it becomes time for the enemies of "the people" to meet the guillotine. On a more relevant note: didn't Socrates insist he would have no need to legislate so long as he could control the educational establishment? And now he wants to come up with all the laws. Slippery fellow, that Socrates.

After a brief diversion, Socrates returns to the guardians, who, in addition to all that has been discussed previously, i.e. the extensive physical training, must also find time for book learnin', to put it colloquially. Most importantly, one must attain knowledge of the good, which, to Socrates, is even more important than possession of the virtues, justice included. Rather than enter into a discussion about what the good is, which would take a considerable while, Socrates promises to pay that debt some other time.

Without giving a definition of the good, he does claim, however: "What the good itself is in the intelligible realm, in relation to understanding and intelligible things, the sun is in the visible realm, in relation to sight and visible things." In other words, goodness is what allows the one knowing to know things; at the same time it allows the things themselves to be known. Socrates also makes a distinction between knowledge and truth, which are both "beautiful things", and goodness, which is even more beautiful. In fact, all being is dependent on goodness, but, unlike for St.Thomas, it is also separate from it.

Socrates offers some words on his theory of forms: "[Students of geometry, etc.] make their claim for the sake of the square itself [that is, the ideal form], and the diagonal itself, not the diagonal they draw, and similarly with the others. These figures that they make and draw, of which shadows and reflections in water are images, they now in turn use as images, in seeking to see those others themselves that one cannot see except by means of thought." In order to reach the highest condition of the soul, that of understanding, we cannot rest content with knowledge of appearances: we must seek out knowledge of these ideal forms.

Monday, July 27, 2009

On socialized health care

I'll try to get to Book VI of the Republic either tomorrow or Wednesday. In the meantime, a few words, if I may, on the subject of socialized health care. The problem with this debate, as with so many in politics today, is that one who believes in free markets can get caught trying to defend the status quo, which is, almost always, an awful amalgam between government bureaucracy with a bare semblance of free exchange. But it would be a mistake to do so. The present system is bad, everyone knows it, and anyone who stoops to say a word in its favor will only raise suspicions about his credibility.

The simple fact of the matter is that health care would look radically different in a free society. Most purchases, for routine checkups and the like, would be made with cash; there is no reason to involve insurance companies over ordinary and foreseeable circumstances. Insurance could be purchased to guard against unlikely, but catastrophic, events. It is also possible that payment plans could be made with the provider of medical care; there is no need for the doctor to receive all of his money up front if he doesn't demand it.

Such checkups could take place anywhere, and those conducting such would not need to be licensed by the State. Since the State limits the number of doctors licensed in a given year, this artificially limits supply. This results in shortages and higher prices for medical care. Even though this can be easily gleaned from a study of basic economics, it is amusing to consider how often politicians make policies which can only result in the opposite of what they intend--and then act surprised when mere whim cannot override economic law.

Now, Obama and company are insisting that socialized health care will be a boon to everyone. We know this isn't the case, since Government programs always pick winners and losers. Nonetheless, it is not always easy to for tell who the winners and losers will be. It is not always the case of the poor benefiting at the expense of the rich--which, though perhaps unjust because of the violence involved in wealth redistribution, would at least give the illusion of appearing to be charitable. For one thing, the rich will always be able to opt out of a socialized system by using their money to purchase services elsewhere, either in other countries or in the black market which always emerges if the State refuses people the right to sell a good for which sufficient demand exists. For another, it is easy to see the poor being stuck in waiting rooms in crowded inner cities; and in severe cases the long waits may even prove fatal. In any event, at the very least the employees of the State will benefit since they will be paid with money which is extorted from the citizens.

Back to the point, it is again discernible from an appreciation of the laws of economics that subsidizing a good--that is, allowing a good to be purchased for a cheaper price than would otherwise exist on the free market--increases demand for that good. In his book Ten Things You Can't Say in America--which, by the way, was my first serious encounter with libertarian thought--Larry Elder uses the example of heat in an apartment complex. So long as he paid for the heat he used, Elder was careful to only use that which he needed. But when the landlord lumped heat in with the cost of rent, it no longer made sense to come home to a freezing apartment to save money. Instead, he kept the heat on all winter. The costs of the good were being paid for in large measure by his neighbors. This is very close to the system we have now with health care, and this will only be compounded with a socialized system.

Now, we can argue that Elder should have been a better person and willingly avoided using his heat except when it was necessary. But it is absurd to expect that he, or anyone else, would really do this. Perhaps a few ascetic saints would conserve heat; but the majority of us would be liberal with our usage because there is no real incentive to be stingy. It is foolish therefore, to lament that men are not angels, only to turn around and erect a scheme in which mild deviltry is encouraged.

Most of my argument, to this point, has been essentially utilitarian: Government run health care will provide a less valuable product at a higher cost. But it is still possible that we would prefer such a system if we believed that health care was a human right. In a certain sense, this is a better argument because it recognizes that making a case that the State will, for the first time in recorded history, do something efficiently, is not a very strong one. This is especially true when the "reform" bill is over one thousand pages long. It's not good to try to emulate the Vogons.

There is one problem with this line of argument however, and that is that health care is not and cannot be considered a right. It might be desirable for all to have health care, but the most we can do is insist on a right to life. That those pushing for a right to health care also maintain a "right" to abortion, which violates the real right to life which all humans--born and unborn--possess, is but another of life's tragic ironies--but I digress.

My argument can be made clear in two ways. First, a right must exist in all times and at all places. We cannot, for instance, insist that man has a right to Internet access for the simple reason that Internet was not available for the majority of human history. We would then be forced to argue that our rights to a future undiscovered good were presently being violated, which sounds like something the Red Queen might say. Health care is analogous to the Internet: it is the product, not only of technological advances but, even more so, of the capitalist system which provides a means whereby goods and services can be allocated ever more easily to a growing mass of people. It is good that it now exists in some measure, but it can be no more considered a right than can the toaster. A good standard is that if Robinson Crusoe could not claim it as a right, it cannot be treated as one.

Again, if health care is right, we must ask how we are not to violate it. Put thus, it seems a peculiar question, but this is only because health care is not, in fact, a right. If we ask the question of life, it becomes more clear. We honor a man's right to life, at the most basic level, by not killing him. But how are we to honor his right to health care? Must we be forced to do all that we can for our neighbors? Charity demands that we give both of ourselves and our possessions for the good of others, but if a doctor goes home to bed rather than treat his thirtieth patient of the day, he cannot be said to be violating his neighbor's right to health care. As cogent an argument could be made that his patents are violating his right by compelling him to go short on his sleep. But where on earth, then, are we to draw the line? Plainly, health care is not a right.

Libertarians, and especially Christian ones, need to be careful that in their haste to make a case for a free market solution, they not only avoid sounding too callous, but also make clear that they are acting in the best interest of all humanity. This can be difficult; it is certainly something I rarely, if ever, succeed in doing, and I don't think I have done so here. In expiation, I offer this final thought. When something becomes a right, and when this right is enforced by State force, we no longer receive the benefits that accrue both to recipient and donor when the latter gives charitably to the former. Pope Benedict XVI is significantly to the left of me economically, and--it must be said in fairness--far more in line with traditional Catholic social teaching, but for this reason his point bear especial attention. Taken from his first encyclical, Deus Charitas Est (28.b), I give him the last word:

There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love... The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need... In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live “by bread alone” (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3)—a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Plato's Republic, Book V

Socrates proposes to expand on four types of vice as they are found in political constitutions, but is immediately interrupted by Polemarchus and Adeimantus, who want him to explain his earlier claim that wives and children should be held in common. They want to know why this arrangement should be considered ideal, and also whether it could ever actually be realized in practice, which emerges as a more general issue for the project as a whole. A lot of the discussion in this chapter is concerned with the philosophically uninteresting logistics of this communal arrangement. I'll report on selective remarks, but try to focus on the more provocative or conceptually substantive claims.

The reason for keeping children and wives in common, already provided in earlier books, is to prevent any particular attachments from conflicting with the devotion of the guardians to the city as a whole. There is a particularly strong statement of the ideal at 462a-b: "Is there any greater evil we can mention for a city than that which tears it apart and makes it many instead of one? Or any greater good than that which binds it together and makes it one?" "There isn't." Indeed, it seems Plato/Soc would prefer for the city to be united in pain than for just some of its members to be happy. With their biological parentage obscured, the guardians effectively become one big family, and they will be encouraged to observe proper familial devotion. Everyone is to assess their lot with reference, not only to the same shared set of objects, but with reference to the same family, the same "mine" in all possible respects (462c).

In a passage that has been the source of much subsequent criticism, Plato/Soc makes an analogy between his proposed methods for ensuring the reproduction of the citizenry and the mating and breeding of animals. Just as we breed from only the best of our animals, so too should we maximize the number of offspring produced by our fittest citizens (459). The worst citizens should be prevented, as much as possible, from reproducing. Plato/Soc suggests phony lotteries, among other ploys, to ensure optimal pairings. Children of "inferior" parents -- along with any other children found to be defective -- will be secretly left to the elements (460c). Yikes!

I've protested against Plato/Soc's assumption of fixed "natures" determinable in every individual. He expands here on this claim and some of its implications. We are to determine the relevant dimension of a child's nature by observing what sort of activities it learns with the most ease (455b). My skepticism is not entirely dispelled, but this does sound rather more innocent than I originally (rather uncharitably) took it to be. It follows from this that many natural differences are politically irrelevant. Women, for instance, are eligible for all of the positions traditionally reserved for men (and so I should probably be more careful with my pronouns).

Stepping back for a moment, I wonder how much Plato/Soc's tremendous confidence in education and the powers of reason might conflict with his doctrine of individual nature. To the objection that women training naked with men would cause problems, Plato/Soc responds that this is the rational way to do things, and so people will learn to regard it as the norm. (These women will "wear virtue or excellence instead of clothes" (457a).) How is it that we can educate everyone into these supposedly more enlightened sexual and familial norms -- reprograming the psyche at quite a deep level -- but that many people are constitutionally unsuited for higher learning? There is no outright contradiction in the text, but I think there is some potential tension between the views.

Anyhow, changing topics, I should at least call attention to the remarks on inter-polis relations, since this is something that came up earlier. Plato/Soc's view is that war with other Greeks should be treated as a form of civil war, in which the participants should never do anything to foreclose future reconciliation. There are fewer restrictions, by contrast, in a war against barbarians, with whom no political, cultural, or economic relations are desired. This strikes me as a sensible position, allowing for the obvious limitations of a worldview in which only Greeks count as full people.

Shifting into the last movement of this book, Socrates is called back to task on one of the original challenges presented in its opening pages: "whether its possible for this constitution to come into being and in what way it could be brought about" (471c). A mighty challenge indeed, and his response is characteristically indirect. It's also hedged with a considerable qualification (a consequence, in this case, of the ontology he will proceed to expound?), that we must be satisfied with practical approximations of the truths we articulate in theory (473a).

The key to the implementation of this ideal, simply put, is to get a philosopher in charge: "Until philosophers rule as kings in cities or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils[...], nor, I think, will the human race" (473c-d). Furthermore, those not suited to do philosophy and rule are "naturally fitted to leave philosophy alone and follow their leader" (474b-c). Authoritarian? Just a little? A great deal of apologetic rhetoric surrounds these pronouncement, anticipating and attempting to forfend our skepticism.

Plato/Soc defines the philosopher as one who desires the whole of wisdom and loves the sight of truth (475). The intended contrast here is with our mundane experience of the appearances of things. We want knowledge itself, not just acquaintance with images. We must distinguish, for instance, between beautiful items or varieties of beautiful features and the beautiful itself. Only acquaintance with the latter can supply us with the sort of authentic truth that is the mark of philosophy. Knowledge is specified to be of what is, which Plato/Soc seems to assume to be eternally stable and immutable. Ignorance, its opposite, ranges over what lacks being. Between these extremes lies opinion. Unlike knowledge, opinion is fallible, and this is to say that it must have a different object than knowledge. This object, intermediate between being and non-being, is appearance. Appearances have multiple, contradictory aspects, and our opinions about them are subject to various, arbitrary conventions (479). So most of us, Plato/Soc is claiming, live entirely in this realm of appearance and have only opinions, no real knowledge. Strong claims, on which more to follow in subsequent books.

These definitions established, the argument will continue in Book VI.

I see your response on the last post, and will reply soon.


Monday, July 06, 2009

Plato's Republic, Book IV

Adeimantus begins Book IV with an interruption. He points out that the guardians can't very well expect to be happy if they are to live as Socrates insists. He points out that since the goal is to fashion a just and happy society, we ought not allow the individual parts to distract us from the holistic endeavor.

To my mind, Adeimantus makes a very valid point. Unless Socrates can make a cogent case for utilitarianism, I don't think we should allow him to gloss over justice and happiness as they relate to individuals. If we are not sure that we would believe any position in his society is just, I'm not certain we can claim that he has succeeded in his endeavor. It is important to recall that the discussion was moved to focus on societal justice because it was believed that this might help us better understand justice on an individual basis. We cannot allow the means to become the end.

Socrates notes: "We should consider whether in setting up our guardians we are aiming to give the the greatest happiness, or whether--since our aim is to see that the city as a whole has the greatest happiness--we must compel and persuade the auxiliaries and guardians to follow the our other policy..." I'm not sure when happiness replaced justice as the goal. Since the dialogue discusses the divergence of the two, I'm not sure we can simply build a happy society and then pronounce it just. Socrates may not be doing this, but he's a sneaky fellow, so it's worth pointing out whenever it seems like he's moving the goalposts.

He next points out that both wealth and poverty should be guarded against, the former because it "makes for luxury, idleness, and revolution", the latter "for slavishness, bad work, and revolution". Two points here: first, Corcyra has caused our philosopher to have revolution on the brain; second, although Aristotle and Plato are often seen to be at odds, we have here a pretty good example of the golden mean from Plato himself.

Socrates then goes on to explain the advantages of their warriors: "Our athletes will easily be able to fight twice or three times their own number and win." (Leonidas scoffs.) He also hints at class warfare, naturally non-existent in his city: "each of [the other cities] consists of two cities at war with one other, that of the poor and that of the rich..." On this basis, he also limits the size of the city to... one city. This isn't very helpful, but, if memory serves, Plato will clarify this in Laws.

The early part of this book is a bit disorganized, at least to my mind. Anyway, the guardians are to protect education at all costs. With successful education, the citizens will see for themselves the value of all Socrates says; the upshot is that much of what appears to be compulsory may be undertaken willfully by dutiful citizens. There's also a nod to the possession of wives and children in common, here, but--again, if memory serves--this will be developed more fully later in the text.

The educational system will be rigidly conservative. There's something to be said for tradition, of course, but any system which is incapable of change tends to be rendered obsolete, so Socrates would do well to provide some manner of incorporating small changes into his system.

Socrates describes the final outcome of education as "a single, newly finished person". He then reiterates why it will be unnecessary to legislate about "the care of parents, hair styles, the clothes and shoes to wear," etc. It is true that education is a powerful tool; as Vladimir Lenin once said: "Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted." But if the education given proves insufficient to the aims for which it was adopted, it's unclear to me why Socrates would not attempt to legislate for the good of his society.

They next consider legislation about "market business." Socrates points out that for good men, no laws will be necessary, but for bad men, attempts to "put a stop to cheating" etc. are best likened to lobbing heads off a Hydra. There's a lesson for us with our 1400 page bills.

At last insisting that custom dictate various other practices--burying the dead, etc.--the city is complete. It is now time to see whether wisdom, courage, moderation and justice exist therein. Once three have been found, which ever virtue remains will be that which is left in the city. This seems strange, but it makes sense given that the participants in the dialogue do not simply know what justice is, but must find it in some other way--by a process of elimination, evidently.

Wisdom is found in the guardians, courage in the soldiers. Moderation, or self-control, is found in that "the desires of the inferior many are controlled by the wisdom and desires of the superior few." But whereas wisdom and courage were found only in a segment of the populace, moderation is a kind of harmony which extends to ruler and ruled alike.

The other virtues having been found, the search for justice can begin. Socrates thereupon discovers that justice has been lying beneath his feet all the while. For the society was established in a just manner, namely, in that each was "doing one's own work"; the evidence of which is that the leftover portion is "the power that makes it possible for them to grow in the city and that preserves them when they've grown for as long as it remains there itself." Justice has been found, and here the dialogue ends.

Just kidding. Socrates has a good deal more to say. Having found justice, he defines injustice as "meddling and exchange between these three classes"--i.e. money-making (craftsmen, etc.) , auxiliary (soldiers), and guardians. He then proceeds to apply his newly found wisdom to try to understand justice on the individual level.

Another search begins for the three classes, or something akin to them, in the individual. After discussing the nature of thirst, Socrates notes that there are men who do not drink despite their thirst. There are thus two different strains within a man, each compelling him to do something. "We'll call the part of the soul with which it calculates the rational part and the part with which it lusts, hungers, thirsts, and gets excited by other appetites the irrational appetitive part, companion of certain indulgences and pleasures."

But since there were three classes in the city, Socrates continues his search for a third part of the soul, finding it in what he calls the "spirited part". And "therefore it necessarily follows that the individual is wise in the same way and in the same part of himself as the city." In this vein, the rational part of the soul should rule; obedience is the role of the spirited part; both are to govern the appetitive part. Hence it follows that justice is akin to that of a city, that is, each part of the soul doing its part. We come now to an important passage which I must quote at length:

One who is just does not allow any part of himself to do the work of another part or allow the various classes within him to meddle with each other. He regulates well what is really his own and rules himself. He puts himself in order, is his own friend, and harmonizes the three parts of himself like three limiting notes in a musical scale--high, low, and middle. He binds together those parts and any others there may be in between, and from having been many things he becomes entirely one, moderate and harmonious. Only then does he act. And when he does anything, whether acquiring wealth, taking care of his body, engaging in politics, or in private contracts--in all of these, he believes that the action is just and fine that preserves this inner harmony and helps achieve it, and calls it so, and regards as wisdom the knowledge that oversees such actions. And he believes that the action that destroys this harmony is unjust, and calls it so, and regards the belief that oversees it as ignorance.

Injustice, then, is disharmony between the parts of the soul. The "whole of vice" is nothing more than the "turmoil and straying of these parts". Also, just actions are those which produce justice in the soul; unjust actions, those which produce injustice. This now allows us to overcome the argument that justice is only good insofar as one is externally rewarded. For if justice is a rightly ordered soul, it is its own reward. At the same time, if someone is unjust, even if they may seem to prosper, if their soul is in a state of disharmony--as it must be--they cannot be said to be better off than the just man.

The book ends with Socrates beginning a discussion on the five forms of constitutions and of souls.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Plato's Republic, Book III

Book III continues the discussion about what kind of stories should be told to the future guardians of the city. As before, only virtuous deeds and characters are to be favorably depicted. The guiding concern here is the good of the city as a whole, not that of individual members or family units. Hades, for instance, should not be depicted as a frightening place--for then guardians might not be so willing to go to their dead for the polis.

One need not be a libertarian to be alarmed by the values and assumptions underlying this program. The good of the whole is given an at least quasi-absolute status, and seems at times to be something almost opposed to the good of its individual members--for it is to be oriented toward an extra-human conception of the Form of the Good. (I would not a have problem, by contrast, with a theory that sometimes demands sacrifices of the individual for a collectively negotiated good, responsive the actual needs and desires of the populace; though the details of negotiating this good without trampling rights of minorities, etc., may be an endlessly thorny issue, I can at least embrace the ideal in a way that I am reluctant to embrace the Platonic Good.) We'll have to discuss this further when Plato elaborates on his theory of the Good--for I am almost certainly basing my judgment on a simplified, perhaps even caricatured, conception of his metaphysics of forms.

Similar metaphysical assumptions inform Plato's faith in a harmonious order of being, which can be known by a rational soul. What is most beautiful is ordered and rational and in harmony with the good. If separate goods seem to conflict, this is because we've allowed ourselves to become blinded by our passions or caught up in mere appearances.

Here is a particularly alarming consequence of this unitary conception of the good: "[A]s for the ones whose bodies are naturally unhealthy or whose souls are incurably evil, won't they let the former die of their own accord and put the latter to death?" "That seems to be best both for the ones who suffer such treatment and for the city." (410a). Yikes! To a modern reader the complete lack of any sensitivity to individual human rights or dignity of the person is downright alarming. The challenge for us, I suppose, is to understand how Plato can be so unconcerned, and then to articulate and justify the grounds of our objection.

Plato himself had little faith in the common man's ability to understand and accept his proper place in the political order. Even though falsehoods are bad, he endorses mass deceit of the populace in order to bring their souls into harmony with the truth. This is his infamous "Myth of the Metals." Everyone in the city is to be told that he occupies the place he does by virtue of having a specific nature -- each associated with a particular metal -- and that all are equally children of the same earth mother. In this way everyone is to feel akin to everyone else and to accept the position he is alloted and the rule of those above him.

In the last paragraph of this book, Plato attempts to address some of the concerns you expressed about the loyalties of the guardians. The guardians, he stipulates, are not to own private property, they are to be sustained by taxes on the city, and they are to share common quarters with one another. The idea here is that they be nurtured into a completely universal sense of selfhood, and, lacking any particular commitments to which they could oppose the good of the whole, come to completely identify their individual good with the good of the polis.

I look forward to everyone's thoughts and comments --