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.

22 comments:

Robert J. Moeller said...

Hey, I randomly found your blog today and I'm glad that I did. Very interesting stuff. I'm a conservative blogger and seminary student in Chicago (rjmoeller.com). Keep up the good work!

PJ said...

Sorry I've haven't been able to get to this yet. I'll do the reading and compose a response by Sunday or Monday. Promise.

A Wiser Man Than I said...

No worries, PJ. I have more than enough to keep me busy between postings.

High and Dry said...

I think the conclusion of this book (the quoted passage) is the most important part of the text thus far. We see now that Socrates has not been concerned with developing what he would consider to be the just city, but rather, he was describing justice within the soul of an individual. So, when we would chide Socrates for suggesting common 'ownership' of children, we were slightly off base. It would seem less alarming were he to be describing how your soul is to rear a budding aspect/passion of the self, i.e. use the rational, appetitive, and spirited parts to do so. But then he mentions that there is to be no meddling or doing of another part's work: a call for a proper ordering of the passions once they are evaluated and conditioned by all parts of the soul. Furthermore, with respect to letting the weak die and putting the evil to death, this is precisely what one would do with his own soul. If there is evil in it, squash it. Useless weaknesses, ignore them until they are no more. Perhaps some of the civic metaphors are disagreeable, but the points as they pertain to justice in the soul seldom are. Allegory of the Cave, etc....

A Wiser Man Than I said...

Excellent points, Mr. P. I think the problem is that if you read the dialogue without much background, as I did, you can be a bit shocked at the city Socrates creates.

But when you step back, what he's done is actually quite brilliant.

PJ said...

Hi Eric,

So I tried to post this last night, but it failed to appear (or even alert me with an error message). Here's take-two.

Another excellent summary. I am happy for the kallipolis to be at least provisionally complete and to be moving on to a discussion of the soul. I think we share some discomfort, however, about the inferences Plato makes on the strength of this city-soul analogy. I also remain uneasy with some of his assumptions about human nature and the metaphysical status of the good.

Let me start though with something I take to be more defensible. Near the beginning of the book, Plato/Soc subordinates individual happiness to the stability of the polis. The point here, as I see it, is that our individual happiness, to a large extent, depends upon the smooth functioning of the social institutions that provide for our material well-being and establish the lawful framework within which we conduct our everyday lives. There is an important interdependence between individual happiness and the stability of society. This does look suspicious -- alarm bells go off for me whenever someone claims to be acting in my "real" interests (apart from what I take them be) -- yet, anarchy would be terrible for everyone. So the challenge, as I see it, is of how to mediate between the good of the whole and the good of its members, these being interdependent with neither entirely reducible to the other.

I'm not sure that this is how Plato perceives the challenge, however. I worry that he is determined to find an external standard by which to stipulate "the" just order of things once-and-for-all. You've already noted this totalitarian streak in his political thought, and I'm not sure he can be completely exonerated from the charge.


Maybe it would be helpful to catalog some of the primary assumptions informing the account so far:

1) Everyone has a definite nature, somehow identifiable at infancy, that determines the class of profession for which he is best suited.

2) "Like encourages like," i.e., we uncritically model our behavior on that of actors featured in the stories we hear.

3) What is good is necessarily in harmony with everything else that is good (because good is a monolith: the Good).

What others should be added to the list? I happen to think that the three I list are wrong, but I'm very curious to see whether Plato/Soc has anything more to offer in their defense.

That's it for tonight, but I'll try to put together a few remarks on the soul tomorrow afternoon.

Cheers,
PJ

PJ said...

The derivation of the definition of justice is, as you've noticed, rather strange. I wonder if it looked this way to his contemporaries, or if they happily nodded along together with Adeimantus?

The assumptions of the argument have to include the following:

1) Our city is, by construction, completely good.
2) What is good exemplifies all of the virtues and nothing else.
3) There are exactly four virtues, clearly distinguishable from one another.
4) By locating any three, the respect in which the city embodies the fourth will be readily accessible to philosophical reflection.

Needless to say, this is hardly convincing. The strongest premise is (1) -- because it is essentially a stipulation of the thought-experiment -- but I, at least, am reluctant to grant even this.

I'll set my skepticism aside, however, to have a look at Plato/Soc's analysis. His claims about wisdom and courage are pretty much what you would expect: the rulers exhibit wisdom, and the auxiliary guardians exhibit courage. I'm struck, though, by the similarity in his descriptions of moderation and justice. Moderation almost seems like it could be analyzed as a species of justice: both are embodied only in the city as a whole and are ensured by the harmonious unity of each citizen fulfilling only his proper, natural function. The emphasis in the analysis of moderation is on the harmony that results when everyone agrees about who should be ruling, and the emphasis in the analysis of justice is on the harmony of doing the work prescribed by one's nature (in an appropriately ordered city); but these harmonies practically coincide.

This mild redundancy in the account of societal justice makes me curious about how the distinction will be cashed out at the individual level.

PJ said...

I like Plato/Soc's derivation of the tripartite soul more than I did his construction of the ideal city. The guiding assumption of the former, to which he turns in the second part of this book, is basically an statement of the principle of non-contradiction: "the same thing will not be willing to do or undergo opposites in the same part of itself, in relation to the same thing, at the same time" (436b). It is by analysis of inner conflict, then, that we can distinguish three discrete parts in the soul. Start with appetite, one of the most basic cognitive or biological phenomena. Our ability to resist appetites on principled grounds or in view of longer term interest shows us to be in possession of another calculating, rational part. Furthermore, Plato/Soc posits a "spirited" part separate from both. The spirited part is distinguished from the appetitive in that it is not tied to a specific object: it gives us something like a mood that colors all objects of experience indifferently. Anger, for instance, can cause us to neglect our appetites or to pursue them all the more fervently, just as it can either fortify us in our rational convictions or distract us from them entirely.

The distribution of virtues in the soul parallels that of the city. It is in the sound judgment of the rational part that we find wisdom, and it is in the perseverance of the spirited part that we find courage. Moderation, again, is found when all parts of the soul harmonize in agreement about the rule of the rational part. Plato/Soc says two things about justice. One of them is exactly what you would expect: "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 one another" (443d). You quote the passage more extensively to include the explicit reference to harmony that again makes justice seem to overlap with moderation. The other definitional claim that Plato/Soc makes is slightly different. He asks, "[A]re you still looking for justice to be something other than this power, the one that produces men and cities of the sort we've described?" (443b). Adeimantus agrees that he certainly is not. What strikes me here is the reference to production. It implies that we should seek justice outside of the individual in that which produces him as the kind of individual he is, i.e., which orders his soul in the proper way. This, of course, coheres with Plato's recurrent theme of education. It would also be nice to have this sort of material connection between the social and the individual.

One thing that made me a bit uncomfortable in this discussion -- but which I can't yet articulate into a principled objection -- is the derisory place allocated to the appetitive part of the soul. It occupies a thoroughly subordinate place in Plato/Soc's account, and this seems not right to me. I'll try to withhold judgment, however, until I see how the analysis figures in the rest of the argument.


That's it for my initial reply-response on this one. I'll get something posted on Book V soon (though unless I can do it tomorrow, I'm not likely to have time until the weekend).

Cheers,
PJ

A Wiser Man Than I said...

I worry that he is determined to find an external standard by which to stipulate "the" just order of things once-and-for-all.

I have no problem with his attempt to find an external standard--by what else would we judge?--but with his violation of natural rights and, to a lesser extent, the static nature of his society.

1) Everyone has a definite nature, somehow identifiable at infancy, that determines the class of profession for which he is best suited.

If we loosen his definition a bit, I think this one is very reasonable. I am a reasonably good programmer, and while there may be other things I could do well--perhaps even better--the point that there is something I can do best, and that society is served in my doing so makes sense. No one would be served, for instance, if I took my lack of social skills and attempted to be a nurse.

On the other hand, it seems unreasonable to insist that we remain on a static path throughout our lives. Without nixing some conception of civic duty, surely we should be given a variety of occupations from which to choose.

2) "Like encourages like," i.e., we uncritically model our behavior on that of actors featured in the stories we hear.

Again, allowing for some amelioration, this makes a great deal of sense. I've quoted Lenin to the same effect earlier; while we would like to believe that we are all independent thinkers, our environment plays a very large role in our development. Rebellion may still exist, but its effects tend to be minimized in a totalitarian society, if only because of the lack of freedom with which to rebel.

What is good is necessarily in harmony with everything else that is good (because good is a monolith: the Good).

This point seems the least contentions of them all. I'd be curious to hear your objections.

I have no assumptions to add as yet. I'll try to pay more careful attention to them in further readings.

A Wiser Man Than I said...

but these harmonies practically coincide.

Not entirely. If the unwashed masses agree that so-and-so will be a Guardian, he being the most wise, but the people lounge around and do no work, we will have achieved, in some measure, moderation--surely the loungers ought not to rule--but justice will have escaped us. But the virtues are meant to be complementary.

One thing that made me a bit uncomfortable in this discussion -- but which I can't yet articulate into a principled objection -- is the derisory place allocated to the appetitive part of the soul.

We should take this up later, because I find his placement to be quite sound.

High and Dry said...

A few thoughts on PJ's remarks:

I also remain uneasy with some of his assumptions about human nature and the metaphysical status of the good.

It is rather expected that Plato should inject some notion of his forms into human nature and the good. If he does not establish/posit the reality of the good or the existence of a particular human nature, a discussion of justice is rather moot. In all this, it is quite evident that justice in the abstract is in the service of the good. Were there no such thing, justice would be reduced to mere opinion. Which perhaps some might argue, but it would be contrary to the whole idea of the text. As for human nature, I suppose a tetrachotomy exists: man is good, man is bad, man is of mixed nature(i.e. good but capable of bad or bad but capable of good), or man has no particular nature (no predisposition for good or bad?). In the first case, virtue and justice would be omnipresent and the book would be pointless. In the second case, virtue and justice could only occur by accident and the book would also be pointless. In the third case, either virtue and justice are the norm and man needs to keep from falling away from them or the absence of them is the norm and man must strive to attain them (I believe we can state that this is the position Plato takes). In the fourth case, I would think man would act in his own interest in every situation or he must be swayed to act rightly or wrongly as he has no penchant for either one. Socrates would answer by saying that since Justice is always good to pursue and it is its own reward, man should/would choose it. But now we've reduced the absence of human nature into one of the former cases (at least in the context of The Republic) because either man is trying to act just (good but capable of bad) or man is choosing against justice (bad but capable of good).

"Near the beginning of the book, Plato/Soc subordinates individual happiness to the stability of the polis. The point here, as I see it, is that our individual happiness, to a large extent, depends upon the smooth functioning of the social institutions that provide for our material well-being and establish the lawful framework within which we conduct our everyday lives."

"I'm struck, though, by the similarity in his descriptions of moderation and justice. Moderation almost seems like it could be analyzed as a species of justice: both are embodied only in the city as a whole and are ensured by the harmonious unity of each citizen fulfilling only his proper, natural function."

High and Dry said...

I think this goes with your concern that Socrates is seeking to establish The Just. Here we have Socrates affirming that justice is some end outside of man akin to his final cause. If this were not the case, and justice were some creation of man, Socrates and Co. would not wonder what is justice, but rather, how shall we define justice (in an agreeable way?) You might say this is what they are doing anyway. I think Plato is leading the reader on a journey of discovery. Moreover, if justice is merely that to which men agree, who cares?

"One thing that made me a bit uncomfortable in this discussion -- but which I can't yet articulate into a principled objection -- is the derisory place allocated to the appetitive part of the soul. It occupies a thoroughly subordinate place in Plato/Soc's account[.]"

Since the discussion centers on justice, I believe this subordination is appropriate. It is clearly the rational part of the soul that will help one identify the just and we can assert that the spirited part moves one to pursue justice, but at first glance, the appetitive part seems rather ignorant of justice. For, when one's appetitive part seeks something, he must consult the rational part as to whether it is just to pursue that object; but, if one identifies the just and is moved by his spirited part (because justice is good in itself), he's not going to ask whether he wants it.

I have selected these three remarks because they discuss three ideas from Plato that very much anticipated Christian idea(l)s:
-Man has a fallen nature, but is capable of good, though he must work for it.
-The Good exists in a metaphysical sense (and is God).
-Justice is something outside of man that he seeks and is driven by (and is God).
-Man must subordinate his passions to his reason in the pursuit of the just/good and that while he may easily identify the good, the spirit part of his soul must move him towards it (perhaps with the help of grace).
Plato was on to something....

High and Dry said...

I've screwed up the postings, the second to last quote in the first post is addressed at the beginning of the second post. I also effed up the html tags. I will address the last quote now:

I'm struck, though, by the similarity in his descriptions of moderation and justice. Moderation almost seems like it could be analyzed as a species of justice: both are embodied only in the city as a whole and are ensured by the harmonious unity of each citizen fulfilling only his proper, natural function.

I would suggest that temperance is distinct from justice in that temperance deals with the self whereas justice deals with a person, who may be yourself. So, the temperate man keeps in check the appetitive part of his soul by recognizing which part of his soul has jurisdiction over a particular activity. The just man acts rightly towards persons by having all parts of the soul act as they are intended to. So while temperance is an act of restraint, justice is very much an act of affirmation.

This also anticipates the Church's description of the Cardinal Virtues. Furthermore, you identify that moderation and justice only exist in the properly ordered city, which is, of course, ruled by philosopher kings, i.e. wisdom. Prudence has long been identified as the chief virtue that informs all others, or even gives rise to the others, i.e. temperance is a form of prudence or justice is a manifestation of prudence.

High and Dry said...

I just realized I've screwed up the postings more than I thought. Stand by.

High and Dry said...

OK, so it told me my post was too long so I had to paste it in parts and the parts were incomplete and discontinuous. So the last two quotes of the first post were initially not addressed. The quote for the first part of the second post was missing, I will post the quote and remarks below and then address the second to last quote in the first post.

"[A]re you still looking for justice to be something other than this power, the one that produces men and cities of the sort we've described?" (443b). Adeimantus agrees that he certainly is not. What strikes me here is the reference to production. It implies that we should seek justice outside of the individual in that which produces him as the kind of individual he is, i.e., which orders his soul in the proper way.

I think this goes with your concern that Socrates is seeking to establish The Just. Here we have Socrates affirming that justice is some end outside of man akin to his final cause. If this were not the case, and justice were some creation of man, Socrates and Co. would not wonder what is justice, but rather, how shall we define justice (in an agreeable way?) You might say this is what they are doing anyway. I think Plato is leading the reader on a journey of discovery. Moreover, if justice is merely that to which men agree, who cares?

Near the beginning of the book, Plato/Soc subordinates individual happiness to the stability of the polis. The point here, as I see it, is that our individual happiness, to a large extent, depends upon the smooth functioning of the social institutions that provide for our material well-being and establish the lawful framework within which we conduct our everyday lives.

This is a case where the civic metaphor is a stretch and the point must be considered as it pertains to the soul. This sort of goes with your discomfort on the placement of the appetitive part of the soul, but also goes beyond that. The stability of the polis is justice, so an instability in the polis represents the absence or decline of justice. As it pertains to the soul, Socrates is saying man must not let the desires of one part of the soul (can parts have desires or would any desire be the action of the appetitive part?) disrupt the proper ordering that gives justice to the soul. You express concern over subordinating your happiness to the leaders of the polis, but with regard to the soul, it is a non issue. In the polis, you would feel like you are surrenduring some freedom and letting the rulers direct (part of) your life, but in the soul, since justice is good in itself, you would freely choose to properly order your soul so as to attain it. There is a very extensive discussion to be had here about free will, the Will of God, grace, etc. But that is for another time. But, basically, more Christianity in Plato!!

PJ said...

Eric: I have no problem with his attempt to find an external standard--by what else would we judge?--but with his violation of natural rights and, to a lesser extent, the static nature of his society.

PJ: My position, closer to Aristotle than to Plato, is that there is no ultimate standard by which we might pass judgment on a society. Individuals are already endowed with specific interests, and just political rule is about fairly negotiating among them.

Eric: If we loosen his definition a bit, I think this one is very reasonable. I am a reasonably good programmer, and while there may be other things I could do well--perhaps even better--the point that there is something I can do best, and that society is served in my doing so makes sense. No one would be served, for instance, if I took my lack of social skills and attempted to be a nurse.

PJ: Yes, as I mention in my comments on the next book, this assumption is not as strong as I originally took it.

PJ (earlier): "Like encourages like," i.e., we uncritically model our behavior on that of actors featured in the stories we hear.

Eric: Again, allowing for some amelioration, this makes a great deal of sense. I've quoted Lenin to the same effect earlier; while we would like to believe that we are all independent thinkers, our environment plays a very large role in our development. Rebellion may still exist, but its effects tend to be minimized in a totalitarian society, if only because of the lack of freedom with which to rebel.

PJ said...

PJ: Oh yes, I too am a great believer in the formative effects of culture, education, and environment. I guess my concern with this doctrine is twofold. First, I am skeptical about the psychological assumptions. If the same types of behavior are unanimously praised from all sides, will that really eliminate deviant actions? Do people bully others or commit infidelity in order to be more like Zeus? Or is it because bullying others makes them feel powerful, and because our neighbors have such attractive wives (or daughters!)? Seems to me more the latter than the former. But we could debate this forever, and I'm happy to concede that it would make some difference--only perhaps not so much as the censors would hope.

My second concern is more substantive, but it's also rather external and would likely require a wholesale rejection of the Platonic project. I don't believe that a city is just by virtue of its embodying or approximating some separately existing form. The virtues of any political arrangement, for me, can only be assessed with reference to the quality of life enjoyed by its citizens.

Plato/Soc might agree with me this far. The value of political unity, he might respond, is inseparable from its uncontroversial benefits for the citizenry. Unity gives you stability, strength, and security. These are good for all citizens. Indeed, some measure of unity is absolutely necessary in any political arrangement whatsoever. There has to be fairly broad agreement about how things are to be done, how we must conduct ourselves in public, to what sorts of authority we are answerable in what respects, etc. If too many of these mediating institutions break down, anarchy will ensue.

I am worried, though, that this heavy emphasis on unity and its (very real) goods excludes another set that we might gather under the heading of "diversity," and that these goods are just as real and important. The strongest example -- for me, and I think you will be sympathetic -- is freedom. I would argue that lucid self-determination has a distinctive value unto itself, one that is all but occluded in Plato's Republic. To be sure, self-determination happens within a social context and is always mediated by its institutions. But, in my ideal, these institutions are themselves responsive to the interests and projects developed and articulated by individual citizens and associations.

(So this is also to answer your question about conflicting goods: unity and diversity -- and their correlates, equality and freedom -- are both real political goods; yet either taken too much at the expense of the other becomes detrimental to society, resulting at its extreme in either totalitarianism or anarchy, respectively.)

Eric: If the unwashed masses agree that so-and-so will be a Guardian, he being the most wise, but the people lounge around and do no work, we will have achieved, in some measure, moderation--surely the loungers ought not to rule--but justice will have escaped us. But the virtues are meant to be complementary.

PJ: Except their agreeing to his rule requires that they fulfill the function he allots to them, and so precludes unjust lounging -- but this is more of a quibble about the economy of his presentation than an interesting philosophical objection.

PJ said...

Hi Pepin,

I'm so glad for you to join us!

Pepin: If he does not establish/posit the reality of the good or the existence of a particular human nature, a discussion of justice is rather moot. In all this, it is quite evident that justice in the abstract is in the service of the good. Were there no such thing, justice would be reduced to mere opinion.

PJ: But someone can maintain that the good (or justice) exists without committing to any separateness or fixity in its mode of being. I've already offered a few descriptions of what this might look like. This is certainly to reduce justice to "opinion" in Plato's sense of the term, but I have a rather less stringent conception of knowledge than Plato. I hope you'll comment on the remarks I made on this topic as it's presented in Book V.

Pepin: I would suggest that temperance is distinct from justice in that temperance deals with the self whereas justice deals with a person, who may be yourself. So, the temperate man keeps in check the appetitive part of his soul by recognizing which part of his soul has jurisdiction over a particular activity. The just man acts rightly towards persons by having all parts of the soul act as they are intended to. So while temperance is an act of restraint, justice is very much an act of affirmation.

PJ: Subtle analysis! I like it, and I think it might work at the level of the individual. But how does this look at the political level (the terms in which Plato presents it)?

PJ (earlier): "[A]re you still looking for justice to be something other than this power, the one that produces men and cities of the sort we've described?" (443b). Adeimantus agrees that he certainly is not. What strikes me here is the reference to production. It implies that we should seek justice outside of the individual in that which produces him as the kind of individual he is, i.e., which orders his soul in the proper way.

Pepin: I think this goes with your concern that Socrates is seeking to establish The Just. Here we have Socrates affirming that justice is some end outside of man akin to his final cause. If this were not the case, and justice were some creation of man, Socrates and Co. would not wonder what is justice, but rather, how shall we define justice (in an agreeable way?) You might say this is what they are doing anyway. I think Plato is leading the reader on a journey of discovery. Moreover, if justice is merely that to which men agree, who cares?

PJ: I wasn't very clear with this statement, but I actual like this position--in my rendering, but not yours. That justice might not be explicable strictly in terms of individual obligation strikes me as quite plausible. I'm quite sympathetic to the idea that we need to refer to the social whole -- which obeys its own, separate logic -- in order to properly describe justice and what it requires of us. Justice has to do with the ordering of society, not merely of how I relate to people I encounter directly. It's about the structure of the context in which people are raised and in which they proceed to conduct their lives. This order is not something we simply "define," but it is something that we are responsible for creating and maintaining.

PJ said...

PJ (earlier): Near the beginning of the book, Plato/Soc subordinates individual happiness to the stability of the polis. The point here, as I see it, is that our individual happiness, to a large extent, depends upon the smooth functioning of the social institutions that provide for our material well-being and establish the lawful framework within which we conduct our everyday lives.

Pepin: This is a case where the civic metaphor is a stretch and the point must be considered as it pertains to the soul. This sort of goes with your discomfort on the placement of the appetitive part of the soul, but also goes beyond that. The stability of the polis is justice, so an instability in the polis represents the absence or decline of justice. As it pertains to the soul, Socrates is saying man must not let the desires of one part of the soul (can parts have desires or would any desire be the action of the appetitive part?) disrupt the proper ordering that gives justice to the soul. You express concern over subordinating your happiness to the leaders of the polis, but with regard to the soul, it is a non issue. In the polis, you would feel like you are surrenduring some freedom and letting the rulers direct (part of) your life, but in the soul, since justice is good in itself, you would freely choose to properly order your soul so as to attain it. There is a very extensive discussion to be had here about free will, the Will of God, grace, etc. But that is for another time. But, basically, more Christianity in Plato!!

PJ: Is your contention really that Plato has only an accidental, passing interest in justice at the social level, and that the construction of the ideal city is merely illustrative? I've been taking it for granted that he is equally serious about both levels of justice.

PJ (earlier): "One thing that made me a bit uncomfortable in this discussion -- but which I can't yet articulate into a principled objection -- is the derisory place allocated to the appetitive part of the soul. It occupies a thoroughly subordinate place in Plato/Soc's account[.]"

Pepin: Since the discussion centers on justice, I believe this subordination is appropriate. It is clearly the rational part of the soul that will help one identify the just and we can assert that the spirited part moves one to pursue justice, but at first glance, the appetitive part seems rather ignorant of justice. For, when one's appetitive part seeks something, he must consult the rational part as to whether it is just to pursue that object; but, if one identifies the just and is moved by his spirited part (because justice is good in itself), he's not going to ask whether he wants it.

PJ: Okay, this seems right. I think our appetites/desires/emotions/etc. occupy an important place in our ethical pursuit of a good life, but they may be rather tangental to issues of strict justice.


Finally, to your remarks on Christian themes in Plato, I'm hoping to do some Thomas when we finish the Republic (assuming I can get it together and make this happen before I become too busy with my fall semester). This would be interesting as a blend of your Christianity and my Aristotelian sympathies. Also, I'm currently reading Peter Brown's biography of Augustine, who is, as you know, the primary Christian representative of neo-Platonism. I've read only a tiny selection of the City of God, but, if this bio provides a nice overview of his political philosophy, I'll try to do a post on these ideas as they relate to our ongoing discussion.

Cheers,
PJ

A Wiser Man Than I said...

Justice has to do with the ordering of society, not merely of how I relate to people I encounter directly. It's about the structure of the context in which people are raised and in which they proceed to conduct their lives.

I hesitate to simply interject my dogmatic libertarianism in every one of our discussions, but even without buying wholly into the theory, it seems they raise a useful point. For the libertarians, as long as all individual interactions are not unjust--i.e. do not violate anyone's rights--the society itself will be seen to be just. The difficult thing is to determine where the State enters into this equation.

But the importance of the position is that it maintains that the individual is not somehow lost in the hive.

Is your contention really that Plato has only an accidental, passing interest in justice at the social level, and that the construction of the ideal city is merely illustrative? I've been taking it for granted that he is equally serious about both levels of justice.

I'll answer: it's hard to say. We should keep in mind that the point of the dialogue was to find out what justice was. To an extent, much of the dialogue then becomes a diversion, albeit a very interesting one.

I think we need to be very careful in assuming that Socrates would want anyone to live in his city, especially if we find that justice on the individual level can not be maintained in his totalitarian State.

PJ said...

Eric: I hesitate to simply interject my dogmatic libertarianism in every one of our discussions, but even without buying wholly into the theory, it seems they raise a useful point. For the libertarians, as long as all individual interactions are not unjust--i.e. do not violate anyone's rights--the society itself will be seen to be just. The difficult thing is to determine where the State enters into this equation.

PJ: The state upholds the lawful framework within which these interactions take place. It protects us (however imperfectly) from murder, fraud, foreign invasion. It provides us with a convenient currency, an invaluable education system, a functional transportation network. And much more. But to pursue this would take us far afield.

Eric: I think we need to be very careful in assuming that Socrates would want anyone to live in his city, especially if we find that justice on the individual level can not be maintained in his totalitarian State.

PJ: I'm pretty sure this is not going to be his conclusion. Furthermore, in Book V, he explicitly defends the achievability of his city. We'll see how things look when we finish, but so far I see no reason to think that Soc/Plato is less serious about justice in the city than in the individual soul. As far as I know the title of the book was chosen by Plato himself...

High and Dry said...

(Temperance & Justice) I think it might work at the level of the individual. But how does this look at the political level (the terms in which Plato presents it)?
With everyone agreeing who should be ruling, person(s) wanting a particular thing (appetitive drive towards some policy or program) would defer to the rulers or check with them as to how the policy or program squares with justice. Whereas when justice demands a policy or program, the leaders would direct subordinates to that end.

That justice might not be explicable strictly in terms of individual obligation strikes me as quite plausible. I'm quite sympathetic to the idea that we need to refer to the social whole -- which obeys its own, separate logic -- in order to properly describe justice and what it requires of us. Justice has to do with the ordering of society, not merely of how I relate to people I encounter directly. It's about the structure of the context in which people are raised and in which they proceed to conduct their lives. This order is not something we simply "define," but it is something that we are responsible for creating and maintaining.
I would contend that if society has obligations towards some demand of justice, individual obligations will follow, or heavy-handed government. I would also offer that an particular just society might look very different than that of The Republic, but of course Plato deals with forms and not particulars.

Is your contention really that Plato has only an accidental, passing interest in justice at the social level, and that the construction of the ideal city is merely illustrative? I've been taking it for granted that he is equally serious about both levels of justice.
Not accidental, but yes, I would say that is primary concern is justice in the soul. Though, if all individuals act justly, a just society is sure to follow.