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.