Plato's Republic: Foundations of Western Ethics
Here are some web sites that will enhance your understanding of this week's reading:
- Plato's dialogues: great site for background information and links to many resources
- Plato's Republic: This is a study guide from Roger Dunkle's class on Greek Classics for the Brooklyn College Core Curriculum Series
- Censorship & Media: see the thinkingshop.com "Thinking about Media" page for some eye-opening facts about corporate media and censorship.
Concepts & Terms to Know:
The following questions are designed to fine tune your understanding of the reading. The subject matter and answers to these questions form the basis of what you will be required to know for exams.
Objectives for this week: These are the learning objectives you should have mastered after attending the lectures and completing the questions below
- explain Plato's emphasis on goal-oriented behavior (a teleological worldview)
- Describe, from Plato's Republic, the conditions under which a society might function harmoniously.
- explain Plato's theory of the psyche/ soul. The chariot analogy gives us a great way to remember how the various parts of the soul ought to work together in ideal circumstances.
- Explain Plato's position on censorship and its purpose in promoting the government's essential positions
- outline the theory often entitled, "the noble lie"
- List the four virtues Plato believes are essential for proper moral development
- teleology: "everything in the universe has a proper function to perform within a harmonious hierarchy of purposes"
- reason: the intellectual component of the soul: "calculates, measures and decides"
- spirit: "structural element of the soul"; this is our passionate side that desires honor, glory, and respect
- appetite: the part of the soul that desires things that help us to satisfy our biological and material desires
- moral balance: situation in which reason governs the soul guarding against the excesses of spirit and appetite.
- class system: In Plato's Republic, a way of dividing individuals into different social groups based on their talents. There are three classes: philosopher-kings (rulers [reason] ), auxiliaries (guardians [spirit]) who serve as warriors, and a combination of craftsmen, artisans, and traders who are driven mostly by appetite.
- just society: a society that functions harmoniously by allowing each individual to do the work suited to his/her talents.
- philosopher kings: rulers in Plato's just society from the Republic
- guardian class: warriors in Plato's just society from the Republic
Following is an outline of some key concepts from the chapter.
- Plato writes dialogues rather than philosophical treatises. Hence, most of his philosophical positions are voiced through the character of Socrates. Even though Socrates was Plato's actual teacher, the positions and doctrines traditionally attributed to Socrates are actually Plato's account of his teacher. Socrates never wrote anything.
- Plato advances a teleological conception of morality, "we live the good life insofar as we perform our distinctively human function well."
- The soul is divided into three parts: appetitive, spirit, and reason. Each part helps us to fulfill critical needs, but in Plato's view, only the rational part of the soul is fit to rule.
- In order to live a virtuous life,
it is necessary for the individual to cultivate balance
in his/her soul. Thus, persons ruled by appetite or spirit
(emotion) are "out
and their actions are apt to provoke personal or social
- Appetite: In cases where appetite rules (oligarchic and tyrannical characters fit here) individuals are at the mercy of the their biological or material whims. Drug addiction fits this profile. Individuals who are addicted to self-destructive patterns of behavior are apt to feed their appetites at the expense of other life pursuits. People can also be ruled by material greed in much the same way. The key here is that desire is determinative; these are cravings of the highest degree. Later in the semester, we'll see parallel concepts in Buddhist ethics.
- Spirit: The emotional, passionate side of our character is centered on the idea of status on a social level. Ambition, desire for honor and glory, moral indignation, and cravings for admiration, all fit under the umbrella of spirit. Love relationships fit into this category as well. Our interactions with others provide core experiences that influence our emotional development.
- Reason: The intellectual, thinking part of the soul that must weigh options, decide between alternatives, and "suppress dangerous urges."Plato clearly puts reason in control of the soul because it acts as good counsel seeking understanding and insight before acting. Rational individuals possess a strong contemplative faculty. They think before they act and are unlikely to take rash action in any given situation.
The Chariot & the Charioteer
- After some consideration decide whether or not you agree with Plato. Is reason the best ruler for one's soul? If you think not, be ready to support your position with clear claims.
- One man, one art: Plato contends that each one of us performs/does one thing best. We each have one best skill and it is the development of this skill that is of paramount importance in creating a harmonious existence.If we do not have insight into what we do best, the chances of achieving a balanced soul are likely reduced. Hence the Socratic imperative, "know thyself."
- Just Society: First ask yourself: is it possible to have
a just society? What would it look like? How would we direct
education, the economy, leisure, and social resources? What
- Plato wrestles with the idea of justice in his most famous work entitled, The Republic.
- His answer concerning social justice exactly parallels
his notion of individual justice. There are three
parts of the soul and three corresponding divisions
in the social order.
- Plato's four virtues: wisdom, courage, moderation & justice.
- How does Plato justify censorship? What is the purpose of using it to shape young minds?
- Plato distinguishes between good and bad lies. What is a bad lie? A good lie? Who has the authority to lie in the imaginary city-state?
- Why will the stories about "evil acts" be censored?
- How does Plato propose that we alter the stories about death? Why is this alteration necessary to spur on the warriors/guardians?
- Why ought citizens cultivate self-control and temperance?
Smartboard Notes from Week 2 Lecture: