Plato: ethics and politics
- Plato: ethics and politics A.W.Price I Plato followed his teacher Socrates into ethics by way of a question that remained central in Greek thought: what is the relation between the virtues or excellences (aretai) of character, and happiness (eudaimonia)?1 Both concepts were vague but inescapable, and inescapably linked: happiness is the final end of action, and constitutes success in life (cf. Symposium 205a2–3); so virtue, for which we commend agents and actions, needed to be recommended by reference to happiness. The happiness that gives reason for action is primarily the agent’s; all Greek moralists hoped to grant the egocentricity without licensing egoism. At least examples of moral virtues were generally agreed: justice, piety, courage, temperance and the like. Happiness was more elusive, and its paradigms more debatable. Herodotus has Croesus and Solon disagree about whether the greatest happiness consists in enjoying the greatest riches, or in living simply and dying well (I.30–2). The demands of the virtues needed to be defined, and their status as virtues justified by a conception of what it is for a human being to be happy. Otherwise, there could be no telling whether it was pious of Euthyphro to prosecute his own father for murder (Euthyphro 3e4–4e3), nor whether Thrasymachus might be correct to claim injustice as a virtue (Republic 1.348b8– 64). Plato’s central treatment of these matters is in the Republic, the masterpiece of his so-called ‘middle’ period. I shall also pay attention to four works that consensus places as follows: the Symposium, before the Republic, the Phaedrus, after the Republic, the Politicus (or Statesman), after the Phaedrus; and finally (but perfunctorily) the Laws, the long labour of his old age. An initial question was properly abstract: what is the appropriate kind of way in which to define a virtue? He poses this question in the Republic through presenting variants on an approach that is not his own. Perhaps moral virtue relates to action as follows: a virtue is a practice of acting, or a disposition to act, in a determinate way definable by a rule.2 Thus, in the case of justice, Socrates—who, in tribute to the historical Socrates, appears as protagonist in most of the dialogues I shall be considering, but as a quasihistorical figure whose relations to the real Socrates, and to Plato himself, are intentionally undefined— asks Cephalus whether justice is telling the truth and returning what one has borrowed (331c1–3); justice as a quality of persons would then be a disposition to act so. Why, next, is justice, so understood, a virtue? This is initially contested by Thrasymachus. He offers no definition of justice, and it is uncertain whether he has a coherent conception of it. If we take him to be implicitly distinguishing legal from natural justice, the legally just is what accords with the laws and thus, in fact, serves the interests of the lawgivers (338e1–4). The naturally just extends more widely: it is what serves another’s good—and so, within the perspective of the subject qua subject, broadly coincides with legal justice (343c3–4). Thrasymachus interprets interests as material, taking it for granted that it is in one’s interest to pay less tax and take more in return (d6–e1). Now material goods are limited and transferable, so that their allocation is often a field of competition. Assessing justice and injustice instrumentally, as qualities of practices and dispositions that determine the distribution of losses and gains, he takes justice to be a tendency towards loss and injustice to be a tendency towards gain. If one’s virtue must serve one’s happiness, it follows that justice is not a virtue. Plato supplies in response a pastiche of Socratic ethics that at once puts Thrasymachus in his place, and marks his own point of departure. Another member of the company, Glaucon, is not satisfied, and puts forward a different position, not as his own but as deserving a fairer run, to which Socrates’ full reply will be no less than the remainder of the Republic. This is an imaginative variation upon Thrasymachus in which a class of rulers is replaced by a pair of agents, of which previously one was just and one unjust, whose power is ascribed on the model of the myth of Gyges to a magic ring bestowing invisibility. (We might introduce science fiction to the same effect.) Socrates had confronted Thrasymachus with contingencies: rulers can make mistakes, and command what is not in their interest (339c1–e8); even criminals need to cooperate, and must treat their accomplices justly (351c7–352d1). Gyges’ ring now transports its possessors beyond human fallibility and individual impotence: both of them, just and unjust alike, will be unable now to refrain from breaking the rules of justice against adultery, murder and the like (II.360b3–c5). Ringless, we have reason to be just, but only as a second-best: able to do wrong but liable to be wronged, we make a social contract that both denies us the advantages and spares us the disadvantages of injustice (358e5–359a7). What is the denotation of ‘justice’ within this aetiology? It is the class or characteristic of actions that are permitted by the law (358a3–4); its opposite is the legal category of forbidden wrongdoing or ‘malurn prohibitum’. However, there is a difficulty. We are told that it is naturally good to do wrong or act unjustly, and bad to be wronged or treated unjustly; the agreement is that that one should neither do nor suffer injustice (358e3–359a2). Thus it appears that justice is an artificial virtue (as Hume was to conceive it), while injustice is a natural and pre-contractual concept. This is coherent, if injustice was already recognized as a quality of actions, and the contract introduced justice as a practice. But how in a state of nature was justice to be understood, and its extension grasped as a unity? Perhaps Glaucon offers an implicit gloss that defines justice outside the law: to remain just is to abstain from what belongs to others (360b5–6). Socrates will not disagree: justice is neither having what belongs to others, nor being deprived of one’s own (IV.433e6–11). Yet such remarks rather move within a moral circle than reduce the moral to the natural: it is equally apposite to say that what is my own is that of which it would be unjust to deprive me. We should rather suppose that it is retrospectively that the contract is motivated by fear of injustice as such: what existed before the contract was not resentment of injustice, but fear of a multitude of unwelcome actions some of which became unjust, or were deemed to be unjust, by being penalized—a selection presumably sensitive to practicalities. So the contract may be described after the event (as it is by Glaucon) as an escape from injustice, but it has to be explained as an escape from something else, or many other things; these will have included such cases of losing one’s life or being deceived by one’s partner as it was thought good to penalize, after the invention of law and morality, as murder or adultery. This view is a positive transformation of Thrasymachus that takes laws not to be imposed by rulers on subjects, but to be adopted by free contractors. The structure of attack or apology remains the same: it is indirect and instrumental. Glaucon is recommending justice as the practice of acting in accordance with laws that human agents need to respect in order to reduce the risk of their being treated in ways to which they are by nature averse. For all its pretensions, morality is revealed as an under-servant of felicity. Plato has two grounds for rejecting this approach. First, it does not work: the content of a virtue cannot be explicated by concrete rules of conduct. This is first intimated within the Republic when Socrates objects to Cephalus that it is wrong to identify being just with telling the truth and returning what one has borrowed, for these acts are not always just (as when a borrower is asked to return some weapons by a lender who has gone mad, I.331c1–d3). A more resilient participant than Cephalus might suppose that one has only to try again, but the objection falls within a pattern to which Socrates later alludes when he describes how the young can be corrupted by counter-examples to attempts to define the just or the fine by appeal to general laws or maxims (VII.538c6–e4). This pattern of objection was already familiar from early Platonic dialogues (cf. [11.5], 43–6): on the same ground, temperance cannot be identified with a quiet or gentle manner (Charmides I59b1–160d3), nor with shame (160e3–161b2), nor courage with endurance (Laches 192b9–d9)). Unlike quietness, shame and endurance, a virtue is always good (Charmides 161a6–b2). We need to add that the endurance is wise, but how is wisdom to be defined (Laches 192d10–193a2)? One way out is by a special kind of vagueness: perhaps justice is giving all men their due (Republic I.331e1–4), and temperance is doing one’s own (Charmides 161b3–6). But such paraphrases either invite the same objection, or move around the moral circle mentioned above: if giving all men their due does not reduce to returning what one has borrowed and the like, it may more vaguely be equated with giving them what is appropriate to them (Republic I.331e8–332c3), that is, giving them what they justly deserve. Glaucon’s account fares better, but not well. That the just is that which the law prescribes or permits (II.359a3–4) is only plausible if the law uses terms (like ‘murder’ and ‘adultery’) whose descriptive connotations are debatable. Legislators properly find it difficult to define such terms precisely in advance, and are wiser to be content with the vagueness that invites casuistical debate about their application. Secondly, Glaucon’s framework provides virtue with the wrong kind of justification. To make clear what he would prefer, he offers Socrates an exhaustive trichotomy of goods: (1) goods that we welcome for their own sake and not for their consequences, such as enjoyment, and harmless pleasures that only bring enjoyment; (2) goods that we welcome both for their own sake and for their consequences, such as understanding, sight and health; (3) goods that we welcome only for their consequences, such as exercise, being healed, and doctoring or other money-making (357b4–d2). Socrates replies that he would place justice in class (2), which is the ‘finest’ category (358a1–3). We should view this not as a moralist’s salesmanship, but in relation to a perennial conception: ‘It is a requirement on moral action…that the action should not be merely instrumentally related to the intention: the end should be realized not merely through the action but in the action’ ([11.21], 43). Glaucon initially speaks of justice as a practice (358a5–6), but then as a state of soul (cf. n. 2): he wishes to hear what justice and injustice are, and what power (dunamis) each possesses in and of itself when it is present in the soul (b4– 6, cf. 366e5–6). It becomes explicit that he is shifting his focus from its external to its internal operations when he asks how it acts upon its possessor (367b4, e3). The shift is motivated by his concern whether being just is a good thing to be. It suits Plato more particularly, both anticipating what is to come, and recalling the most pregnant passage of Book I: injustice occurring within an individual does not lose its power (the same word dunamis), but here too produces faction and enmity (I.351e6–352a3). Irrespective of whether the focus be internal or external, this talk of how a state acts upon a thing ‘in and of itself can seem a contradiction in terms, asking about consequences even as it excludes consequences, and has provoked much discussion.3 One suggestion has been that Glaucon wants to set aside not natural but artificial consequences, excluding rewards and penalties that are attached to the appearance (cf. II.367d4) but not psychological effects that attach to the reality; but this fails to fit, for strength and health are natural effects of taking exercise and receiving treatment, which are placed within category (3). We must rather suppose that injustice and enmity, justice and friendship, stand in an internal and necessary relation that helps to constitute what justice and injustice really are (in a manner in which strength does not define what it is to wrestle, nor health what it is to diet). Virtues and vices have real natures and not just verbal definitions; a proper understanding will reveal what it is for them to take effect within a soul. It may seem inconsistent of Glaucon to ask Socrates to praise justice in and of itself (358d1–2), to offer to praise injustice in the manner in which he wishes to hear the dispraise of injustice and the praise of justice (d3–6), and then to speak at length (within the fantasy of Gyges’ ring) about the consequences of injustice, e.g. winning the opposite reputation, presumably through deception or other ploys that pile injustice on injustice (361a7–b3). However, he must mean not that it is appropriate to praise justice and injustice in the same way, but that he wishes them both to be praised appropriately: he will play at recommending injustice instrumentally as emancipation from a negative constraint, while Socrates must succeed in recommending justice intrinsically as a positive ideal. The unjust refuse to let justice stand between themselves and what they want; the just want to be just. Glaucon intensifies the contrast: to exclude any ulterior motives, he proposes that they compare the intrinsic value of justice with the maximal instrumental benefits of injustice, imagining that the unjust agent receives all the rewards merited by justice, and the just agent all the penalties merited by injustice (360e1–362c8). In supposing that it is better to be just but impaled than unjust and respected, he implicitly makes a further requirement of the motivations of just agents: they must not only value justice for its own sake, but take its value to eclipse (or ‘trump’) all non-moral values. Otherwise the demands of justice would be bound to be outweighed on occasion, however rarely, by non-moral considerations. The attitude is Socratic (cf. [11.20], 209–11), but looks more heroic than rational unless injustice is its own worst punishment. In the Crito, an early and Socratic dialogue, Socrates compared a soul spoiled by acting unjustly to a body spoiled by living unhealthily (47d7–e7), but without any means to make out that injustice is more than analogous to ill health. When he equated living well with living ‘finely and justly’ (48b8–10), it was not clear whether that rested on good reasons, or on a refusal to make distinctions. Perhaps on both: if, as Socrates supposed, all desires are rational (though some may be erroneous), they can only aim at the right and good; there are no desires that, arising non-rationally, would be in fact be satisfied by what is bad and wrong; hence immorality is wholly a failure to achieve what one really wants (cf. Gorgias 467a8–468e5). The Republic will set out a different picture of the soul, which holds that reason is only one source of desire. This allows the soul a complexity like that of the body. When the Gorgias, a dialogue of transition which pioneers an anatomy of the soul, actually calls injustice a ‘sickness’ of the soul (480b1), the term is taking on an extended sense that is more than metaphorical. Plato must now provide more complex and less Socratic answers to the following questions: in what way are justice and injustice fundamentally inner states with decisive implications for the happiness of the individual? What is their relation to other virtues and vices that narrows our options to two: being virtuous and happy, or vicious and unhappy? And how do they connect with the moral action that we demand of one another? II Plato’s line of answer proposes a paradox exactly tailored to the measure of the problem. On Glaucon’s construction, justice is a social virtue that benefits society; this fits the view, later ascribed by Socrates not just to Thrasymachus but to unnamed poets and prose-writers, that it is the other person’s good and one’s own loss (Republic III.392a13–b4). Plato will reconceive it as social and personal at the same time: in its fundamental form, its field and profit are indeed within a society, but that society is oneself. Politics and psychology are mirrors of each other, so that the commonplace that justice is good for a society can be translated into a claim that it is good for the agent. ‘My name is Legion: for we are many’ (Mark 5:9); Plato would have found these the words not of a madman, but of the best philosopher. Each of us contains a plurality of parts that are indeed not people, but may be pictured as interrelating rather as people do. What distinguishes the parts is the potentiality of conflict: this is revealed when we find someone not merely (as H.W.B.Joseph put it) ‘similarly affected towards different objects’, but ‘contrarily affected towards the same’ ([11.7], 53). Just as one man cannot simultaneously push and pull the same thing with a single part of his body (IV.439b8–11), so he cannot simultaneously accept and reject the same thing with a single part of his soul. Someone who thirsts for a drink, and yet refuses to drink, displays that his soul is multiple, containing contrasting sources of desire. If we specify that the thirst arises (like hunger) from physical depletion, but the refusal from rational calculation, we can distinguish his appetite from his reason (c2–e3). Further, we must separate his spirit from both: a man may be angry with his appetites, or his reason may condemn his anger (439e3–441c2). And this may only be a beginning, to be complicated by further investigation (435c9–d8, 443d7, cf. VI. 504bl–c4). Such soul-parts are not distinct souls: they share a single consciousness, and lack their own sense perceptions. And yet they are not mere faculties either; indeed, they share certain faculties, such as those of believing and desiring. Rather, as clusters of beliefs and desires arising from different sources, and acting together or apart on bodily organs, they are agencies, and have some of the freedom that we ordinarily ascribe only to persons. Hence to talk of them in interpersonal terms can be apt, and only slightly metaphorical. When Socrates likens each soul to a trio of animals, a Cerberus, a lion and a man (IX.588c7–e1), he is graphically conveying how alien to one another are the repertories of the different parts. When he remarks that these can give commands (IV.439c6–7) or be obedient (441e6), and raise faction (442d1, 444b1) or be meddlesome (443d2, 444b2), he is using public imagery to capture private reality. Among the qualities of persons that are also literal qualities of parts, in Plato’s view, are virtues and vices of character. The easiest illustration of this is also its central application. Socrates feels and Plato plots a way to a definition of justice through a series of commonplaces. A principle of the specialization of labour is recommended as a sensible policy (II. 370a7–b6, 374a3–62, III.397d10–e9) before it returns as the essence of justice (IV.433a1–434d1). It is plausible to suppose that it must be more efficient if all agents concentrate on that single skill for which their nature and experience best suit them. It is truistic to say that it is unjust to take what belongs to others or lose what belongs to oneself (433e6–11).4 Taken together, the two propositions suggest a less elementary thought about justice: if one agent does the job within the city that another agent could do better, the one is taking what is another’s and the other is losing what is his own. The reasoning is doubly equivocal. It shifts from what is mine (my job or property) to what ought to be mine (the job or property of which I can make most). And it trades on the ambiguity of the notion of what I can do best between what I can do better than anything else, and what I can do better than anyone else. Unless talents are providentially distributed, these will not always coincide, so that what is best for me (which is doing the former), and what is best for my city (which is generally doing the latter), may come apart (cf. [11.5], 333 n. 34, 343 n. 28). The conclusion is a typically bold persuasive définition: playing an improper role within a city is theft. Plato’s political application is well-known: there are to be three classes of citizen, guardians who theorize and govern, auxiliaries who police and defend, and artisans who marry and produce. However, all this is provisional until we have seen whether the same characterization applies not only to each individual within the city, but within each individual (434d1–5). Of course, it is then claimed that it does (441d5– 442b4), but the claim is not made carelessly. If there is no natural guarantee that reason will be better at resisting thirst than thirst at impelling drinking (cf. 439b3– 5), what shows that it is proper for thirst to obey reason, and not for reason to capitulate to thirst? The answer lies in a fuller description of their aims and aptitudes. The social analogy, in which an agent’s proper job is best both for the city and for himself, suggests that the proper function of a soul-part will at once benefit soul and part. Happily, these indeed go together: it is reason’s task to govern the entire soul by knowledge of what is beneficial both to each part of the soul and to the community of its parts (441e4–442c8). It alone is capable of reflection and calculation (439d5), and so can take a wide and long view of the interests of the soul as a whole. An unruly appetite defeats its own ends also. What stimulates it is the prospect not merely of eating or drinking, but of doing so pleasurably (436an); it identifies success not with indulgence itself, but with felt satisfaction. Hence it is not the case that the better it activates action, the better off it will be. A thirst that succumbs uncontrollably to any drink is not a thirst that makes the best of its opportunities: it will accept not only the water with which the dying Sidney scrupled to dispel his own discomfort, but also the gin that produces dehydration. The apprehension and application of practical truth can alone offer deliverance from ‘fulfilment’s desolate attic’ (Larkin, ‘Deceptions’). Given that reason is a wise altruist, and appetite a foolish egoist, it is true for both of them that it is just and best that reason rule and appetite obey. Thus, as demanded, justice admits the same account within city and soul. What of the other virtues? The Republic originates the once famous doctrine of the four cardinal virtues in distinguishing three others that are also realized within both city and citizen. Within the soul, wisdom is primarily the quality of a reason that has firmly grasped theoretical and practical truth, courage of a spirit that holds fast to reason’s guidance in the face of fear, and temperance of all the parts united in friendship and harmony (442b9–d1). A just soul must have these three virtues if it has the tripartite structure that Socrates describes. Even a quartet of virtues raises an old question. In earlier dialogues of Plato, such as the Protagoras, Socrates taught the unity of the virtues: to have one virtue is to have all virtues. That doctrine simplifies the defence of virtue, which can then be single; but can it survive the partition of the soul? The Republic is inexplicit, and interpreters disagree (cf. [11.5], 329–30, n. 26, [n.6], ch. 14). One ground for supposing that it cannot is the new possibility of akrasia. The Protagoras argued that to be wise is to be temperate, so that one cannot know that one ought to be resisting a pleasure to which one succumbs (352a8–357e8); but now appetite is permitted to defy reason, may one not have the wisdom to know that one should not drink even though one lacks the temperance or self-control to abstain? Such could have been true of the necrophilic Leontius when he rebuked his eyes for feasting on corpses even as he rushed forward for a closer gaze (Republic IV. 439e7–440a3). This view may be right, but it is not required. If we may distinguish a wise reason from a wise person, we may say that a person as a whole only possesses wisdom—or, equivalently, wisdom only possesses a person as a whole—if his reason exercises effective rule (cf. 442c5–8; Laws III.689a1– c1). Thus we may suppose that a wise person must also be brave and temperate. Among the questions that this leaves open is whether the brave and temperate must also be wise. If they must, then the virtues may indeed entail each other, but with the implication that only fully trained guardians can have any of them. Yet it cannot be Plato’s intention that his Utopia should leave the great majority of its inhabitants in a vicious and therefore unhappy state. He needs to give wisdom a reach beyond the reason of the wise. He achieves this by anticipating a distinction that Aristotle was to make between two modes of ‘possessing’ reason, one displayed in reasoning, the other in listening to reasoning (Nicomachean Ethics I.7.1098a3–5). It is best to possess one’s own understanding, and one can then safely enjoy freedom; otherwise, if one has the luck to live within Plato’s Utopia, one may find the same governance through the subordination of one’s reason, either for a time or for a lifetime, to the understanding of another (Republic IX.590c8–591a3). How is this governance to be effective when spirit or appetite is dominant? It is the art of the guardians to give the auxiliaries such a role that they can indulge their spiritedness, and the artisans such a role that they can indulge their appetitiveness, without acting unwisely or unreasonably. Auxiliaries are only contingently brave, and artisans only contingently temperate, in that they need guardians to contrive for them recurrent situations in which they can simultaneously serve spirit or appetite and observe reason. Within their souls, reason is not corrupt, for it would not command whatever spirit or appetite demanded. Yet it is weak, both in that it is directed by another’s, and in that it can lead spirit or appetite only in a direction in which this is willing to go. Their courage or temperance is thus doubly parasitic: it depends upon a judgement which echoes another’s wisdom, and which only prevails because that wisdom makes sure that it meets no resistance. Expulsion from Plato’s paradise would be the fall of these men: in the terms of the rake’s progress that he sketches in Books VIII and IX, auxiliaries would become timarchic men corrupted by honour, and artisans oligarchic, democratic or tyrannical men corrupted by pleasure. It is by moral luck that they attain to virtue of a kind. They are not fully brave or temperate but wholly unwise; rather, they are brave or temperate in a way through a wisdom that they can accept but not achieve. The unity of the virtues proper is reflected in a unity of popular virtue. Thus the virtue of individuals is a unitary condition of their psychic parts. How is it needed to make them happy? The readiest answer to this question focuses upon temperance, which is defined within the soul as follows: ‘We call a person temperate by reason of the friendship and harmony of these parts, that is, when the ruler and its two subjects agree that reason ought to rule, and do not raise raise faction against it’ (IV.442c10–d1). Caring for all the parts alike, reason makes them ‘friends’ (IX.589b4–5); parts, like people, will be ‘alike and friends’ if they share the same governance (590d5–6). Socrates remarks again that vice is a sickness of the soul (IV.444e1), and can now explain. Eryximachus was giving fanciful expression to a Greek commonplace when he defined it as the task of medicine to produce ‘love and concord’ between the opposites (hot and cold, wet and dry, and so forth) that are the elements of the body (Symposium 186d6–e3). Mental health is the peace of mind that comes of parts of the soul that are friends and not factions. Without temperance, a man is prey to conflicting desires, perhaps subdued but not persuaded, which make him ‘a kind of double individual’ (Republic VIII.554d9–e1). There is a good and bad slavery: while reason is a benevolent master who educates desire, the appetites are a tyrannical one who frustrates it (IX.577d1–12). Reason can hope to rule with consent because of its altruism and intelligence. It was the soul’s original nature (X.611d7–e3), and the origin of the mortal soul (Timaeus 42e7–8); so its attitude is paternalist, like that of a farmer tending his crops (Republic IX.589b2–3). In indulging necessary appetites (those we cannot divert, or whose satisfaction benefits us, VIII.558d9–e2), it keeps appetite content. Being a master of language, it can ‘tame by logos’, persuading and not compelling (554d2). As reason can grasp appetite’s concept of the pleasant, while appetite cannot make out reason’s concept of the good, reason can take appetite by the hand, whereas a recalcitrant appetite could only turn its back on reason. So translated from the outer to the inner world, from society to soul, justice becomes not a demand but an overriding need. The story of Gyges’ ring was a fable of external accidents; in its internal essence, there is no such thing as injustice with impunity. As Socrates will calculate with half-comical precision, the tyrant is 729 times unhappier than the philosopher-king (IX.587d12–e4). III Socrates elaborates his defence of justice with some felicity. And yet it raises two related questions: (1) Is it coherent? Socrates is using two models to relate justice in society and soul (cf. [11.5], 331 n. 29). The first is of group-member dependency. Any quality of a city derives from the citizens who possess it (Republic IV.435e1–6) and from their displaying it within the city; thus guardians make it wise in exercising their wisdom on behalf of the city as a whole (428c11–d6), while auxiliaries make it brave in exercising their courage on its behalf (429b1–3). The other model is of macrocosm-microcosm: justice is identical in city and in citizen (II.368e2–369a3, IV.434d3–5). According to the first model the justice of a citizen is external, but according to the second it is internal: it is said explicitly that the justice of an individual consists in his doing his own business not externally, but within his soul and in respect of its parts (443c9–c2). So a just city is one whose citizens are just in exercising justice within it; yet just citizens are those who are just in exercising justice within themselves. Which seems not to cohere. (2) Is it to the point (cf. [11.16])? When Thrasymachus and Glaucon questioned the value of justice, their starting-points were concrete and external: justice is not committing murder, or adultery. They were asking a general question about conduct of certain kinds. Socrates had already indicated a doubt as to whether justice can be defined in such terms, but he needs to connect his definition to their initial conceptions. Otherwise, he risks having quietly changed the subject from justice commonly conceived as respect for others to justice idiosyncratically reconceived as mental health. The analogy between soul and city may have confirmed that it is good for a city to be just, just as it is good for a soul to be at peace. But the question was not that, but whether it benefits each citizen to be just towards others. Both difficulties will be resolved if internal and external justice are related so closely that operating well within oneself is an exercise of the same disposition as acting justly towards others. Then internal justice will be an aspect of the same disposition or practice as external justice; to attempt to evaluate them separately would be false and artificial. This Socrates tries to make out. He confirms his own definition by applying a ‘vulgar’ test: the internally just man will be the last person to commit externally unjust acts such as theft and adultery (442d10–443b3). The connection also runs the other way: he evidently assumes that it will not alter the extension of the terms ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ if one calls that action just which ‘preserves and helps to produce’ internal justice, and that action unjust which tends to dissolve it (443e5–444a1). (The same reciprocity should apply within popular virtue, once this has been distinguished: the outer will manifest and maintain the inner, always within the contingency of an external governance that makes the popular virtues sufficient in context for good acts.) It suits Socrates to focus on unjust actions that overindulge appetite, and so ‘feast’ and ‘strengthen’ it (IX.588e5–6); and it extends the range of these actions that appetite takes on a love of money, initially as a means to its more basic satisfactions (580e5–581a1). Plato always views it with anxiety: in an earlier and memorable simile, unrestrained appetites are as insatiable as a leaking jar (Gorgias 493b1–3). Indulging appetite risks one’s health, and it is only safe to satisfy necessary appetites. Every unjust action, strengthening tendencies that tend to take one over, is unsafe, and a proper object of concern to the agent who takes thought about the condition of his soul. If the action is very unjust, the concern can only be acute.5 Plato is seeking reasons for being just that are rooted in human nature, that is, in human psychology. A Martian’s reasons for being moral would have to be very different if it were capable of an unconflicted contrariness of which we, in Plato’s view, are not. The success of his ethics is here a function of his psychology. It depends upon taking spirit and appetite to be potentially rampant, and locating all criminal tendencies within them. (A pertinent objection is that the psychopath, for instance, may suffer not from passion but from boredom.)6 Helpful, in a way, is that the parts are protean: spirit is given not only to anger but to pride (Republic VIII.553d4–6); appetite can even motivate a dilettantish taste for philosophy (561c6–d2). When Belloc’s Mitilda told ‘such dreadful lies’ she may have been indulging spirit or appetite. Yet this variability is more convenient for saving the theory than for guiding our practice. In the absence of any determinate definition of the inclinations of the lower parts, and hence of any precise demarcation between the acts that discipline and the acts that indulge them, it becomes imperative to supplement a negative description of the costs of immorality by a positive account of the motivations natural to reason. It is also part of our nature, in Plato’s view, that we possess a reason that is not just the slave of the passions (as Hume characterized it), but a pursuer of its own projects. We need to hear more about the appeal of acting justly in familiar ways, and how it is strong enough to captivate any soul in a state of healthy receptivity. Widening our focus around justice, we must ask what the charms are of treating others well that are irresistible to the intelligent soul. IV Platonism is marked by two metaphysical dualisms, of unchanging Forms and mutable participants, and of soul and body. The second dualism discourages a possible implication of the first: Platonists do not view the world of change with indifference, for it is another country within which souls operate, orienting themselves and others in colonial lives that realize the Forms under other skies. In the Phaedo, we find Socrates teaching the way of death, urging his pupils to escape the cycle of reincarnation in order, as discarnate souls, to philosophize uninterruptedly. In the Symposium, composed at about the same time, he takes a more positive view of incarnate life. Within a body, even the life of the mind is an exercise in transience, but after a manner that creates a kind of permanence. ‘Ways, habits, opinions, desires, pleasures, pains, fears’ and even ‘knowings’ do not remain the same, but come and go in a cycle of loss and repair, each instance departing and being replaced by another, so that it appears to remain the same (207e2–208b2). This pattern within a life becomes the model for a pattern between lives that traverses not only the passage of time but the terminus of death. Poets, lawgivers and lovers so lead their mental lives as to pass on their best features to others. Thus, within a pédérastic relationship, the man transmits his virtues to the boy, so that, as through physical children, but more nobly and more efficaciously, his life is reduplicated in a way that delivers it from his own death (209b5–c7). If the boy becomes a lover in turn, there is the chance of a chain of transmission that may achieve for the sequence of lovers a kind of immortality. The Symposium contains no developed psychology, but this prospect gains in point from the tripartition of the Republic. Tripartition comes with incarnation, and so, to the extent that human virtues are ways of making the best of a tripartite state, they are creatures of incarnate life. Philosophic lovers or lawgivers (poets are now distrusted) who value being humanly virtuous have reason to work not only for their own escape from reincarnation, but also for the continuation within other lives of the human virtues that they hope themselves to transcend. Vicarious immortality is not explicitly adduced in the Republic, perhaps for the reason, as we shall see in Section VII, that there Socrates has tactical reason (despite Glaucon, but because of Thrasymachus) to play down the appeal of ruling. Yet he illustrates how it could be maximized in describing lawgivers who lay down the general plan of a Utopia where everything of importance is to be planned (e.g. V.458d9–e1), and there is no area of personal liberty within which their influence is not to intrude. It is a further goal of theirs that every life should connect with every other by a maximal mutual identification: ‘In this city more than any other, when any individual fares well or badly, they would all speak in unison the word we mentioned just now, namely that mine is doing well, or that mine is faring badly’ (463e3–5). Now ‘this way of thinking and speaking’ (464a1) can neither achieve anything in itself, nor have any magic to work in a vacuum: the language of pseudo-identity is not an Indian rope-trick. What is its substance? Some have supposed that Plato takes an organic view of the state (pro, [11.13], 79–81; contra, [11.17]), a suggestion that may be both clarified and supported by a simile in which he compares the fully unified city to the body that feels pain as a whole when only a finger is wounded (462c10–d7). Just as it is the animal who feels pain, and not the finger, so it might be the city as a whole that feels at one with itself. In the face of the fact that a city is not a person, such a notion, could only be mystical. Plato inclines rather to translate out talk about a city in terms of its citizens (as when he derives any quality of a city from its citizens, IV.435e1– 6). In one respect, an organic view threatens to be at once opaque and sinister: it might imply that the happiness of persons can be sacrificed to the impersonal good of the state. Plato remains far from conceiving that even when he gets closest to it. In reply to a complaint by Adeimantus that he is denying his guardians the dolce vita that a ruling class expects, Socrates reminds him that their target was the happiness not of one class especially, but of the whole city; and he gives the simile of a statue whose eyes should be painted the colour that best suits the statue (420b5–d5). However, the point of the simile is that, just as we want eyes that look like eyes, so we want guardians who remain guardians, that is, who care for their fellow citizens. The contrast is between factional and general happiness, and not between the good of the citizens and the good of the city. When Socrates speaks of a myth that will make the citizens ‘care more for the city and for each other’ (III.415d3–4), the ‘and’ is exegetical and not conjunctive. His desire that the city remain ‘one’ (IV.423b9–10) expresses not a mystical or temperamental love of unity, but a fear that rich and poor may form two cities hostile to one another (422e9–423a1). There is nothing sinister, either, in the claim that it is guardians who make the city count as wise, although they are by far the smallest class (428c11–e9), any more than when a company counts as innovative in virtue of the ingenuity of its design department. Even though he mocks a democratic and undiscriminating attitude to pleasures (VIII. 561b7–c4), and argues that the truest pleasures are those of philosophy (IX.583b2–587b10), Plato never permits happiness to be the privilege of a few. Perhaps because he does not suppose that a choice has to be made (at least within his Utopia), he rather envisages that all citizens will achieve the happiness natural to them. How then, if not within an organic state, is the term ‘mine’ to be used in unison? Since it is the guardians who guide the rest, it is their mentality that most needs moulding.7 To preclude private interests that might conflict with public obligations, Socrates advocates the abolition, among guardians and auxiliaries, of marriage, family life and private property, and their replacement by eugenic couplings and common messes. Ignorance of one’s parents risks the errors of an Oedipus, and it is ostensibly to prevent these that he proposes that those born as a result of some procreative festival will call whoever bred then ‘mother’ or ‘father’ (V.461d2–5). But when he adds a similar extension of ‘sister’ and ‘brother’ even though he is oddly unconcerned about coeval incest (d7–e3), it becomes clear that he sees a more positive value in the group family. Viewing each other as relations, the guardians will treat one another accordingly (463c3–d8). Thus they will live in perfect peace; and, if they don’t quarrel, there will be no danger of rebellion or faction within the rest of the city (465b5–10). Plato’s hope turns out to be that, so long as the guardians are perfectly united as an extended family, even the artisans will empathize with them and with one another. We may suspect that, even from his viewpoint, the latter would be subject to some tension of attitude: if they are spared the communism, this is plausibly because it would undermine the appetitive motivation which they represent, and which suits their productive role; and yet it is presumably because they possess a reason, if a débile and dependent one, that they are capable of an altruism within the city of which appetite is incapable within the soul. However, what counts as a ‘necessary’ appetite, deserving of satisfaction, must vary with natural disposition and civic role; a rational altruism can permit artisans a livelier appetitiveness than befits others. If so, they too may achieve Plato’s personal and civic ideal of unity in becoming one man instead of many (IV.443e1), and yet identifying with everyone else. Such is Plato’s political ideal. His personal ideas shines forth in the defence of inspired madness that constitutes Socrates’ second speech in the Phaedrus, though it is there enveloped in an aptly mythic glow that makes interpretation hazardous. Not only recollection of the Forms, but erotic companionship, are presented as recoveries of an earlier and happier state. Souls in heaven are pictured as following in the trains of the Olympian gods, and so forming more selective bonds of congeniality than are proper to civic relations. After the catastrophe of incarnation, followers of Zeus will look for someone to love who is by nature a philosopher and a leader, while followers of Hera will look for someone who is naturally regal, and so on (252e1–253b4). This fits well with the Republic’s acceptance of varied natural talents, but extends the varieties of personality. It does not only value the companionship of philosophers, but allows that spirited lovers, though less intellectual and less chaste, may eventually, in the ornithic imagery, regrow their plumage together and fly back to heaven (256b7–e2). (We may suppose that it is in order to relate even unphilosophical love to recollection that Socrates here exceptionally envisages tripartition even before incarnation.) Thus Plato seems willing to grant personal attachments a general power to facilitate and enhance whatever activities are their sphere. However, he finds them particularly apt to philosophy. One reason is the interpersonal nature of philosophizing. Most explicit here is the Seventh Letter: ‘Only after long partnership in a common life devoted to this very thing does truth flash upon the soul, like a flame kindled by a leaping spark’ (341c6–d1). Dialectic is essentially a kind of dialogue, a truth of which he keeps us in mind by the very genre of his writings. It is oral discussion, and not written communication, that can alone truly achieve the mental immortality described in the Symposium: living words sown in one soul contain a seed that can propagate them in others down an unending sequence (Phaedrus 276e4–277a4). The sphere of philosophy is friendship. V Plato calls his famous demand that philosophers be rulers and rulers philosophers ‘the greatest wave’ (Republic V.473c6–7). We must not forget that he was writing under a democracy, and one whose values, even within his parody (VIII. 557a9–558c7), we too must find congenial. And yet he makes his conception of a class of guardians selected and trained for devotion to the city still more remarkable in its concrete elaboration. Socrates assumes that aptitude for guardianship is genetically determined. He notoriously embodies this assumption in a ‘noble fiction’ that is to be instilled into all citizens (III.414b9–c2): everyone contains a trace of gold, silver, or iron and copper that marks him as a natural guardian, auxiliary, or artisan (415a4–7). Children commonly resemble their parents, but exceptions are to be demoted or promoted (a7–b3, cf. IV.423c6–d2). How and when the traces are to be detected is largely unspecified. Artisans will presumably receive some physical and mental training, in addition to the ‘noble fiction’, to prepare them for temperance; but it is not said what, nor whether it precedes or follows their assignment to that class. (In recent English educational terms, one might think of them as failing the eleven-plus.) Guardians and auxiliaries only divide in middle age when the former advance from mathematics and administration to philosophy and government. Relegation may occur at any time as occasion justifies: cowards in battle become artisans (V.468a5–7). Late promotion is more problematic, as it may be too late to catch up on education; parallel to demotion here is not promotion (as at III.415b2–3, IV.423d1–2), but public honour and private gratification (V.468b2–c4). Yet Plato’s human stratification is a meritocracy, and not a caste-system. In place of marriages, Socrates proposes the institution of eugenic matings (458d9–e4) arranged ostensibly by lot but actually with an eye to personal merit and stability of population (459d8–460b5).8 This had better have the effect of creating better guardians and auxiliaries, and not a shortage of natural auxiliaries; it fits that courage, as well as intelligence, is a ground of selection (460b1–5, 468c5–8). He permits some freedom of sexual activity to those past the proper ages for breeding (461b9–c7), presumably because even they need some sexual satisfaction; but, likening ‘erotic necessity’ to geometric (458d5–7), he depersonalizes it. The only erotic attitudes that he allows to be discriminating in their objects depend upon culture (cf. III.403a7–c2), and are satisfied by kissing (V.468b12–c4). It may be wondered (as in [11.n], 159) whether their very selectivity must not make them out of place within Plato’s all-embracing community. In one respect Plato is millenia in advance of his time. He accepts that his principle of specialization applies also to women, but rejects an application that would justify the status quo.9 Different natures should indeed have different functions within the city, but to infer that men and women should play different roles would be like permitting bald men to be cobblers but not men with hair, or vice versa; for most purposes it is irrelevant that the female bears and the male begets (453e2–454e4). Recent writers, tired of debating whether Plato avoids fascism, debate tirelessly whether he achieves feminism. Julia Annas has two complaints that rest, I think, rather upon prejudice than upon perception. First, she declares that Plato ‘sees women merely as a huge untapped pool of resources’, and that his ‘only’ objection to the subjection of women is that ‘under ideal conditions it constitutes an irrational waste of resources’ ([11.1], 183). She implies that, although concerned about ‘production of the common good’ ([11. 1], 181), Plato views half the population exclusively as providers and not receivers, as means and not as ends. This should not easily be believed. Somewhat artificially, Socrates distinguishes the questions whether his proposals are feasible, and whether they are desirable (456c4–10, 457a3–4). His defence of their feasibility, sketched above, is explicitly about what is natural (b12–c2), and implicitly about what is just (though it uses his definition of justice and not the term ‘just’). His defence of their desirability is simply that mental and physical education will produce the best possible men and women, which is the greatest good for a city (456e6–457a2). He says no more, doubtless because he simply has in mind that the best city is that whose citizens are best (cf. IV.435e1–6), a valuation that is intrinsic and not instrumental. Secondly, Annas complains that Plato retains a masculine stereotype of excellence in spending most of Book V ‘claiming, irrelevantly and grotesquely, that women can engage in fighting and other “macho” pursuits nearly as well as men’ ([n.1], 185).10 It is true that Socrates pays special attention to women’s new role as soldiers and athletes (V. 452a7–e3); but this is because he feels that he has to confront the objection that, since physical exercise was taken naked, that would be indecent and ridiculous (cf. 457a6–b3). Otherwise, he gives no more emphasis to physical than to intellectual training (456b8–10, 456e9–457a1), and actually makes less mention of ‘macho’ pursuits such as athletics and soldiering (456a1–2, 457a6–7) than of medicine (454d2–6, 455e6), culture (e7), philosophy (456a4), and guardianship (a7–8, 457a8). Even when reflecting upon women, Plato is no philistine. There are, however, two opposite regrets to qualify our admiration of his prescience. On the one hand, he distances himself too quickly from his own experience in denying women any distinctive qualities. The training and education of the guardians involve the reconciling of contrasted tendencies within the soul, the toughness of spirit and the tenderness of reason (III.410c8– e9), and facility and stability within reason itself (VI.503b7–d12). If he had presented this as a wedding of the masculine and the feminine (cf. Laws VII. 802e8–11), he could have welcomed women more positively, not as monopolizers, but as icons, of tenderness and stability. On the other hand, he remains too slackly within the limits of his own experience when he has Glaucon remark that, broadly speaking, women are in everything ‘far outdone’ by men, and Socrates agree: ‘In all occupations the woman is weaker than the man’ (V. 455d2–e2). Admittedly, the force of this is unclear, and has to be consistent with the reservation ‘Many women are better than many men at many things’ (d3–4, where the repetition of ‘many’ increases the rhetorical emphasis even as it reduces the logical content). It might imply a scarcity of female guardians, which would be inconvenient. It might just mean that men possess more energy and stamina in exercising the same abilities, which is one way of making sense of the summing-up: ‘So man and woman have the same nature as guardians of the city, except that it is stronger in men and weaker in women’ (456a10–11). But a passage that challenges prejudice should not take refuge in ambiguities. Plato has some, but not all, of the courage and imagination needed to flesh out his picture of a class of rulers unlike any rulers he knew. VI Though they can be allowed no monopoly on altruism, philosophers must be extraordinarily motivated to serve others if they are to merit the power that Plato would place in their hands. At the heart even of his social philosophy lies the theory of Forms. Within both personal and civic relations he expects these to be not distracting but inspiring. In the Phaedrus Socrates makes an extraordinary linkage between Forms and faces. Of all the Forms, Beauty offers the clearest image of itself to our sight, so that ‘it is the most apparent and the most loved’ (2250d3–e1). We then read that the lover would offer a sacrifice to the boy ‘as to a statue and a god’ (251a6–7), as if a boy, unlike a god, could be both. He is clearly in a state of deep confusion, and we should not be too quick to insist that what he really sees in the boy is the image and not Beauty itself. In (and not merely while) looking at him, he is ‘carried back’ to the Form (250e2–3): passionate seeing is infused by unconscious recollecting. When he turns his attention from body to soul, the same confusion recurs. He now recollects not a Form but a god, i.e., at least a mode of apprehending and realizing Forms. But gazing at the boy without grasping that he is remembering a god, he naturally credits the boy with the gifts that he in fact owes to the god and transmits to the boy; mistaking material for model, he supposes that he is imitating the boy even as he transmutes him (252e7–253b1). The confusion is salutary, for it inspires the generosity (b7–8) that does indeed make the lover godlike: it is through finding the boy ‘equal to a god’ (255a1) that he becomes himself ‘possessed by a god’ (be). Appropriately within his defence of a higher madness, Socrates is allowing that the Forms can produce a moral revolution, replacing conventionality by authenticity (252a4–6), through metaphysical bewilderment. The same transition from inspiration by a body to displacement of interest from body to soul was already an emphatic feature of the ladder of love in the Symposium. The omission there of any mention of recollection, a theme that Plato was developing about the same time in the Phaedo, can only be understood as a sacrifice for the sake of simplicity and unity of presentation. Alternately extending and raising his view, the lover shifts his interest from one body to all beautiful bodies, to one soul, to the practices and laws that mould all beautiful souls, to the branches of knowledge, and so to the most cognizable of all beauties, the Form of Beauty itself (210a4–e1). The Form is explicitly grasped only at the end, but must be supposed to have been exercising a subliminal influence from the beginning. The lovers of sights and sounds in Republic Book V, who not only lack but are incapable of knowledge of the Form, are fixated on a plurality of beauties (476b4–c4, 479e1–2). Though they doubtless use the general term ‘beautiful’, they are effectively nominalists and not realists about beauty, with no inkling that shifts of interest between individuals and even categories are intelligible as exercises of loyalty towards a single common property. They are aesthetes for whom every art-object is irreplaceable by any other. Those who make the ascent are different from early on: their hearts rapidly adjust to generalizations about beauty as a single property that comes in kinds and degrees. For Plato, this can only mean that, like homing pigeons, they are already potentially on target to retrieve the Form itself. How will this effect their attitudes to persons? Their promiscuity will be unlike that of the indiscriminate lovers mentioned in the Republic who find a snub nose ‘charming’ and a Roman nose ‘regal’, a dark complexion ‘virile’ and a fair one ‘divine’ (474d7–e2). Inhabiting an erotic world of thick rather than thin concepts, of specificities and not abstractions, these find all adolescents attractive in different ways. The lovers of the Symposium realize that ‘if one must pursue beauty of appearance, it is great folly not to consider the beauty of all bodies one and the same’ (210b2–3). So the two promiscuities contrast, for the one depends on appreciating differences, the other on appreciating identity; the one values all individuals, while the other values nothing individual. Even at the second level of the ascent, where the objects of love are souls and mental qualities, there is no interest in varieties of personality. The right speeches are those ‘that improve the young’ (c2–3), with no suggestion of the theme in the Phaedrus, which is one of the links between its treatments of love and rhetoric, that different types of speech are appropriately directed at different temperaments (271b1–5, c10–d7). When the ascent is completed, the lover will look down at ‘the wide sea of beauty’ (Symposium 210d4) at a height from which individuals, and even kinds of individual, are no longer distinct. We may then wonder whether the ladder of love is not an exit out of love in any ordinary sense. It is true that the summit of the ascent is not the end of the story. In a sexual metaphor, the lover will beget on Beauty ‘not images of virtue but true virtue’, and so become ‘dear to the gods and, if any man can, immortal himself also’ (212a3–7). Yet all this contrasts with the kind of immortality offered before (209c2–d1); there the lover begat on the boy virtues ‘more beautiful and immortal’ than physical children; here he begets virtue on Beauty itself so as to become, so far as is humanly possible, immortal in the manner of a god. The ‘images of virtue’ that the human lover generated in his beloved were perhaps no more real than those that poets generate in their audience (d1–4); the philosophical lover may generate ‘true virtue’ only in himself in the form of an intellectual state that relates him only to the gods. On this reading, a vicarious immortality dependent on the contingencies of personal relationships is transcended and replaced by a proprietary immortality that is no longer a child of chance. Gregory Vlastos concludes, ‘What started as a pederastie idyl ends up in a transcendental marriage’ ([10.59], 42). If this egoistic intellectualism is the correct interpretation of the Platonic ascent, Forms provide not a new motivation towards morality, but a new problem for its justification. As Vlastos aptly comments, ‘Were we free of mortal deficiency we would have no reason to love anyone or anything except the Idea: seen face to face, it would absorb all our love’ ([10.59, 32–3). If so, Plato’s erotics have problematic implications for his politics, for the Forms that distract lovers from loving should also distract philosopher-rulers from ruling. It is a famous problem in the Republic how to draw philosophers away from enjoying the truth into doing good, and this reading of the Symposium turns the screw. If Socrates’ second speech in the Phaedrus seems very different, that might confirm that it has to be taken with caution. However, one may doubt whether it can be right to read the Symposium so inconveniently. It is clear from the Phaedo that ‘true virtue’ is not purely intellectual but rather consists of practical virtue ‘together with wisdom’ (69b3), here in the Symposium coming from apprehension of the Forms. Similarly procreative language to that of Symposium (212a2–5) serves in the Republic (VI.490b3–7) to describe the emergence of ‘a sound and just character, which is accompanied by temperance’ (c5–6). In the Laws, the effect of intercourse with divine virtue is to become outstandingly virtuous oneself (X. 904c6–e3). The contrast in the Phaedo is with a slavish virtue that merely measures pleasures and pains; here in the Symposium it is with a prephilosophical virtue that may be beautiful and immortal (209c6–7) but lacks understanding. There is no implication of any withdrawal from practical life. More uncertain is whether there remains any intimate relationship with an individual. One might infer that there does not from a remark that ‘slavery to the beauty of one’ is ‘base and mean-spirited’ (210d1–3); but that complaint is actually more applicable if the lover is now developing his own virtue alone. We should rather distinguish the contemplation of beauty, which should be wide and individually non-discriminating, from the creation of beauty, which for most of us has to be personal and more selective. Better indicative is the context: personal love cannot cease to be Socrates’ topic without a discontinuity of which one could expect a clearer warning. It is more likely that the ‘true virtue’ is generated both in the lover and in a beloved (unlike the ‘images of virtue’ which already existed in the lover and had only to be transmitted). If so, what the Forms provide is not a new egocentricity in the pursuit of virtue, but a new motivation for creating it as best one can—which for lovers is within a beloved, as for lawgivers it is within a community. Vicarious immortality was presented before the ascent-passage as the prolongation of a human good; a proprietary immortality is now the additional reward of a divine height of beneficence. So understood, this section of the Symposium is indeed an overture, and not an obstacle, to the wider and deeper concerns of the Republic. The two works display a structural similarity: in both, a human explanation of caring for others is supplemented by a transcendental one that follows on introduction of the Forms. The Symposium first finds in vicarious immortality a human motive for creating virtue in another especially within an erotic relationship; the Republic first finds in communism among the guardians a human cause of identifying with others within a Utopia. But those capable of apprehending the Forms have an extra ground for doing good that also enables them to do more good. Plato’s presentation in the Republic takes on a partly misleading emphasis from the dialectical context. In reaction to Thrasymachus’ assertion that all rule is for the benefit of the rulers (I.338e1–339a4), Socrates claims that some ‘compulsion and penalty’ must be applied to the good if they are to be willing to rule; the greatest penalty is being ruled by someone worse (347b9–c5). Later he still accepts the principle, ‘The city in which those who are to rule are least eager to do so must needs be the best and least divisively administered’ (VII.520d2–4). It is only fair that philosopher-kings should be forbidden to linger among their own contemplations, and ‘compelled’ to rule, each in turn, in return for an education that, exceptionally, they owe to their city (a6–c3). This risks disappointing Glaucon, who wanted to hear justice praised for its own sake (II.358d1–2), for ruling reluctantly in payment of a debt might have no value in itself other than that, which is being questioned and cannot be presupposed, of justice itself; and even that value might be cancelled by the compulsion. However, the word ‘compelled’ carries no implication of the intrinsically unchoiceworthy: philosophers are also ‘compelled’ to gain a vision of the Form of the Good (VII.519c8–d1, 540a7–9). When Socrates remarks that philosopher-kings will practise ruling ‘not as something fine but as something necessary’ (b4–5), the thought must be that they will be obliged to rule, and not that they will get nothing out of it. Yet the emphasis is unhelpful: we have to look around for hints of what ruling offers rulers in itself that makes them willing though not enthusiastic. And we cannot extract an answer from sections II–III above: truant philosophizing, so long as it is pursued for the sake of truth and not for fun or out of one-upmanship, is hardly fattening the lion of spirit or the Cerberus of appetite. Philosophers, like Martians, escape the common costs of injustice. We need to ask (as Vlastos possibly failed to) what it is to love a Form. To suppose that it is simply to enjoy contemplating it would be like supposing that a mother can only show her love for her child by looking at it. Loving the Forms is further to wish to fashion oneself after them in a just and orderly life (VI.500c2– d1). Once reason itself possesses wisdom, it desires that this possess the soul of which it is part, which requires that it rule wisely within the soul (IV.442c5–8). This already offers the agent a rich enough prize: becoming just and practising virtue likens a man to a god so far as is humanly possible (X.613a7–b1, cf. Symposium 212a5–7). Thus meeting an obligation can be a humble, if not the highest, part of the project of apotheosis. There is yet further point in moulding not just oneself but one’s community: I love wisdom more if I wish it to characterize not only myself but my city, which demands that this be ruled by the wise; in a striking expression, it is a ‘service’ to justice to extend its domain in governing a city (VII.540e2–3). Moreover, to the extent that this attitude focuses on the Form itself, it will be impartial between cities as well as citizens. Identification with others previously replaced egoism by what has been called ‘nostrism’ (cf. [11.9], 72); devotion to Forms, and desire that things participate in them, now supplements egocentricity by impartiality. Here in the Republic, as not in the Symposium, we meet a passionate impersonality, inspired by the Forms, that values the existence of justice on earth as in heaven, with no special reference either to the agent or to his own circle or community. However high this valuation may be, it is compatible with a reluctance to rule. If I am a philosopher in Plato’s Utopia, I shall consent to rule, for the sake both of being just myself and of making others just, when it is needed and because I am obliged; but I shall not compete to rule when justice would be equally achieved all round by another’s ruling instead. I may value nothing above the rule of justice; but, to the extent that this is an end definable without even implicit reference to myself, I can be as keen as possible that it be achieved without being more than willing that it be achieved through me. It is thus that we may take Plato to be reconciling the rulers’ reluctance with their devotion to the ruled. VII Forms have a further role to play, providing not only a special motivation to rule but a special competence in ruling. Dialectic, which leads through the world of the Forms, is also to provide a practical knowledge that entitles philosophers alone to lead their own lives and direct those of others. But how is it to do this? The Republic hardly faces up to the question. Karl Popper has a complaint that is for once not unfair: ‘Plato’s Idea of the Good is practically empty. It gives us no indication of what is good, in a moral sense, i.e. what we ought to do’ ([11.13], 274 n. 32, cf. 145–6). The objection goes back to Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics I.6.1096b35–1097a13), who had more to go by than the text of the dialogues. Yet in assessing it by the evidence we have, we need to remember some features of the Republic as a text that we inevitably neglect when we expound its content as a theory—as I have been doing. In a manner, the Republic deconstructs itself. It advances the thesis that it is dialectic alone, looking at the stars, that can guide the ship of state (to translate into metaphor an analogy spelled out at VI.488a7– 489c7). The paradox is made vivid in the image of the philosopher’s return from the light outside back into the Cave: one would expect him to be blinded by the darkness (VII.516e3–6), but are assured that he alone will see aright (520c3–6). The best guide is Johnny Head-in-Air. But who is presenting the case? A Socrates who remains Socratic in denying any pretensions to dialectic himself: he compares himself to a blind man on the right road (VI.506c8–9), and can only offer to speak in likenesses (e3–4). He is a pre-dialectical ‘lawgiver’ (V.458c6, VI. 497d1) for a community that allows only dialecticians the right to rule.11 His conclusions themselves imply that interpreters who take them as Platonic dogma must be making a mistake. His task is to present a persuasive case for dialectic without any ability reliably to anticipate its results. Consequently, we cannot expect more from him than gesture where we most want guidance, and need to be cautious even where he is communicative. Socrates conceives of the goal of dialectic in two ways: it is apprehension of the nature of the Form of the Good (VII.532a5–b5), and of the interconnections between the branches of knowledge (531c9–d4, 537c1–7). Dialectic is thus foundational, evaluative and synoptic. Our world depends upon the world of Forms, which derives ideologically from the Good; unlike our world, which can only imperfectly marry the material with the ideal, the world of Forms is as it is because that is the best way anything can be. Apprehending the Forms would yield a grasp of the is and the ought of their world and of ours, but Socrates is unable to spell out how. One particular difficulty is this: our ‘ought’ is in part a moral ‘ought’, but how can morality, which is interpersonal, connect with the impersonal world of Forms? More technically, Plato is at least inclined to a doctrine of the self-predication of Forms; how then can there be a Form of Justice, when it is only persons, acts, intentions, and the like, that can be just? Consistently with his persona, Socrates supplies hints that are not answers. Quite deliberately, we may suppose, Plato has him twice take us by surprise. Justice has been defined in partite terms: a soul or city is just if its parts do their own thing. And yet it is by looking at the soul before partition that we shall best distinguish justice from injustice (X.611c4–5). Justice is personal. And yet it can be said that the Forms neither wrong nor are wronged by each other (VI.500c3–4). We should infer, I suggest, that the justice that Socrates has identified as one of the cardinal virtues is the human face of a vaguer reality. Specific talk of a Form of Justice is at home within a human perspective. Glimpsed outside that perspective, the opposite of injustice is no less than rational order (kosmos according to logos, c4–5). We may suppose that the four virtues, and indeed all virtues, are products of the refraction of that through the prism of mind and matter. (This would be the metaphysical ground of the unity of the virtues.) In patterning themselves and their society upon the Forms, philosophers make them ‘as orderly and divine as is humanly possible’ (c9–d1). Their goal is to make human activity a more faithful reflection of intelligible reality. This is abstract, but not empty. There is an obvious analogy between the unity of the Forms (visible to the synoptic eye) and Plato’s ideal—which we may well not share—of a wholly co-operative community. If we explain away his metaphysics as a projection from his ethics, that confirms the analogy. Yet the content of the Republic is generally less indefinite, and we need to reflect how the abstract and concrete connect. In a similar passage, we read that philosophers, forming a clear pattern in their minds through scrutiny of the truest truth, ‘establish here norms concerning the fine, the just, and the good if they need establishing, and preserve those that are established’ (484d1–3). This may express an ideal that contrasts both with Aristotle and with later Plato: dialectic might allow the deduction of moral principles, and civil laws and institutions, that are fixed and absolute. But the issue is debatable.12 Little can safely be read out of the fact that much of the Republic is an imaginative exercise in lawgiving. We may view its laws less as attempts to anticipate the results of dialectic than as a mode of describing a city that does not exist. More recent Utopias (like Thomas More’s) are commonly presented in the popular genre of travel-writing; Plato apes the more serious Greek genre of lawgiving for a colony (cf. the casualness of VII.534e1)—as he will do again, more fully and formally, in the Laws. Over some matters Socrates expresses a conservatism that is doubtless Plato’s: innovation in music and gymnastics is especially discouraged (IV.424b5– c6). Yet the apparent fixity of Plato’s ideal may owe more to the genre than to what Popper calls ‘the rigidity of tribalism’ ([11.13], 172). Certainly, to infer from Books VIII and IX (where Socrates sketches a decline from Utopia through a series of constitutions and characters terminating in the tyrannical) that Plato thought that all change is for the worse would be to misread systematic comparison as impossible history, for the primitive and pre-historical Golden Age was not an age of Platonists and philosopher-kings. We may think of his Utopia as a thought-experiment that conveys concretely how a society could be informed by dialectic without consisting solely of dialecticians. In resting so much on the analogy between soul and city, while leaving open whether further investigation would multiply the parts of the soul, Socrates implicitly leaves open also whether there are precisely three classes of citizen. Indeed, his survey of the stages of advanced education in Book VII implies further subdivisions within guardians and auxiliaries. What then of the ‘norms concerning the fine, the just and the good’ (VI.484d2)? We must remember that Plato cannot be rigid about rules, either moral or legal, when he has rejected any attempt to define moral virtues in concrete behavioural terms (see section I above). It is true that courage was characterized as ‘the preservation of the opinion that has arisen under the law through education concerning what things, and what kinds of thing, are to be feared’ (IV.429c7–8). All but guardians need general opinions as guides for a reason raised in the Politicus: ‘How could anyone be able to sit beside someone all his life and prescribe to him precisely what is fitting?’ (295a9–b2). But no virtue can be captured by such rules, for the unity of the virtues applies in a manner even to acts: an act may be just without being brave, for its context may include no danger; but, as Cephalus learnt (Republic I.331cl–d3), an act is only just if it is best, and that is sensitive to circumstance. Despite some of the appearances, both moral and legal rigidities are out of place in the Republic. VIII I have suggested that we have to take a somewhat sceptical view of Socrates’ quasi-legislation in the Republic if we keep in mind the theory on which it rests. This is uncertain, but has the effect of easing the transition to the later dialogues, the Politicus and Laws. The Politicus essentially approves the institution of philosopher-kings: the Stranger confirms that the correct and real form of government is that in which the rulers are truly expert; whether they rule willing or unwilling subjects, with or without laws, is by the way (293c5–d2). The decisive questions are not concrete (‘Do they kill and banish?’, ‘Do they import citizens or send out colonies?’), but abstract (‘Are they applying knowledge and justice?’, ‘Are they improving the city?’ (d4–c2)). This must be because there are no reliable generalizations linking the concrete and the abstract; absolute laws cannot do justice to the dissimilarities of men and situations (294a10–b6). A conception of precision (t’akribes, 284d1) can only be sketched imprecisely; expert statesmen, like all practical experts (c2), must be able to measure the greater and the lesser in relation not only to each other but to the ‘mean’, that is, ‘the moderate, the fitting, the timely, the necessary, and all else that falls into the mean between extremes’ (e5–8). Aristotle was to develop this more fully, but to very different effect: Plato aspires to the precision of an art of measurement, while he appeals to the perception of particular cases (Nicomachean Ethics II.9.1109b22–3). Within Plato, we must suspect, imprecision of description, and precision as an aspiration, are made for each other. There are still roles for rules, either fixed or flexible. Even expert rulers will enact laws to guide action in their absence (Statesman 295a4–b2); but these are revisable by rulers, and overridable by subjects (c8–d7). More significant is the right role of laws within cities whose rulers are inexpert—that is, within all cities outside Utopia (meaning ‘nowhere’). Here flexibility is dangerous. Where there is no knowledge, revision is likely to come of corrupt motives, whereas long experience, careful consideration and popular consent lie behind laws as they stand (300a1–b6). When rulers know what they are doing, consent does not matter (293c8–d2); when they do not, it does. It is if a doctor is expert that the patient’s consent has no bearing on the desirability of the treatment (296b5–c2). However, as in medicine, political consent is at best an indication, and never a criterion, of getting things right. At least the primary goal of governing well must be to act justly oneself; but its mark is just action by the governed (c6–d4), which is a consequence and not a mode of procedure. Plato retains a counterfactual optimism: if a perfect ruler appeared, he would be welcome (301d4, cf. Republic VI.498d6–502a2); but, as it is, no such king is produced in our cities, and the best that we can do is follow in the track of the truest polity (301d8–e4). This causes Plato no enthusiasm. If a more practicable art, like medicine or navigation, were to proceed by rigid legislation, we should all find it absurd (298b6–299e9). Such government is an imitation of the true in a manner that makes it less a copy than a counterfeit (293e2–3, cf. 300c5–301a4): far from taking the ideal as a model, it despairs of achieving more than a simulacrum of success by means that are fit less to succeed than to avoid the worst causes of failure. The Laws deepens and develops what is essentially the same conception, but with much more patience for the unideal. Its protagonist is an Athenian Stranger, who lacks at once the uncertainties and the aspirations of a Socrates. He distinguishes a ‘first city and polity’, which realizes the greatest possible unity, from one that is single to a secondary degree (V.739b8–e4). The ideal recalls the Republic, the means are communist (women, children, property held in common), the end unanimity in attitude and action; even things private by nature, eyes and ears and hands, must seem to operate in common. There is a new fluidity: the communism is to extend not only through a small class of guardians and auxiliaries, but ‘so far as possible throughout the whole city’ (c1–2). This corresponds to a more fluid psychology; the golden cord of reason has to contend with other cords that are hard and steely (I.644d7–645b1), but the field of conflict is not defined as tripartite (cf. [11.2]). However, reason was never immune to corruption, and the removal of the barriers that constituted partition fits a new anxiety that incarnation is always infection. It is not in human nature to acquire autocratic power without becoming full of insolence and injustice (IV.713c6–8, cf. XII.947e7–8). Our mortal nature inclines us to sacrifice public interest to private gain, ‘creating a darkness within itself (IX.875b6–c2). Only by the grace of God could a man be born with a character that would enable him safely to apply his intelligence and dispense with laws; as it is, true freedom is hardly to be found anywhere (c2–d3). The main obstacle to philosophical rule is nothing more contingent than our humanity. Hence the second-best city is humanly the best. While still in fact evidently impracticable (cf. [11.3], 266–8, 311–12), it conveys more concretely what might be adequate to human needs if circumstances were different and consent obtainable. Though knowledge itself should never be enslaved to law (c7–d1), there is no security for any city in which the law is not master of the rulers (IV. 715c6–d6). By a revision of Athenian practice, with an age-limit and an election instead of lot, officials are to be answerable to scrutiny by a board of auditors (XII.945e4–946e4); when autocracy is out of the question, even bureaucracy must be kept under control. Laws are to be prefaced by explanations and exhortations (IV.718b2–723d4). We may wonder whether these would not encourage jurors to apply the spirit rather than the letter of each law, but their intention seems simply to win comprehension and compliance (718c8–d7). It is illustrated profusely, almost compulsively, how minutely laws must define and differentiate the types of criminal offence. That some details of regulation must be left by the founding legislator to experiment and experience (e.g. VI.770b4–8) was also recognized in the less law-bound Republic (IV.427a2–7); here, even these are to become virtually immutable after ten years’ trial (Laws VI.772b5–c7). Later revision must be excused by necessity, and will be inhibited by procedural obstacles (c7–d4). Where nature is weak, safety lies in a straitjacket. Plato’s morality is a melodrama, and the Laws denies it a happy ending. He always tends to dualisms, of Forms and world, soul and body, reason and unreason, unity and division, education and corruption. Social dramas are mirrored by conflicts within each soul. When he writes, ‘There is a strange, wild, lawless kind of desire that is present even in those of us who seem most moderate’ (Republic IX.572b4–6), the idealist is shaking hands with the cynic: Jacques Vergès, the French lawyer who defends the undefendable, has remarked, ‘There is in the heart of the most honest man a cesspool filled with hideous reptiles.’ A political Utopia that intends to make a heaven of earth has to make way for a second-best polity that is truer to man’s fallen nature. We read Plato now not in order to share the consolations of hope or despair, but to be reminded of how it is part of our freedom to be able to enter imaginatively into a higher view of our potentialities, and a lower view of our actualities, than we can take quite seriously. NOTES 1 The traditional and inevitable translation of eudaimonia by ‘happiness’ is defended by Vlastos ([9.93], 201–3) with a qualification: he notes that eudaimonia has two features, ‘a subjective (pleasurable contentment or satisfaction) and an objective one (attainment of good, well-being)’, and concedes that the second looms larger within eudaimonia than within happiness. 2 As I shall use the terms, I am ‘disposed’ to act in a certain way in certain circumstances if I am such as to act so in those circumstances (if and when they arise), while I have a ‘practice’ of acting in a certain way in certain circumstances if I do act so in those circumstances (if and when they arise). Hence disposition and practice are logically equivalent, and both hypothetical in content. It is not an issue whether the disposition has intrinsic value, or only instrumental value derivative from the value of the practice. This usage fits the easy transitions in the Republic between state and activity (e.g. at Republic II.357d3–358b7, where Glaucon, proposing that justice be assigned intrinsic as well as instrumental value, first speaks of it as something to be practised, and then as an internal state of the soul). 3 E.g. Sachs ([11.16], 144−7 (=[10.58]II, 38–41)), Reeve ([11.15], 24−33), Irwin ([9– 39], 189–91). 4 This thought suffices to show that it is indeed of justice, and not, more broadly, of righteousness or, indeed, being moral, that Plato is offering an account; cf. Vlastos ([11.18] sect. 1). 5 It may still be objected that Socrates is really assigning external justice only derivative value as a cause and a symptom of internal justice, and so disappointing Glaucon. I take his reply to be that internal and external are aspects of the same disposition-cum-practice, of which the internal is naturally the focus of intrinsic value egocentrically conceived. One might compare dressing well, a single practice that involves both looking good to others, and looking good to oneself in the mirror. A better reply might be that, pace Republic IV.443c9–d1, psychic harmony is equally manifested in internal acts of mind and external actions. The just man treats others in ways that do not merely evidence and reinforce, but embody, his state of soul. He finds equal pleasure in internal and external activity, for it is in both that his psychic harmony becomes for him an object of experience. 6 I owe this example to Mark Rowe. It would need a speculative psychopathology to dissolve the objection on Plato’s behalf. 7 The double process of externalization (from soul to society) and internalization (from society to soul) is illumined by Lear [11.10]. 8 Whether in reaction to the frequent infelicity of Popper [11.13], or out of a distaste for moral commonplaces and a penchant for thought-experiments, modern writing on the Republic tends to be neutral or even sympathetic (e.g. Price [11.14], 179– 93). But ominous parallels to Plato can readily be found in Kolnai [11.9], George Orwell’s 1984, and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. Thus Orwell nicely conveys the charmlessness of compulsory copulation: ‘Even then he could have borne living with her if it had been agreed that they should remain celibate. But curiously enough it was Katharine who refused this. They must, she said, produce a child if they could… She even used to remind him of it in the morning, as something which had to be done that evening and which must not be forgotten. She had two names for it. One was “making a baby”, and the other was “our duty to the Party”’ (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1989:70). 9 The status quo was certainly repressive, though the orthodoxy of Annas [10.45], 181–2) needs some qualification in the light of Cohen ([11.4], ch. 6). 10 The complaint goes back to Rousseau: ‘No longer knowing what to do with women, he found himself forced to turn them into men’ (Émile, Book 5). It reappears, alas, in Price ([11.14], 170−1). 11 The case is not as simple as that of an amateur arguing for employing an architect, for two reasons: dialectic is needed to define ends as well as means; and Socrates indulges in plenty of designing himself. 12 Contrast Owen ([11.12], 89−94 (=[4.46], 77−82)), who finds the Republic rigid, with Klosko ([11.8], 167–72), who finds it flexible. The evidence is elusive, but, with or on behalf of Klosko, I would cite the following passages as qualifying the prevalent pretence to be legislating once and for all by acknowledging the proper limits of the law, the need to supplement its letter in the light of its spirit, and the possibility of moral development: Republic 1, 425a3–e7, 426e4–427b2, BIBLIOGRAPHY 11.1 Annas [10.45]. 11.2 ‘Bobonich, C. ‘Akrasia and agency in Plato’s Laws and Republic’, Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 76 (1994): 3–36. 11.3 Brunt, P.A. Studies in Greek History and Thought, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1993. 11.4 Cohen, D. Law, Sexuality, and Society: The Enforcement of Morals in Classical Athens, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991. 11.5 Irwin[9.34]. 11.6 ——[9.39]. 11.7 Joseph, H.W.B. Essays in Ancient and Modern Philosophy, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1935. 11.8 Klosko, G. The Development of Plato’s Political Theory, New York and London, Methuen, 1986. 11.9 Kolnai, A. The War Against the West, London, Victor Gollancz, 1938. 11.10 Lear, J. ‘Plato’s politics of narcissism’, in T.Irwin and M.C.Nussbaum (eds) Virtue, Love and Form: Essays in Memory of Gregory Vlastos (see [9.38]), pp. 137–59. 11.11 Nussbaum, M.C. The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1986. 11.12 Owen, G.E.L. ‘The place of the Timaeus in Plato’s dialogues’, Classical Quarterly NS 3 (1953): 79–95; repr. in Allen [10.64] and in Owen, ed. Nussbaum [see 4.46]. 11.13 Popper, K.R. The Open Society and its Enemies, vol. I: The Spell of Plato, 5th edn, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966. 11.14 Price, A.W. Love and Friendship in Plato and Aristotle, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1989. 11.15 Reeve, C.D.C. Philosopher-Kings: The Argument of Plato’s Republic, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1988. 11.16 Sachs, D. ‘A fallacy in Plato’s Republic’, Philosophical Review 72 (1963): 141–58, repr. in Vlastos [10.58]: II. 11.17 Taylor, C.C.W. ‘Plato’s totalitarianism’, Polis 5.2 (1986): 4–29. 11.18 Vlastos, G. ‘The theory of social justice in the polis in Plato’s Republic’, in H.North (ed.) Interpretations of Plato, Leiden, Brill, 1977:1–40; repr. in Vlastos, ed. Graham, vol. II (see [4.64]). 11.19 ——‘The individual as object of love in Plato’, in Vlastos [9.87], 3–42. 11.20 Vlastos [9.93]. 11.21 Wollheim, R. ‘The good self and the bad self’, in Wollheim, The Mind and its Depths, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1993:39–63.
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