Book 6 Notes from The Republic

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The Republic Book 6

Socrates now moves on to see whether philosophers or non-philosophers should rule the city. He first states, as a result of his previous argument, that "philosophers are the ones who can reach what always stays the same in every respect, and non-philosophers the ones who cannot, who wonder among the many things that go in every direction." Book 6, pg. 146, line 484 Those who rule the city must be capable of guarding the laws and pursuits of the city, and so Socrates asks his audience who they deem more capable - those who see the truth, or those who only think that they see it. Everybody agrees that those who see the truth, and do not shun any part of it are better than those who don't. Socrates then states that all philosophers must have truthfulness in their nature and must hate lies and never accept any willingly. This is because someone who is passionately in love will love everything to do with what he is in love with; since philosophers are in love with wisdom, and wisdom is very closely related to truth, they must also love truth. Furthermore, they will love the pleasure of the soul, and will not find much to gain in the pleasure of the body. Such people, therefore, will not be greedy, or interested in material goods, but instead, they will be temperate. Also, slavishness is not part of a philosopher. True philosophers will realize that there is more than human life, and that death is nothing to be afraid of, and thus will not exhibit any signs of slavishness. To conclude, when examining whether a soul is philosophic or not, it must be judged from childhood up, in order to see whether it acts justly and gently, or not; and whether he learns easily or not; and is forgetful or not. A person with such characteristics as these should naturally rule the city. The reason no philosophers are rulers is because nobody worth anything asks his subjects to let him rule them, and yet the people cannot tell the difference between the true philosophers and the politicians.

As for the usefulness of philosophers and the claim that they are useless, Socrates says to blame this on the people who don't use them, not on the philosophers. In order to show that philosophy is not the cause of the many scoundrels who claim to be philosophers, Socrates pursues the following argument: since the nature of a philosopher is inherently good, and consists of the positive qualities already discussed, there must be something that corrupts it. With the concept that "evil is more opposed to the good than to the no-good" Book 6, pg. 154, line 491d, it makes sense that in strange surroundings the best nature will end up worse than a poor one. Therefore, the best-natured souls turn out exceptionally badly if they get bad schooling, and "great crimes and pure evil come only from vigorous natures perverted by upbringing; a weak nature never does anything great, good or evil." Book 6, pg. 154, line 491e

Now Socrates turns to examine the sophists, whom he says do not preach wisdom, but rather their opinions. He gives an example, saying that when a young man, who is well-born and handsome and rich, has learned all he can from all his teachers, all those around him will want to use him for their benefit. Should he be born with the characteristics of a philosopher, and realize, when he is powerful, that he lacks knowledge, and wish to pursue it, those around him will say anything to stop him for they fear that they will lose their benefits should he leave his current position. Thus, the rulers that do want to become philosophers fall away from philosophy, and lead a false life. Similarly, he says, people who are not suited to study philosophy but do are considered sophists, as they are unsuited to the education, and unworthy of philosophy, which is considered one of the greatest pursuits. Thus, only a few people worthy of philosophy, and uncorrupted by society, remain. These are the true philosophers, to whom people should listen, and who should be kings. However, none of the current regimes are suited to this kind of person, except the city in this discussion.

Now the fact that all great things are precarious comes into play. The next issue discussed is how the city can handle philosophy without destroying itself. Socrates claims that philosophy must be practiced in exactly the reverse of the way it is practiced now. This is because now people practice the hardest part of philosophy - discussion - without any proper education in it, while they are young and without experience. Thus, they are made out to be idiots, and are reluctant to listen to others practice it and learn from them. Instead, people should:

"[E]ngage in adolescent philosophy and education as boys and young men, and give special attention to their bodies as they grow up, to acquire a helper for philosophy. As the soul begins to mature with the passing years, tighten up its exercise, and when their strength declines and exempts them from military and political duties, then be turned out to pasture to do nothing - except as a sideline - but practice philosophy, if they're to live happily here and crown their lives when they die with their fitting portion over there." Book 6, pg. 160, line 498b

However, it is unlikely that any ruler will suddenly become a philosopher, or that any philosopher will rise to position of ruler. Furthermore, he decides that the reason philosophy is looked unfavorably upon is because of the young people who claim to practice it but actually spend their time abusing and quarreling with each other. On the other hand, a true philosopher, interested in things that remain constant and rational, will start to imitate such things, as people who admire things often do. Thus, through this imitation, and through associating with the divine and orderly, the person becomes as orderly and rational a human being as possible. This, in turn, should convince those who are not already convinced that philosophers should be rulers, as they know how to handle situations in a calm and rational manner. Continuing, Socrates states that it would not be unlikely for these people to produce offspring similar to themselves, with philosophic natures. However, should they not produce offspring of this sort, it should not be too difficult for the city to find someone who does possess the qualities listed for a ruler.

With this decided, they move on to discuss what studies and pursuits rulers should have, and at what ages they should take each up. Socrates then goes on to say that knowledge is greater than justice. However, it is knowledge of the good that is great.

Topic Tracking: Knowledge 4

He then goes on to say that the 'good' is a very ambiguous term and can be interpreted many ways.

Topic Tracking: The Good 1

He attempts to define it himself, since his audience persists. He uses the analogy of seeing and sunlight in the following manner: even though things are visible, they cannot be seen unless there is sunlight; also, if there is moonlight, our eyes will adjust to allow for the difference. He then tells his audience to think of the situation as the same with the eye of the soul. "When it rests on the place lit by truth and what is, it perceives it and knows it and seems to have intelligence. But in the place mingled with darkness, the region of becoming and passing away it darkens and conjectures, changes its opinions up and down and now appears to have no intelligence." Book 6, pg.170, line 508d As a result, he concludes that just as light and seeing should not be regarded as the sun, but as sun-like; knowledge and truth should not be regarded as good, but as good-like.

Topic Tracking: Knowledge 5

Also, higher honors must be reserved for the state of the good.

Topic Tracking: The Good 2

Furthermore, the good is not only in knowable things, but also in existence and being; thus, the good is beyond being.

Topic Tracking: The Good 3

To prove this, Socrates asks his audience to assume that they have two classes: the visible and the intelligible. Then, he asks them to take a line divided into two unequal segments - one for the visible, and one for the intelligible class - and divide each segment again in the same ratio. In the first segment, there is the visible class of images (shadows etc.). In the second segment there are the things, such as animals around us, and natural and manmade things. The intelligible segment is divided into two parts: one that the soul is obliged to investigate from assumptions in order to reach a logical conclusion that they were looking for from the start. Since it is usually easier to illustrate concepts to help their understanding, geometrical shapes are often used, and thus this is a class in itself. The last class is that of mathematical objects, and is the class of understanding.

Now he relates these four classes to the four states of the soul, giving intellection to the highest segment, understanding to the second, trust to the third, and imagination to the last. Then, he instructs his audience to arrange them in the same proportions, regarding each as participating in as much clarity as its object does truth.

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