Plato's Republic - What makes a good philosopher and why are they considered 'vicious' and 'useless' (484-497)

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  • Created by: Susy
  • Created on: 09-02-14 12:59

The Qualities a Philosopher King Possesses

In this section Plato outlines all of the characteristics a philosopher must have and will have by virtue of being a philosopher. Aside from a knowledge of the immutable Forms all philosophers also possess the characterisitics of:

  • 1. 'Truthfulness. He will never willingly tolerate an untruth but will hat it, just as he loves truth'
  • 2. 'his pleasure will be in things purely of the mind, and physical pleasures will pass him by'
  • 3. A good sense of 'taste or style' so that he may have 'a sense of proportion'
  • 4. 'not grasping about money'
  • 5. 'no touch of meaness'
  • 6. 'just and civilised'/ easy to deal with
  • 7. 'a good memory'
  • 8. a quick learner
  • 9. Must possess 'courage'
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Critique of the Qualities

1. Is truthfulness really always a virtue in a leader? As the Edward Snowden/NSA scandal has shown it is sometime necessary for leaders lie to protect the greater good (e.g. national security) furthermore Plato himself shows some inconsistency within the dialogue as he seems to value avoiding extremes and acting according to absolute maxims (e.g. in the case of the axe murder Plato advocates murdering - possibly analogous to the NSA scandal). Moreover, Plato advocates the use of deceptive propaganda in the form of the Noble Lie to create a false consciousness surrounding the social hierarchy Plato proposes to enforce.

2. Is it really healthy to deny physical pleasures? As with many other sections of the dialogue Plato does seem to deny the messy reality of human nature. It is impossible to wholly reject and denounce physical pleasures. For instance, priests are supposed to lead a life focused on spiritual fulfilment but as the sexual abuse scandals have shown this is not always possible or even desirable in terms of the effects it produces. This description makes it sound as if the philosopher’s soul is in a state of monopoly rather than a state of harmony. Instead of being ruled by reason, appetite and spirit are absent entirely. Allan Bloom points out that it sounds as if the philosopher is virtuous in a very strange way. He behaves virtuously mainly out of his preoccupation with ideas, and not out of the motivations we typically think of as marking the virtuous man.Bloom divides virtue into two sorts—civic and intellectual—and argues that the philosophers only have the second kind. Plato conflates the two.

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Critique of the Qualities and the Misconceptions o

  • It is very difficult to see how a good sense of 'taste or style' is necessary for an individual to have a 'sense of proportion'. In fact, it seems far more likely that the individual's taste is a product of cultural conventions and personal predilections and how a sense of proportion follows from this combination of asthetic judgements is frankly unclear.

The predjudice against philosophy and the corruption of the philosophic nature in contemporary society

Adeimantus remains unconvinced. None of the philosophers he has ever known have been like Socrates is describing. Most philosophers are useless, and those that are not useless tend to be vicious. Socrates, surprisingly, agrees with Adeimantus’s condemnation of the contemporary philosopher, but he argues that the current crop of philosophers have not been raised in the right way. Men born with the philosophical nature—courageous, high-minded, quick learners, with faculties of memory—are quickly preyed upon by family and friends, who hope to benefit from their natural gifts. They are encouraged to enter politics in order to win money and power by their parasitic family and friends. So they are inevitably led away from the philosophical life. In place of the natural philosophers who are diverted away from philosophy and corrupted, other people who lack the right philosophical nature, rush in to fill the gap and become philosophers when they have no right to be. These people are vicious.

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The Ship Analogy

He compares the situation to a ship on which the ship owner is hard of hearing, is myopic, and lacks sea-faring skills. All of the sailors on the ship quarrel over who should be captain, though they know nothing about navigation. In lieu of any skill, they make use of brute force and clever tricks to get the ship owner to choose them as captain. Whoever is successful at persuading the ship owner to choose him is treated with 'admiration' and anyone else is called “useless.” These sailors have no idea that there is a craft of navigation, or any knowledge to master in order to steer ships. In this scenario, Socrates points out, the true captain—the man who knows the craft of navigation—would be called a useless stargazer. The current situation in Athens is analogous: no one has any idea that there is real knowledge to be had, a craft to living. Instead, everyone tries to get ahead by clever, often unjust, tricks. Those few good philosophers who turn their sights toward the Forms and truly know things are deemed useless.

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Why are philosophers considered vicious?

  • Because some people claimt to be philosophers who are not worthy of that title.
  • Because society corrupts good men and those who show a philosophic nature are quickly preyed upon by family and friends, who hope to benefit from their natural gifts. They are encouraged to enter politics in order to win money and power by their parasitic family and friends. So they are inevitably led away from the philosophical life. In place of the natural philosophers who are diverted away from philosophy and corrupted, other people who lack the right philosophical nature, rush in to fill the gap and become philosophers when they have no right to be. These people are vicious. 'the most gifted charracters become particularly bad if they are badly brought up' whilst 'the public who say this who are themselves Sophist on a grand scale'. The accompanying description of the jeering, clapping and general noise is an uncanny description of what might well be our modern Houses of Common. The problem is that the alternative to pandering to public opinion and the tyranny of the majority is a dictatorship.
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Tha Analogy of the Beast

Outline Plato’s simile of the large and powerful animal (beast) and two of its purposes.

AO1 Description of the simile as presented in the text. There should be reference to:

  • Beast is dangerous.
  • Trainers learn what pleases/displeases it.
  • They study its reactions and call such ‘knowledge’ a science.
  • They give it what it wants, not what it needs.
  • They pander to its whims, no idea of what is good for it.

A02

  • Comparison of beast with populace (large, powerful, dangerous).
  • Comparison of trainers with sophists/democratic leaders
  • Trainer’s study follows empirical method.
  • Purposes might include: criticism of direct democracy, criticism of sophists plying their trade, criticism of the nature of empirical study – no real knowledge. A sad comment on the ability of the general public, supporting elitism.
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