The Philosopher Ruler (472-480)

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  • Created on: 02-02-14 11:39

Introduction of the Concept of the Philosopher Kin

Socrates has procrastinated long enough and must explain how guardians could be compelled to live in this bizarre way and move from the normative ideal to an descriptive account of the functions of his state ('the job of proving to ourseves that it can exist and how it can exist'). This third wave is, as Socrates himself acknowledges, '...the biggest and the most difficult of the three' and he approaches the task by givng a response which is the most radical claim yet. Our system is only possible, he says, if the rulers are philosophers. Thus he introduces the concept of the philosopher-king, which dominates the rest of The Republic. (''The society we have described can never grow into a reality or see the light of day,...til philosophers become kings in this world, or til those we now call kings and rulers really and truly becom philosophers...') If we read The Republic as a defense of the activity of philosophy, as Allan Bloom suggests, then this might be viewed as the most important claim. It explains why philosophy is crucial to the life of the city, rather than a threat to society, a view that is compounded by Glaucon's prophetic irony: that the view Socrates expresses will cause people to come after him with 'the nearest weapon'

Thus Socrates' first task is to define what is meant by a 'philosopher' and to distinguish them from a brand of psuedo-intellectuals whom Socrates refers to as the “lovers of sights and sounds.” The lovers of sights and sounds are aesthetes, dilettantes, people who claim expertise in the particular subject of beauty.

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The Forms

In the distinction of the philosopher from the lover of sights and sounds the theory of Forms first enters The Republic. Plato does not explain through Socrates what the Forms are but assumes that his audience is familiar with the theory. Forms, we learn in other Platonic dialogues, are eternal, unchanging, universal absolute ideas, such as the Good, the Beautiful, and the Equal. Though Forms cannot be seen—but only grasped with the mind—they are responsible for making the things we sense around us into the sorts of things they are. Anything red we see, for instance, is only red because it participates in the Form of the Red; anything square is only square because it participates in the Form of the Square; anything beautiful is only beautiful because it participates in the Form of Beauty, and so on.

What makes philosophers different from lovers of sights and sounds is that they apprehend these Forms. The lovers of sights and sounds claim to know all about beautiful things but cannot claim to have any knowledge of the Form of the Beautiful—nor do they even recognize that there is such a thing. Because the lovers of sights and sounds do not deal with Forms, Socrates claims, but only with sensible particulars—that is, the particular things we sense around us—they can have opinions but never knowledge. Only philosophers can have knowledge, the objects of which are the Forms.Philosophers, thus recognise, something which Parmenides and Pythagorus and now Plato had all expounded: the contrast between two levels of reality, with our changeable world ahvign a lower status ontologically.

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Distinction between opinion, knowledge and ignoran

In order to back up this second radical claim—that only philosophers can have knowledge—Socrates paints a fascinating metaphysical and epistemological picture, or rather he constructs a framework of knowledge, opinion and ignorance. He divides all of existence up into three classes: what is completely (knowledge), what is in no way (ignorance), and what both is and is not (opinion). What is completely, he tells us, is completely knowable; what is in no way is the object of ignorance; what both is and is not is the object of opinion or belief. The only things that are completely are the Forms. Only the Form of the Beautiful is completely beautiful, only the Form of Sweetness is completely sweet, and so on. Sensible particulars both are and are not. Even the sweetest apple is also mixed in with some sourness—or not-sweetness. Even the most beautiful woman is plain—or not-beautiful—when judged against certain standards. So we can only know about Forms, and not about sensible particulars. That is why only philosophers can have knowledge, because only they have access to the Forms.

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Influences on Plato

In this section there are distinct echoes of earlier philosophers. In dividing all of existence up into three classes (what is completely, what is not at all, and what both is and is not), Plato draws on elements of pre-Socratic theories and synthesizes these elements into a coherent worldview. Parmenides is echoed in the extremes: in what is completely and in what is not at all. Parmenides spoke a great deal about “what is” and “what is not.” He argued that all that exists—“what is”—is a single, unchanging, eternal thing—an entity that in many ways resembles the Forms (though it differs from the Forms, for instance, in that Parmenides’ “what is” was a singular entity, while Plato allows for multiple Forms). Everything else, he said, is not at all. While Parmenides would have sympathized with Plato’s two extremes, he would have strenuously objected to the existence of the middle realm—what both is and is not. By partaking of both “what is” and “what is not,” this realm would have severely violated logic.

This realm, though, does have strong ties to another pre-Socratic philosopher, Heraclitus. One of Heraclitus’s main doctrines was a theory concerning unity of opposites: the idea that whatever is beautiful is also ugly, whatever up also down, and so forth.He believed that the entire world was composed out of these unities of opposites and that the key to understanding nature was to understand how these opposites cohered.

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Arguments for the Forms

Argument from universals: a universal is a general term linking various individual things. For example, why do we use the universal 'table' to label such diverse objects as coffee tables, wooden tables, plastic tables, card tables etc.? They must have a common feature, namely their tableness. The Form of the Table is perfect and is the real meaning or definition of what it is to be a table.

Argument from knowledge, opinion and belief: Plato argues that knowledge is infallible and its effect ont the mind is a state of certainty and so its range of applications must cover only objects that are ultimately real, because nothing less will guarantee the infallible necessary truth needed for knowledge. Secondly, ignorance, being the opposite of knowledge, must be to do with what's not real and so its effects would be an empty state of mind. Opinion seems to lie between knowledge and ignorance, but because we have opinions about things thes things must exist so opinion is better than ignorance but worse than knowledge. Its range of applications will lie somewhere between the realms of being and nothingness. Its effect on the mind is fallibility and uncertainity. Oppinion is iffy, applying to the everyday world of becoming and change from birth to grwoth to deat or from liquid to solid etc. as so no for every physical object. This is why knowledge can't apply to the space-time universe, because knowledge requires that setteld being of what forever is: an unchanging world. The ordinary world is in constant flux and so opinion reigns here.

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Arguments for the Forms

Argument from grading: Some things are better than others, being juicier, bigger, shinier, but by what standard or criterion do we judge this? Plato argues that we need an absolute standard of perfection with reference to which we grade objects in this world. The perfect Forms serve as this point of reference.

Argument from pointlessness: At the end of 'The Republic' Plato has Socrates say: 'The good, then, is the end of all edeavour, the object on which every heart is set' and again '...if we are ignorant of it [the Form of the Good] the rest of our knowledge, however perfect, can be of no benefit to us, just as it's no use possessing anything if you can't get any good out of it'. Everthing aims to achieve the good itself, not onlywhat merely looks good but what is good. But only the Form of the Good is good, because only the Forms have the is of Being. It would be pointless getting to know the Forms if they weren't perfect, but perfection requires goodness, and goodness in turn can't be had without participating in the Form of the Good, so that means the Forms themeselves must participate in it. Therefore, in a sense, the Form of the Good can be said to give the universe its point, and provide the meaning for everything we do.

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Criticisms of the Forms

Argument from Universals: This argument doesn't work because it fallaciously assumes that, in order for a universal term to have meaning, it must refer to something but this is evidently not the case e.g. the universal term 'scruff' as in 'he threw him out by the scruff of his neck'. What do all scruffs have in common? It must be the Form of the Scruff but what could that be? It's not a part of the neck or the collar of clothing, it's absurd to engage in this wild goose chase for the essece of one's neck scruff in some perfect world of Forms. The part 'scruff' plays in the context of the usage of a language and the conventions of practical life. (Ordinary language philosophers, Wittgenstein etc.)

Discussion of the argument from knowledge, opinion and ignorance: Plato mistakenly thinks you can only have knowledge of something that never changes yet despite constant change knowledge is possible if tied to a specific time. Secondly, Plato wrongly assumes that if something is true it must also be substantially real independently of human thought. This is not true e.g. the Earth has an equator without having to conclude that the equator exists 'out there somewhere' in the independent Platonic sense. The equator is a useful conceptual and conventional 'ficition'. This means we don't have to go to the so-called independently existing Forms to find turth and knowledge we can have both right here by conventional agreement.

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Criticisms of the Forms

Argument from grading: Two-counter examples which show that we don't need an absolute existing standard of perfection in order to grade things. Firstly, we're perfectly capable of judging 7 to be bigger than 6 and smaller than 1000, without having to have an absolute ultimate number in mind. In fact numbers go on indefinitely, so an absolute is not needed. Secondly, it's clearly better if hospitals have smaller waiting lists, with reference to an ideal of no waiting list at all, but we can know this without having to belive that somewhere, in the abstract world of Forms, is the perfect Form of Non-Waiting which we are trying to approach.

Argument from pointlessness: The universe might just be pointless, there's no guarantee that it's not - look at Nietzsche who believes in chaos. Secondly, whatever point life has may be underwritten not by the Form of the Good but by investing our energies in projects we deem worthwhile in terms of this-worldly causes, based either on what human nature happens to favour or simply what we decide to value. We can give it point - humanist argument.

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