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How far was Plato’s Essay

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With this end in mind, it seems that he can set about the task by whichever means he likes, so long as it will achieve the end. By telling the creation myth, it is his intention to promote the tripartite theory of society, which will, in turn, promote the ideal balance and justice. For justice to be maintained among the people, the Philosopher kings must hold absolute power. Justice is only possible when each class of the society stays in its own place and does that which is its duty.

The Philosopher Kings are the rational element, and, according to Plato, the golden part of society.

The silver auxiliaries provide the spirited element, and the workers are the base metal, the appetite element. If appetite should begin to rule over reason, then the body is out of balance, and so cannot function correctly. The same is true of society. If the Philosopher Kings were to be ruled over by the workers in society, balance would no longer be maintained.

However, even in the reverse direction, should the Philosopher kings try their hand at farming, they are unlikely to have the specialised knowledge to do so, and so society again cannot function correctly.

After all, the city cannot have ‘wisdom and judgement because of the knowledge of its carpenters’21, as this would simply make it ‘good at carpentry’22. ‘The quality of good judgement is clearly a form of knowledge, as it is because of knowledge and not because of ignorance that we judge well. ’23. The society must necessarily, then, be hierarchical, where those who know, rule. They are masters of all the others, and perhaps with an eye on Protagoras, Plato says ‘Master of oneself is an absurd phrase. For if you’re master of yourself you’re presumably also subject to yourself, and so both master and subject’24.

The rhetorician places the just society in jeopardy. They are capable of influencing the people and so upsetting the balance between the classes of society and between the elements of the soul. They would be capable of ‘over-egging’ the spirit of the auxiliaries to such an extent that they might overthrow the guardians, or behave in a way which is reckless rather than brave and jeopardise the protection of the state. As he says, ‘we are left with two qualities to look for in our state… Self discipline, and the real object of our whole enquiry, justice’25.

The base metal, or appetite, could be influenced to ‘feed’ itself to too great an extent, and so cause the state to cease to flourish. Just as in the context of the human body, appetite must be encouraged to sustain balance and life, but if it is over-excited it causes greed and disharmony. Emotion and appetite must remain in the correct balance to allow normally functioning life. Reason must have ultimate control over the system. Therefore, by analogy, Philosopher kings should have power over the people. On the face of it, the picture emerging is a chilling one, similar to the situation in George Orwell’s ‘1984’.

Whilst it may at first seem that it is this sort of world towards which Plato is leading, the Philosopher Kings have access to the world of forms, and most importantly, the form of the good. For Plato, knowing the Good is both a necessary and sufficient condition for doing the Good, and therefore, once the philosopher kings know the good, they will always do the good. If the Philosopher Kings do only what is good for the sake of the state, then Plato’s creation myth is, in his terms, justified, as the people are being led towards the truth, and to justice.

The Philosopher Kings are incorruptible, and as such will only guide the people towards that which is good for them. Having earlier described rhetoric as used by the sophists as ‘flattery’26, Plato now presents it as ‘boldness and irresponsibility. ’27. Plato believes that it is the ‘popular applause’ which destroys any good in such people and deceives them ‘into thinking that they really are statesmen’28. He knows that, as it stands, they are so sunken into their own rhetoric and lies that they can be easily swayed, in the way that a Philosopher King cannot. The rhetoricians must pander to public opinion to remain powerful.

Rhetoric is a dangerous weapon in the hands of people never trained in its use, who are those who do not know the best interests of the state. The implication is that the Philosopher kings, on the other hand, could know how to use rhetoric to the advantage of the community, and so have more than ‘a mind which is good at guessing, some courage, and a natural talent for interacting with people’29. As the rhetoricians do not know reality, they are dangerous to the state, and belong to the group in the simile who see only the shadows on the cave wall, and do not see by the light of the sun.

However, we are aware that Plato’s utopia is based on an aristocratic and elitist view. Indeed, Karl Popper, in his ‘Open society and it’s Enemies’ holds that, should Plato’s Republic ever become a reality rather than merely a philosophical exercise, Plato himself, or just such a person, would be the only one with the knowledge, and therefore, the only philosopher king. The people, the silver and most especially the base metal, have no power in this society. In our modern society, we are shocked by dictatorship, associating it with fascism and Communism.

In the context of Popper’s own experience of twentieth century Europe, his dislike of Plato’s apparent aspiration is understandable. We cherish what we see as our right to choose between what the politicians have to say. However, if Plato is right, this does not make sense. After all, we would not choose a surgeon simply by virtue of the strength of his rhetoric. If we would not entrust our lives to a doctor on these grounds then we should not entrust our lives to a politician for the same reasons. However, the two would not be comparable if both were not knowable.

In his simile of the sea captain, Plato would have us believe that the good for man is just as knowable as the skill of navigation. If we accept that the good is indeed as knowable as navigation, then we are unable to contest Plato’s ideas. However, I am more convinced by his pupil’s view. Aristotle states that ‘the science that studies the supreme good for man is politics’30 and yet ‘politics is not an exact science’31. This is clearly antithetical to Plato’s form of the good, and in book I, vi, Aristotle says that ‘things are called good in as many senses as they are said to exist…

Clearly, then, there cannot be a singe universal common to all these cases, because it would be predicated not in all the categories, but in one only’32. This appears to confirm my initial response to Plato’s theory of forms, which does not seem to stand up to scrutiny in the real world, as apart from the evidence given in ‘The Republic’ 508e, and the images of the sun, and apart from this, which is on no way substantive enough, there is no evidence for the existence of the form of the good. Gorgias argues that the rhetoric can be used ‘like any competitive skill…

When morally appropriate’33. Plato, however maintains that this would lead the general public to believe that ‘he is an expert on morality when he isn’t and think he’s a moral person when he isn’t’34. This is odd, as in the Republic, he appears to support the argument made by Gorgias, yet, in the Gorgias, he presents rhetoric as wholly dangerous, and the rhetoricians as dangerous weapons out of control. The Utopia which Plato has created is presented to us largely in terms of metaphors and similes. Some of these are sufficiently outrageous, such as his creation story, that he even apologises.

However, Plato, with the subtlety of a true rhetorician, seems to make his similes so close to reality as to make us accept the truth of what he is saying. Many of those in ‘The Republic’ include references to everyday things such as farming and sailing. In ‘Gorgias’, he speaks of cooks and doctors. We are easily led into accepting his ideas through the everyday nature of these discussions. Then suddenly we find that the sun outside the cave is not merely a part of a simile, but is actually being used to describe the source of all reality and truth.

There is no doubt as to the existence of the sun in our world, and we are aware that Plato has led us, by clever rhetorical devices, into accepting his similes as reality. However, the evidence that he presents us with is in no way substantive enough to prove the existence of his world of forms, and so we must wonder whether his rhetoric is merely a means to gaining his political ends. If this is the case, then he is going against his professed views of rhetoric, which would indeed be inconstant. However, the only other alternative would be that he truly did wish us to conform to his ideals.

Whichever was the case, it seems likely that, ironically, Plato was the greatest rhetorician we have yet experienced.

Bibliography Primary Source Aristotle, ‘The Nicomachean Ethics’ trans. J. A. K. Thomson, Penguin Classics (1976) Plato, ‘Gorgias’ World’s Classics (1994) Plato, ‘The Republic’ Penguin Classics (1987) Popper, Karl, ‘The Open Society and it’s Enemies: The Spell of Plato’ Routledge and Kegan Paul (1962) Thucydides, ‘The Peloponnesian War’ trans. Richard Crawley, Encyclopaedia Britannica: The Great Books (1952) Secondary Source Encyclopaedia Britannica ‘Rhetoric’ Encyclopaedia Britannica ‘Rhetoric: Importance in Ancient Greek Education’ : ‘Plato’ www. wikipedia. org: ‘Rhetoric’ 1 The Republic, 492b 2 Thucydides, The Peloponnesian war boo.

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