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So, I’ve been intending to keep working on my projects, but I’ve gotten sucked into the news cycle as well as a twitter obsession.  Man oh man, is Tim Ferriss ever right about the low information diet.  However, it’s incredibly hard to facilitate.  Developing good personal habits, breaking bad ones, and overcoming a negative outlook is no easy task.  No, this post isn’t meant to merely be a whine, it’s the fact that I’m trying to keep this blog honest.

My reach has exceeded my grasp.  I’m still working on Plato’s Republic pts 2 & 3 and will have them to you as soon as I can.

There are, however some really neat things I’ve found in the Republic, and I have to say, I may have missed some of the intricacies of Plato’s argument.  Defining it as “totalitarian garbage” and “morally repugnant” damns the work, and may prevent some from reading it.  There is also good in Plato:

“So Philosophy is abandoned by those who should be her true lovers, who leave her deserted and unwed to pursue a life that does not really suit them, while she, like an abandoned orphan, suffers at the hands of second-rate interlopers…”

“For when they see so good a piece of territory, with all its titles and dignities, unoccupied, a whole crowd of squatters gladly sally out from the meaner trades, at which they have acquired a considerable degree of skill, and rush into philosophy, like a crowd of criminals taking refuge in a temple.  For philosophy, as abused as it is, still retains a far higher reputation than other occupations, a reputation which these stunted natures covet, their minds being cramped and crushed by mechanical lives…”

Here he is describing why philosophy has a bad reputation.  He mentions that those for whom philosophy should be natural, often abandon it; while those who often take up philosophy are rogues.

Perhaps that is why I got shades of Pol Pot when reading, just a few pages on:

“The first thing our artists must do…-and it’s not easy- is to wipe the slate of human society and human habits clean.  For our artists differ at once from all others in being unwilling to start work on an individual or a city, or draw our laws, until they are given, or have made themselves, a clean canvas.”

Since The Republic could be used to justify the outrages of the 20th Century, perhaps Plato has also given us the key to why he should be studied?  That when we abandon these ideas to our intellectual enemies, they end up using them to justify their own crimes.

I’m still slogging my way through the book, keeping ya’ll waiting…

Just a few quick quotes from the section, Women and The Family:

“[We must] mate the best of our men with the best of our women as often as possible, and the inferior men with the inferior women as seldom as possible, and bring up only the offspring of the best.”

This is why Game is a threat.  “Inferior” men could learn how to seduce those “best women” and:

“…we shall regard him as putting upon the state a child that is a bastard on both civil and religious grounds”

State-sanctioned child rearing, only.  Speaking of:

“Each generation of children will be taken by officers appointed for the purpose, who may be men or women or both…These officers will take the children of the better Guardians to a nursery and put them in charge of nurses living in a separate part of the city;”

For comparison: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3qtpdSQox0 “we haven’t had a very collective notion of these are our children”

“the children of the inferior Guardians, and any defective offspring of the others, will be quietly and secretly disposed of.

There you have it:  Gosnell, 380 BC.  If you’d like to know where the agenda comes from, go back to the beginning.  See why I called it evil?  Oh and speaking of evil, grab the Pepto and read the Gosnell docs.

A pig in a cage on antibiotics.

Plato’s Republic could be called the foundation of Western political thought, or it could be called totalitarian garbage. This is a bold statement, but I will show over the next few posts why The Republic is one of the most morally repugnant (strong much?), perhaps evil works of Western thought.

First, a note on translation. I am using the Penguin Classics text, translated by Sir Desmond Lee. The copyrights are 1955, 1974, 1987. The translator’s introduction, (which I highly recommend you read), appears to be dated 1974. You may find this translation here: For the Same Edition; as well as an updated version with a new introduction: Introduction by Melissa Lane. It can also be found for free at Project Gutenberg, here: Translation by Jowett, 19th C.

In my edition, The Republic is broadly divided into eleven parts, each further divided into sections. The first two parts broadly introduce the topics which Plato seeks to cover. Parts 3, 8, 10 and 11 cover education, while Parts 4 through 6 explain the divisions of his utopian society. Finally, Part 9 covers what Plato calls “Imperfect Societies”. It is the first two parts which I will discuss today, while next week I will compare and contrast Plato’s recommendations with his imperfect societies. The final post will be the longest, detailing Plato’s plans for educating his Guardians and how our own time has taken Plato’s ideal to heart.

For those unfamiliar with Platonic dialogue, the format of The Republic will seem unfamiliar. Since this was my first time examining the book, I was surprised to find that Plato’s formation of a perfect society did not flow from: “let’s create a utopia” to “here’s how we do it”. Instead, Plato (or Socrates, rather; as Plato uses Socrates as a mouthpiece throughout the work), begins with an examination of the nature of Justice. Before this, however, some amazing words of wisdom are spoken by the aged Cephalus, who when asked about common concerns (aging, sex, money) replies:

Of age: “For if men are sensible and good-tempered, old age is easy enough to bear: if not, youth as well as age is a burden”

On sex (and declining function): “…when your desires lose their intensity and relax, you get what Sophocles was talking about, a release from a lot of mad masters.”

On money: “A good man may not find old age easy to bear if he’s poor, but a bad man won’t be at peace with himself even if he is rich.”

After Cephalus has delivered his words of wisdom and takes his leave of absence, the dialogue continues with the argument developed out of Cephalus’s common sense analysis that the good is “giving each man his due”. With this, a back and forth dialogue develops on the nature of Justice, with Socrates calling Justice, “human excellence”, while Thrasymachus argues that “justice is the interest of the stronger party”. Secondly, while Thrasymachus points out that Justice on the broad scope is the rule of the strong over the weak (an argument found as well in Thucydides), in everyday life, injustice and crass self-interest tend to pay better. This argument is further fleshed out by Glaucon and Adeimantus, with the point made that a man doing injustice will seek to appear just, in order to reap the benefits of being perceived so.

This is where the dialogue takes a turn for the worse, (but finds its true purpose). Socrates proposes that just as larger letters are easier to read than smaller ones, so to the study of justice ought to look first to larger things. Therefore, Socrates seeks to examine how a community may find justice and then work backwards from there. And here is where my first major criticism of The Republic begins: Plato presupposes that human agency can be subsumed into the state, that is to say, that people matter less than social organization. Plato believes that if only a more perfect society can be arranged, then people will become better. From this, Socrates slowly builds up a society, first consisting of a few men, each with a unique talent (this is key), until a full-on civilized society is developed, with farmers, craftsmen, soldiers, and governors.

Socrates states: “Quantity and quality are therefore more easily produced when a man specializes appropriately on a single job for which he is naturally fitted, and neglects all others.”

Later, as his state expands to come into conflict with neighboring states, Socrates realizes that soldiers will need to be produced as well. When asked if “citizens can fight for themselves”, Socrates responds that soldiering is like other professions, and therefore, must be specialized; free from other affairs with a correspondingly high skill. It is the selection and development of these Guardians, with which The Republic is concerned.

In the next part: Plato’s Ruling Class and the Structure of Society.

In part three: The Education of the Rulers and Noble Lies.