This is a transcript of Podcast Episode 4 on Plato.
This episode was really close to being a two-part episode. When you’re dealing with philosophers that are as influential as Plato and have a body of work as extensive as Plato’s, it starts to become very difficult to make one single 45 minute conglomeration of it all. A guy named Alfred North Whitehead famously said that all of western philosophy “consists of a set of footnotes to Plato” and his work. Footnotes! I mean, by the end of this episode … you’re gonna understand why he said that. and you’ll understand why it was almost a two-parter. Plato wrote 27 treatises…practically 27 full length books…and the reason I decided to keep it down to one part is because I saw the content that was going to be in the second episode and I asked myself what I would want in a philosophy podcast. I don’t think anyone here is listening to this podcast so they can be the…curator of the Plato museum or something, I don’t think anyone wants to know what the guy’s favorite color was…you want to know the essentials. What were his most notable contributions to philosophy…notable being ones that ended up influencing future philosophers and shaping the world we live in. And now that were dealing with philosophers that have most of if not all of their work surviving to this day, we can’t cover everything. Plato wrote a treatise about the nature of the physical world and human beings and the origins of the universe called the Timaeus. Its brilliant. Its fascinating, but not necessarily game changing in the philosophical world. So what I’m gonna do, out of respect to the people that don’t care to hear about the non-essentials of these philosophers, starting this week with the Timaeus and any other non-essential work of future philosophers, I’m gonna write up a synopsis of it and send it out as additional content with the weekly email I send out to let people know a new episode came out. Uh, anyone whose interested enough in philosophy to want to expand their understanding of it even further to that level…uh my hats off to you. you are awesome. let me be the guy that digs through dozens of sources to bring you an unbiased account of it. you can sign up to get an email when a new episode comes out on Philosophizethis.org, onto Plato.
Plato experienced heartbreak in 399 BC. He watched from the sidelines in horror as his teacher, friend and mentor Socrates was put on trial and convicted to death… and there was nothing he could do about it. He was angry with the city of Athens, and rightfully so…their witch hunt mentality following the Pelopenesian war killed his best friend … and he decided he needed a little change of scenery. A 12 year change of scenery. It was like the movie Wild Hogs..He left town crestfallen…went on an extended road trip where he learned a lot about the world, and a little about himself along the way. It was a transformative road trip. It changed the entire way he looked at the world for the rest of his life. You could almost think of this road trip as an extension and finishing of his education…he studied under Socrates for a long time, learning the Socratic method and argument, and then he studied abroad. He studied with Euclides, Theodorus, the Pythagorean…some say he made it all the way to Egypt. Now what happened next is still open for debate. Some sources say he was captured towards the end of his road trip and sold into slavery, uh then his friends rescued him and brought him back to Athens, some say something else triggered the end of the journey, but what is certain is that SOMETHING made him decide in 387 BC to return to Athens and found his infamous school called “the academy” a school that would stay operational for almost 900 years in one form or another, a school whose name is where we get our modern word academic. He took it upon himself with this new school of his to not only catalog the thoughts of his beloved teacher Socrates but to also foster and develop future philosophers. But Plato wasn’t satisfied with the definition of the word philosopher. Pythagoras’s view that its a lover of wisdom wasn’t good enough for him, he felt more was necessary to be a good candidate to go to his school.
Plato didn’t like how the definition of philosopher included people that just always loved to hear a new fact. I’m sure we’ve all known someone like who hes talking about…some guy…buys a diet peach Snapple, looks under the cap and sees, did you know your body is made up of 80% water? and then runs around telling everyone about it endlessly. Now, I have no problem with this guy…and neither does Plato, aside from the annoying evangelizing of a random fact…but Plato didn’t think this guy should be considered a philosopher. Plato would see him as a sightseer, someone who enjoys wisdom for practical benefits or for the spectacle of it all, not for the wisdom itself. Plato thought Non philosophers live in a sort of dreamlike state, they see things they think are beautiful and naively think that the objects themselves encompass what beauty is…really, if they looked deeper what they would see is…beauty itself. He didn’t think to be a philosopher you should be pursuing wisdom because you love to revel in the fact of the day…a true philosopher is someone who uses their brain as merely a tool in the process of arriving at wisdom.
Now, developing future philosophers through his school was only half of his initial plan, he also was committed to continuing the work of his friend and mentor, Socrates. As we talked about last episode, he wrote the apology, which was the story of Socrates’s trial, defense and conviction. But he was no where near done preserving his name. See, Plato was another one of these brilliant philosophers that chose to write down their work in an entertaining and sometimes poetic way to try to get people to listen to the ideas underneath the story. And Plato was…really good at it. he was a philosopher, but many historians say that his writing is THE BEST writing in all of ancient Greece…and i agree…you have to read some of this stuff guys…you can even buy them in paperback at Barnes and Noble…even the modern translations keep your interest…which is saying something…considering it was meant to keep the interest of people that lived thousands of years ago. It’s really high quality stuff. A lot of what made it so entertaining was that he wrote it as a story, with people just having normal conversations about things, and then eventually casually weaving in a philosophical discussion about some abstract idea. Plato would use REAL PEOPLE…REAL NAMES…Real personalities of people that lived at the time and use them as a mouthpiece to deliver his philosophy. A guy I went to school with said to me once that Plato’s writing is like crossover fan-fiction. And its true! This is a great modern comparison…for anyone that doesn’t know, crossover fan fiction would be like if a crazed fan wrote a short story about Edward and Bella from the Twilight franchise enrolling in Hogwarts and meeting the cast of Harry Potter. Plato would have different philosophers and public figures having conversations that they never actually had, sometimes even people that didn’t even live at the same time. Plato would, often times, need a character in these stories that people could perceive as the quintessentially WISE person…and whenever that demand arose, he chose to evoke the name of the wisest person he knew…Socrates…He was consciously typecasting Socrates as a WISE person in every book so that the legacy of Socrates would be that he was a wise person…kind of like how certain actors are typecast in modern movies…like if I saw Michael Cera walking down the street, I would instantly jump to a conclusion and assume he is a meek, reserved person even though that’s based on absolutely nothing…I don’t know Michael Cera…really the only thing that tells me is he plays that character really well…Plato was no doubt deliberately doing this in the case of Socrates, making him the WISE man in his dialogues to leave a legacy. Unfortunately, it led to a little bit of confusion…Socrates was a philosopher himself, and he never wrote anything down…so by making him the central character in a dialogue that’s actually conveying Plato’s philosophy, it can sometimes be difficult to discern which views are the views of Socrates and which are the views of Plato himself. 27 treatises. And all these are separated down into 3 distinct periods based on when they were written …and each of these periods mark large changes in Plato’s way of thinking and the subject matters covered. see, in Plato’s early dialogues he deals with issues that concerned Socrates exclusively … not only that, he addressed them in the way Socrates would have addressed them…his Socratic method…its almost like he felt an obligation to carry on Socrates’s legacy after he was put to death…but then throughout the chronology of his writing, the Socrates in his writing starts dealing with more issues of government…metaphysical claims etc. the fact that Socrates changes and is a completely different person in one writing as opposed to another, it shows the progression of Plato as a philosopher…and really it doesn’t really matter that much. Socrates wasn’t the kind of guy that had a set of unfaltering beliefs anyway…remember he vehemently swore that he knew nothing and was always trying to get to the bottom of what things actually were. What Plato has succeeded in doing in this case is to keep the spirit of Socrates alive…the ever changing ever questioning spirit of the Socratic method.
An example of this continuation of Socrates and the way he did philosophy lies in one of his treatises from the early years called the symposium…The symposium is one of Plato’s most famous works…and keep in mind…all the characters from this dialogue are written by Plato…just revel in the sheer genius of how well he encapsulates each of the characters and the reputation that they had, writing YEARS later probably DECADES later depending on who you believe. And its not like he had a private stenographer sitting in the corner at the dinner party…try recounting a conversation you had 15 years ago! the word symposium means, a drinking party…Plato writes about a fancy dinner party where several different people take turns after dinner standing up in front of the group and giving their thoughts on and trying to get to one of these deep Socratic definitions of the concept of love…how it starts..what the end goal is when you love someone…whether it overall is actually a benefit to mankind or not…
All kinds of people were at this dinner party… generals like Alcibiades, playwrights like Aristophanes and most notably, Socrates. Aristophanes, being a playwright that writes comedy gives a quasi humorous and metaphorical account for what love is. he talks about a time when men and women were actually fused together, two heads four arms four legs and we would roll around everywhere…There were three sexes back then apparently..all male, all female, and the “androgynous,” which was half male, half female. The all males were said to have descended from the sun, the females from the earth and the androgynous couples from the moon. Apparently we were a little feisty when we had four arms and we tried to take over the god realm, and Zeus was JUST ABOUT to throw lightning at us and kill us all, but he decided…he wanted to, but he didn’t want to deprive himself of all the offering and sacrifices that humans were giving him, so he just set his lightning bolts from kill to stun mode and separated us in half. That way they could get TWICE the offerings they were getting before.
Aristophanes refers to sexual attraction or erotic love as the desire humans have to find their other half…they may seek it out for their entire lives without finding it, but the urges and feelings that attach us to people is our way of trying to get back our other half that was taken from us. Apparently this is also why people often say that they feel “whole” when they are in love with someone. To put it another way, Aristophanes believes love is actually a quest…a pursuit to fill areas that you’re lacking in that were once yours. Later on in the dinner party, Socrates doesn’t agree with him…he agrees that it is a quest, but he doesn’t think we love something because at one point it belonged to us…he thinks we love something because we find it beautiful or good. Socrates breaks down the concept of love and tries to distill it down to its essence, as he would …he claims to have gotten his enlightened account of what love is from a conversation he once had with an older priestess …he explains it like this…man seeks immortality…we cant live forever…that is certain…so what we all do is seek other alternative forms of immortality….and Plato saw these alternative forms as coming down to one of 3 things…firstly, through children you know, a little piece of you is passed on through them and then again through their children, secondly, by doing some really noteworthy thing that gets you famous and written down in the history books, or thirdly you can create some body of work that is evergreen or important enough that future generations hold it up in high regard, like Plato’s symposium ironically enough. all three of these things are creating offspring…either physical offspring made with someone you love or intellectual offspring where we use our desire for being loved to motivate us to achieve these things…almost like we’re peacocks… and the things we accomplish intellectually are colorful feathers we’re adding to our tail. now these people that we want love from, we think they are beautiful, but to Plato they’re just inferior copies of an IDEAL form of beauty, which we will touch on later, but what hes basically saying is that we accomplish what we choose to accomplish in life, our careers, our cars, our children all out of a love of beauty that we then transmute into motivation to get things done.
I know some of you are saying…well that isn’t love…that is lust, or whatever you want to call it. You’re right. Plato thought that this was only the first step on a staircase of love. love can be broken down into a few different stages, each stage leading to the next stage and eventually coming to a head at the appreciation of the IDEAL form of beauty itself. it starts with a love of the person’s body, or as Plato put it “eros”…or exotic love..both sexual attraction or thinking that person is an attractive person that’s what we just talked about. he says that after a while of this, you eventually realize that someone you think is beautiful has a lot in common with all other people who are beautiful, therefore making this really hot person, not as much of a rare Pokemon. There’s tons of them. Then once you realize this, you realize that all the variance that the body can have that makes it beautiful is nothing in comparison to the variance and things that make the soul beautiful, or more simply to us modern folk, their personality. then, the yardstick you use to measure whether someone is beautiful or not has everything to do with their personality, even if that personality exists inside of a mangled or ugly body. Eventually, you begin to transcend EVEN the personality and stop loving individual people that inhabit an individual body, and you start to love even broader things like concepts themselves. You fall in love with things like the arts or laws, or biology or things like that and then finally, at the end of the staircase, you fall in love with the ideal FORM of beauty itself. Socrates says that if it is possible to live life anywhere, it is here. because when you are in love with a single human being, you are vulnerable. They could leave you…or die…or go live on a farm upstate like my dog did…it is a PAINFUL life of servitude this person, whereas loving the form of beauty itself you never feel vulnerable because it is eternal and unchanging. its never gonna give you up OR let you down. But here’s the problem, it will NEVER love you back…and you know this. It is a perfect, eternal structure…it doesn’t have any use for love…a quest searching for something you’re lacking or whatever your definition is. This is what is known as, Platonic love. And it wasn’t just intended to be used to find a life partner, we have e-harmony for that now. it was also supposed to be used to look past superficial properties of laws or people in government or even things like bridges. do these things just appear to be beautiful…or of substance…or should their worth be judged by the qualities that actually vary between them and other things. I could dress up like a UFC fighter…i could wear the affliction shirts and i could stack some encyclopedias on the bill of a hat so it is as flat as a UFC fighters hat…but examine me a little closer, and I DO MEAN A LITTLE, cause I’m not fooling anyone and you’ll find that i don’t know how to fight…at all…and Dana white is never gonna book me for a main event fight, because there is no substance behind the look.
eventually he got tired of dealing with just moral issues and started trying to answer questions like the presocratics were trying to answer…about what the cosmos is made out of and how did it get here. in a funny way, he arrived at the same conclusion about both. morals and concepts like justice and beauty, are eternal and not defined by the perception of the person seeing them…and he thought that nature and the things we saw were the exact same way…eternal, unchanging and not based on perception.
Plato agreed with Socrates that finding the eternal definition of things like justice was an extremely important thing, because how can you philosophize about something accurately if you don’t even understand the definition of the concepts you’re philosophizing about. how can you talk about justice, without knowing exactly what justice is. to Plato, the entire quest of trying to find the definitions about these things should be done through the Socratic method…two or more people discussing something, with no malicious intentions or horse in the race, but just giving their best guess based on their own experiences and having the other guy nitpick it relentlessly. but he also asks the question, my guess is after being completely frustrated after years of wondering what anything actually is, that…if we arrived at the perfect, eternal definition of justice, beauty or whatever, how would we even be able to recognize that it was the end all, be all perfect FORM of it, and not just some flawed perception like we usually have. But not just the perfect FORM of moral concepts, how about the perfect FORM of everyday objects…what is a tree? exactly? what is a photograph? exactly? right? is there a perfect definition of what the essence of a tree is? Plato thought just as there’s an illusive difficult to define version of what justice is, there’s an illusive difficult to define version of what a tree is, or all physical objects for that matter… a PERFECT tree..and that all the trees we see around us are just inferior copies of that perfect tree. To put it another way, He describes it like this, when we see a tree, we know its a tree and can recognize a tree when we see one, but trees are all very different…no two of them are they same…one may have a knot here, or a random branch there…some trees have one kind of bark or one kind of leaves..there’s a lot of different kinds of trees , but we still recognize it as a tree because it has a sort of a… “tree-e-ness”…uh, for anyone wondering… if it means anything, I’m the moron that decided to use “tree” as an example so id have to say the word tree-e-ness…Plato in his work used dogs and dogginess as an example but anyway, we can recognize tree-e-ness, you know that thing that makes a tree a tree. We recognize it at some level and attach a definition to a tree. So if we analyze what the essence of a tree is long enough, we can understand what a “tree” is by definition. right? We can conceive of what the “perfect” tree really is, but does it actually exist anywhere in the world? no. Plato thought that that perfect tree, along with the perfect forms of EVERYTHING else that exists, including the concepts of justice and beauty, exist in a magical world of forms, that is completely separate from the material world that we live in. Humans cant see or smell or touch the world of forms, but they can think really hard for a really long time about the definitions of one of these things or concepts and access the world of forms through reason. Not only that, but to Plato, the world of forms is the TRUE reality, and that the entire world we live in and everything in it, including people, and trees and dogs …they’re all inferior copies of the quintessential person quintessential tree and quintessential dog that exists in the world of forms. This concept is known as his Theory of Forms, its a pretty strange way of looking at the world and all the things in it, so to try to put it into context and to explain what he means,
This is usually the point in the podcast where I go into some long winded example that no one understands trying to relate the material to you guys, but luckily for me…Plato did it for me! except, his isn’t incomprehensible at all, it’s actually so genius its the thing he’s most known for. It’s called his Allegory of the Cave. Here’s a quote from it:
“Behold! human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets. “
To Plato, typical human existence is a pretty depressing thing.
So, imagine if from the moment you were born you were tied up and held prisoner inside of a dark cave, being forced to face the dark back wall of the cave. Now, some translations say the light source is a fire, some say it is the sun, but either way shadows are cast of you and the other prisoners tied up around you onto the back wall of the cave…now also, for the sake of including all the other things in the world, Plato includes that there is also a pathway between you and the fire where people walk by every so often and hold up everyday items, like a tree, or a dog…etc…so that the shadow of the tree or the dog is cast on the back wall of the cave. Plato says that if you talked to the prisoners, they would have no idea about the world that’s going on behind them…from birth the only thing they’ve ever seen or known about are the shadows of the actual items being cast on the cave wall…he compares the everyday experience that humans have…seeing a tree or a dog in the real world is like seeing the shadow of the actual item on the cave wall. He continues by saying that if a prisoner manages to untie himself and turn around and look at the actual items and see the fire…or in some translations he would leave the cave and eventually see the sun, which symbolizes complete truth… he would be confused and his eyes would strain at the sun, and most likely he would turn back around and stick to the shadows because its the existence hes known for so long. Not mention he’d probably feel really dumb that hes been sitting there since he was a baby and could’ve untied himself this whole time and didn’t realize it. Plato thought that everything on earth that we had the ability to perceive with our senses had a corresponding Form in the world of forms. When we use our senses to perceive something, like when we see it, smell it touch it, we are essentially seeing shadows on the cave wall. The only true way to know what something is, is to “untie yourself” and turn around to see them for what they actually are, and the way you do that is through reason and thought. Remember how philosophers like Democritus and Empedocles were just trying to find a compromise that accounted for the changing world we perceive, as opposed to Parminides idea that the world is eternal and unchanging? Well, with his theory of forms, Plato was basically doing the same thing. The material world that we live in and perceive, or the shadows on the cave wall…is seemingly changing, but true reality is in a completely separate, eternal and unchanging world, the world of forms. He thought it was a philosophers job to identify as many of these forms as they can in life. Being able to untie yourself and see the truth for what it actually is gives that person a unique perspective of understanding that no one else around him possesses. It’s kind of like watching a football game with a pro football player sitting right next to you. You guys are both watching the same exact game, but he sees SO MUCH MORE than you do, he understands subtleties and strategy that you are completely ignorant to. Plato thought true wisdom did this with everything we see.
here’s another quote from the republic about a prisoner that manages to untie themselves:
“while still blinking through the gloom, and before he has become sufficiently accustomed to the environing darkness, he is compelled in courtrooms or elsewhere to contend about the shadows of justice or the images that cast the shadows and to wrangle in debate about the notions of these things in the minds of those who have never seen justice itself?”
Now, its important to note that a lot of really smart people that don’t think Plato LITERALLY thought that a separate world existed with perfect forms of everything just floating around everywhere. They say he probably was just stating in a melodramatic way that concepts like justice or beauty exist independent of just actions or beautiful things…human beings commonly mistake just actions and definition of justice as being the same thing. I mean, he did speak of a different heaven like world…but really he may have just been marking a contrast between considering what is a just action here and now and what is the eternal unchanging definition of justice regardless of time and place
But there is one glaring problem with his …theory of forms and the …allegory of the cave…how can we even know what the ideal form of anything is? how can we know the difference between reasoning to an imperfect form of a tree or reasoning to a perfect form of a tree. Plato says that even though we don’t realize it, we are all born with knowledge of everything in the world of forms, or as he put it, what we call learning is only a process of recollection. He thought that human beings could be broken down into two separate parts, the body and the soul. the body is responsible for the inferior senses, the things we use to perceive the world around us in a flawed way. the soul, on the other hand, has the ability to reason, and we use the soul to perceive the world of forms. He thought that our soul is eternal and at one point lived in the world of forms before we were born and really wants to go back. so, when we see a tree with our senses in the everyday world, we can recognize that its a tree but we need to use our soul, or reason to remember exactly what a tree is.
“Come now, try to tell me how long each side of this will be. the side of this is two feet. what about each side of the one which is its double?
Obviously Socrates it will be twice the length.
you see Meno that I am not teaching the boy anything but all I do is question him and now he thinks he knows the length of the line on which an eight foot figure is based do you agree?
And does he know?
He thinks it is a line twice the length
Watch him now recollecting things in order as one must recollect, tell me boy do you say that a figure double the size is based on a line double the length? Now I mean such a figure as this not long on one side and short on the other but equal in every direction like this one and double the size, that is, eight feet…”
He goes on for a while never teaching the boy anything, but asking questions and getting the boy to arrive at new conclusions all on his own. This is a great example of the Socratic method of questioning at work, and a great example of Socrates being a midwife for ideas like we talked about last episode. You can really see in this story that the boy had no idea what the answer was before he questioned him, and then Socrates gives birth to new ideas, just as he claimed to do when questioning people on the streets of Athens. Plato thought this story and the fact that the slave boy was told nothing, but was able to arrive at new understanding was proof that were born with total knowledge of everything in the world of forms and that understanding the world of forms is just a process of using your soul’s ability to reason to remember them.
The theory of forms may seem a little weird. That’s because it is. If you gave him enough time, Plato himself may have agreed with you. The theory went through several different stages where certain aspects of it changed throughout his life…no doubt because other philosophers would argue about it with him…he’d recognize there was a problem with it and try to adapt to account for it. but He was the first one to designate what the path to having true knowledge was. Yeah, he was addressing the sophist idea of relativism which led him to base his thoughts on something eternal like the theory of forms, but this was a breakthrough in Epistemology. Epistemology, simply put is what do we know and how do we know it, and Although we’ve heard several other philosophers echo the concept of the senses being inferior to reason when trying to arrive at knowledge of the world we live in, his explanation for why it is better really sets him apart from them, and because of this he is usually credited with single-handedly laying the groundwork for 17th century rationalism.
Now, Plato wasn’t done changing philosophy yet. He even had a lot to say about the role of government in a civilized society. Plato was an aristocratic elitist that hated democracy, the conviction of Socrates probably added to this..his thinking was just like there’s an ideal form of justice, or beauty, Plato says there is an ideal form of government, and he crafts a sort of utopia laying out exactly what the ideal government would be and why it should be that way.
The biggest problem he saw was with the leadership that is typically elected to office…here he is giving his account of why leaders never seem to get things done.
“Such was the conviction I had when I arrived in Italy and Sicily for the first time. when I arrive and saw what they call there the “happy life” a life filled with Italian and Syracusan banquets, with men gorging themselves twice a day and never sleeping alone at night, and following all the other customs that go with this way of living I was profoundly displeased. For no man under heaven who has cultivated such practices from his youth could possible grow up to be wise, so miraculous a temper is against nature or become temperate or indeed acquire any other part of virtue.”
People that are born into a rich lifestyle of indulgence, in Plato’s eyes were among the worst that could possibly govern a population.
“I saw clearly in regard to all states now existing that without exception their system of government is bad. Their constitutions are almost beyond redemption….Hence I was forced to say in the praise of the correct philosophy that it affords a vantage point from which we can discern in all cases what is just for communities and for individuals, and accordingly the human race will not see better days until either the stock of those who rightly and genuinely follow philosophy acquire political authority, or else the class who have political control are led by some dispensation of providence to become real philosophers.”
Plato’s idea of what an ideal city is starts at the beginning of the republic where the character Socrates comes across a guy named Thrasimicus…who tells Socrates that morality is nothing more than a set of rules forced upon the weak by strong people who have the power to impose them. he thinks if you can break the law and get away with it you should and if you can change rules and get a bunch of people to follow suit, you should do that too. He finishes by saying that a man who acts morally always ends up worse off than a guy who acts immorally…or to put it in modern terms…nice guys finish last.
Socrates doesn’t have much to say and then, but in the interest of getting to the bottom of it, after Thrasimicus had left, his friends play devils advocate and try to argue against Socrates and get him to explain why it isn’t true. Socrates explains not by pointing out the merits of an individual that acts justly, but by pointing out the merits of a just state…or a system of government that acts justly, he says that it’ll be easier to understand if looked at on a broader scale. So… Plato is not only going to point out what the ideal form of government is, but also make a case for why it is in your own self-interest to act morally. Simultaneously, in A SINGLE WRITING tackling two gigantic tasks that have plagued brilliant humans ever since. This is why Plato is amazing, BTW. right there.
So first, Plato defines what the ideal city would need to have. It would need a police force or some sort of protective enforcement to protect it from invaders and to prevent civil wars from breaking out. but then he goes on to say that everyone should work in the area that best accentuates the individual gifts they have, for example if you are naturally gifted at math you would work in the math field, if you’re naturally gifted in the arts, you’d be an artist etc….honestly, I know were talking about a utopia here and it isn’t necessarily viable in the real world, but doesn’t it GREATLY benefit society to have things this way? It really makes you wonder how many super geniuses that could’ve cured diseases ended up being the dishwasher manager at taco bell. The potential of a society with this idea in place is endless, and whenever I think about it in action, I think of a scene from a movie about another area of Greece that was facing conquest.
In that scene king Leonidas, or if you’re on NPR, Leonidas, comes across the Athenians who marvel at the fact he only brought 300 soldiers…and then as you heard…he points out that the Athenians didn’t bring soldiers, they brought blacksmiths and potters…BY having specialization in a society that accentuates the natural gifts of the population, how can you lose? And those 300 Spartans would’ve stopped Xerxes EASY if Quasimodo hadn’t led them through the mountains.
In his utopian government Plato even said women would have the ability to work their way up in the city just as much as men do, which was an unprecedented belief back then, but I don’t really see why…why does it make sense to forfeit 50% of your brain power right off the bat? all I’m saying is it was obviously unfair subjugation and not some calculated move that people that designed cities made back then..Plato’s city would be made up of a hierarchical class structure that would consist of 3 classes. the producers, which were like farmers, blacksmiths…artisans…you know working class…and the other two were the guardians and the rulers. the rulers would be chosen from the best guardians and the guardians would be chosen from children that looked like they would be good rulers with the right training and guidance. Plato noticed that its always when the rulers act selfishly or immorally that the problems start to arise for the population, so if all the rulers are chosen from the guardians, and the guardians are in a sort of interim boot camp phase, they would have a much better stock to pull from. but the training and guidance of these guardians needed to be perfect. they were cultivating their future president after all. all the guardians would live a communal lifestyle with no private property which even goes for their wives and children. they were forbidden to touch or own silver, gold or other riches. all of these precautions were taken so they didn’t have a horse in the race…the only motivating aspect should be the improvement of the state. they would be strictly regulated when it came to diet, exercise and even the types of songs or poems they heard in their malleable years. they would make sure all the stories they heard had the main character or hero of the story acting in the way they would want one of their leaders to act. In short, his utopia would involve spoon feeding only positive influences to children from a very young age in an attempt to remove them from their ego, fabricate a moral compass and teach them to think rationally all in an attempt to eventually yield a leader that would be flawless.
Plato says that this would be the ideal form of a city. Specialization…each person using their natural gifts and capabilities to their highest potential. he continues making his case by saying that a just city has all of its parts working together well and this is comparable to a human being who has all of their parts working well. and just as the city has 3 classes, the human soul has 3 parts as well. firstly, the appetitive, which is the desire for sex or money which is comparable to the producers who live as they do to make money, secondly, the spirited which wants honor, fame or notoriety and is comparable to the class of guardians…and lastly the rational part of the soul which desires knowledge. he compares the ideal state of a city to the ideal state of a human being…the human shouldn’t let his desires for sex or food or fame or glory overtake him, he should make decisions based on reason. this is the same reason why cities should be ruled by reason, or people cultivated to think purely rationally. Plato thought that the only way for this system of government to ever be implemented would be for the public to elect philosophers as their kings or for the current kings to educate themselves in the area of philosophy. These people that used reason to “untie themselves” from the back wall of the cave and see the absolute truth, Plato thought that wisdom earned them “the stamp of the ruler” . The way he saw it, who better to rule everyone than someone who understands the exact definition of moral values or what justice or fairness is…instead of flawed people ruling everyone that always impose their biased and often times corrupt views on the entire populace.
This supreme form of government that I have just laid out is what Plato would call an Aristocracy. Plato thought the less excited people were to be leader the better things would inevitably turn out. An Aristocracy is ruled by a philosopher king, and therefore is managed by wisdom and reason. Plato thought there were five main types of regimes that could potentially govern a society and they were on a hierarchy from best to worst…and he explains how each form of government subsequently devolves into the next worse form of government on the hierarchy. The 5, in order, were an Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy and Tyranny. Now, The meanings of these 5 types of governments is not even close to the modern definitions of them, but there are enough similarities for us to understand what he means and see his brilliance. The aristocracy is the best form of government and devolves into a Timocracy when, someone misjudges who a good candidate for the guardian position would be…so instead of getting someone who’s completely removed from their own ego and rational, you get someone who may still be incredibly smart and rational, but their main driving force is not the acquisition of knowledge…its the acquisition of honor. still pretty noble, but not as noble as knowledge. also known as a military dictatorship. This love of conquest causes them to allow themselves to own property. Usually through military conquest right? and this was actually the system of government in Sparta…Then the Timocracy devolves into the oligarchy. uh and Plato saw that happening because as the desire for honor comes into play… doing something in ones self interest always keeps going and doing things in desire of money is the next logical step… the people in power want to protect their financial interests so they make it a rich ruling the poor sort of dynamic and that’s what an oligarchy is…they still have some morals, they’re thrifty, but only for the cause of saving money, not being wise or for the benefit of the city necessarily… the people in the oligarchy admire power and money, so they put the rich in office and despise the poor…this form of government is destined to fail because eventually class warfare will erupt and the rich will be against the poor and there will always be more poor than rich…so then what inevitably happens is the poor revolt and the oligarchy devolves into a democracy, or a society ruled by the masses…uh…in a democracy, freedom is seen as the supreme good…and back in Plato’s time people in a democracy were seen as self indulgent, focused on immediate gratification, of food, sex and other short term pleasures and he saw the democratic state, as an undisciplined pandemonium. when freedom is the most important tenant of society, eventually, Plato thought, through policy dictated by the masses laws cease to exist and then democracy devolves into a tyranny where there’s still all the self-indulgence of democracy, but then there are no laws either…society is in chaos… and then a tyrant seizes power.