Principle 8: Passion – You were Born for This (When All Else Fails, Succeed!)

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These flaws are connected: the ignorant are marked by their desire for the wrong objects, such as honor and money, and this desire is what leads them to seek political power. All existing regimes, whether ruled by one, a few, or many, show these defects. Aristotle, Politics III 7. Nonetheless, Socrates has much to say in Books Eight and Nine about the individual character of various defective regimes.

In the timocracy, for example, nothing checks the rulers from taking money to be a badge of honor and feeding their appetites, which grow in private until they cannot be hidden anymore. The account is thus deeply informed by psychology. The account, psychologically and historically informed, does not offer any hint of psychological or historical determinism. Socrates does not identify the transitions from one defective regime to the next as inevitable, and he explicitly allows for transitions other than the ones he highlights.

This is just one story one could tell about defective regimes. The political psychology of Books Eight and Nine raises a host of questions, especially about the city-soul analogy see section 1.

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Is the account of political change dependent upon the account of psychological change, or vice versa? Or if this is a case of mutual interdependence, exactly what accounts for the various dependencies? It seems difficult to give just one answer to these questions that will explain all of the claims in these books, and the full, complex theory that must underlie all of the claims is by no means clear. But those questions should not obscure the political critiques that Socrates offers. First, he criticizes the oligarchs of Athens and Sparta. His list of five regimes departs from the usual list of rule by one, rule by a few, and rule by many cf.

Socrates argues that these are not genuine aristocracies, because neither timocracy nor oligarchy manages to check the greed that introduces injustice and strife into cities. This highlights the deficiencies of the Spartan oligarchy, with its narrow attention to valor cf.

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Laws , esp. Books One and Two , and of the Athenian oligarchs, many of whom pursued their own material interests narrowly, however much they eyed Sparta as a model. So the Republic distances Plato from oligarchic parties of his time and place. Second, Socrates criticizes the Athenian democracy, as Adeimantus remarks d. Many readers think that Socrates goes over the top in his description, but the central message is not so easy to dismiss.

Socrates argues that without some publicly entrenched standards for evaluation guiding the city, chaos and strife are unavoidable. Even the timocracy and oligarchy, for all their flaws, have public standards for value. But democracy honors all pursuits equally, which opens the city to conflict and disorder. Some readers find a silver lining in this critique. But the Republic also records considerable skepticism about democratic tolerance of philosophers a—a, cf. I doubt that Socrates explicit ranking in the Republic should count for less than some imagined implicit ranking, but we might still wonder what to make of the apparent contrast between the Republic and Statesman. Perhaps the difference is insignificant, since both democracies and oligarchies are beset by the same essential strife between the rich oligarchs and poor democrats e—a.

Perhaps, too, the Republic and Statesman appear to disagree only because Plato has different criteria in view. Or perhaps he just changed his mind. The ideal city of the Laws , which Plato probably wrote shortly after the Statesman , accords a greater political role for unwise citizens than the Republic does see Plato: on utopia.

The Republic is a sprawling work with dazzling details and an enormously wide-ranging influence. But what, in the end, does the work say to us, insofar as we are trying to live well or help our society live well, and what does it say to us, insofar as we are trying to understand how to think about how to live well? But the Republic characterizes philosophy differently. First, it goes much further than the Socratic dialogues in respecting the power of passions and desires.

Wisdom still requires being able to survive Socratic examination b—c , but it also explicitly requires careful and extensive habituation of spirited and appetitive attitudes a—b, a8—b1 , sublimation of psychological energy from spirited and appetitive desires to philosophical desire cf. Second, as opposed to the Socrates of the Socratic dialogues, who avows ignorance and is content with the belief that the world is well-ordered, the Socrates of the Republic insists that wisdom requires understanding how the world is, which involves apprehending the basic mathematical and teleological structure of things.

Third, although the Socrates of the Socratic dialogues practices philosophy instead of living an ordinarily engaged political life, he insists that his life is closer to what the political art demands than the ordinarily engaged life is. According to the Republic , by contrast, the philosopher prefers to be entirely apart from politics, especially in ordinary circumstances c—e, a, cf.

One facet of this advice that deserves emphasizing is the importance it places on the influence of others. This is most obvious in the case of those who cannot pursue wisdom for themselves. They will live as well as those who lead them allow. But even those who can pursue wisdom must first be raised well and must later meet with tolerance, which philosophers do not often receive. The ethical theory the Republic offers is best characterized as eudaimonist, according to which a person should act for the sake of his or her own success or happiness eudaimonia.

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Socrates does not argue for this as opposed to other approaches to ethics. This eudaimonism is widely thought to be an egoistic kind of consequentialism: one should act so as to bring about states of affairs in which one is happy or successful. If the Republic takes this identity seriously, as the function argument of Book One does a , it says that virtuous activity is good not because it brings about success, but because it is success.

Metaethically, the Republic presupposes that there are objective facts concerning how one should live. Much of its account of these facts sounds naturalist. After all, Socrates uses the careful study of human psychology to reveal how our souls function well or ill, and he grounds the account of what a person should do in his understanding of good psychological functioning. Whether this is plausible depends upon what careful study of human psychology in fact shows. It depends in particular on whether, as a matter of fact, the actions that we would pre-theoretically deem good sustain a coherent set of psychological commitments and those that we would pre-theoretically deem bad are inconsistent with a coherent set of psychological commitments.

Ethical naturalism such as this still awaits support from psychology, but it has not been falsified, either. Although this naturalist reading of the Republic is not anachronistic—Aristotle and the Stoics develop related naturalist approaches, and Plato had naturalist contemporaries in a hedonist tradition—Plato himself would not be content to ground his account of good actions on empirical facts of human psychology. On his view, actions are good because of their relation to good agents, and agents are good because of their relation to goodness itself.

But goodness itself, the Good, transcends the natural world; it is a supernatural property.

But non-naturalism in ethics will retain some appeal insofar as the other ways of trying to explain our experiences of the moral life fail to answer the serious objections they face. In the sections above, I take what Socrates says about the ideal and defective cities at face value, but many readers believe that this is a mistake.

Some think that Plato does not intend the Republic as a serious contribution to political thought, because its political musings are projections to clarify psychological claims crucial to the ethical theory that Plato does seriously intend Annas , Annas Moreover, one can concede that the Republic calls into question many of its political proposals without thinking that Plato means to cancel them or suggest other, radically different political advice cf.

Clay It is striking that Socrates is ready to show that it is better to be just than unjust before he has even said that the just and wise person must be a philosopher and that the just city must be ruled by philosophers e—a. And it is striking that Socrates recognizes that Greeks would ridicule his proposal that women take up the arts of war a. But Plato might signal for his readers to examine and re-examine what Socrates says without thereby suggesting that he himself finds fault with what Socrates says.

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But still some readers, especially Leo Strauss see Strauss and his followers e. First, they note that the philosophers have to be compelled to rule the ideal city. But this involves no impossibility. The founders of the ideal city would have to make a law compelling those educated as philosophers to rule cf.


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If philosophers have to be compelled to sustain the maximally happy city, one might wonder why anyone would found such a city. But one might wonder why anyone was inspired to compose the Oresteia , as well. People sometimes do remarkable things.

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After all, Socrates does not say that eros makes the creation or maintenance of Kallipolis impossible. Finally, the Straussians note that Kallipolis is not sketched as an ideal in a political treatise, exactly, but proposed by Socrates in a long dramatic conversation, which includes twists and turns that come after he stops discussing Kallipolis. This is true, and it renders difficult inferences from what is said in the Republic to what Plato thinks. But it does not provide any reason for thinking that Plato rejects the ideal that Socrates constructs in the Republic.

In fact, Socrates expresses several central political theses in the Republic that appear in other Platonic dialogues, as well, especially in the Gorgias , Statesman , and Laws. First, the best rulers are wise. Second, the best rulers rule for the benefit of the ruled, and not for their own sake.