Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Republic of Plato - Book 2

Questions for the meeting of October 24.

1. Why does Plato introduce the myth of Gyges’ ring into a philosophical dialogue?

2. Why is Plato defending censorship? Is his reasoning valid?

3. Is war caused by too much luxury, as Plato would have us believe?


Blogger SMJ said...

The myth of Gyges ring is an attempt to describe the frailty of human nature. The point being made by Glaucon is that all men are vulnerable to the same temptations and driven by the same kinds of desires. The problem for Socrates is how to construct a just society composed of corrupt (or unjust) men.

One may argue with Glaucon's assumption that man is by nature corrupt. Rousseau, for example, held the opposite view: that man is born free of corruption and is made wicked by society. So the point is that if man does not always or easily embrace justice, how will a just society come about? Can man overcome his own personality, his biological instinct for self-preservation?

The answer that Socrates proposes is no. Man, alone in nature, cannot rise above his baser instincts. But man in society, guided by the virtues of courage, wisdom, and justice can educate himself to a live by a higher moral standard. What makes this higher moral standard possible is the state. We will discover that Plato's Republic is really a treatise on education, a type of education in
which moral values are instilled to enable people to live justly
with one another.

11/10/2005 2:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Why does Plato introduce the myth of Gyges’ ring into a philosophical dialogue?
Rational proof is a strong persuader for many people. Many others though, seem capable only to learn by experience. I believe what Plato is doing in this case is appealing to the reader’s personal experience. Ask yourself: if I could do anything I wanted, and know for sure that I would get away with it, what would I do? Return the ring and say “no thanks”? This is a gut check from Plato. He thinks (perhaps correctly) that most people would, in fact, do wrong if they knew they wouldn’t get into trouble. Although he usually has Socrates stick to rational persuasion, Plato isn’t above using other rhetorical tools at his disposal in order to guide us into a deeper understanding of the subject.

2. Why is Plato defending censorship? Is his reason valid?
The answer seems fairly straightforward: Plato would use censorship to preserve the State. This cuts against modern American sensibilities, but the reason may be that we (in America) have not truly faced the total destruction of the State and the terrible anarchy that would result. The time when we actually were (the Civil War), many freedoms were, in fact, suspended in the name of “preserving the Union.” Still, there are good reasons to defend both freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Plato thinks it is more important to defend the State. His point seems to be this: the State is more important than the individual. That’s because the collective body of citizens is more important to preserve than any one person alone. The State is “prior to” the individual in the sense that the State was there before the individual was born, and will (presumably) be around long after the individual dies and is gone. People pass away, but the State endures. This is still a hot topic in Western Civilization, but over the years the traditional consensus has come down pretty much on the side of the dignity of the individual, even at the expense of the State, within limits.

3. Is war caused by too much luxury, as Plato would have us believe?
The causes of war are complex. Nevertheless, Plato openly believes love of luxury is the root cause. Is he correct? People will fight over limited resources. They’ll fight over oil, for example. Oil is money. Whoever has a lot of oil has access to a lot of money. Money means you can purchase luxury items. Money also buys weapons. With weapons you don’t have to purchase luxury items, you can just take them from your enemy or your neighbor, and still have money left to purchase luxury items later. This is war. Plato’s point, I believe, is this: war comes about because we confuse our wants with our needs. If people lived within their means, the world would be a more peaceful place. But, as Glaucon points out, that’s fine as long as you’re providing “for a city of pigs.” Most people want nice things, not just bare necessities. That’s what disturbs not only our own peace of mind, but also that of our neighbors. The way I read it, Plato is not optimistic that we will banish war from the human vocabulary any time soon.

1/05/2006 4:06 PM  

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