Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Republic of Plato - Book 3

Discussion questions for October 31:

1. We started out in Book 1 exploring the nature of justice. Is telling a “royal lie” compatible with justice?

2. What is the injustice that is being prevented by telling this lie?

3. Is the preservation of the state more important than telling the truth to its citizens?

4. Is the preservation of the state more important than allowing everyone the opportunity of bettering themselves (i.e. rising from the artisan class to the warrior class or from the warrior class to the guardian class)?

5. Who is to judge if someone is of brass or iron?

6. How can we be sure we aren’t mistaken?

7. What becomes of the doctrine in books 1 and 2 – that it is better to suffer an injustice than to commit one?

8. If moral principles sometimes have to be changed for the sake of practical considerations (such as survival), does that mean that there are no fixed moral principles at all?


Blogger SMJ said...

If telling a lie is compatible with justice, then can justice itself even be worth pursuing? Surely, at some point in our quest for wisdom, we all need to fall back upon the commonly held meanings of words. To have any hope of communicating with one another, we need to agree upon a symbol system (language) which is understood by both speakers. The "common sense" use of language is one that implies a context of shared community values. After all, if half our population believes that lying is good social behavior, and the other half believes that lying is indecent, we have no common ground upon which to discuss the virtue of truth.

One of the continuing debates in our postmodern world today is whether universals, such as justice, even exist. Though it might be argued that thinking (logical or analytic reasoning) can occur in the absence of language skills, one cannot sensibly argue that language (the realm of verbal communication) operates without symbols having definite meaning. Thus, many arguments in philosophy are believed to be mere problems in the use of language. If everyone agreed what our symbols refer to, then much confusion could be avoided.

However, in philosophy nothing should ever be assumed. Even the meanings of words we commonly take for granted. When Socrates is asked by Glaucon for a definition of justice which will satisfy everyone (i.e., true for everyone at all times and places), he cannot immediately comply. That is to say, rather than give one definition which will satisfy the question, Socrates will need to give two answers and show how they are related. First, Socrates will explain what justice means to the polis (or city); then Socrates will explain what justice means to the individual. By the end of the Republic, Socrates intends to show Glaucon how these two separate definitions are actually inseparable and, by implication, why justice in the city is invariably linked with justice in the soul of the individual.

12/08/2005 3:11 PM  

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