Meditations: Book VII-XII

Cricket Spillane 

I am a graduating senior majoring in International Relations and minoring in Peace Studies and Violence Prevention, Leadership and Social Change, and Spanish. After graduation I am going to Lugano, Switzerland to be an advisor for the Creating Sustainable Social Change study abroad program here at VT. After that, I will be going to Nyamyumba, Rwanda to work with a non-profit organization to conduct research on gender-equity.

Jackson Bracknell 

Hey all, I am a sophomore majoring in political science and minoring in history. After I graduate, I will be commissioning in the Marine Corps and hopefully earn the job as an Infantry Officer. I want to travel the world, help people, and experience different cultures. I am not sure what I want to do after the Marine Corps- maybe a history teacher, firefighter, or entrepreneur. When I retire, I would like to live in Montana with lots of land.

Natalie Buckland 

I am a junior majoring in Political Science with a concentration in national security and minoring in Leadership Studies offered by the Corps of Cadets. After I graduate, I am hoping to enlist in the Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer. If I choose not to make the military my life career I’ll be seeking a job in a federal agency or law enforcement. One day, I hope to retire and live somewhere in New Zealand. 


Marcus Aurelius wrote Meditations during his time as Roman Emperor from AD 161 to 180. His writings served as an outlet to express his ideas on Stoic philosophy and guide his own journey towards self-improvement. Perhaps the most striking quality of Aurelius comes from his commitment to virtue and tranquility above all else. 

Book VII

In Book VII, some of the most important themes touched upon include badness or evil, happiness, change, pain, human existence, and how we can control our destinies through self-control and organized thought. Through the application of ruling principles that are discussed by Aurelius, both peace and tranquility become attainable. He stresses that it is in our best interest to keep our principles at the forefront of our minds so we do not forget them, which is demonstrated by the quote below.

“How can our principles become dead, unless the impressions (thoughts) which correspond to them are extinguished? But it is in thy power continuously to fan these thoughts into a flame.” 

This scene from Spongebob demonstrates what would happen if we neglected our principles.

He also emphasizes the importance of remaining consistent when it comes to practicing our principles, and not to stray away from them even when surrounded by others. In this situation, it could be easy to become influenced by sophistry. However, by remaining resolute and unwavering when it comes to your values, you will succeed in trying to achieve the greater good, as developed in the quote below.

“For whatsoever either by myself or with another I can do, ought to be directed to this 

only, to that which is useful and well suited to society.”

Aurelius also notes that everything in the universe is connected and a natural order exists that should coincide with one’s principles. He points out that we are all a part of one universe, and we all have a place and purpose within it. He describes sentient beings as “rational animals” and says they should behave according to reason and according to nature, as shown in the following quote and song. 

“For there is one universe made up of all things, and one God who pervades all things, and one substance, and one law, one common reason in all intelligent animals, and one truth; if indeed there is also one perfection for all animals which are of the same stock and participate in the same reason.” 

“Imagine” by John Lennon pictures a world in which everyone lives as one.

He describes change as a part of the natural process of things, encouraging people to embrace it instead of shy away from it. According to Aurelius, without change, happiness cannot exist. Change is an essential part of the human existence, and can be witnessed everywhere in nature. This is exemplified by the quote and the song below.  

“Is any man afraid of change? Why what can take place without change? What then is 

more pleasing or more suitable to the universal nature? And canst thou take a bath unless 

the wood undergoes a change? And canst thou be nourished, unless the food undergoes a 

change? And can anything else that is useful be accomplished without change? Dost thou 

not see then that for thyself also to change is just the same, and equally necessary for the 

universal nature?”

“Changing” by John Mayer celebrates a life full of change. 

He goes further into detail about life, death, and pain; all which fall in the natural order of things. Similarly to change, it is better to embrace the fact that they are inevitable rather than running from them. Pain will only bother you if you let it consume you, and you should not focus on death but rather on life. An individual can do nothing more than to trust the gods, and embrace their place in the universe and their destiny. This is exemplified by the quote below. 

“But, my good friend, reflect whether that which is noble and good is not something 

different from saving and being saved; for as to a man living such or such a time, at least one who is really a man, consider if this is not a thing to be dismissed from the thoughts: and there must be no love of life: but as to these matters a man must intrust them to the deity and believe what the women say, that no man can escape his destiny, the next inquiry being how he may best live the time that he has to live.”

He further advises against letting outside factors influence your character and affect your destiny. Even if you find yourself overwhelmed by your environment or the dangers of your living conditions, the power to remain virtuous and tranquil lies within your mind. You should not act for anything or anyone other than yourself and your destiny. This is exemplified in the quote below. 

“It is in thy power to live free from all compulsion in the greatest tranquility of mind, 

even if all the world cry out against thee as much as they choose, and even if wild beasts 

tear in pieces the members of this kneaded matter which has grown around thee.”

He moves onto more applications of principles to daily life in the following book. 


Perhaps the most important theme of this book is that one should not waste their time trying to figure out why things are the way they are and instead live in the present and accept things as they are. He calls for a life free from distractions and strict adherence to your principles. He emphasizes the importance of living in the present and embracing our connection with nature. The connection between nature and accepting life the way it is is highlighted in the following quote.

“Remember that as it is a shame to be surprised if the fig-tree produces figs, so it is to be 

surprised if the world produces such and such things of which it is productive; and for the physician and the helmsman it is a shame to be surprised, if a man has a fever, or if the wind is unfavourable.”

Just as Bob Dylan once said, don’t think twice it’s alright.

He goes on to talk more about how you should stick to your guns, and remain unwavering even if somebody tries to correct you. He also brings up freedom, and you can achieve it through your own actions. Everything should be done with a purpose and things such as worrying or finding fault in something do not have a purpose. He ties nature back into his principles by reminding us that nothing ever leaves the universe, everything will transform and return to us somehow. He questions our existence in the universe, but knows it is not for trivial reasons such as pleasure as demonstrated in the quote below.

“Everything exists for some end, a horse, a vine. Why dost thou wonder? Even the sun 

will say, I am for some purpose, and the rest of the gods will say the same. For what 

purpose then art thou? to enjoy pleasure? See if common sense allows this.”

Due to the transience of life, it is important to become good today rather than to become good tomorrow, Aurelius warns. All actions should be conducted with the good of humanity in mind, and anything done unto you is what the gods and universe intended. If you are benevolent, you will reap the benefits and gain satisfaction and happiness. He teaches us that there are three main relations between an individual and other things, as described in the quote below. 

“There are three relations between thee and other things: the one to the body which 

surrounds thee; the second to the divine cause from which all things come to all; and the 

third to those who live with thee.”

Aurelius reminds us that all of our power lies within, and we can expel any evil or negativity from tarnishing our minds with our will. He compares the separation of man from nature to that of losing a limb, and says it’s a great blessing that humans are capable of returning to nature as intended after getting separated from it. The universe and nature will make all things right again, it is our duty to trust in its power as well as our own. Nature will also not bring us anything that we cannot bear, so if you find yourself wondering if a burden is too heavy, it isn’t. He reintroduces the ideal that only the present is worth focusing on, as shown in the quote below. 

“In the next place remember that neither the future nor the past pains thee, but only the 


The importance of embracing any obstacles you may face is something that Aurelius touches on multiple times. He claims that any man who lives content with the obstacles presented to him will die happily. Anyone who becomes consumed by said obstacles or finds themselves tempted by fame, passion, or evil will not die happy. It is also implied those who find themselves swallowed by the past or worrying about their future cannot die happy. Those that worry not and do not ask “why” can die happily, as encouraged by the following quote. 

“A cucumber is bitter.- Throw it away.- There are briars in the road.- Turn aside from 

them.- This is enough. Do not add, And why were such things made in the world?” 

Book IX

In Book IX, places emphasis on neutralies that exist between both extremes. Being able to understand both approaches (or sides on a spectrum) would make one’s judgment more sound. The main end goal is one that is focused on tranquility. We can only be at peace with ourselves and others if we train our logic to guide our perceptions . It is in our nature to help one another so that we may thrive. This sentiment is repeated throughout the text and specifically in the quote below. 

“Now with respect to the things towards which the universal nature is equally affected- for it would not have made both, unless it was equally affected towards both- towards those who wish to follow nature should be of the same mind with it, and equally affected. With respect to pain, then, and pleasure, or death and life, or honour and dishonour, which the universal nature employs equally, whoever is not equally affected is manifestly acting impiously.”

 Marcus Aurelius also touches on the ever changing nature of the universe. He ties the concept of change into what one might experience in life. For example, there is nothing to fear in death because it is a state of being. In reality, we experience many forms of death. The way it is worded is a bit extreme, but it is no different than finishing a task. It is almost like thinking about an end of some sort. An example of this would be like how, at some point, we all went outside to play together with our friends for the last time. What may be perceived as loss is simply change or moving on to a “chapter” in life.  We grow, build new relationships, and make lives of our own. Of course it’s sad, but that is all a part of growing up. That’s life. 

“Soon will the earth cover us all: then the earth, too, will change, and the things also which result from change will continue to change forever, and these again forever.” 

Everyone is not destined to live a perfect life either. The world is so vast and transformative that every single little mistake that someone might commit doesn’t necessarily mean that they are terrible. The gods gifted everyone with negative traits, but they also have positive traits that balance our personalities. This concept applies to all individuals. Aurelius asserts that we should be patient and understanding when being approached by someone who may be abrasive. It is simply treating others how you want to be treated. 

“When thou art offended with any man’s shameless conduct, immediately ask thyself, Is it possible, then, that shameless men should not be in the world? It is not possible. Do not, then, require what is impossible. For this man also is one of those shameless men who must of necessity be in the world. Let the same considerations be present to thy mind in the case of the knave, and the faithless man, and of every man who does wrong in any way. “

Book X

In Book X, Aurelius questions whether or not his soul would stop yearning for what it doesn’t have or if it would ever be content with what it has. This conundrum is one that is prevalent in everyone. He implies that, no matter what it is, if it is bestowed from the gods it is something good and deserving. 

“Wilt thou, then, my soul, never be good and simple and one and naked, more manifest than the body which surrounds thee? Wilt thou never enjoy an affectionate and contented disposition? Wilt thou never be full and without a want of any kind, longing for nothing more, nor desiring anything, either animate or inanimate, for the enjoyment of pleasures?”

Endurance is a huge theme and Aurelius focuses on this concept throughout the book. Like many things, it will either make or break someone. If someone cannot persevere they will not last for too long, but if someone’s mind is able to adapt they are prepared to fight another day. Suffering can then be put into perspective and made endurable. Everyone encounters their own trials and tribulations, but it is up to us whether or not we choose to adapt to our environment. I always remember that I have survived 100 percent of my worst days. Into each life some rain must fall. 

“If, then, it happens to thee in such way as thou art formed by nature to bear it, do not complain, but bear it as thou art formed by nature to bear it. But if it happens in such wise as thou art not formed by nature to bear it, do not complain, for it will perish after it has consumed thee.” 

Life is a continuous journey that everyone builds and improves on; no matter how old they are. 

If someone is healthy and in their right state of mind they will not be filled with worry or  anxious about seeking approval. If there is someone that is not of sound mind, how are they expected to be fully aware of what they are doing? How would they know what they truly need to do to live a happy life? It shouldn’t be about materialistic things, but one about fulfillment. 

“And accordingly the healthy understanding ought to be prepared for everything which happens; but that which says, Let my dear children live, and let all men praise whatever I may do, is an eye which seeks for green things, or teeth which seek for soft things.”

Book XI

In Book XI, Marcus Aurelius explores the validity and rationality of the body and soul. He also provides some of his morales and how to deal with negative situations. Aurelius says that a soul owns itself and can perceive the universe as orderly and not unique- something that has happened to a person has happened before. 

Auerlius is skeptical of Christains in this book, saying that a soul should be able to leave its body when it is ready, not “from mere obstinacy, as with the Christians, but considerately and with dignity and in a way to persuade another, without tragic show.”

Aurelius also explains how he is skeptical of newer comedies, but he thinks “useful sayings” and guidance can be found in old comedies, because he believes that helping the community and being an active member of society should be its own reward, which is another reason why he criticizes Christains, who practice morals for salvation. One aspect of this book that stood out to me was his emphasis on being involved in your community. He makes an analogy that someone isolating themselves from society is like cutting a branch off a tree, saying “So too a man when he is separated from another man has fallen off from the whole social community. Now as to a branch, another cuts it off, but a man by his own act separates himself from his neighbour when he hates him and turns away from him…” 

Aurelius also identifies nine aspects to remember when someone offends another person. Similar to his previous books, Marcus says to remember that all people have a bond, specifically sharing the “community of mind.” This reminds me of the recent fictional terror group who appear in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a Disney+ Marvel series, which can be seen here:

His fifth rule also stood out to me: he essentially says to try to consider the circumstances that led the person to offend you. Sometimes I struggle with taking a step back and trying to see the situation from the other person’s perspective, saying “a man must learn a great deal to enable him to pass a correct judgement on another man’s acts.”

Finally, his sixth rule stood out to me, where he essentially says that life is short and not to waste it, which reminds me of this video of Kobe Bryant explaining how short life is:

This point leads to the ideas Auerlius’s next book, Book XII.

Book XII

The main idea of Auerlius’s Book XII of The Meditations is that life is short. He explains to not hold on to the past and to not look forward to the future but to live in the moment. Marcus says that at his death he wants to be someone who “shalt strive to live only what is really thy life, that is, the present- then thou wilt be able to pass that portion of life which remains for thee up to the time of thy death, free from perturbations, nobly, and obedient to thy own daemon (to the god that is within thee),” meaning to be adherent to the actions of one’s own body and desire of the sould.

This point is extremely important to so many people today. Students, along with much of the working class, look to the future for things to get better or “live for the weekend.” This is prevalent among college students with “Almost Friday” posts which can be seen here: and in common songs such as Working for the Weekend by Loverboy:

According to Marcus, this is not the proper way to live life.

He also says that there is a plan that is beyond the understanding of humans, so it is pointless for humans to try to understand it, because our perspective is so small. Marcus gives the reader a paradox: “I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.”

Aurelius thinks it is a paradox that even in the time of the Romans, people were self obsessed and cared more about themselves more than anyone else, yet people also value others’ opinion more than their opinion of themselves. I agree with Aurelius in this aspect, and this trend can clearly be seen especially in today’s youth. I have always listened to ex Navy SEAL Davis Goggins, and I have always valued this video on why not to care about other people’s opinion.

The final point that stood out to me in this book are the few foundational rules Marcus says to follow, for these are the rules he follows when he is upsetted by something: everything happens for a reason, humankind is a community of intelligence, whatever is troubling you is external, not internal, and everything that is happening has once happened before.

The guidelines provided by Aurelius provide guidance to someone who is easily corrupted by external forces in life and is a follower of sophistry.

Meditations: Books I-VI – By Marcus Aurelius

Leila Shahidi, Finnegan Holmes, Kishan Balaji, & Jamal Ross


PSCI 3015

24 April 2021

Discussion Post: Meditations Book I-VI


Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is a book of personal thoughts of the emperor of Rome. In Book 1, he writes about what he has learned from people he viewed as mentors. In Book 2, he writes about his personal thoughts on stoic philosophy. In Book 3 he ponders the length and quality of human life as well as the concept of death. In Book 4 he encourages the practice of retreating into one’s mind, and he elaborates on his thoughts of death in previous books. In book 5 he discusses the balance between work and relaxation. In book 6 he explains his perspective on how the universe was made and humanities place in this universe.


Who Marcus Aurelius was is incredibly important to the value of the literature he produced. Marcus Aurelius was born in the year 121 AD and became the Roman Emperor in 161. He is considered to be the last of the Five Good Emperors. Much of his life and reign are argued by historians as there is minimal surviving evidence of specifics. It is known that he won several wars during his reign, notably against the Parthian Empire (mostly occupied by modern-day Iran). Marcus Aurelius is viewed in a historical context as essentially a “Philosopher King” similar to Plato’s conception. The accomplishments of Marcus Aurelius are significant to the value of his work because Mediations acts as a sort of diary for one of, if not the most powerful men in the world at the time. Meditations was never intended to be published and it is very rare to see the unfiltered personal thoughts of such an influential figure. Much of Mediations is believed to be written while Marcus Aurelius was planning military campaigns in eastern Europe.

This is a scene from the wildly imaginative movie, Gladiator (2000) where an elderly Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) talks to the main character Maximus (Russel Crowe). They share their views on Rome and look back on the successful conquests they have had.  

Book I 

In Book I of Meditations called Debts and Lessons, Marcus Aurelius writes about lessons he has learned from his influential peers and philosophers. One lesson he writes is from Apollonius which is being stoic in any circumstance that may arise, even extremely painful ones like losing a child because it allows one to be flexible, able to adapt to one’s fate. Similarly, he learns from Sextus to “live as nature requires” (Aurelius, 7), essentially accepting nature’s outcomes, and to be kind to others, even those that are unappealing people. One notable lesson is from who Aurelius calls his adopted father who he described to take advantage of material things if he had them, but never relied on them in case they were not there. Aurelius described him as someone who never paid much attention to his physical appearance or how he was perceived by others. He approached things logically instead of losing control of himself in difficult situations. He discusses desire in the sense that his adopted father did not have trouble avoiding things that most people have difficulties avoiding in life such as material goods that most people would indulge in like nice clothes or good food. Furthermore, at the end of book one, he discusses his thankfulness for not learning philosophy by charlatans or those that practice “writing treatises, or become absorbed by logic-chopping” (13). Philosophy aligns with Aurelius’ view that one should live life logically and with reason, separating what one can control and what one cannot. Philosophy, for him, is not about trivial details, rather a way to logically figure out main and relevant issues. 

Book II

In Book II of Meditations, Aurelius starts with “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly” (17). This statement connects deeply to the stoic philosophy that one must be comfortable with the worst case scenario and be able to adapt to that circumstance without losing control of one’s self. He emphasizes that being angry towards people is “unnatural” and that being prepared to face unappealing people and situations, it is less likely one will feel angry at others. Throughout this book, Aurelius emphasizes death and the importance of focusing one’s life on the present and the tasks one is assigned. He says, “do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life” (18) without allowing one’s emotions to take over them and to express the importance of discipline and how procrastination forces your mind to be a slave to impulsive desires. 

Aurelius talks about validation as well, and how the human mind can sometimes be conditioned to receive happiness from others validation, which he finds is disrespectful to one’s self. Aurelius and the stoic philosophy place importance on the mind and its thoughts being extremely important to the value of one’s life, shown when he says, “People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time, even when hard at work” (19). I think this quote shows that although completing tasks are important, the quality of one’s mind and thoughts are more important for living a valuable life. Furthermore, even if one labors all their lives, this does not mean they are living a good life, especially if one uses the money for useless material that only brings them higher status among their peers. He also makes a notable point about the act of sinning out of anger versus out of desire and claims that sinning out of anger is better than from desire because “the man motivated by desire, who is mastered by pleasure, seems somehow more self-indulgent, less manly in his sins” (19). He explains that someone who commits sin, whatever that might entail, by anger is more like a victim to the sin because it was induced by pain, rather than being “moved to action by desire” (20). An angry person who commits sin is more like a victim to quick impulsive behavior, rather than a person who has premeditated desires.

 In section 12, Aurelius writes that the material world will be gone and forgotten, as if they are dead. To notice and understand why this makes the material world quite insignificant is important for the quality of one’s mind. Moreover, one prominent aspect that Aurelius highlights in Meditations is the idea of death as being something people should not feel afraid of or attribute negative feelings towards. He explains that one should break down the idea of death for what it really is: “It’s nothing but a process of nature” (21) and one should “accept death in a cheerful spirit” (21). In this, he is suggesting that whatever nature entails is not something evil in and of itself. It is something to be accepted for what it is and never meant to be controlled. In terms of “the scientific project”, many people think that science is a way for humanity to control nature for their benefit. This is definitely prevalent today as humanity is constantly trying to change human life expectancy through science or produce technology that could alter nature in some way to benefit people. Scientific laws help individuals come to the truth, rather than making assumptions based on your own biased perceptions. Aurelius would claim that nature is not something to control, but something to succumb to because nature is ultimately humanity’s true ruler. His emphasis on death being near for anyone is premised on the idea of death being a part of nature that you cannot avoid but should accept and move on from. Aurelius also discusses the concept of time and that even if someone were to be able to live for three thousand years, the life being lived in the present moment is the same for everyone because it can be lost from everyone in an instant, the past and future, however, cannot be lost because, “how could you lose what you don’t have?” (21). 

This video provides stoicism in a nutshell but with a modern-day perspective. As capitalism becomes more and more prominent, so does several people’s obsession and admiration for material things. Because people have a tendency to want to control the external, capitalism seems to lead more people into using or buying material things as a way to control the external. It also leads many to continue to desire things such as wealth, that ultimately do not lead to ultimate happiness. There is also a connection between the education of citizens and democracy. Clearly, if most citizens of a state are conditioned to indulge and care about material things that do not bring happiness, and as a consequence rely even more on them, these citizens are not living a good life with logic and reason. This will cause the overall democracy to lack logic and reason, and it will also cause those who run to rule the state to be no better, if not worse, than the citizens themselves. What’s worse, is that those who run to rule the state will acquire attention and votes from feeding into the indulgence and lack of logic of the citizenry. 

Book III 

In book 3 of Meditations, we are presented with yet another instance surrounded by the aspect of death, or say the length of life. The qualities which are presented are something that is heavily examined to provide closure and a response to the length of life. Length of life was represented by how one lives one’s life and the quality of it all. Aurelius states, “living longer doesn’t guarantee a continued quality of life”. He focuses on what encapsulates the quality of life and the different internal and external elements that could potentially prosper or deviate the expansion and quality of life. An example from this section is dementia. He goes into great detail about the disease of Dementia and how it results in the loss of one’s reason.  Aurelius illustrated how different things in one life shape them into who they are and the discussions he had made for a better understanding of what was at hand. Aurelius says life is actually even shorter than we think. This ties back to his discussion of external elements and ailments, like Dementia. The mind and the body are one within each other providing and supporting one another. Separation of the mind and body leads to loss of reason presenting a space for a downward spiral of one’s ability to lead a “good life”. Throughout Meditations, Aurelius emphasizes living life and doing different things because life is ever-changing and goes on. Aurelius states, “do it now, whatever “it” may be”.  

Aurelius presents many great stances on the different things about life and how to go about it. Aurelius states, “Do not waste the remainder of thy life in thoughts about others, when thou dost not refer thy thoughts to some object of common utility”. This shows how one should not live in worry or doubt about others and their opinions about one another. Living in retrospect and review of others’ statements and opinions only leads to unnecessary stress and unhappiness. Furthermore, common utility represents the usefulness and ability of an individual. Aurelius brings in the aspect of the perfect idea of nature stating “Things that display full maturation and are on the verge of decay—bursting figs, ripe olives hanging next to rotting ones, old men and women”. This statement is to remind us of nature and the circle of life. The statement could also be applied to the state and how as time goes on things within power change and as one decision of decision-maker leaves or fades out another “new” decision is brought to fruition. This presents a complete regeneration of power within and leads to modern views and changes being addressed. 

Book IV 

This book of Mediations opens with Aurelius discussing how men take vacations from their day-to-day life. He describes those who go to “houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains” (Aurelius, Meditations Book 4) as “the most common sort of men.” (Aurelius, Meditations Book 4) He goes on to elaborate that one should seek refuge in one’s own mind and soul because one has ultimate control over one’s mind and therefore ultimate freedom. He summarizes this concept by writing “Remember to retire into this little territory of thy own, and above all do not distract or strain thyself, but be free, and look at things as a man, as a human being, as a citizen, as a mortal.” (Aurelius, Meditations Book 4)

Marcus Aurelius shares his thoughts on the concept of death. He believes that no man should fear death and that it is simply the opposite of being born. “Death is such as generation is, a mystery of nature; a composition out of the same elements, and a decomposition into the same.” He goes on to elaborate and say that death is simply a part of nature, and it is inevitable. If death was not inevitable and it was possible to live forever he says, “if a man will not have it so, he will not allow the fig-tree to have juice.” This means that death is inherent to nature and to go against it would deprive nature of part of its cycle. He encourages people to do good while they are alive. He touches on the concept of an afterlife with the statement “If souls continue to exist, how does the air contain them from eternity?- But how does the earth contain the bodies of those who have been buried from time so remote?” (Aurelius, Meditations, Book 4)  Aurelius also seems to be concerned with the concept of a legacy. He mentions that “Camillus, Caeso, Volesus, Leonnatus, and a little after also Scipio and Cato, then Augustus, then also Hadrian and Antoninus. For all things soon pass away and become a mere tale, and complete oblivion soon buries them.” (Aurelius, Meditations, Book 4) This can be interpreted as he believes that even those with great legacies and fame will eventually fade into obscurity so there are other things one should try to accomplish with their life. 

Book V

This section of Mediations begins with Aurelius outlining the relationship between labor and rest. He states that like it is necessary to allocate time in the day for eating and drinking, it is also necessary to set aside time for work and leisure, that way these routines follow the principles of the person’s individual nature. Aurelius also explains that the attachment to either aspect is the same as doing a service and expecting to be thanked for it. He goes on to explain that the problem with having the expectation of a reward is the same as being attached to rest overwork or vice versa. Similarly, placing either the body or soul as more important than the other makes it difficult for one fully to recognize the relationship between the two. With that, Aurelius suggests that if prayers are offered to a divine, such prayers should be simple and straightforward, with the acknowledgment that nature dictates all.

The principle of a person’s own nature is addressed in this book as it goes on to explain the connection between a man’s own interests that both serve and are served by the common good, thus achieve the “good life”. The common good is the benefit of all and being able to address all interests presented. Aurelius states that certain animals and plants are the perfections of nature because they follow their own inherent nature. He tells himself to observe the behavior of other people similarly and without judgment. Aurelius reminds himself that no one can compel another to forget the nature of the universe, or to act against “my god and daimon.” He is then reassured that all is to the ultimate good, and he need not be upset by any adverse condition. In this argument, Aurelius exemplifies Stoic philosophy, which proposes an orderly universe. By allowing the right thought to guide action, a man can naturally perform their duty for which he has been created to carry out, just like the dogs, horse, bees, or fig trees Aurelius mentions. 

Book VI

This book focuses on the universe and how it unfolds over time. Aurelius explains this perspective by giving a number of examples that explore this phenomenon. He draws these examples from nature, the occupations from the highest emperors to the lowest laborers, and daily activities. According to Aurelius, ordinary people are distracted by the appearances of things and are influenced by superficial attributes that cause them to either praise or condemn others. This is akin to how people can fall under the influence of sophistry, as explained in our previous readings. Aurelius also states that it is curious that people spend so much time trying to figure out what others think of them, despite this being insignificant. To Aurelius, all that matters is what the individual thinks of himself. Aurelius returns to the idea that even the greatest of men die and that the important thing in life is to live through truth and justice and to consider the virtues of the living. This whole chapter reinforces the Stoic belief that certain conditions are placed upon all human beings by their fate. The only free will we have is either to accept those conditions or to reject them, which results in damage to both the individual and society. Aurelius’ goal in this book is to remember that distractions keep one from fulfilling one’s role as determined by fate. In totality, Aurelius informs us that everything from ethics to politics are entwined with the universe and operate through the stoic themself. 


Meditations provided readers with a deeper understanding of life by allowing for depictions and comparison to outline the length of life and death of an individual. Book one examined life’s lessons and the standpoint of Aurelius profoundly agreed with stoicism. Materialistic things are there for usage, but Aurelius learned to be sustainable of those material things were not there. Book two highlighted adaptation and the ability to address situations as time goes on to the best of one’s ability. This follows through to book three as Aurelius discusses life and what is important in one’s destiny and how things begin to decay painting readers a picture of the important things in life. Book four dives into the details of death reflecting from the latter and the length of life. In book four it is also discussed the strength and silence one’s mind and soul. Book five follows in the same manner and provides the reader with a different perspective on the balance of labor and rest. Comparing these opposing stances and providing how to balance life by working and knowing when one needs rest to rejuvenate for the following duty. Individuals’ own nature and realization of the “good life” was also present e in this chapter allowing for discussion to stem from excluding external judgment and reflecting on oneself. The final book provides a deep understanding of the universe and what it is offering. Aurelius addresses the superficial and materialistic desires one may present and how the importance of self-reflection.  Throughout each book of Meditations, Aurelius wanted to note the stressors of life and how to live a more fulfilling life throughout different duties and responsibilities presenting information about how important life is and how to live it to the fullest.

Week 13 Brain Clutter Post


The Discourses, Books III and IV by Epicteus

Ryan Crispi:

I am a third year junior with a major in Political Science with an emphasis in National Security as well as a GIS (Geospatial Intelligence Systems) minor.  In some aspect, I hope to work for the government, whether it’s creating policies that will help change the lives of US citizens, or in the intelligence community. Either way, understanding philosophy and political theory will greatly impact both of my possible career paths.

Maggie Richmond:

I am a second year with a major in Political Science with a focus on National Security and a minor in history. I plan on commissioning into the Army and then working in the Federal Government in some way afterwards.


Book III of The Disclosures is segmented into 17 chapters, each of which breaks down the importance of the ethics and morals in those who we hold to the highest of standards. Epicetus was born into slavery and spent much of his life as a captive, so his philosophy reflects that.  He created a school that was home to some  influential figures at the time, such as Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. 

The Misconceived Judgement of Man

Book III starts by Epicetus discussing the importance and power of judgement in a conversation he had with one of his students at the school.  Epictetus starts by asking this student what he thought of beauty and excellence, and more importantly, what makes beauty and excellence possible.  “Do we, then, for the same reason call each of them in the same kind beautiful, or each beautiful for something peculiar? And you will judge this matter thus. Since we see a dog naturally formed for one thing, and a horse for another, and for another still, as an example, a nightingale, we may generally and not improperly declare each of them to be beautiful then when it is most excellent according to its nature…”(The Discourses, Book III Chapter 1) Epictetus continues on by discussing that excellence resides in the possession of the person, object, or animal.  We desire to possess beauty, so we can show our friends and enemies just how much better we are than them. 

 Like I said before, Epicetus was a stoic man, not one for bragging or boasting, this is a take on those who are flashy and showy, “The second concerns the movements (toward) and the movements from an object, and generally in doing what a man ought to do, that he may act according to order, to reason, and not carelessly. The second topic concerns the duties of a man; for I ought not to be free from affects like a statue, but I ought to maintain the relations natural and acquired, as a pious man, as a son, as a father, as a citizen.” (The Discourses, Book III Chapter 2)  It’s almost amazing how spot on he was about not only his society, but 2000 years later in ours too.  How often do you see influencers and YouTubers showing off the $500,000 dollar car they just bought or the multi-million dollar mansions they buy in?  You open the front page of any social media platform and you’re almost guaranteed to see something about Jake Paul or Addison Rae or any other influencer with all the prized possessions they have.  We put these individuals on a pedestal, certainly not because of the good deeds they do or the Socratic good lives they live, but because they possess something we dream of, something of excellence and beauty.

  So now the question is, how can one exercise themselves against the shallow desire to keep up appearances?  Epictetus has an answer for this as well.  “As we exercise ourselves against sophistical questions, so we ought to exercise ourselves daily against appearances; for these appearances also propose questions to us. “A certain person son is dead.” Answer: the thing is not within the power of the will: it is not an evil. That is a thing within the power of the will: it is a good. If we train ourselves in this manner, we shall make progress; for we shall never assent to anything of which there is not an appearance capable of being comprehended.” (The Discourses, Book III Chapter 8)  In modern day terms, just don’t be shallow.  Embrace your nature, “Man, consider first what the matter is, then your own nature also, what it is able to bear. If you are a wrestler, look at your shoulders, your thighs, your loins: for different men are naturally formed for different things,” (The Discourses, Book III Chapter 15) but conduct yourself in they way in which the gods planned for you,  “The business of the wise and good man is to use appearances conformably to nature: and as it is the nature of every soul to assent to the truth, to dissent from the false, and to remain in suspense as to that which is uncertain; so it is its nature to be moved toward the desire of the good, and to aversion from the evil.” (The Discourses, Book III Chapter 3) This goes for expanding your own character, as well as when interacting with others.  When we are told something that has happened to an individual, something that is out of both of our controls, in Epictetus’ case it was a ship being lost or a man being sent to prison, in our times it might be failing a test or forgetting to do an assignment.  What can we do about these events occurring? Simply, we can’t do anything to help or solve the problem, so why allow ourselves to feel pain for something out of our grasp?  Epicetus cites an old philosopher Italicus, who would claim hearing this bad news and allowing it to vex him would slowly kill him as well, making him a weaker man.  This goes back to earlier when we talked about the stoic philosophy of Epictetus.  He truly was a guarded man, who wasn’t one for the sharing of feelings or the listening to the complaints of others, and his philosophies directly reflect that. 

Nevertheless, Epicetus carries on in his discussion with the young student, “Man, in every kind there is produced something which excels; in oxen, in dogs, in bees, in horses. Do not then say to that which excels, “Who, then, are you?” If you do, it will find a voice in some way and say, “I am such a thing as the purple in a garment: do not expect me to be like the others, or blame my nature that it has made me different from the rest of men.” (The Discourses, Book III, Chapter 1) Who, then are you?  Epictetus is harnessing his inner Pete Weber here.  Who do we think we are as human beings to judge those around us based on what we possess or based off of what the gods have given us?

But how does all of this relate to living the Socratic “Good Life” you might ask.  Epictetus has an answer for this too in the following chapters, “There are three things in which a man ought to exercise himself who would be wise and good. The first concerns the desires and the aversions, that a man may not fail to get what he desires, and that he may not fall into that which he does not desire. The second concerns the movements (toward) and the movements from an object, and generally in doing what a man ought to do, that he may act according to order, to reason, and not carelessly. The third thing concerns freedom from deception and rashness in judgement, and generally it concerns the assents.” (The Discourses, Book III, Chapter 2)   Of all of these things, Epicetus believed that the first concern is the most urgent and most important of the criteria to live a good life.  It goes back to our earlier discussion of possessions and how they hold such a great influence over our society.  It really goes to show the relationship between a solid character and the good life.  If you are a greedy, shallow, self-centered person with no substance outside of what you possess, how can you possibly live a good life?  Yes, you might make others envy you with intense jealousy, but how is that productive to the development of your character and your soul?

Epictetus continues to dive into discussions about good men and the good life.  “I am sick here,” said one of the pupils, “and I wish to return home.” At home, I suppose, you free from sickness. Do you not consider whether you are doing anything here which may be useful to the exercise of your will, that it may be corrected?” (The Discourses, Book III Chapter 5) It’s an interesting concept Epicetus touches on. As someone who spends more than 60% of the year at school 2,500 miles away from home, I can come to terms with the idea of “homesickness.”  Epicetus describes homesickness as having fear that your home life, well being, and money will be lost without you present in your place of comfort.  It’s this fear that drives a man or woman to question their strength.  When you have a lack of strength, you are vulnerable from those who wish to take what you have amassed.  But this should not phase the good man living a good life, for “The good man is invincible, for he does not enter the contest where he is not stronger. If you want to have his land and all that is on it, take the land; take his slaves, take his magisterial office, take his poor body. But you will not make his desire fail in that which it seeks, nor his aversion fall into that which he would avoid. The only contest into which he enters is about things which are within the power of his will; how then will he not be invincible?” (The Discourses, Book III Chapter 6) A good man will always retain a strong will, therefore will never be weak to any attack on him or his livelihood.  


Book IV of is split into six chapters and discusses his views on a stoic type of freedom. Book IV continues the

Lectures and discussions  

Freedom, from a Stoic Perspective

Those who do not want to act upon the teachings of Stoicism should not bother to read it. Oddly enough, in the New York Times link, former President Clinton was a avid reader of the Stoic philosophy found in Marcus Aurelius Meditations, an interesting connection to how the ancient ideas affect modern leaders.

It’s pretty obvious that the effects of Epictetus prior life as a slave have a large effect on his life and especially here during his outlook on slavery. In the beginning he compares and decides the difference between freedom and slavery in the context of Stoicism and to what extent freedom should be utilized. Epictetus poses the question “Does freedom seem to you to be something great and noble and valuable?” (Book IV). It really asks the question, especially as Americans to what extent is freedom a thing? And how do we synthesize freedom from the perspective of a Stoic using the earlier views of Epictetus on controlling the world and you in it? Is It safe to assume that we can control how personally free we are but society as a whole cannot decide how free they are? I think its safe to assume that would be correct if we use the philosophy of the Just State in conjunction with Stoic philosophy. So how free a person is from the perspective of the Stoic is dependent on outside forces, that can be beyond your control. But you can decide how free your Soul and life is.

 How to be Happy

The goal of Stoicism is happiness to a more abstract and expansive sense. As seen in the quote below:

‘He is free who lives as he wishes to live; who is neither subject to compulsory nor to hindrance, nor to force; whose movements to action are not impeded, whose desires attain their purpose, and who does not fall into that which he would avoid. Who, then, chooses to live in error? No man. Who chooses to live deceived, liable to mistake, unjust, unrestrained, discontented, mean? No man.”(Book IV) 

Epictetus goes on to share how a stoics view happiness, as a means for not getting what you want, but getting what you need out of life. But what does it mean to be happy as a Stoic? Is going with the flow and not caring about life going to make you happy and how does the Stoic maximize happiness? The video below helps explain quickly about how the Stoic views happiness and the search for “the good life”.

Finally, Inner Peace

 Chapter 4 of Book IV, gives a good viewpoint of how to analyze what the good life is through the lenses of Stoicism. Interestingly, it seems that Epictetus harshly criticizes the views of Sophists saying 

“Remember that not only the desire of power and of riches makes us mean and subject to others, but even the desire of tranquility, and of leisure. and of traveling abroad, and of learning. For, to speak plainly, whatever the external thing may be, the value which we set upon it places us in subjection to others. What, then, is the difference between desiring, to be a senator or not desiring to be one; what is the difference between desiring power or being content with a private station; what is the difference between saying.”

Epictetus, The Discourses (Book IV)

I think its a interesting critique of the other forms of philosophy we’ve studied this year and how it relates to the good life and those who are seeking it. 

The Discourses by Epictetus

Alanis Comiotto – I am a junior majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. I enjoy learning about the philosophical ideas of the past that were once considered radical and how they apply to our lives today.

Matt Manilli – I am a senior majoring in Political Science with a concentration in National Security. I enjoy deciphering the texts of philosophers and implementing them into situations that are relevant to modern day circumstances. 

Trevor Kinman – I am a junior majoring in Political Science with concentration on National Security classes. I have always been interested in politics, especially political stances and debates. I enjoy seeing where our early looks on modern politics came from and see how different or similar they have become. 

The linked video is a presentation by Les Stroud, also known as Survivorman. He is the original wilderness vlogger and his show has inspired many others such as Man Vs. Wild, Dual Survival, Naked and Afraid, and Alone. Stroud would go into the wilderness with little more than a multitool and 50 lbs. of camera equipment to film himself, without a crew, surviving by himself for a week or more at a time in some of the harshest and most rugged landscapes on the planet. In the above video, Stroud discusses his ecosophy – Earth Wisdom – which shares attitudes with Epictetus and stoicism regarding nature and being. Any real survival expert will tell you that it is a mental game beyond simply procuring the means of subsistence and that attitude is what many have relied on to pull themselves out of dangerous situations and back to safety. Stoicism, both above and below, is about surviving and thriving in difficult and challenging environments – as the former slave, Epictetus will tell you.

The Discourses by Epictetus

This week we are covering books I and II of the Discourses, which are a collection of informal lectures by Epictetus, a Stoic, that were written down by his student Arrian back in Ancient Greece around 110AD. To remind everyone, Stoicism is the belief that those who are in harmony with the higher powers and have reached intellectual and moral perfection do not experience any “bad” emotions. Epictetus believed that happiness is a choice, and we must learn what we have in control and what is out of our control in order to achieve happiness in life.

Book I: Chapters 1-11

Leo from that 70’s show with a Stoic message. 

 “Of the Things that are in our Power, and not in our Power”: In chapter 1, Epictetus begins his Discourse discussing whether things like music or grammar can tell you to sing or to write, and asserts that music will tell you how to play and grammar will tell you what to write but neither will tell you whether or not you should sing or write, as that can only be done with rationality. Rationality is the only thing that can be used to make judgments and decisions. It speaks for those things as they cannot. Epictetus then moves on to discuss how the only power that we do have is to be rational, or the “right use of appearances,” because it was the only thing the Gods, aka Zeus, shared with us. Zeus tells Epictetus that the power of appearances is all that he has, and he would have given Epictetus more power and freedom had he been able. He then discusses how people should do the best with what they have and not let external things drag them down, which could even mean relationships that one might have, “We must make the best use that we can of the things which are in our power, and use the rest according to their nature”. I think so far Epictetus has a great point and this is one of my life philosophies, although I do not agree that it makes you immune to any negative emotions. There are so many things that are out of our control, and if we cannot make a change ourselves then what is the point of dwelling on the negatives? For the rest of Book I, Epictetus discusses different circumstances and how a person should just accept their outcomes because they should be enlightened in some way and know that their minds are above whatever physical punishment is being placed. To be enlightened according to Epictetus is to fully know yourself and continually strive for personal betterment. Life goes on (unless you’re being beheaded).

“How a Man on every occasion can maintain his Proper Character”: Epictetus begins chapter 2 by stating that man, as an animal, is made of everything irrational, but is attracted the most to what is rational. He then goes on to argue that what is rational and what is irrational is different depending on the person, and that is why discipline is necessary, unlike Plato who just thought rationality was just out there and the same for all. People must consider what is appropriate to each person and how the concept of rationality applies to the world and nature around them. I think this quote does a good job summing it up, “for it is you who know yourself, how much you are worth to yourself, and at what price you sell yourself: for men sell themselves at various prices.” Only you can know yourself well enough to know what would be rational or irrational for you to do; no one can do that for you. Epictetus uses a lot of historical examples in this writing, and in this chapter, he makes an example of the Stoic philosopher Helvidius Priscus, who believed that the emperor should only act with the approval of the senate ( 

Before going into the senate, emperor Vespasian ordered him not to go in and speak, but Helvisius said he must stick to his duties and his morals even if it cost him his life. Through this example, Epictetus is saying that being moral and sticking to reason is more valuable than life. He then discusses how there is no way to tell what is rational for another human being because they have different life experiences and something that might matter a lot to them might be meaningless to someone else. He does this through an anecdote of an athlete who did not want to get his male “package” amputated. Epictetus ends this chapter by saying that one should not neglect to look after themselves because of the desire to reach perfection. 

“How a man should proceed from the principle of God being the father of all men to the rest”: Epictetus argues in chapter 3 that if men just accepted that they are a creation of God, and God also created other gods like Zeus, then they would not be self-deprecating. He then states how if someone would consider more personal and corporeal facts like who their parents were then they might fall into those bad emotions, for example, a person adopted by Caesar would be arrogant about it. Men are more than just flesh, they have intelligence like the gods, and should act that way. The main message of this chapter is that we cannot be too attached to the physical world as we are more than just animals. 

“Of progress or improvement”: “For it is always true that to whatever point the perfecting of anything leads us, progress is an approach towards this point”. Epictetus begins chapter 4 by asserting that people should do what they want, in the context of their desires, or else they will not be happy. But one should not fall into the things that they know are immoral or things they know that they should avoid, but should instead keep their drive on what good they desire. Virtue is what everyone should really be striving for, because virtue brings about good fortune and tranquility, aka peace of mind. Epictetus then begins to talk of Chrysippus, another Stoic philosopher who is actually considered to be one of the founders of Stoicism ( He makes an example of how a person can know Chrysippus and his writings, but knowing is not enough their actions also matter. He also makes a point that a person cannot be afraid of failing, or else they are actually not making progress, “that he may be able to say when he is in fetters, “Dear Crito, if it is the will of the gods that it be so, let it be so,”; and not to say. “Wretched am I, and old man;”””. As we have seen in class, Crito is a whole dialogue written by Plato. Reading Epictetus is extra interesting because of these references that he makes to other philosophers. Epictetus then makes an interesting note mentioning that people have erected temples to celebrate those heroes and gods that have brought them things like wheat and grapes but not for those that have shown the light, the real gift from the gods, that came from their human mind. 

“Against the academics”: In chapter 5 Epictetus poses the questions of what should one do if a person is so stuck in their own ignorance that they do not listen to rational arguments. People can be hard-headed because of things like understanding or shame. Someone who has the ability of perception but pretends not to is “even worse than a dead man”, someone that cannot comprehend is in pretty bad shape, but one that can perceive and still does not make changes for the better is the worst. In this chapter, Epictetus seems to be making the point that people can be in many different conditions that can affect why they are not seeking virtue and a good life, and some are worse off than others, but nothing is as bad as chosen ignorance. 

“Of providence”: Epictetus argues in chapter 6 that God created everything for a reason, and so that things can work together, like man and woman, or even just the existence of light that enables us to use our vision to see. One must recognize creation and praise Providence so that they may appreciate and be thankful for everything that they can do. It is not sufficient to simply exist, you have to understand the purpose behind things, like why animals are the way they are. God has given “powers” to humankind so that they can experience the wonders of the world, the good and the bad. It is very important to understand that everything has a purpose that it was made for, and accepting that is a step towards happiness. 

“Of the use of sophistical arguments, and hypothetical, and the like”: Like in chapter 6, Epictetus discusses in chapter 7 how not only do things have a purpose and people must understand that, but people must also understand the concept of consequences and how they affect their lives. One of the duties of life is to question everything, even the things you may know so that you can gain perspective. He is almost saying to be like Socrates when it comes to questioning everything no matter the cost, “… purposes to conduct himself skillfully in reasoning, the power of demonstrating himself the several things which he has proposed, and the power of understanding the demonstrations of others, including of not being deceived by sophists”. He then discusses that people should stick with what they do and the conclusions they draw, as long as the premises for that conclusion remain the same as when they were made. This also applies to something that may seem like a false conclusion. The way to not give in to false reasoning is to stick with what you know and not be pushed into ridiculous arguments. 

“That the faculties are not safe to the uninstructed”: It is not only important to know to argue but to also know the different ways one can make arguments. I had to google a couple of words here for chapter 8. Enthymeme is an argument that is not completely stated (, and syllogism is an argument that has two premises that lead to a conclusion. You cannot only know perfect syllogism, but you must also master imperfect syllogism to be able to argue. Someone who is not educated might try to make arguments that are imperfect, you must be able to explain their imperfect arguments and then use reason against them, or else they will bring you down. Everyone kind of has their own thing and one must understand their different perspectives or appearances, with reason. 

“How from the fact that we are akin to God a man may proceed to the consequences”: Epictetus really touches the heartstrings with chapter 9, where he states that a man should not say that they are Athenian or Corinthian, and state where they are born or reside, but should instead say they are a citizen of the world when asked where you are from. To say you are from a country or a state is to limit yourself, as a real community should be between man and God, with man united as one people. He thinks that this should be enough, “to have God for your maker and father and guardian, shall not this release us from sorrows and fears?”. People should not rely on others but on themselves for their needs. Epictetus then makes an interesting point, if we came from God and in death will return to him, why not just kill ourselves so we can join him sooner and leave the wretchedness of the physical world. To this, he says that one must accomplish their purpose and God will bring them back once they are ready because there is a reason behind it all. He also quotes Socrates, who argued that God has given us a post and we must not desert it until it is time. Even if people fall into ill conditions, they can reach for help so that they can move forward, instead of looking for pity and sentiment. 

“Against those who eagerly see preferment at Rome”: I think this is probably one of the parts that most resonates with me, chapter 10. Epictetus makes an example of a man he knows who is superintendent of corn in Rome. The man told Epictetus that his life had been too busy, about work for others and no time for himself, and he would be returning from exile and leading a life of tranquility. The man, however, got some letters from Ceasar and immediately gave up on what he said, and went back to work. We spend so much time slaving away and working jobs that are not helping us grow as people and completely leave ourselves behind. I have seen this personally so many times in the restaurant industry, where people succumb to their jobs with awful hours and usually quite terrible management just to get by because they have given up. 

“Of natural affection”: Epictetus used an interesting anecdote to explain the concept of affection and nature in chapter 11. Epictetus is speaking to a man who is unhappy with his wife and children and tells Epictetus that while his daughter was sick he could not bear to be around to see it, and instead left and awaited someone else to tell him what had happened. The man states that it was his natural response to leave. Epictetus then uses the argument of reason and goes through different scenarios with the man to explain how his decision to leave his daughter can be seen as. The conclusion is that if the man really loved his daughter he would have been there to show her affection and support while she was sick, as affection is the natural response of parents towards their children. Epictetus kind of explains here that not everything is black and white or right and wrong, and it is a person-by-case basis. People have their own opinions and their own free will. 

Book I, Chapters 12-16: God and Man

In regards to god, Epictetus refers to himself and society that worships a higher being as having two sides. He reiterates this point through Chapter 12 where he states, “For if there are no gods, how is it our proper end to follow them? And if they exist, but take no care of anything, in this case also how will it be right to follow them”. If there happens to actually be a god why should an individual worship a being that does not benefit someone and only brings more trouble to one’s life. Throughout chapter 12 Epictetus reiterates this point with examples of “bad parents” or being “dissatisfied with your children” makes it acceptable for an individual to be a bad son or a bad father. This reasoning is based around the fact that if a god truly does exist and he puts you through the misery of externals outside of your control it then justifies bad character. Why make your life even harder by accommodating these externals when you didn’t have the choice of picking these circumstances in the first place. How should one act to please the gods above continues through Epictetus’ writings. 

When it comes to eating the gods want us to eat in a well mannered fashion, however what becomes of us if we asked the servant for iced water and they brought us warm water. Would we then be given the right to lash out and order around a servant who made a mistake. It becomes important to remember where one came from first and be understanding, thus the notion of living by the laws of the gods or being bound by the dead man’s laws. By abiding by the dead man’s laws simply means to be human and to respond to inconveniences with emotion rather than reason. However, if you live by the laws of the gods, you understand that you are superior and that no external force can change that.  Epictetus continues to clarify the lines of man and god. Earth and all of its beauty is a creation of god, hence making man one of those creations that he oversees. When god believes that you are obeying his wishes and acting proper he has the power to guide you down the correct path, but only if you embrace his presence and trust in his power. Epictetus uses his wisdom of philosophy much like a god to a human when helping a man who has issues with his brother. When healing a wound that is associated with hate and anger the only solution is time. Epictetus references this solution with the fig-tree metaphor and informs the man that nothing happens overnight. Consistency, hard work, and time are needed in order to grow a fig-tree which is the same as healing a brother with hatred in his heart. God continuously works in ways that man cannot understand, but must try to appreciate. The appreciation of what god has given humanity is important, something that must be recognized through Epictetus’ philosophy. Animals do not require the same needs as man because they were created as tools to help humanity. Epictetus reiterates this point by stating, “For, animals not being made for themselves, but for service”. Humanity is blinded by stupidity and foolishness if they do not realize the gifts and tools god has given them in order to survive. 

Book II: 1-5 The Philosophy of Man

Epictetus Begins chapter 1, Book 2 stating that philosophers opinions could be paradoxical. Caution and confidence are two solutions that can be used when dealing with certain circumstances. However, what happens when a situation arises and you need both caution and confidence? When dealing with problems of the unknown you cannot be confident because it is a situation you are unfamiliar with. However, Epictetus states that one can have confidence in their caution towards a situation. Epictetus then correlates when man should use confidence and caution by stating, “Confidence then ought to be employed against death, and caution against the fear of death”. However, there is a common conundrum where man flips these two and becomes cautious of death, but when a situation occurs that could kill an individual they become more confident and want to survive. The most important notion Epictetus refers to through chapter 1 is the fact that the body and soul at some point will be separated and is why it should not be feared. Being cautious or fearing of the inevitable seems to be a waste of energy in the eyes of Epictetus. 

Moving to chapter 2, Epictetus discusses the importance of only caring about what is in your own power of doing. When one continuously worries about things outside of themselves such as “poor body” and “little property” you become grounded to things outside of your own control and become consumed and bound to these externals. An example of this can be found when Epictetus states, “ For when you have subjected to externals what is your own, then be a slave and do not resist”. Epictetus uses this example to show when you are consumed by an element or situation outside of your own control you then become a slave to whatever it is you are after. Epictetus then uses Socrates as an example of someone who lived his life in a just manner through his actions and teachings. Therefore, living his life through the things only he can control and not being dominated by problems outside of his control like the trial. 

Moving into chapter 4, Epictetus talks through the implications of fidelity and its correlation with adultery. If an individual’s significant other cheats on them with their neighbor, what are the consequences to the neighbor who did an act of adultery. How is the individual now supposed to see you as someone trustworthy after you broke such a sacred act of love. Should that individual see you as a neighbor, a friend, or anything at all. The trust or bond that was once there between two neighbors is now crushed to dust and something that can never be fixed. Epictetus emphasizes this point when stating, “You have no place where you can be put”. There is no justifiable act a man can do that would ever atone for ruining another man’s marriage. 

Lastly, chapter 5 touches on the importance of only worrying about what is one’s own control. By casting a die you have no choice what the numbers will be, therefore making it an external that should not be stressed upon. Only ones will is a defining factor when it comes to dealing with externals. No one chooses the externals that are placed upon them, however an individual does have the power to turn a bad external into a better one through will power and perseverance. Thus, the analogy between the ball being good or bad doesn’t matter and all that matters is the will power you put into making a bad ball a good ball or turning a good ball into a great ball. One cannot be their best version if they continuously worry about externals or things that are out of their control. By focusing all will power and attention on turning something bad into good is all one can do and all one should really ever focus on. An example of this can be seen through Socrates’external misfortune where it is stated, “Life, chains, banishment, a draught of poison, separation from wife and leaving children orphans. These were the things with which he was playing; but still he did play and threw the ball skillfully”. This is a clear example of how an individual can actively turn negatives into positives by simply not allowing your externals to define you as a person. 

Book II: Chapters 6-15

Chapter 6: Of indifference

In chapter 6, Epictetus is talking about hypothetical proposition. Everyone has opinions, experience, and expertise on various different subjects. Oftentimes judgment is used by many people, but “life is indifferent but use of it isn’t. When someone tells you these things are indifferent, don’t become negligent”. Epictetus goes to give examples of indifference, say for example a man tells you not to do something; reflect on yourself to see if it is something you can honestly do. Do not immediately judge him or his opinion, rather look upon yourself to see if it’s achievable by your experiences and character. If it is not, then let the man who knows more about it do it and then follow in suit. A person should play to their strengths and weaknesses and grow from them. As another example of life’s indifference, always remember what yours is and what is others by staying around what is yours, you should not be troubled in any way. God gave your choice and abilities, so stay within the nature of them. If you do not and get caught up in a series of consequences, acknowledge how you got there and learn from it.

Chapter 7: How we ought to use divination

In chapter 7, Epictetus is talking about the responsibilities to man and divinity. Epictetus, he questions why people turn their backs to some of life’s responsibilities for the sole purpose of divination. Paying too much of one’s attention to divination, seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means, could hurt one’s well being when it comes to life. He discusses if divinity is something that is telling me good from evil why are some acts of sacrifice necessary. A balanced person should know what their best interest is. Epictetus points out that it is odd when we resort to divinity only when it is in our own selfish needs and for rewards. Good things are favors and bad things are too fearful to do anything about. Here Epictetus later states that indifference in God’s words are important, “we come to God also as a guide; as we use our eyes, not asking them to show us rather such things as we wish, but receiving the appearances of things such as the eyes present them to us. But now we are trembling, taking the augur by the hand, and, while we invoke God.”

Chapter 8: What is the nature of the good

God is beneficial. But the Good also is beneficial. It is consistent then that where the nature of God is, there also the nature of the good should be. What then is the nature of God? Flesh? Certainly not. An estate in land? By no means. Fame? No. Is it intelligence, knowledge, the right reason? Yes.” Epictetus here is talking about looking for the nature of good. You can look for good in any nature that was given by God, . He relates it to character, very similar to the saying, “what would Jesus do?” if you were aware of the image of God in you, would you still do the thing that you are doing? If you are doing something knowingly bad, is it right to be at the anger of God and his nature? Epictetus brings up ignorance as an example here, the nature of ignorance in a person can deflect the nature of all things good.

Chapter 9: That when we cannot fulfill that which the character of a man promises, we assume the character of a philosopher

A man is a rational, logical, mere mortal being. A being that thinks, talks, and grows and that is highly separated between wild beasts. If you stray away from the basic pillars of being a man, you will resemble a wild beast. Ensuring that man does not behave like wild beasts only benefits nature, society, and the way of life. We can not lose ourselves and lose rational, it is what makes us, us. This will lead us to becoming animals and will only keep us stagnant as beings. Epictetus brings morality towards man in chapter 9, between modesty and immodesty. The idea being that modesty keeps a man pure and happy, immodesty leads to fault and bad things. Epictetus in the end talks about the role and experiences of being a philosopher. How there are times where what they learn and practice can lead to immodest things, which can help build character in the right people. By this, I mean, the right people can learn from mistakes. Faults and mistakes faced with responsibility and action, builds character.  

Chapter 10: How we may discover the duties of life from names

Here in chapter 10, Epictetus focuses on asking who you are. He asks upon people to look at themselves from the in and out and consider your being. You are alive, you are human being, and a natural person to the world you walk around on. You as a being have logic and reasoning, how will you use it? We can’t see the future, only what we allow. Our path is written by us and us alone, some may feel there are outside forces that may play apart and maybe there is, it is still always up to the person to follow, listen, and act. Our choices in nature open paths that we can choose to take or not to take. Only thing we know as humans that the future holds is death, so we have to make the choices that will benefit us and the beings around us the best. We men all have faults in character and are not 100% good throughout, and there is no concrete way to stop this, it is simply nature. But we have to reflect and divert ourselves away from bad to the best of our ability to stay as civilized as possible or we will decline to the level of beasts. All men experience damage, you act upon it, using rational, is the most important.

Chapter 11: What the beginning of philosophy is

In chapter 11, Epictetus explains how philosophy is a “door opener” that can lead to questions and ways to live life. If you break it down piece by piece, you will find that philosophy is essential to man. It is the tool to use our logic and rational to its fullest extent. Men were given curiosity and many things amongst it for a purpose, philosophy gives us opportunity. “We come into the world with no natural notions of math & science, but we learn about them in due course.” There is never a right or wrong when asking questions, it only opens doors to more questions, in essence it is a rabbit hole that man is destined to follow. With opinions left and right it’s never a bad thing to stop and ask about life’s perfections and imperfections. Anything in life can be questioned and by questioning it, is the beauty of philosophy.

Chapter 12: Of disputation or discussion

Philosophers have shown what you need to do to use the art of debate, but it is obvious that it is not always practiced. As an example, consider every illiterate man. Abusing or ridiculing him will not get you too far with him. If you try to convince a guy to change his ways, do not mock or threaten him. The idea of political or philosophical debates is not to degrade the other but rather try and understand the adversary. We are all different beings; we have different upbringings and opinions and that is no means for degrading. This chapter is one of the most applicable to modern day politics, we see no matter the side of reason the other is quick to insult rather than to reflect and ask questions. Poking fun and trying to offend in a discussion or debate discredits the philosophy behind it. That is the pure beauty in using our logic, two people have different views, they both explain and spark conversation and questions. Not one person talks and the other employs rude comments. We can see how Socrates did this; he never became irritated in argument, never to utter anything abusive, but to bear with abusive people.

Chapter 13: On anxiety

Epictetus’ chapter on anxiety is a short one compared to his others in book two but that does not mean it needs to be overlooked. “When I see a man anxious, I say, “What does this man want? If he did not want something which is not in his power, how could he be anxious?” For this reason, a lute player when he is singing by himself has no anxiety, but when he enters the theatre, he is anxious even if he has a good voice and plays well on the lute; for he not only wishes to sing well, but also to obtain applause: but this is not in his power.” The biggest thing to take from this quote is the last few words, too often, and I am even at fault here, but it is being anxious over something that one cannot control. Too many times many people get anxious over times in life where it was out of their control. There are countless successful people in the world who will tell you this. Being fearful of something that is uncontrollable is a waste of energy and time. It is more beneficial to put one’s efforts into the aspects that can be controlled. Keep your understanding, time, confidence, energy, and logic in the things you can control. You can’t make things always go your way, but there are many things you can control, and you should stick to those.

Chapter 14: To Naso

“Every art, when it is taught, causes labour to him who is unacquainted with it and is unskilled in it, and indeed the things which proceed from the arts immediately show their use in the purpose for which they were made; and most of them contain something attractive and pleasing. For indeed to be present and to observe how a shoemaker learns is not a pleasant thing; but the shoe is useful and also not disagreeable to look at. And the discipline of a smith when he is learning is very disagreeable to one who chances to be present and is a stranger to the art: but the work shows the use of the art.” Here in this chapter, learning is sometimes never a pretty thing to experience, but it is the byproduct of that learning that makes it amazing. Using what is learned can be great for the mind, body, and soul. It provides a sense of reward for using that time to learn. Which comes hand and hand with philosophy. When you see or hear something that can be questioned and you question it as such, it can be rewarding in a way.

Chapter 15: To or against those who obstinately persist in what they have determined

Epictetus’ 15th chapter is another short one in book two but discusses, “that a man ought to be constant, and that the will is naturally free and not subject to compulsion…” It is important to know yourself, if you know you are unhealthy but appear to be you should not brag, the only act you should do is become the best version of what you want to portray. The example Epictetus gives is he witnessed a man not eat for 3 days, and he asked the man if it was right, had it been right, to leave the man alone, but had it been wrong Epictetus should try and lead him to a healthier path. The takeaway here is if someone is doing right try and not divert them but if it is wrong and harmful attempt to dissuade the action. It can be challenging to try and persuade people to change their minds but it never hurts to try. 

On Sophistical Refutations

Tiffany Hakenson

I am a senior in my last semester as a Political Science major here at Virginia Tech. As a Political Science major I have a strong interest in understanding theory and its applications in public policy.

Ryan Grannan

I am a Senior with a major in PPE (Politics, Philosophy, and Economics) and a minor in Leadership. I am interested in Teaching, as well as politics. I think that the readings I have done for this class will help me put a variety of the concepts from social studies into their historical philosophical contexts.

Bryson Dannewitz

I am a senior getting my Political Science degree with a National Security focus. I am about to commission into the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant, and I hope to be able to put the skills that I have learned in my major to work during my career as an Army officer. I have always had an interest in politics and the origins of our political system, which is why I decided on this major.

Cade Ashby

I am a junior majoring in Political Science: National Security Studies, and minoring in Russian Area Studies. I Transferred to Virginia Tech last year from VMI where I was a part of Army ROTC. I have always been interested in philosophy, and figured that understanding political philosophy would be useful for the career in federal law enforcement that I plan to pursue.

Why read sophistical refutations?

Economies of images and appearances are where sophistry manifests. We see this heavily in our political discourse and news media which makes it important to know how to counter and find fault in typical sophistical arguments to safeguard the state through public discourse.

[Editor’s Note]: As you may recall, sophists and sophistry were endemic to Athenian society and held and influenced the arc of power in Athens and elsewhere in the ancient world. As you’ll recall, the death of Socrates in Apology is caused, in part, by sophists accusing Socrates of sophistry (hilariously, it would appear that Socrates in Euthyphro is picking apart a sophist from a place of ignorance thus providing a small refutation of the charges in Apology). Their arguments and presentations of Socrates as a threat to Athens relied on images of him and his actions to ground their accusations. In this way, we can see that sophistry is an actual political force within democratic society and Gorgias himself in his writings argues for the sophist as an endemic species of democracy. However, as we saw in Gorgias the sophist relies on the use of rhetoric for purposes of mass persuasion and you’ll recall that Gorgias himself said that rhetoric can be a tool to make any man a slave. Further, you’ll recall from Sophist that the sophist is a sort of angler – a fisherman – and attempts to ensnare, hook or tangle their targets in environments of images produced by the sophist through the use of rhetoric. This is mostly aimed at serving the sophist who grows from selling images and beliefs regardless of their veracity but more as a form of flattery. As we saw in Republic, as Socrates engages with his eventual executioners, the sophist does not care about or possibly believe that there is an “objective Truth” as Plato or Aristotle do and thus their ethical commitments to “truth” are grounded in what will draw in the most power, capital and influence. Their targets, as you’ll recall, are typically young men of well-to-do families in need of formal instruction. The sophist instructs the young in the use of rhetoric and not necessarily the production of knowledge and the pursuit of “truth.”

Both Plato and Aristotle are suspicious of democracy. Why? Because democratic orders can be chaotic with multiple avenues to degrade into tyrannies simply because democratic citizens are ruled by their desires and not necessarily their reason. This is a point of ethical conduct for Plato and Aristotle as one cannot divorce Ethics from Justice in their thinking. This means that it may be difficult, if not impossible – depending on whether you ask Plato – for democratic citizens to really advocate for the interests of society in general as this would require a wider rationality than simply acting in self-interest in the pursuit of desire. As you’ll recall, Plato, in particular, believed that democracies contain the seeds of tyranny as they are composed of petty dictators acting in their self-interest and not the interest of the collective state. Aristotle recognized demagoguery as a symptom of a failing democracy, and at the core of demagoguery is the use of rhetoric to ensnare and channel the desires of those to whom the demagogue appeals most. This means that sophistry is connected not only to the administration of state but is also part and parcel of populational management within democracies as it is used to sway the emotions and desires of its audience.

Now recall that Gorgias has said rhetoric is an art central to sophistry and that rhetoric can be used coercively – in other words it can be used to, in his words, enslave others. How does it do this? Simply by convincing others to accept the presented images and rhetoric of the sophist. Here’s a question for you, dear reader, how would you know if you actually hold authentic desires? That is, desires you came to that you know or understand to be yours and are genuinely grounded in your self-interest or possibly altruistic motivations or other duties which you have accepted freely and without coercion. Socrates seems to display an authentic example of this sort of desire in Crito as he accepts his execution in lieu of exile from Athens. His argument, as you will recall, is grounded in his sense of justice and duty to the state. Despite Athens adopting the trumped up charges of his accusers, Socrates still recognized his life as part and parcel of Athenian democracy and accepted his execution as one guided by his love of Athenian society and senses of duty and justice. Furthermore, and as you’ll recall, Socrates famously proclaims “the unexamined life is a life not worth living,” at his trial but this remark is emblematic of the broader Socratic quest for truth and knowledge as a matter of living “the good life.” At his death, one can assume, Socrates allowed this quest to end, but it doesn’t stop for you or anyone else who still live within democracy.

As you’ll all dutifully remember from Century of the Self, American society was remade into the mass consumer republic that it is out of the horrors of WWI and the growth of Public Relations as a vocation and as a function of governance. The rise of mass scale consumer society was, in part, advanced by the increasing power of corporations as one of the pillars of U.S. society incubated since the colonization of the Eastern Seaboard by, for example, the Virginia Company, The Massachusetts Bays Company, The Hudson Bays Company and many others such as the slavers, The Caribbean Adventurers. In other words, the organizational infrastructure was already in place for Public Relations to hold sway over the minds of their consuming publics through the mouthpiece of the corporation growing from the history of mass scale industrialization in the US from the 1880’s onward. The modern corporation, as some of you may be aware, was thought of as a person in U.S. law before black slaves and the history of corporate personhood in the U.S. had included protections for corporate personhood grounded in English Common Law dating back to the Dartmouth College Charter. This trend was carried forward in the growing and expanding economies of the U.S. and the corporation became one of the central pieces in U.S. political and economic organization as the documentary argued – recall how Calvin Coolidge tried to give himself a personality within governance through connecting the White House to stardom, spectacle and entertainment.

Corporations argue for their self-interests publicly and privately. Privately, one can see this through lobbying efforts in Congress, for example, or through how laborers might identify their interests with the interests of their organizations – surprise, surprise, people want to keep their jobs. Publicly, however, corporate self-interest is usually manifested through the production and circulation of images through advertising and Century of the Self argues that it is both the rise of PR and its birth of more aggressive forms of advertising even branching into gorilla marketing – remember “torches of freedom” and the rich debutants adopting cigarettes to break the taboo against women smoking specifically orchestrated by tobacco interests to open a new consumer market – that shows how desires can be tapped and expanded within consuming publics to advance private interest. Further, this displays the use of strategic ambiguity in that “freedom” as a term is polymorphous and tobacco interests were able to use the ambiguity of “freedom” to imply a woman’s ability to smoke without the pain of social and cultural sanctions. This was not done to liberate women but to open a new market and increase profits.

Now recall Marx, from way back, and his remarks on capital: it can and does take many forms and the corporation is really just a massive concentration of capital is terms of money, labor power, asset ownership, and public persuasion. When a corporation speaks, it is its duty to protect its assets and increase its profitability (just ask Milton Freedman). So, not only do we have a society dominated by the corporation as a mode of social organization (just look at your generation and who or what is educating it) but also, as the Coolidge administration showed, central to statecraft in the U.S. republic. As I’m sure you’re aware, economic viability is the name of the game in terms of international political economic development and the centrality of the corporation in U.S. politics and society exhibits those institutions as vital pieces of a governing system that relies on economic expansion to ground the value of its currency. Thus, it makes no odds whether people are actually in touch with their authentic desires, it only matters that they desire in terms of systemic viability and governance.

As you’ll recall from Statesman, the goal of statecraft is to connect differing parts into functional wholes. The statesman does not look to the next election but to the next generation and it is their job to ensure social and political reproduction. They are not sophists, but they aren’t philosophers either and their judgements can and do have an environmental effect as they influence the interactions between social and political parts. Now recall the centrality of education and art from Republic and the Allegory of the Cave. As the corporation is now one of the loudest speaking components of the U.S. republic and as PR is grounded in the use of rhetoric, and as corporations are the primary mode of social organization, and, as capital, embodied by them, it is not unreasonable to conclude that sophistry is a project of mass management and that duty falls primarily on the Producers more so than the Auxiliaries or Guardians. This is an easy jump to make when you consider that the notion of ‘person’ includes collective personas such as organizations and that corporations are concerned almost solely with self-interested production and reproduction as they are locked in a competitive struggle against others for consuming publics. This means that sophistry need not be located in the individual human but can be a mass scale project of direction and management through individuated collectives – if but a chaotic one as both Aristotle and Plato would say. This means that the environments in which we live contain the persuasive pieces of sophistry that aim at influencing and reproducing Desire much like the cave walls displaying the shadow puppets of the puppeteers. To the point of the Allegory of the Cave: how do you know your “cave” isn’t entirely sophistry? How would you know if you ever left the cave? Where do your desires come from? Are they yours really or are they pieces left by “people” trying to manage you? What can you do to ensure that someone else isn’t taking advantage of you or trying to get you to have a desire that you wouldn’t have otherwise? How would you know if you’re under the influence of a demagogue and are being miseducated or led astray (just ask Facebook and Cambridge Analytica)? These are some of the dangers within a producers republic and a quick examination of The Federalist Papers will reveal that the founders discussed these problems in other language.

The answers to the above are of paramount importance as “the good life,” is not only the goal of the state, but the ethical project of all who desire happiness according to Plato and all those who aspire to excellence according to Aristotle. How are you supposed to know if you’re leading “the good life” – one in which you are a self-legislating subject pursuing truth, knowledge and justice – if you can’t be sure whether you’re captured by sophistry and thus are acting on behalf of someone else as a mental slave? Below is Aristotle’s answer that reflects his teacher’s – logic. It is logic that will be the tool for liberation and logic that will keep you safe from sophistry. Far be it from a simple annoyance as a text, Sophistical Refutations may be the handbook for wrecking sophistical arguments and exposing their fallacious reasoning that would lead you and your state away from “the good life” – a central project of state as you’ll recall from Statesman and Republic – and into the economies of appearances manufactured by sophists. As sophists are an endemic species of democracies, a healthy and vibrant society might include them, but it is the duty of the democratic citizen to protect and keep their democracy as its jealous guardians. How do we do this? How are we to pursue “the good life” – the examined life – and ensure our desires are our own when we cast a ballot, when we advance an interest, when we engage in public debate? Logic. [End Editor’s Note]


On Sophistical Refutations is typically viewed as a part of Aristotle’s body of work on logic. This book focuses on how debates were structured in ancient Greece, the common tactics used by orators and how the student ought to respond to these tactics. Section One focuses on introducing the reader to the debate format, and defines some of the basic tactics and goals of orators. Section Two focuses on how the reader might use these tactics to question the arguments of a Sophist, and section three focuses on how the reader should defend their arguments from Sophist’s questions. Overall, the book identifies and explains many of the debate strategies and tactics that are still used today, and provides interesting context into one of the most enduring forms of human communication, the argument.

On Sophistical Refutations: Section One

Section one of Aristotle’s On Sophistical Refutations is divided into ten chapters. Chapters one and two act as the work’s introduction, followed by chapters three through eight which address tactics of the questioner, and chapters nine and ten which provide an interlude. The questioner and answer in Athenian dialogue were expected to follow a pattern when debating. The questioner poses a propositional question, the answerer selects his position, and the questioner then attempts to refute the answerers position using a deductive argument. Chapter 1 explains that some arguments or refutations are not truly deductive, but only appear to be so. Used by Sophists, these sophistical arguments are fallacious, the remaining chapters designed to explain these fallacies.

Chapter three describes the goals of this type of questioner, those being to simply refute the answerer’s claim, to show that he has committed a fallacy, to lead him into a paradox, to force the answerer to use an ungrammatical expression, or to make him repeat himself.

Chapter four explains how sophistical reasoning is divided into two groups, one of which is dependent on language, the other of which is not. The first group contains six sophistical refutations, “ambiguity, amphiboly, combination, division of words, accent, and form of expression.” Additionally, there are seven sophistical refutations independent of language, which include “that which depends upon Accident, the use of an expression absolutely or not absolutely but with some qualification of respect or place, or time, or relation, that which depends upon ignorance of what ‘refutation’ is, that which depends upon the consequent, that which depends upon assuming the original conclusion, stating as cause what is not the cause, and the making of more than one question into one.” Chapter seven explains why these fallacies are able to trick people, primarily by appearing very similar to answers that would in fact be correct. Chapter eight describes the fallacy of refutations which, although legitimate and correct, are only appropriate in the specific circumstance of the question.

Fallacies in the language (in diction)






Figure of speech or form of expression: In which the literal meaning of a phrase is not the understood meaning of the phrase for the purposes of the debate.

Fallacies not in the language (extra dictional)


Secundum quid: Applying General Rules to specific circumstances, or holding that things which are only usually true are always true.

Irrelevant conclusion:

Begging the question:

False cause:

Affirming the consequent:

Fallacy of many questions:

Chapters nine and ten act as an interlude before Aristotle addresses tactics for the answerer in the second section. In chapter nine Aristotle rejects that arguments can be directed at either a person’s words or thoughts, and instead, in chapter ten that argues that these differences must be discussed within the argument, rather than being presupposed by them. Both arguments can be made, but this distinction comes within the argumentative structure, not before it.

On Sophistical Refutations: Section Two

Aristotle’s On Sophistical Refutations Section 2, brings to light the fallacies within arguments and other discussions. This section is broken up into ten subsections that layout different tactics, rules, and tricks when it comes to sophistical arguments. There are many rules and tricks discussed throughout the writing which allow for one to find deeper ways to win over or skew people in an argument. Some of which create a facade to others and in turn allows for the fallacies in an argument to come to light. This turns the entire discussion in the favor of the one who guides the answerer to this fallacy. This section also brings to light tactics for the answerer as well because many times one may find himself not on the questioning end but on the opposite. Being able to comprehend and utilize all these tactics can allow one to control the direction of almost any discussion.

In chapter 12 Aristotle discusses the importance of framing your argument as well as setting up your opponent so that their fallacies are presented because of how they frame their argument. A very important aspect that Aristotle brought up was that one should never present a controversial question right away. A rule that is helpful in allowing a fallacy to come about as he states is “one should draw the answerer on to the kind of statements against which one is well supplied with arguments.” This allows the one arguing to control the discussion by staying ahead of the answerer. He says that arguing from one’s opinions will allow for an opportunity to rebut against the answerer’s desired opinions when the moment presents itself. Hearing someone out instead of raising one’s voice allows for the listener to hear the entirety of one’s argument. This can also give the idea that one is winning in a contentious argument before the rebuttal has even presented itself. Another tactic brought to light in chapter 13 is the use of babbling. Being able to bring someone to a state of babbling allows them to seem as though they have no true premise to their argument, and can discredit them because they try to make the same point in too many different ways.

In chapter 15 the discussion of the tactics for the questioner is drawn to a conclusion. Within this chapter, Aristotle discusses how when you are in the discussion it is difficult to keep track of several aspects at once. The questioner may also use speed as a tactic to confuse and leave the answerer behind in the discussion. This may cause the answerer to become agitated or even angry, and when someone is angered, they are less capable of creating rational thoughts. They then may react very emotionally and say or do something that could discredit themselves. Aristotle describes the elementary rules for producing anger as “to make a show of the wish to play foul, and to be altogether shameless.” This makes the answerer feel as though the questioner is being demeaning to them which again can make them act irrationally. Another trick that is brought up is having a strong appearance of having been refuted in an argument. A questioner without proving anything can give their final proposition as a statement giving the perception that they have proven it rather than giving supporting evidence. In a sense, this is arguing from ignorance, which can work in a case where the arguing parties do not have known evidence of what is being discussed. From the audience’s perspective the confidence of the perception of winning the argument can truly mean winning or losing. If the audience feels the confidence of the argument the entire attitude shifts away from the opponent’s argument.

Chapter 16 starts to bring the answers tactics to play in an argument. Having and being able to utilize specific tactics as an answerer can allow one to combat against the tactics used by the questioner. Aristotle also says that following this study is useful for philosophy because it will sharpen your semantic insight, which can be useful when reacting to fallacies in an argument. Being able to answer questions in a logical manner allows for the answerer to seem intelligent. One’s reputation can be built in a positive manner if one is able to intelligently answer questions. Aristotle says that to have a reputation of being well trained in everything can allow for one to point out fallacies, and by doing so you can make it seem that the questioner is inexperienced.

Chapters 17 and 18 describe different ways that one can stand in the way of the questioner’s real or apparent success. It describes how one should not hesitate when it comes to pointing out fallacies and introduces distinctions, even if one does not see how the questioner could exploit the ambiguity. An important defense that is described in chapter 18 is by providing a solution to a false deduction. There are different ways to solve deductions, one of which is by pinpointing the premise of that deduction or falsehood. By doing so one should then demolish the idea of that deduction with facts to exhibit the falsehood in the argument.

Chapter 19 brings the idea of ambiguity to question. Being able to use ambiguity in an argument can do one well in many ways. For one, it shows the intelligence of the answerer because the questioner overlooked the possibility of any such outcomes in their statement. By restating the question asked with a different sense in the conclusion you can make the questioner question what they do and do not know about the topic. This can also work from the questioner’s aspect because it can create an opportunity for the answerer to disprove themselves if the question is stated properly. Chapter 20 begins to bring into light the solutions to sophistical refutations that depend on the use of language.

On Sophistical Refutations: Section Three

Section three is a continuation of examples on how an Answerer should respond to a Sophist Questioner’s various tactics. This section encompasses chapters 21-34 and touches on each individual fallacy by example.

Chapter 21 details how you would respond if someone tries to use the accent fallacy, otherwise referred to as the emphasis fallacy, to refute your argument. Chapter 21 states that the accentuation of a word within an argument does not give way to fallacious arguments. The Accenture does not change the meaning of the word itself. We would look to defend against this in cases in which your opponent is attempting to use your intonation to refute the point you’re trying to make.

Chapter 22 examines how to respond to a fallacy involving figure of speech. Aristotle states that sometimes sophists will get you to agree to a premise and manipulate that premise to say that you agreed to something that isn’t necessarily what you agreed to. Aristotle states that this should be countered by telling the sophist exactly what the premise you agreed to means.

Chapter 23 details that the answerer should always take the opposite tactic of whatever your debate opponent, assumed to be a sophist, relies on for their argument. If your opponent uses reasoning that requires combination, then your solution should consist of division, then combination. If it depends on an “acute” accent, then the solution is a grave accent and vice versa. If the argument depends on ambiguity, then you must use the opposite term.

Chapter 24 describes how to deal with an argument that depends on Accident. Aristotle states that one and the same solutions meets all cases. Solving refutations that rely on Accident may be solved by taking down or deconstructing the original proposition that was asked by asserting that they do know and don’t know the same object. False reasoning is used to suppose a solution which becomes a false solution. Aristotle uses the example that is X may have a child or may state that this is “my child” but that doesn’t necessarily mean that X is the father of the child. Using the principle of ambiguity could solve this issue simply by stating that ‘X is your father,’ ‘son’ or ‘slave’. Campaign slogans such as “Make America Great Again” are an example. What does “great” mean? Is America not already great?

In the video above Jeff Daniels picks apart a question that relies on ambiguity.

Chapter 25 describes how to deal with Secundum Quid. Arguments that depend upon an expression that is valid in a particular situation but is not valid in the absolute should be solved by considering the conclusion you’re trying to draw in relation to its contradictory. For example, “Can a liar tell the truth?” We know that liars lie, but it is possible for the liar to tell the truth even though they are generally a liar?

Chapter 26 details how to deal with refutations that depend on the definition of a refutation. Refutations that depend on the definition of another refutation must be met by comparing together the conclusion with its contradictory and seeing that it involves the same respect, relation, time and manner.

Chapter 27 is how to deal with refutations that beg the question. Refutations that depend on begging the question – assuming the original point to be proved – are determining the nature of the question to be obvious. Even if it’s representing a generally agreed upon belief the questioner should be providing a refutation that’s independently proved from the original point being made. In addition, the answerer should state that the point granted wasn’t meant to be used as a premise, but should reason against it, in the opposite way from the adopted refutations on side issues. Dialectic reasoning is at the center of Plato and Aristotle’s works. In Hagelian dialectics there’s an idea that thesis and antithesis combining into synthesis. These are two seemingly contrary ideas resulting in truth. From this perspective, Aristotle is recommending that you provide the antithesis if your opponent tries to beg the question.

Chapter 28 follows up on discussions about begging the question. If someone is begging the question to you in their refutation this should be evident in what they’re stating. Aristotle states that the fashion in which the consequences unfold follows a twofold path. Either the universal is stated as “if A is always found with B then B must always be found with A” or is opposite to these terms for “if A follows B, then A’s opposite must follow B’s opposite.”

Chapter 29 discusses how to deal with false premises. When any refutation presented reasoning depends on some addition, absurdity should follow upon the subtraction of that addition. For example, stating: “It’s warm outside. Therefore, it must be summer,” when it is, in fact, spring, or fall or winter.

Chapter 30 discusses how to deal with the fallacy of many questions. Refutations that make many questions into one should be dealt with by making the distinction between them from the start. Questions should be singular and have one distinct answer to avoid the confirmation or denial of many questions with a singular answer. The man who answers double questions may be made to say that several things are the same even though they are not. An example of a loaded question may be “Hey Bryson, when did you decide to stop beating your girlfriend?” Where by answering you may implicate yourself in the crime of beating your girlfriend by just simply replying.

Chapter 31 details how to deal with opponents who push you to repeat yourself a number of times. When being drawn into repeating yourself multiple times, proclamations of relative terms should be assumed as not having meaning in the abstract by themselves. The term defined in the abstraction is not the same as the whole phrase.

Chapter 32 describes how to deal with solecisms. Solecism is a phrase that breaks grammar rules. Questions such as, “Can he be a she?” or “Is a thing what you say it to be?”

Chapter 33 and 34 wrap up in a quick conclusion, re-stating the ideas presented in the previous chapters. For the modern audience, the concepts presented here are best applied to live debates or discussions in popular media. Understanding these debate tactics can help modern readers understand why two debaters or panelists are doing what they are doing. It is also important to remember Aristotle’s warning that these tactics can be misused to provide the appearance of a refutation or argument where none exists. Modern debates cannot always be analyzed efficiently in real time, but the concepts presented here can give modern audiences a starting point at finding the truth and instill a healthy sense of skepticism by showing them how the sausage is made.


Krabbe, Erik C. “Aristotle’s On Sophistical Refutations.” Topoi, vol. 31, no. 2, 2012, pp. 243–248., doi:10.1007/s11245-012-9124-0.

Aristotle. “The Internet Classics Archive: On Sophistical Refutations by Aristotle.” The Internet Classics Archive | On Sophistical Refutations by Aristotle, W. A. Pickard-Cambridge,

The Politics: Books V-VIII

  • Maya Patel 

I am a junior majoring in Political Science with a minor in Business Leadership. I enjoy learning about how philosophers discuss and view government and politics especially how they affected the citizens throughout the time periods. 

  • Ryan Odibo

I am a junior majoring  in Political Science with a concentration in Political Theory. I personally find the intersection between philosophy and politics interesting and think many of the topics expressed in texts from hundred of years ago are still pertinent in a contemporary context. 

  • Jennifer Garcia

I am a senior majoring in Political Science, and I will graduate this semester. I like reading and analyzing the dialogues about politics and the government. I enjoy reading about how to have a stable government and use Aristotle’s arguments to compare with the modern legal system.   

Aristotle: The Politics “Books V-VIII”

How is it possible for democracies, and polities to degrade and what are some dynamics of political decay?

This week we were assigned to read Aristotle: The Politics, Books V-VIII. In his political philosophy series of works, the Politics provides an in-depth analysis of the political dynamic that existed in the time period and how they prospered and failed throughout time. Written between eight books, we are focusing on books 5, 6, 7, and 8. Book 5 examines constitutional change, revolutions as seen through different types of constitutions and preservation efforts, and the downfall and instability of tyrannies. Book 6 focuses on democratic and oligarchic constitutions and their political dynamics, while Book 7 connects the happiness of the Individual and the State and in book 8, Aristotle explains the establishment of education.

Book V

Oligarchy: Form of government in which power rests with a small number of people. 

Democracy: Form of government in which people have authority to choose their legislators. 

Anarchy: A state in which society is freed from authority or a governing body; absence of government and complete freedom.  

Monarchy: Form of government in which a person, monarch, is head of the state for life or until death. 

Aristocracy: Form of government that puts strength in the hands of a ruling, small and privileged class. 

Preface to Causes of Revolution and Preservation

Aristotle’s understanding of revolution and how it is objectively political stems from the connection between the types of governments that function for and by the people. In Book 5, chapter 1, democracy versus oligarchy and its causes that lead to revolution are discussed. Aristotle highlights how any form of government has its significant flaws and how they seek to fulfill different functions and means by which people and those in charge live. In a sense, both forms of government have their own meaning of justice and are still flawed. When the people and ideals often do not align, and there is a continuation of unjust actions, it is ground for revolution. There are two sorts of changes in government: a change in the constitution, a form of government is changed, or no change to the constitution does not disrupt government. Either the type of regime becomes less or more similar to its governmental form. Where there is inequality, there are grounds for a revolution in any regime. Overall, Aristotle states, “Still democracy appears to be safer and less liable to revolution than oligarchy” (Aristotle, Book 5). In a democracy or democratic government, there is no inherent danger towards those in positions of power but rather a fair middle class that builds the nation’s foundations. 

Preemptive to Revolutions and how Constitution affects them

In terms of the constitution and its relation to revolutions, one must understand the causes of revolution and the motives and feelings behind them. As stated in chapter 2, “The universal and chief cause of this revolutionary feeling has been already mentioned; viz., the desire of equality, when men think that they are equal to others who have more than themselves; or, again, the desire of inequality and superiority, when conceiving themselves to be superior they think that they have not more but the same or less than their inferiors” (Aristotle, Book 5). When faced with inequality, the desire for equality determines the means for revolution; “Inferiors revolt in order that they may be equal, and equals that they may be superior” (Aristotle, Book 5). The motives that are behind the cause for revolution are fear, dishonor, gain, and loss. The leading causes are the love of honor and gain, and some other reasons are contempt, carelessness, excessive pride and predominance, and insolence. 

EXAMPLE: An example is from the movie Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In the movie, the galaxy was gripped by fear and stood up to fight against the First Order. The people rose up and fought hate with love and with everything they had left. The clip shows the preemptive fight between Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker and exemplifies how Rey becomes a jedi and a symbol for hope across the galaxy for people to take a stand. (Watch from 9:10-9:45)

Causes and Quarrels of Revolution

Honor, superiority, and fear are prominent causes of revolution and how men can be rewarded or punished due to these reasons. Regarding superiority and contempt, this leads to oligarchy, monarchy, or democracy when people revolt because they think they are stronger or when the rich reject the state due to its lack of structure regarding a constitution. Political revolutions also begin from parts of the state that are disproportionate; for example, “When the rich grow numerous or properties increase, the form of government changes into an oligarchy or a government of families” (Aristotle, Book 5).

Furthermore, governments have the ability to transition from one regime to another; for example, “Governments also change into oligarchy or democracy or a constitutional government because the magistrates, or some other section of the state, increase in power or renown” (Aristotle, Book 5). As in a democracy, the middle class holds up a state, so without one, it is just rich and poor with no middle class. However, it is known that the middle class in the US is shrinking, so one could wonder what that means for the state and its people. Revolutions happen in two ways: by force and by fraud. “Sometimes the citizens are deceived into acquiescing in a change of government, and afterward they are held in subjection against their will. In other cases, the people are persuaded at first, and afterward, by a repetition of the persuasion, their goodwill and allegiance are retained. Force may be applied either at the time of making the revolution or afterwards” (Aristotle, Book 5). Not only are force and fraud changed during the revolution, revolutions that affect the constitution often are created by the two causes. 

Revolutions in Democracy

Revolutions created in democracies are caused by the actions of demagogues, less extreme politicians in some sense and instigators, who fuel revolts amongst the rich and stir up the people against them. To elaborate, a demagogue is a popular, political leader in democracy who gains the popularity of the common people to rise up against the elites. When demagogues leave a democratic state after a revolution has begun at their hands, there is no reversal; their ignorance and neglect towards the preservation of the state does not exist. In the case of insolent demagogues, a democracy changes into a tyranny; power is given to individuals.

Oligarchy versus Democracy

Democracy: “arises out of notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects; because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal”

Oligarchy: “based on the notion that those who are unequal in one respect are in all respects unequal; being unequal, that is, in property, they suppose themselves to be unequal absolutely” 

Revolution in Oligarchies 

There are two recognizable causes of revolutions in oligarchies: oligarchs oppress the people, which allows for a champion to appear amongst the people, and an internal cause of rivalry between the oligarchs themselves or which they pose as demagogues. When an oligarchy is unified, revolting against it becomes much more difficult. The way they can be overthrown is only when another oligarchy takes the place of the original form. As stated by Aristotle, “We must generally remark both of democracies and oligarchies, that they sometimes change, not into the opposite forms of government, but only into another variety of the same class” (Aristotle, Book 5). Not only do these forms of government have the ability to transform, but they also have the ability to create the same version under different variations. Changes of constitutional governments allow for the opposite forms of government to form but also allow for the same form to be changed. Specifically with democracies and oligarchies as Aristotle mentions, these variations can occur randomly rather than based around a system. 

EXAMPLE: Pictured is an example of a modern oligopoly, which is where a government is controlled by a small number of people, in this case it is an industry dominated by a small number of sellers. 


An aristocracy is similar to an oligarchy but not quite the same; “In aristocracies, revolutions are stirred up when a few only share in the honors of the state; a cause which has been already shown to affect oligarchies” (Aristotle, Book 5). Whereas in an aristocracy, power is given to aristocrats versus in an oligarchy when it is given to a small group of people who hold the most power. Revolutions occur when people think they are equal to the ruler, men are dishonored by those in high office, and when an individual believes they are great and wants to rule alone. There is an existing constitution that controls political power through set principles in a constitutional government, and often greed and insolence are run amuck amongst the rich. However, along with aristocracies, they are commonly overthrown for the sake of justice or lack thereof. 

Constitutional Preservation versus Destruction

Here, Aristotle focuses on preserving constitutions and whether or not it is known that the causes that destroy constitutions can also preserve them; deemed as, “for opposites produce opposites, and destruction is the opposite of preservation” (Aristotle, Book 5). The way a government is preserved and created is also a way it can be destroyed; the laws that were put in place can create inequality among classes or a class of people which then disadvantages the entire state. To recognize and understand the foundations that government is built on, one must understand how a just state can ensure people live a good life as believed by Aristotle. Furthermore, in efficiently-run governments, nothing is more important than upholding that of the laws not to let evil run amuck as coinciding with quarrels among the state. Constitutions are best preserved when the ruling classes are prevented from overtaking the government or controlling any aspect of the law and its functions in society. When the government acts in ways that do not appease the rich, they have the ability to then become powerful together and control the means by which the government and its citizens bend to the will of those with a highly unequal amount of wealth. 

The Democratic Perseverance of Income Inequality as seen by Aristotle 

In democracies, the wealth and property of the rich should not be redistributed by any means or in order to prevent an oligarchy; those with the most power pose the greatest threat to a constitutional government, such as a democracy. To further explain, Aristotle states, “In democracies the rich should be spared; not only should their property not be divided, but their incomes also, which in some states are taken from them imperceptibly, should be protected. It is a good thing to prevent the wealthy citizens, even if they are willing from undertaking expensive and useless public services, such as the giving of choruses, torch-races, and the like” (Aristotle, Book 5). Essentially, the rich should remain unprovoked because they have the power to take away public services. However, in an oligarchy, taking care of the poor is of utmost importance, and estates and wealth are passed on through inheritance, allowing the poor to become equal to those who have more. 

Highest Offices 

Continuing to how forms of government are to be organized and managed, there are three qualifications necessary in order to fill high offices: “(1) first of all, loyalty to the established constitution; (2) the greatest administrative capacity; (3) virtue and justice of the kind proper to each form of government; for, if what is just is not the same in all governments, the quality of justice must also differ” (Aristotle, Book 5). In an office built on trust or management, the opposite requirements are needed; “for more virtue than ordinary is required in the holder of such an office, but the necessary knowledge is of a sort which all men possess” (Aristotle, Book 5). Oligarchies and democracies are in between extreme forms of government and no form of government. The statesmen and legislators know how to save and destroy the two forms and know that neither can exist without the extremes of the rich and poor. As previously stated, education, or necessary knowledge, should be adapted within a form of government but is often not. All forms of government have significant flaws, which Aristotle highlights throughout the Politics book 6. It is evident that Aristotle believes that living a happy life requires living a life of virtue. Furthermore, when someone is not living a morally good life, then they are not living a happy life. For Aristotle, when a state or government ensures all their citizens live virtuous lives, then it is a just state. The purpose of the state is to prioritize the happiness of its citizens, so Aristotle does not think that there is a perfect and most just form of government because the forms he discusses do not prioritize its citizens happiness. 

Monarchy and Tyranny Destruction 

Aristotle speaks on monarchy and the causes of its destruction and perseverance. He states, “For royal rule is of the nature of an aristocracy, and a tyranny is a compound of oligarchy and democracy in their most extreme forms; it is, therefore, most injurious to its subjects, being made up of two evil forms of government, and having the perversions and errors of both” (Aristotle, Book 5). In explaining how tyranny is an extreme form of oligarchy and democracy, Aristotle may inherently consider the forms of government evil because of their vulnerability to erupt into violent states. He explains how aristocracy is, in its nature, a monarchy because they are led by noblemen and royals, while tyranny is an extreme form of democracy and oligarchy. In a monarchy and aristocracy, there is the notion that a king protects the rich from unjust treatment while protecting the poor from abuse at the hands of the rich. Aristotle mentions how tyrants are chosen to be the protectors against the nobles and royalty. Still, they function within the bounds of their own greed because they are not concerned with public interest but rather their own private interests. A monarchy is destroyed from within like most other forms of government. There are two ways a monarchy may be destroyed: “(1) when the members of the royal family quarrel among themselves, and (2) when the kings attempt to administer the state too much after the fashion of a tyranny, and to extend their authority contrary to the law” (Aristotle, Book 5). Democracy is “antagonistic to tyranny” whereas royalty and aristocracy are alike but opposite to tyranny due to the constitutional form of government. However, a tyranny is destroyed from the outside and, in the case of The Hunger Games, replaced with a democratic state. Additionally, there are two motives used to attack tyranny: hatred and contempt. Freedom and honor are taken away and replaced with anger and hatred, whereas contempt is represented by those who live luxurious lives at the expense of the poor (in this instance, there is no middle class). 

EXAMPLE: Hunger Games – Katniss kills Coin — She attempted, and succeeded in, overthrowing a tyranny and its leader

Monarchy and Tyranny Preservation

Monarchies are preserved through the limitation of the power, specifically the power royalty holds. As stated by Aristotle, “The more restricted the functions of kings, the longer their power will last unimpaired; for then they are more moderate and not so despotic in their ways, and they are less envied by their subjects” (Aristotle, Book 5). Tyrannies are preserved in two different ways: the first being a state where tyrants run their government. It is a police state in that the people are allowed no privacy, given no social or developmental aid, prohibited public gatherings, and works to ensure the poor stay poor. Aristotle states, “the evil practices of the last and worst form of democracy are all found in tyrannies” (Aristotle, Book 5). For example, independence and dignity are frowned upon, and the “there is an ‘i’ in ‘team’” outlandish concept. The tyrant aims to humiliate subjects, create mistrust, and disable subjects to take action. The three policies of the tyrant distrust take away any form of power and humble the people. The second way a tyranny is preserved is how careful tyrants must be to maintain control over the subjects; power must be held onto to preserve the tyranny. Essentially, the tyrant should show himself as a king – to be moderate and not be the subject of hatred. The opposite of this is seen in Mad Max: Fury Road, where the tyranny had too much power to the point where its own subjects either revolted or began to revolt against the common enemy. 

EXAMPLE: Mad Max: Fury Road — Explaining the character of Furiosa (Charlize Theron) living under the rule of a tyrannical dictator and how she did not give up hope in search of a better, free state (Behind the scenes)

In the final section of Book 5, Aristotle explains why tyrannies and oligarchies are the two shorted lived forms of government. The longest tyrannies ruled in Sicyon for 100 years and in Corinth for 73 years because the laws were moderate and the favor of the people was gained. Over the course of chapter 5 and even throughout The Politics, Aristotle discusses how a change in forms of government is unavoidable, prominently due to time. I will end the discussion of Book 5 with this: Can a modern US really call itself a democracy or democratic state, especially today? Is there a possibility that tyranny could evolve as a result of a failed democratic state? Especially because revolutions do not just occur because of money, but rather from the rich not wanting the poor to rise up and be a prominent part of the government, which is a suffocating problem the US faces. 

Book VI

Democratic versus Oligarchic Constitutions: Which one is more flawed?

In Book 5, Aristotle goes into depth about different forms of government, their destruction and preservation, and how revolutions shape the people and the state. However, in Book 6, Aristotle shifts focus on democratic and oligarchic states and their constitutions. There is a possibility of the two forms intertwining in a way, and the combinations are a result of “ the deliberative part of the government, and the election of officers is constituted oligarchy, and the law-courts aristocratically, or when the courts and the deliberative part of the state are oligarchical, and the election to office aristocratically, or when in any other way there is a want of harmony in the composition of a state” (Aristotle, Book 6). First, Aristotle discusses democracy and the characteristics and two differences created: “One (1) differences of the population; for the popular element may consist of husbandmen, or of mechanics, or of laborers, and if the first of these be added to the second or the third to the two others, not only does the democracy become better or worse, but its very nature is changed. A second cause (2) remains to be mentioned: the various properties and characteristics of democracy, when variously combined, make a difference” (Aristotle, Book 6). When establishing a democracy, it is best not to force together all the elements that make it one; refer back to the preservation and destruction of states. To further elaborate, when establishing a government and its constitution, it is essential that corruption does not run amuck. Democracy, in this instance, best perseveres in a society that allows for the people to have equal control and not to give the rich an unequal amount of control or wealth. 

Aristotle’s Crash Course on Democracy 

Diving further into democracy, “The basis of a democratic state is liberty” (Aristotle, Book 6). Similarly, as seen in the fifth amendment of the US constitution, “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. … nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” ( Ultimately, liberty is the goal of democracy, and the principles are as such: “all to rule and be ruled in turn; whence it follows that the majority must be supreme and that whatever the majority approve must be the end and the just; Every citizen, it is said, must have equality, and therefore in a democracy the poor have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme” (Aristotle, Book 6). The principles are the only way men believe equality and freedom can be secured in the state. Turning to the US as an example compared to Aristotle’s explanation of democracy, right off the bat, it can be seen that his principles do not exist in the modern US; the gap between the rich and poor has never been wider, and the poor do not, nor have it ever, had majority power especially over the rich, regardless of how many people there are. According to Aristotle, transitioning to the characteristics of a democracy is having elections of officers, judges, and magistrates to keep accounts and the assembly to “keep everything in check.” The second is having payments for services where everyone receives money when there is none, and finally that “no magistracy is perpetual, but if any such have survived some ancient change in the constitution it should be stripped of its power, and the holders should be elected by lot and no longer by vote” (Aristotle, Book 6). 

EXAMPLE: To further demonstrate the power of corporate money and influence in US politics, a clip from Iron Man 3 where Tony, Iron Man, calls the VP of the US to warn him about The Mandarin but the clip insinuates that the VP is aware of what may happen and ignores the danger other people are in for personal interests under the influence of the villian, Killian, and his company. (Watch from 1:30-2:35)

Aristotle asks, “Next comes the question, how is this equality to be obtained?” (Aristotle, Book 6). The democratic notion says justice is when the majority agrees, whereas oligarchs state that it is according to the rich. Both forms are inherently flawed and ultimately lead to inequality; both agree that the majority equates to just actions. The two classes, rich and poor, are to settle disagreements based on either qualification or number of individuals. Aristotle states, “Now they agree in saying that whatever is decided by the majority of the citizens is to be deemed law” (Aristotle, Book 6). 

As Aristotle states, “The mere establishment of a democracy is not the only or principal business of the legislator, or of those who wish to create such a state, for any state, however badly constituted, may last one, two, or three days; a far greater difficulty is the preservation of it” (Aristotle, Book 6). After the emergence of democracy, there is a challenge that faces the state: preservation. Overall, the best measures to maintain a democratic state are the ones that ensure the government lasts over time: providing a good foundation and writing laws that guard against destruction. Flaws of democracy include individuals’ faults; many do not bother attending assemblies unless there is a monetary value that is unacceptable, as seen by the rich. There is greed seen amongst the rich but also among those who are not. Citizens who contribute to the flaws of democracy see monetary value as a priority in order for society to function; all citizens are then fueled by greed and self interest. Hence, the solution in terms of assemblies is for qualified individuals to represent those in court who cannot or wish not to attend. 

Preservation of Harmony and Order 

Aristotle’s final thoughts in Book 6 focus on the need for states to preserve harmony and order within offices. He states, “No state can exist not having the necessary offices, and no state can be well administered not having the offices which tend to preserve harmony and good order” (Aristotle, Book 6). The necessary offices include: care of the market which allows for safe supply and demand, the second is supervision and embellishment of public and private buildings, road and house maintenance, dispute resolution, third is countryside management (Wardens), fourth is maintaining taxes and revenues (Treasurers), a fifth is registration of private contracts and court decisions (i.e., Presidents), and the final office is the charge of executing punishments and keeping custody of prisoners. There are also military positions, as stated previously, that is required mainly in times of war (Generals or Commanders). Additionally, an office that handles public money is required, and such positions are deemed, for example, Accountants or Auditors. Another office is concerned with religion and its preservation: priests or, as Aristotle states, “archons, sometimes kings, and sometimes prytanes” (Aristotle, Book 6). Those who look after good order have magistracy characteristics and are “guardians of women, & of children, director of gymnastics, Dionysiac contests & of spectacles” (Aristotle, Book 6). Having such offices, with the right people in those office positions, in an oligarchical state allows for the preservation of harmony and order within the state. 

Book VII

Happiness of the Individual and the State 

In Book 7, Aristotle starts out by saying before people can determine what the best form of government and statehood is, first we must determine what the best way to live life is and then from there we will be able to understand and decide if that same life is suitable for the state. “We ought therefore to ascertain, first of all, which is the most generally eligible life, and then whether the same life is or is not best for the state and for individuals” (Aristotle Book 7). He then goes into how there are three different kinds of goods that need to be understood: external goods, goods of the body, and goods of the soul. Although philosophers have many disputes on the order and importance of each “good,” Aristotle believes that the good of the soul holds the most importance due to the soul being a boundless entity and the body and external goods having a measurable threshold. He goes on to make the argument that God does not have a body nor wealth and external goods and yet he is happy and full of virtue. Aristotle holds virtue and wisdom to the highest necessity and believes without those two things, it would be difficult to find happiness. “Let us acknowledge then that each one has just so much of happiness as he has of virtue and wisdom, and of virtuous and wise action. God is a witness to us of this truth, for he is happy and blessed, not by reason of any external good, but in himself and by reason of his own nature” (Aristotle Book 7). To Aristotle, being able to create and enjoy materialistic goods is made possible by having virtue and wisdom, not the other way around. So Aristotle concludes this section by saying that in order for a state to be happy and functioning it must be operated in a virtuous manner. 

Aristotle then asks whether the goals and happiness of an individual is the same as that if the state. This means that if one believes a life of virtue would lead to happiness and stability then the same person would similarly think that a state of virtue would lead to a state of happiness. Aristotle believes that this holds true to everyone. Aristotle then goes on to ask a question with two options. The question being, “what kind of virtue produces happiness?” From an individual point of view is it better to take on the role of a statesman and govern over others? Or is it better to live the life of a philosopher contemplating life’s greatest questions? Aristotle says, “There are some who think that while a despotic rule over others is the greatest injustice, to exercise a constitutional rule over them, even though not unjust, is a great impediment to a man’s individual wellbeing. Others take an opposite view; they maintain that the true life of man is the practical and political, and that every virtue admits of being practiced, quite as much by statesmen and rulers as by private individuals” (Aristotle Book 7). Aristotle finally says that neither life can be argued to be better than the other and that both virtuous lifestyles are taking action in some shape or form and that is important. Here it seems as though Aristotle has decided virtue is really based upon purpose and curiosity. Although the life of a statesmen and a philosopher are on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of responsibilities and motive, the two professions serve a purpose and encourage the expansion of knowledge and innovation; which is what Aristotle holds in high regard. 

The Ideal State

Aristotle then returns to the original question of what the ideal state would and should look like. He then creates a hypothetical scenario of his ideal state. He believed that when it came to size, a state should not be too small or it will not be able to rely on itself and its resources but also not too large or that those in power will not be able to effectively govern. Aristotle says that there should be a limit on the size of government so that those governing are able to accurately judge on another’s character. “Clearly then the best limit of the population of a state is the largest number which suffices for the purposes of life, and can be taken in at a single view. Enough concerning the size of a state.” (Aristotle Book 7). Aristotle says here essentially that the size of the state should be small and intimate enough that the constituents and government officials are able to know one another personally but large enough that the state itself is self sufficient. As for this limit, Aristotle is not necessarily clear on what the magic number is. Aristotle’s ideas on that of  taste are similar to that of what a territory should look like. He thinks that living by the sea is also advantageous because it encourages commerce as well as easy access to sea ports and military entities like the navy. He says, “There can be no doubt that the possession of a moderate naval force is advantageous to a city; the city should be formidable not only to its own citizens but to some of its neighbors, or, if necessary, able to assist them by sea as well as by land. The only concern that Aristotle expresses with living by the sea is the possibility of foreign lands surrounding the area. This holds importance because during this time, imperialism was still prevalent and the strength of societies were defined by the strength of their military. If a specific area was not militarily strong, then they were susceptible to being conquered.

Ideal Citizen and  Social Structure 

Aristotle continues to describe his ideal state: he begins to outline his idea of the ideal citizen and social structure. He says that Eurpoeans, although they “are “full of spirit,” but “wanting in intelligence and skill; and therefore they retain comparative freedom, but have no political organization, and are incapable of ruling over others” (Aristotle Book 7). He then says the Asians are the opposite because they are “are intelligent and inventive, but they are wanting in spirit, and therefore they are always in a state of subjection and slavery.”(Aristotle Book 7). Aristotle goes on to say that he thinks Greeks are the perfect in between of these two cultures. Aristotle then goes on to describe the ideal social structure of a state. Concerning the caste system of a state Aristotle delineates the city into six sections: food, craftsmanship, property, worship, and government. Aristotle believed that food and crafts should be left to enslaved people and non citizens because they were the most laborious tasks.While the citizens should take control of the other sections and decide amongst themselves who does what. He decides that the younger people should take on more military responsibilities, the middle age should take part in government and the elders do work concerning the Gods.  Aristotle says, “The land must therefore be divided into two parts, one public and the other private, and each part should be subdivided, part of the public land being appropriated to the service of the Gods, and the other part used to defray the cost of the common meals; while of the private land, part should be near the border, and the other near the city,” Aristotle believed that there should be enslaved people because they were a necessary part of of the functioning of a society. A slave to Aristotle is someone who by nature is under ownership of someone else and not themselves, being used as a tool for some sort of action. Although he believed in the separation of different entities and a caste system,  Aristotle also believed that there should be walls surrounding the city and an environment where all people can live a safe healthy lifestyle. 

Ideal Education and Household for Virtue

Aristotle then goes on to express how he thinks education should look in his hypothetical city. He says that since it is not obvious who should rule because no man is better than the other, people must take turns ruling, specifically the young and the old. The old should rule because they have several life experiences and impart wisdom. The young should hope to rule one day and educate themselves in a way that serves their greater community. Aristotle backs this up by saying “We conclude that from one point of view governors and governed are identical, and from another different. And therefore their education must be the same and also different. For he who would learn to command well must, as men say, first of all learn to obey. “(Aristotle Book 7). Aristotle maintained this idea that for a society to function freely, its constituents must be good people. Continuing this idea, he says that educators and statesmen need to constantly keep in mind that there needs to be a balance between teaching the nature of habit and the nature of reason because “.. in men rational principle and mind are the end towards which nature strives, so that the birth and moral discipline of the citizens ought to be ordered with a view to them.” (Aristotle Book 7). Meaning that men seem to use rational beliefs to find answers but in the process kill creativity and curiosity, so both should be taught. He says that with the education of children specifically, they should be allowed to roam free of labor and responsibility up until the age of 5. Then when they are to be educated they should be shielded from certain images and words to protect their innocence due to how impressionable they are. When it came to marriage, Aristotle believed that the time for  procreation should be within certain ages due to biological observation. He believed that women should not be asked for their hand in marriage before the age of 18 and men should not be looking to procreate until the age of 37 because these are the prime ages for reproduction. Aristotle believed in the consultation of physicians on when to have children as well. Lastly, Aristotle believed that abortion should be on a case to case basis depending on populaton control, birth defects, and customary law while adultery should not be allowed. 


The Importance of Education 

Aristotle stresses the importance of education that must be public to all citizens in a city. All the citizens belong to the city are meant to work together; therefore, a citizen does not belong to himself. The Lacedaemonians are known for their disciplined approach to training their children and values education to have a thriving state. It is necessary for the youth to have access to public education, and a law should be created to require young people to be educated. What should be taught? He believes children should be taught moral goodness and pure knowledge. The four branches of education that are useful to be taught are (1) reading and writing, (2) gymnastic exercises, (3) music, and (4) drawing (Aristotle, Book 8). He states, “if he does or learns anything for his own sake or for the sake of his friends, or with the view to excellence the action will not appear illiberal; but if done for the sake of others the very same action will be thought menial and servile” (Aristotle, Book 8). All the branches have a valuable purpose of teaching that will challenge them to use their knowledge in society except for music. Music is meant for leisure that is pleasurable and relaxing; it is not necessarily essential compared to reading and writing. He states that gymnastic exercises are good for the youth to participate, but it is not meant for excessive training. Aristotle expands on the role music has in education since it is underappreciated but is a valuable skill. He states music should be taught as it will encourage the youth to learn to perform and study it. 

Republic: Books VII, VIII, and IX

Kiersten Lamke:

I am a Junior with a major in Political Science and a minor in Sociology. I am interested in more modern day politics such as political communication and public policy. While studying philosophers is not my favorite thing, I am interested in taking the analytical methods I learn in this class and implement them in my career.

Macey Sheppard:

I am a Sophomore here at Tech with a major in Political Science with a concentration in Legal Studies. I have a passion for politics and I love broadening my understanding of our legal systems and the inner workings of politics. Philosophy has always fascinated me as well, so this class has been especially interesting to learn about. I enjoy reading about the philosophers who helped build what we now know as politics and government. I believe that this class will help me with my future endeavors in government.

John Fratis

I am a Junior Political Science major here at Virginia Tech, I recently switched majors from Philosophy Politics and Economics, where I first began my interest in philosophy and political theory. I am particularly interested in discovering how current world politics matches up to its theoretical roots and how philosophers and theorists like Karl Marx and Socrates continue to shape the world today.

Plato’s Republic: Defining the connection of education and philosophical inquiry to desire and the soul, how “the just city” should embody the “just soul” and how a disorder soul

connects to socio-political disorder on the city, and how the soul of a tyrant constituted and how democracies have the ability to degrade into tryannies:

This week we were assigned to read Plato’s Republic, a piece that was written later in his life. Throughout this piece, his voice and words are spoken through his teacher – Socrates. Organized into 10 separate books, we will be focusing on Books 7, 8 and 9. In book 7, Socrates draws upon the allegory of the cave in order to show this relationship between how education and philosophical inquiry affects how one perceives the world. Book 8, Socrates introduces the four imperfect societies and how these imperfections have characterized the individuals within. In the last book we looked at, book 9, Socrates looks at the tyrannical man and his characteristics, in order to discuss how these democracies can transition into tyrannies.

Education and philosophical inquiry connected to desire and the soul:

Throughout Socrates’ allegory of the cave he continues to elaborate on his indirect description of the Good. Within the cave, the men live everyday, shackled and forced to only stare at what is in front of them. They enter an imaginary state from the shadows of the images cast on a curtain from a fire. With nothing else to believe, prisoners start to assume what they see and hear is reality. This allegory adds the search for truth, and how the things that we as people know affect this notion of being a “just person” in a “just state.” In connection to today, we can relate this back to what we watch on television, we expect things to go a certain way being that is how it happened in a show. But, when faced with reality, we are left at a halt because our minds are preconceived to this imaginary state we saw.

Look at it in a sense of fake news, in the political world nowadays fake news has become more and more normal. Fake news can alter our perspectives on events, trends and people, filling our heads with false information created by false reality. It is not until people realize that the information being presented to them is notions of an imaginary world, once the people choose to understand the truth, they are faced with reality.

Quotes from this scene from The Matrix that draw parallels with Socrates’s Allegory of the Cave in Book VII of the Republic were quotes from Morpheus, where he says “It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” As the Sophists manipulate the shadows present in the cave, the Shadows could be seen as the Matrix itself, and the Sophists as agent Smith, the main antagonist for the bulk of the film. Morpheus continues and tells Neo that he was born into bondage like the rest of humanity, stuck in the reality they are presented with. It is important to note that in the original quote Morpheus mentions the truth (sought by philosophers although difficult to digest in reality) while also mentioning bondage and saying that everyone else is in this same state, much like the other prisoners in the cave.

Book VII begins with the Allegory of the Cave. In this scenario, there is a group of prisoners who have lived their whole lives in a dark cave. Not being able to see anything but statues in front of them. The prisoners face the statues everyday, and have grown accustomed to them always being there. They have no other understanding of the outside world. They don’t even understand that there is an outside world. This has become their reality, and they know practically nothing else. Socrates explains that this part represents our imagination. Then, a prisoner leaves the cave, and begins to realize what reality is. They see trees, flowers, light, and they soon see that there is more to the world than the statues. This is the stage of “thought,” and the prisoner can now see the forms of things in reality.

Leaving the cave is used to understand the process of education. Education’s main goal is to take individuals as far away from the cave, in order for them to learn and grow as people. In order to understand the world, we have to continue reaching for more knowledge. However, education’s purpose isn’t necessarily putting the knowledge into our soul, but instead, steering our soul towards the forms of good, “the time has now arrived at which they must raise the eye of the soul to the universal light which lightens all things, and behold the absolute good,”(book VII). As we continue to educate ourselves, our soul will go toward the right desires. Like the prisoner in the cave, we start out not understanding much of the world. As we travel through life, we begin to grasp new understandings of it. Our soul reaches towards the right desires because we can comprehend what is just and unjust. We continue to educate ourselves so we can make justly decisions and strive towards the forms of good. In the last stage of the allegory, the prisoner notices the sun, and how it lights up the world. The prisoner now understands things, has learned how to process reality, and how to see forms of good.

Education should be to bring everyone as far out from the cave as possible, and in turning the soul toward the right desires rather than putting new knowledge into it. Socrates argues that professors of education are wrong when they say that they can put knowledge into the soul that didn’t exist there before, likening it to sight in a blind man’s eyes. Instead Socrates claims that the power and capacity to learn already exists in the soul. So therefore the instrument of knowledge, the mind’s eye, can only be turned towards the good only by movement of the whole soul from the world of becoming to the world of being.

This clip is from Legion, an American TV series. The scene uses the Allegory of the Cave to create a modern day scenario that parallels Socrates’ story. Instead of people trapped in a cave watching shadows, the clip shows how we are kept behind a screen just watching the rest of the world.

The just city embodying the just soul and a disorder soul connecting to socio-political disorder on the city:

The goal of a city is to educate its people with the right desires, so they can achieve good.

People will continue to educate one another and practice living just lives. Once this happens, it is like a domino affect. If a ruler is educated, then they will continue to educate their people. This, as Socrates explains, creates a cycle of learning that never stops. When a ruler is truly good, it sets an example for their city. A true ruler doesn’t rule for personal benefits, but they rule for justice and truth. The main goal being, making the whole city happy rather than a select few, majority over minority. It is their job to educate their people on justice, so the people within the city can make justly decisions. So, a ruler with a disordered soul will create a disordered city.      

The disordered ruler doesn’t lead with the right desires, thus, leading their city towards unjustly actions. The picture below is showing a leader (hand) and the people (puppet). The people are puppets to the leaders symbolizing that a bad leader will reflect in the people as they will begin to act in accordance with tyranny. We can see the action of an unjust ruler through examples of Tyranny. A lawless leader will only create a lawless city.

6,585 Tyrant Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

Socrates named the four imperfect states; first being Cretan or Spartan (timarchy), second being oligarchy, third democracy and the fourth also the worst is tyranny. Along with this notion of imperfect states, he also introduces that there are five types of man; corresponding and another for each of the “lesser” regimes. These imperfect states are contrasted with Socrates’ ideal state. These are presented as the stages of degeneration of the just state overtime, each being worse than the last.

A Timarcy; the government of honour, descends into an Oligarchy as money and wealth determine who attains positions of political power. Ruling is based on wealth. This divides the city into factions of rich and poor, who do not have common goals, Socrates says, “-in which the rich have power and the poor man is deprived of it” (Book 8). Arguing that this form puts the rich at a privilege leaving the poor with merely nothing in terms of wealth and power. The idea of wealth begins to become more valued than virtue, changing the dynamic from a state wanting/needing to be run by noble, just men into one of money-hungry businessmen interested in sedimenting their own positions within society.

In describing the rulers of an Oligarchy and a Democracy, the key difference between them is that the former is driven by necessary pleasures, and the latter by unnecessary pleasures. The oligarch is portrayed as a miser, who wishes to hoard his wealth, whereas the Democrat, who also has wealth, appreciates and indulges in the luxuries that he can afford. Socrates notes,“-characteristics are proper to democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike” (Book 8).

Soul of a tyrant and the states degrading from a democracy to a tyranny:

Socrates divides the unnecessary pleasures of men that lead to the evolution of a tyrannical man, making the point that all have these pleasures yet some persons are controlled by laws and by reason in order to restrain themselves from acting upon them. The tyrannical man is ruled by his desires. There comes a point in time where his needs are not able to be satisfied and he will resort to unlawful actions through crime. A tyrannical man is unjust and the worst type of man. The tyrannical person is not someone a man ought to desire to be, as they cannot be trusted and will stop at nothing to satisfy their needs even if that means going against what is right and just. Further, the tyrannical soul is one of constant unhappiness as it will never find satisfaction for it is ruled through Desire as a chief virtue rather than its reason. The tyrannical soul is one of disorder, according to Plato, because rationality is subjected and oriented to rapacious desire that can never be satisfied. It is, therefore, impossible for the tyrant, or the tyrannical soul to lead “the good life.”

As Socrates puts it, the tyrant is a product of his democratic father. Democracy’s biggest flaw is how it puts the value of freedom before ruling in a just way. The tyrant’s democratic father held some of the virtues of his miserly father and thus was drawn in both directions of being driven by pleasure, differing from his father in that his pleasures were unnecessary, aimed at amusement, ornament, and luxury – such as gold toilets. The democrat ultimately leads a life of moderate indulgence, this moderation is not passed down to the tyrant. Throughout history there have been numerous tyrants and dictators that have destroyed nations through systemic degradation. Plato himself ran into trouble when he tried to implement his ideal state in Syracuse, Sicily. The tyrant’s desires are what leads to his unjustly reign over a city. As stated previously, in order to have a just city, we must have a just ruler with a soul that is searching for the right desires and a soul ruled by reason rather than reason ruled by desire. A true ruler will want to rule because it is their duty to steer their city towards forms of good. A true ruler understands the difference between just and unjust, and they do not choose to lead with desire. A tyrant leads with the desire to control. A tyrant’s desire for power overtakes them, and causes them to become power hungry, greedy, and destructive. He is not looking to create a justly city, with good citizens who respect him as a ruler. Instead, desire for control takes over and they create an unjustly city ordered, only by its ever shifting and elusive desires built from the images of sophists.

Arguing, Socrates mentions that a tyrant is the unhappiest man, and his state is the worst among the imperfect states mentioned previously. A tyrant is always living in this state of fear, in that “Their pleasures are mixed with pains,” (Book 9) meaning in the midst of trying to satisfy his pleasures, a tyrant is faced with the pain of reality when he is never fully satisfied leaving a void in his heart causing him to continue to fight for satisfaction he can never attain as a matter of the logic of desiring. They begin to lose their wisdom and virtue, causing them to be filled with gluttony and sensuality, distracting them from the notions of a “just man.”

Century of the Self Part I: Happiness Machines

The philosopher-king rules in an aristocracy, enlightened by exiting the cave, looking at the sun and understanding the form of the good, he returns to the cave. He does this to show gratitude to the city, which had given him the opportunity to leave the cave in the first place, through education. In viewing rule as giving service, the philosopher-king views ruling as an obligation, as they understand the form of the good and is guided by the desire for truth, they knew that the city would be less just if they were not to rule. In this sense, the philosopher’s reluctance to rule deems him the most fit to rule. This idea is expanded upon in the Adam Curtis documentary, Century of the Self, Part I: Happiness Machines brings to light ideas of Sigmund Freud, and his nephew Edward Bernays.

In particular, Bernays changed America into a consumer society following World War I, and did so as a means of controlling the masses in a democracy. According to Freud, the human subconscious is animalistic and irrational, and hides just beneath the surface of consciousness. These irrationalities can be emphasized in the masses, leading Bernays to believe that the masses could not be trusted, and thus needed to be guided from above, which would ultimately result in advertisements to prey on the desires of society. The belief of people as subconsciously irrational essentially dismantled the notion of individual freedom at the heart of democracy. Human beings could never be allowed to truly express themselves as it would be too dangerous, they could not be trusted to make their own informed decisions and would act based on emotion. Therefore, the masses must be controlled for their own good, reflective of Socrates’s idea that the philosopher-king should rule for the sake of the city as a whole. Bernays, however, in giving the modern corporation the means for mass manipulation through public relations campaigns and advertising, may have subverted Plato and set the stage for the democracy in the US to degrade into a tyranny where desire, not reason, is the instrument for organizing and controlling people through consumer society. In other words, it is possible that the sophist has transformed from an individual human person as we have seen in antiquity, into to the modern commercial corporation that speaks and persuades in our social environments and has more power than any one of us to do so. Here’s the question: are we in contemporary US society, actually organized by tyrants; and are those tyrants telling us to join them?

Professor’s Note: For those of you scraping around for a multimedia analysis project, you should consider They Live!, John Carpenter’s 1988 classic.

Plato’s Republic: Books III and IV

Kyle Merrill

  • I am a Junior majoring in Political Science with a focus in national security.  I enjoy learning new perspectives as it gives more depth to my analytic ability for political situations.

Alexa Zaldivar

  • I am a Sophomore majoring in English with a concentration in Pre-Law and double majoring in Political Science. Political and philosophical discussions have always been an interest of mine and I am excited to be learning and deepening my knowledge of such topics in this class. 

Luis Lopez

  • I am a Junior majoring in Political Science (Legal Studies) and Philosophy. I have always been more inclined towards the ‘cut and dry’ of most things Law, but love engaging in political discourse, and having a better understanding of the machinations of its theory has always sounded interesting.

Books III and IV:

This week our group was tasked to read The Republic: Books III and IV by Plato. Book III continues the discussion seen in the previous books, in which Socrates carries on with the dialogue pertaining to the stories and education allowed to be given to the soldiers – the Auxiliaries – of the State. Book IV focuses on many complex theological themes that we will further get into in this discussion. Including Adeimantus questioning on the happiness of the Guardians and Socrates diving into where justice lies both in the State and Individual. These two dialogues continue on with points of discussion around “the just state” and “the good life.”

Unjust Poetic Role Models and Messages

Early into Book III Adeimantus and Plato have a conversation about poets and the risks involved with their potential messages. In the reading, they specifically highlight the portrayal of heroic figures by poets as often figures of happiness through the means of being unjust. Plato finds a significant issue in this when he says “poets and story-tellers are guilty of making the gravest misstatements when they tell us that wicked men are often happy, and the good miserable” (Plato, Book III). This however is but an example of the bigger problem Plato is trying to point out. The real issue highlighted by Plato here is the problems that can arise from freedom of speech in general. If you give those with the incorrect ways of thinking platforms among the masses, it could spread harmful trains of thought to many and harm society as a whole. Plato concludes that the solution to such a potential problem is “we shall forbid them to utter, and command them to sing and say the opposite,” showing his ideals of being anti-free speech and expression for the sake of justice and happiness (Plato, Book III). 

Plato understands that people with the wrong thoughts and behaviors should not freely express and influence the masses and in this section, he is pointing his finger at the poets. Poets speak to the masses for entertainment and informational purposes and Plato thinks they have a great deal of influence over how people should think and act. Individuals with this power have the ability to spread unjust behavior to people and this is exactly what Plato wants to prevent by limiting the ability for these people to spread it in the first place. What one needs to understand is that these are the effects of the culture industry that still apply to us today. The culture industry is the idea that (capitalist) entertainment industries subject the consumers to manipulation of thought and opinions. The issue here is if the industry leaders are sophists they would be spreading potentially harmful thoughts to the consumer groups. This raises the question of whether it is beneficial to censor these leading entertainment industries due to the harm they can cause.

Short video on what Horkheimer and Adorno thought the culture industry was.

Importance of a balanced education

Plato highlights the importance of early education within the Guardian class talking about a proper balance between physical training and music saying that “Gymnastic as well as music should begin in early years; the training in it should be careful and should continue through life. Now my belief is…not that the good body by and bodily excellence improves the soul, but, on the contrary, that the good soul, by her own excellence, improves the body as far as this may be possible,” indicating his belief that Guardians cannot rely on a single form of education to become great (Plato, Book III). The reason for this balanced form of education especially for the Guardian class is because not all issues can be solved with one form of problem-solving. The Guardians are the most important component to make Plato’s just state a reality and to do the best job possible given a tool belt of knowledge and thinking so they can lead and guide the state through diverse situations.

What Plato is concerned with the most in this section is over-focusing on the physical side of education of young Guardians as “such excessive care of the body, when carried beyond the rules of gymnastics, is most inimical to the practice of virtue, ” which basically means it can lead to the hindering of one’s development as a virtuous person (Plato, Book III). The importance of development is vastly stronger on Guardian individuals due to their role in society and Plato understands the risk that is involved with improperly developed members in that societal role. This would hinder Plato’s ideal just state due to improper fulfillment of one’s role in society which would greatly impact everyone else in a negative manner. If Producers concede to their desires, as Plato contends as he argues that they are Producers because they do not have a good soul, they would cause more work upon the Auxiliaries whose role is to keep them in order. For this reason, Plato contends that Producers are mostly incapable of becoming soldiers or even be the focus of becoming knowledgeable at all and instead focuses on the Auxiliary and Guardians. Furthermore, Socrates contends that if we allow these corrupted souls to take the role of an Auxiliary, it will make more weak soldiers who fear death and will abandon their role just to save themselves. If the Auxiliary is then faulty and incapable of their duty to fight and protect the State physically, the Guardians will have no foundation to assert their rule, enforce the principles that require a State to serve all of its people, the function of the State in general, and will then allow for the destruction of that State which would be seen as unjust. Therefore, Justice and the “just State” are dependent on people in these roles accepting the requirements that are based on how “good” their soul is and how in tune they are with that Knowledge.

We are met with three different class/roles: Guardians/Philosopher Kings (Those in charge of the state, the “higher-ups”), Auxiliaries (Soldiers, Policing Figures), and Producers (the rest of society/the majority, the people who are constantly under the rule of the other two classes.) Education is the fulfillment and adherence to requirements/principles of the class you are in, be it Guardians/Philosopher Kings, Auxiliaries, and Producers on the basis that, if you do not do what you are supposed to do, you will make the other classes unhappy. For example the Guardians, according to Plato, are those who have mastered philosophy and rhetoric and thus, have taken charge of the State as they have mastered this knowledge that allows them to trick people into believing enforcement/creation of classes, say who is in them, and establish all the roles and machinations of the State’s composing class. The Auxiliary’s function, according to the reading, is to fight and protect the State at all costs be it militant or policing and enforcement of what the Guardians impose, and then finally there are the Producers, which is just about anyone that is not a Guardian or an Auxiliary. This relation/structure has been seen through most, if not all, 20th Century, post-Industrialism society: a ruling class, Bourgeois, etc. that rules over a vast majority, Producers, proletariat, etc. that lack a certain means of capital which puts them in this position of servitude and submission, and along with the ruling class having a tangible weapon to enforce their whim upon those Producers, the Auxiliary.  However, Plato also emphasizes that one ought to acquire formidable knowledge in other subjects like the arts (though not too much, for that leads to weak soldiers) to better you in your designated class as it enlightens the soul but does not change it completely. Education, Plato argues, is simply further specialization on those soul-found reasonings. He highlights the importance of the training of the soldiers to how they can contribute to the just state. Plato suggests that the Auxiliary class should not just be trained in warfare but in proper balance with music and poetry to avoid developing too much aggressiveness which can turn into the polar opposite and birth weak men who will give up their State and autonomy just so they are not killed (Book III). Here we see a nuance in “knowledge” and “education”: Knowledge is within the Soul, where Truth is derived from, and where you truly see if you are capable of attaining characteristics required to understand other classes, while Education is further specialization after you have those realizations of the Soul. What you have become educated on is not actually any ‘new’ concept, as that education only comes from realizing from something that was in your soul all along. This concept of it being in your soul all along, Plato establishes, is why Producers cannot truly become Auxiliaries, nor can Auxiliaires truly become Guardians. Plato mentions that one cannot change class easily, if at all, but the means exist to become more educated, and that the Producers never have that realization or potential in their souls and therefore, ought to ‘stay in their place’ and do what the “more” knowledgeable auxiliaries and guardians want for their souls are good and need to be in charge to bring about a “just State.” (Book IV). The State’s function should never be one that is “piecemeal” but rather, one that tries to keep all classes happy. However, happiness is not based on what they desire but what their role is (Book IV).

Acquiring knowledge helps one better understand what the good life is, it is based on doing what your class has been assigned to do in order to make the other classes happy and establish a high standard of well-being for all under the state in its totality, not just certain individuals. (Book IV). This is why Plato harshly critiques the Arts and the glorification of heroes, for this inspires thinking and desires not warranted by the ruling classes. This supports Plato’s principle that having a pure soul will eventually lead to you bettering yourself in the material world (Plato, Book III).This relief from the chains of societal pressures and starting to escape the cave and submitting to casted shadows, as Plato describes it in his Allegory of the Cave. However, we see that demagoguery can function, and has functioned, off of this exploitation of those who do not have this knowledge and Plato contends in The Republic that your soul cannot be changed, but one can become more educated on their soul as a whole.

Socrates explains to Adeimantus that when Producers focus and act based in raw emotion and personal desires, he will not truly value nor even understand nobility and honesty and will be slaves to fear and would rather give himself as a slave and sacrifice his own people’s freedom for his life and his love for material things. A rational part (Reason), an appetitive part (Desire), and the spirit (Will) are what compose our souls, independent of the mind. For something as strong and compelling as desire is not dictated by the mind and Plato points that Auxiliaries will most likely cave in to desires before they fully submit to reason so their will, their actions, will not be those that are reasonable and solely based upon justice, but dictated more by personal temptations. Personal, individual wills cannot sustain the collective, class-dependent “just State” as conceived by Plato. This, in turn, will then crush the foundation which grants the Auxiliary their police/military power as then they will be disposed of at will to protect the State and ultimately, bring the Philosopher King’s down with them as they never truly had the capacities that a grand majority such as the Producers had. The seeking of Truth inspires a yearning and passionate desire to acquire as much knowledge as possible to ascend from the material world and social constructs. Knowledge grants freedom from institutionalizations imposed upon the majority of those that are being ruled (Producers, Auxiliaries) and allows for the realization of the soul, that Eros or divine-tier love: the love for things truly good, which is anything that strengthens the State’s power and helps form an effective, though elitist, government system.

Happiness for the city as a whole 

In these two books, the overarching idea regarding happiness is that Socrates assumed that each individual will be happy if they engage with the occupation that best suits them; meaning that if the state as a whole is happy, then the individuals within that state are happy as well. We are first introduced to the topic of happiness at the end of Book III after establishing that individuals who play their part are happy because they are playing the part they are best framed to do, “Citizens, we shall say to them in our tale, you are brothers, yet God has framed you differently”(Plato, Book III). However, happiness is further discussed in Book IV as Adeimantus questions Socrates on the happiness of the guardians. Socrates responds with the reminder that the goal in building a just state is not to make one particular group happy at the expense of making another unhappy but to make the state as a whole as happy as it can be: “We are fashioning the happy State, not piecemeal, or with a view of making a few happy citizens” (Plato, Book IV). Socrates brings up the idea that we cannot provide guardians with any sort of happiness that would make them something more, or want to be something more, than just a governor of the city. This is why the statement that Guardians, philosophers who govern the city, should have no right to private wealth is made. 

Capital: Wealth and Poverty

While discussing the conditions of happiness for the guardians, Socrates raises the topic of capital. He makes a connection to wealth and poverty to “the just state” and “the good life.” He does so by first giving an example of how wealth and poverty can corrupt the workmen and their work. He begins by stating that if a potter becomes rich, he will grow indolent and carless in his work because he will “no longer take the same pains with his art,” and the end result would be that he’d become a worse potter and “he greatly deteriorates” (Plato, Book IV). On the other hand, if the potter was poor, he would not be able to provide himself the necessary tools and instruments he needs to do his job well. Therefore, he too would deteriorate. After this analogy, Socrates declares that it is these “new evils,” wealth and poverty, that the “guardians will have to watch, or they will creep into the city unobserved” (Plato, Book IV). While we have determined that people will be the happiest if they have a job or role within society that suits them, they must be cautious about making too much or too little because the quality of their work and thus the quality of their lives will suffer. Such occurrences could become a threat to the functioning state. For example, if the guardians become greedy individuals due to wealth, then they will deviate from living “the good life” and if they care more for anything other than the care of their state and its people, then it is a deviation from accomplishing “the just state.”  There is a connection made between wealth, happiness, and justice in these books. Specifically, how too much or too little capital can affect the happiness of an individual and state, which are two important factors needed to achieve a “just state.”

Adeimantus adds to the discussion by stating his curiosity and worries on how their city, with no wealth, will be able to go to war against other cities that have wealth. But Socrates asserts that this brings no issues whatsoever. While they will lack monetary wealth, they will be rich in other aspects. Socrates reminds Adeimantus that if a fight were to occur, their side will have “trained warriors fighting against an army of rich men” (Plato, Book III). He proceeds to state other advantages to their situation with wealth, or lack thereof. Since they do not have or permit wealth, they will be able to form alliances, where they would offer them the victory “spoils of the other city” (Plato, Book III). Finally, Socrates states that their lack of richness is no issue by bringing up the division within other states and the cohesion of their state, particularly in terms of economic classes. Their unification will protect their state from inner conflict, this being a major weakness in other states as they are “divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich; these are at war with one another” (Plato, Book III). This forms the argument that a just society should not be internally divided into economic classes. 

The Offspring- “Americana”: This song paints a drab picture of the world in the eyes of the typical Producer in a modern, capitalism-enforcing, mundane, sophist-ran society. In which you do what you’re told and if you don’t well then good luck, because the storyteller himself does not even know what he wants but is “happy”. Rather, his wants have been decided by “Thieves, thugs, and vermin.” and he has all he needs (according to these thieves, thugs, and sophists… sorry vermin) in his sphere of society. This class structure, subordination, and its causation being lack of knowledge and just having a bad soul so you have been subjected to this role as a mindless wage slave, Producer, etc. and that they see no problem with it, they are satisfied staying in “their cave” as Plato mentions in his Allegory of the Cave, providing a powerful foundation for the demagoguery that has burdened this bland, unwilfully-chosen life of these people or a soldier being confined to just battling and policing.

All in all, Plato infers that justice in a state and “the good life” can only be achieved through happiness and well-being. With the proper education and introduction to arts, there can be achieved happiness in fulfilling one’s appropriate role, which in turn leads to justice, “we affirmed that justice was doing one’s own business” (Plato, Book IV).

Plato’s Republic: Conceptions of Justice Books 1 and 2

Nathaniel Blevins:

  • I’m a sophomore with a major in Philosophy. I’m also an MV and a member of the Hokies Pep Band. Music and philosophy have always been passions of mine, and I’m glad I can pursue both of them here at Tech.

Katie Stewart: 

  • I am a sophomore majoring in Political Science with a focus in legal studies and I’m also minoring in philosophy. I’m really interested in the intersections between politics and philosophy and I’m excited to further my understanding of them through this class. 

Camille Wellman:

  • I am a sophomore majoring in Political Science with a focus in national security and a minor in peace studies and violence prevention. I am interested in political and philosophical discussions and how they intersect, as well as how we use these discussions to understand our modern world. 

Johnny Callihan:

  • I am a graduating senior majoring in Political Science with a focus in national security. I minor in basketball (joke, I’m alright). I like to see how philosophical discussions relate to modern day arguments and I have enjoyed the structure and function of the course so far.

Plato’s Republic: Defining the concept of justice, the just city-state, and the just man:

This week our group was assigned to read Plato’s Republic, one of Plato’s later works. Like Plato’s earlier works, his dialogue is spoken through Socrates–his teacher  The book is organized into 10 books, but for the purposes of this discussion we are only touching on the first and second book. A majority of the first book is a conversation between Socrates, Cephalus, Polemarchus, and Thrasymachus (a sophist), where Socrates is trying to answer two questions: what is justice/the nature of justice? And why should one be just? The three men offer their own definitions of justice and Socrates promptly refutes them. The first book ends with the men being no closer to a definition of justice. The second book is primarily Socrates’ own account of justice, as he agrees to stop criticizing the others’ opinions and offer his own thoughts. All in all, his goal is to show why the just person leads a better life than that of the unjust person.

Book 1: Defining justice

The main goal of Socrates’ conversation(s) with Cephalus, Polemarchus, and Thrasymachus was to come up with a definition of justice. The first definition of justice is proposed by Cephalus: Justice is speaking the truth and paying whatever debts are owed. Socrates tests the definition by first asking if justice was only speaking the truth and paying back debts, then provides an example: if a friend loans you a weapon but then becomes insane and asks for it back, should you give it back? Cephalus says no, contradicting his own definition, causing it to fail–if one does not return the weapon, they are not repaying their debts. Cephalus’s approach to the definition of justice is logical, but it is too relativistic because it cannot be applied to all situations–pointed out by Socrates in his counterexample. Before providing his definition Cephalus explained how he made many unjust decisions when he was younger and how he made up for those mistakes in the future with his wealth. Money played an integral role in Cephalus’ life so it makes sense that he came to that conclusion 

After Cephalus leaves, Polemarchus disagrees with Socrates and takes Cephalus’ definition, but makes it more general, stating justice is friends doing well by each other–never harming one another–and enemies are owed harm. Socrates counters: what if one falsely believes an enemy is a friend and a friend is an enemy? Everyone makes that mistake at least once in their life. If one makes this mistake then the just man could accidentally help his enemies and harm his friends. To resolve this issue, Polemarchus clarifies a friend is someone who is of use and is inherently good; an enemy is one who is inherently bad. Due to this Polemarchus changes his definition to, “it is just to do good to our friends when they are good and harm to our enemies when they are evil” (335 e). Socrates again counters and the two come to the conclusion that hurting someone is unjust, thus the just man cannot cause harm to an enemy or a friend. 

Finally, Thrasymachus offers his definition of justice, but for a price–a key marker of a Sophist. Thrasymachus states justice is nothing more than whatever advances the stronger person. Thrasymachus’ points are touched on in more depth in the next section. The two eventually come to a conclusion that justice is related to virtue and wisdom while injustice is related to vice and ignorance. They then begin to talk about the soul and how an evil soul is an evil ruler and a good soul must be just, since justice is the excellence of the soul (353 e – 354 c). In other words, one who is just is happy and one who is unjust is unhappy. At the end of this conversation Socrates confesses that he still does not know what justice precisely is. In other words, throughout his exploration for the definition of justice, Socrates was jumping from idea to idea, finding holes in them, causing him, at the end, to be no closer to a positive definition of justice. 

In the clip linked here from Game of Thrones, John Snow is negotiating with Mance Rayder. Mance is considered the “King Beyond the Wall;” his followers call him that because he united thousands of warring wildling tribes, which is unheard of in GOT. In the previous episode they attacked the wall that protected the 7 kingdoms. Thrasymachus would say that Mance united the tribes because he wanted power and he wanted to take power from the seven kingdoms–which is why they attacked the wall. That is far from the truth. Mance wanted to protect his people from the dangers coming from the North and attacked the wall so they could get behind it and hide. He, like Socrates states, ruled for his subjects. He did not unite the tribes for a power grab, he instead spent years of his life planning to protect the free folk; he risked his life in the process not for his benefit, but for the benefit of his people. 

The just man vs. the unjust man:

Thrasymachus asserts that justice is the interest of the stronger (338 c). The just man will serve the stronger, and doing so is justice. The unjust man will not serve the interest of the stronger, and doing so is injustice. This concept is also known as “might makes right” and was seen, albeit much later, in Machiavelli’s The Prince. So long as one has the necessary power, the means to ends he aims to meet, Thrasymachus’ “interest of the stronger” are just. In response, Socrates maintains that justice is more profitable than injustice, as was one of the catalysts of this argument. However, Thrasymachus goes on to say the unjust man achieves more than the just man because the just man is limited by his unwillingness to exploit his fellow just men, whereas the unjust man is willing to strive for more than the just and his fellow unjust (343 c-e). 

Thrasymachus believes the unjust man profits more than the just man (344 c). He then says rulers rule for their own benefit, and tyrants are happiest because of their injustice. The unjust man benefits from injustice in seeking the benefit for himself (340 e – 341 a).

Socrates uses Thrasymachus’ argument against him and shows how the ruler rules to the benefit of his subjects (346 e). He explains how artists of a certain art aim to perfect their craft, and that these crafts are for the sake of the art’s subject. Socrates compares how a doctor treats his patients to how a ruler rules his subjects; the doctor’s craft is for the benefit of the subject of the art, medicine, and the ruler’s craft is for the benefit of the subject of the art, ruling or government. Thus, the ruler doesn’t rule for himself and isn’t unjust. He goes on to add that just people would in fact seek out positions of power so that they might do the job better than unjust people in the same position (347 c-d).

The unjust city vs. the just city:

Thrasymachus claims that injustice is what creates powerful states with powerful tyrants because they are willing to harm the just and enslave them (344 b-c). He believes the perfectly unjust state would vassalize other states that are more just. As perfectly unjust people will become rulers, due to their willingness to lie and cheat and use other expedient ways to achieve power, they will naturally do to other states what they do to their subjects. Someone who has mastered injustice and can completely carry out acts of the like can and will force other states to serve their own interest. Thrasymachus’ description of justice is instrumental. To him, justice is a tool to serve the powerful. Rulers use “justice” as a mere instrument to affect their interests or desires onto the world. On the other hand, Socrates takes a realist approach to justice. Instead of justice serving rulers, rulers serve justice; justice is not the malleable device Thrasymachus makes it out to be, it is instead a powerful natural law unto itself.

Socrates shows that injustice is ignorance and malice, while justice is cleverness, goodness, and wisdom (350 a-e). Then, he rebuts Thrasymachus’ argument with the idea that injustice creates disorder, prevents necessary functions of a society or a state. He uses the example of a band of thieves who would inevitably steal from one another, then generalizes it to any group of unjust people turning on one another and against the just (351 d). How could a state form when injustice, as Thrasymachus admitted, is unwise and not good and this creates disorder and confusion? Socrates persists and demonstrates how injustice causes disorder in a single person (352 a-b). Injustice fosters disunity in one’s own mind and turns others against him. How could anyone be happy or live a fulfilling life when they are internally divided and at odds with everyone around them? They have been shown to be ignorant and bad, disorderly and treacherous. Surely, the just man prospers more than the unjust man.

In this clip from Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker defeats Count Dooku in a duel and is left with the option of killing him (against the Jedi code) or sparing him (the Jedi way). Palpatine, unbeknownst to Anakin and the rest of the Jedi, is actually a Sith and is Dooku’s master. Instead of Palpatine intervening to save his ally, he betrays Dooku by convincing Anakin to kill him. This is a great example of how a group of unjust people cause disharmony by having no restraint from harming their “allies”.

Nature and Origin of Justice: The Brothers’ Argument 

The conversation of defining justice is continued through Socrates’ dialogue with Glaucon and Adeimantus. Glaucon begins by classifying that which is “good,” or desirable, into 3 categories: good for its own sake (intrinsic goods), good for another’s sake (instrumental goods), and good for its own sake and another (intrinsic/instrumental goods). Glaucon and Adeimantus desire Socrates to prove his argument that, not only is justice desirable, but that justice belongs to the highest class of desirable things in that it is desired both for its own sake and its consequences. Though Glaucon does not agree with the beliefs of Thrasymachus, he formulates his argument in a way that praises the unjust life to the highest degree to demonstrate to Socrates how he should praise the just life to the utmost of his power in order to prove his argument in a satisfactory way. In order to do this, Glaucon pulls from the argument of Thrasymachus and breaks up his argument into three sections. First, he speaks of the commonly viewed nature and origin of justice. He moves on to argue that men who practice justice do so out of necessity and against their will. Finally, he argues that there is reason in the view that the life of the unjust is far better than the life of the just.  

Glaucon argues that “to do injustice, by nature, is good; to suffer injustice, evil; but that the evil is greater than the good” (359a). When people have both carried out and suffered injustice, they agree to do away with injustice altogether. This is because the best case scenario for man is the ability to carry out injustice without being punished. The worst case scenario is suffering injustice without the ability to retaliate. Man cannot enjoy the benefits of injustice without also enduring the worst of injustice. Justice is at the middle point, therefore it is not tolerated as good, but as the lesser evil. As a result, laws arise and that which is lawful is deemed just. This, according to Glaucon, is the nature and origin of justice. Glaucon goes on to argue that those who practice justice do so involuntarily because they do not have the power to be unjust by force of law. He illustrates his point using an allegory called “The Ring of Gyges.” The allegory is about what would happen should a ring of invisibility exist. Glaucon claims that whether the ring is worn by a just or unjust man, the individual will take part in unjust practices because of the lack of repercussions they would face. This, he says, affirms the notion that a man is not just willingly or because he believes it will benefit him, but out of necessity for his own safety. Wherever man believes he can be safely unjust, he is unjust. Glaucon continues with his argument that living a perfectly unjust life is more pleasant than living a perfectly just life. The unjust man is able to achieve more as he seeks benefits for himself and is honored and rewarded with wealth and power. 

Adeimantus interjects, before Socrates is able to respond to Glaucon, to develop his brother’s argument further. Parents and tutors, Adeimantus states, teach their children and wards to be just, not for the sake of justice, but for the sake of reputation. He also adds that divine rewards and punishment should be excluded from Socrates’ praise of justice. The quick-witted youth, in Adeimantus’s eyes, would think that if they are just then there is no profit in it, “but the pain and loss on the other hand are unmistakable. But if, though unjust, [they] acquire the reputation of justice, a heavenly life is promised to [them]. Since then, as philosophers prove, appearance tyrannizes over truth and is lord of happiness, to appearance [they] must devote [them]self.” The brothers implore Socrates to prove justice as choice worthy, in practice rather than image, outside of possible external or divine reward or punishment.

In this scene from the show Vikings, we see a group of noblemen from Wessex slaughter an entire unsuspecting Danish settlement. When the party returns to report, King Ecbert berates them for violating a peace treaty that was signed with the Danish leader, Ragnar, “in good faith.” Ecbert has the entire party arrested for treason, although, after the room is cleared, he reveals to his son that he is actually thankful and may have planned this from the beginning, for now he maintains his just image without having to grant concessions to the Danish. 

The Just State Cont.: 

Socrates, in rebuttal, begins to explain the just state, seeing as the state must have more ability to be just than the man due to size, as one which recognizes the specialization of human labor in order to make the use of skill more efficient. The growth of population in this just state would directly correlate with the development of specialized labor. After discussing the final form of specialized labor, hirelings, who lack skill, but bring with them physical strength, Glaucon and Adeimantus ask Socrates to draw attention to the existence and location of justice and injustice within this state. “Probably in the dealings of these citizens with one another.” Socrates considers, “Cannot imagine that they are more likely to be found anywhere else (372a).” 

The population of the just state, Glaucon remarks, would also be fond of living luxuriously more so than the simple lifestyle that Socrates’ just state would originally provide. In discussing the toils of a comfortable life in a just state, Socrates and Glaucon arrive at the challenge of expansion which would produce war. The guardians of the state would be hand-picked in showing an aptitude for the many skills they would need. The guardians would need to be physically and spiritually strong, but must also show a gentleness towards their own populace. Socrates and the brothers spend time debating if someone of this nature could exist with these seemingly contradictory traits before Socrates realizes that these traits are found together in many animals, especially the well-trained dog, and, thus, must be able to be found within the members of the state. Animals are constantly learning, familiarizing themselves with others and situations, so the guardians of the state must also have a love for learning (376b). The trio arrive at the desired traits of the guardian to unite in himself: philosophy, spirit, swiftness, and strength. 

The nature of the soul cannot develop thoroughly on its own, so the education of these guardians as youth is brought up as a way to protect and hone these natures. The soul seems to be as important to the state as it is to the individual body, so the state will be dependent upon the actions and desires of the soul. Education will be necessary to direct the soul and purge the state of destructive ideals. Socrates believes that music, including literature, and gymnastics ought to be taught to the guardians from a young age. Because stories told to the youth often shape the character of the adult, the specific stories of fiction told within the state must also be supervised as to not “…carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up (377b)[.]” Socrates then describes how stories of the gods should be articulated. First, stories should only show the gods as wholly good. Many poets of the time would write of devious actions by the gods, but the young guardians-to-be in the just state must not be allowed to believe that these actions could be permissible. Second, the gods should not be seen as transforming their image, because any change for the “wholly good” gods would be into something worse than themselves and a form of trickery. “The gods,” Socrates elaborates, “are not magicians who transform themselves, neither do they deceive mankind in any way (380d).” This would also be a negative influence on the young population, so the poets would not be allowed to describe this. Book 2 of The Republic transitions to Book 3 discussing similar topics.

Plato’s Gorgias

Names and Bios

  • Erik Wrightson

I am a senior in my last semester as a Physics major with minors in Mathematics and Political Science. I value having a clear understanding of the logical frameworks in Philosophy, Politics, and Sciences that have led us to the modern world. I am particularly interested in how one may make an argument to have found a “truth” and how humanity’s ability to argue for how we know what we know has evolved over time.

  • Clare Calhoun 

I am a sophomore majoring in Political Science and minoring in Spanish. As someone concerned with the politics of national security, this class provides the structure for the concepts and arguments which have framed global politics. 

  • Cole Mccommons

I am a sophomore majoring in Political Science with a minor in Army leadership. I enjoy reading and analyzing political discussions. I am interested in how these arguments and dialogues correlate to modern discussions.

  • Jack Williams

I am a Sophomore and I’m a Political Science and PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics) double major. I am interested in how arguments and dialogues create a clear understanding of what people want from the world. From that I hope to learn how all of these wants fit together, if it is even possible, so that we can create a world where people are all capable of grasping their desires instead of being forced into complacency.

Gorgias: The Continued Search for the Good and Just

Plato’s Gorgias sees Socrates and company talking about how they have just missed a great exhibition of the skills of a man named Gorgias. They hear that this man asserts that he will endeavor to answer truthfully and fully any question put to him. Always looking to be proven wrong, Socrates hopes this man may have some path to truth that he does not. In hopes (although somewhat sarcastically) of finding  someone who could explain what is good and just in the world, Socrates goes off to the home of Callicles who is currently housing the orator, Gogias. As Socrates seeks to begin a dialogue with Gorgias, a man named Polus eagerly seeks to bring the questioning of Socrates upon himself by saying, “you may make trial of me too, for I think that Gorgias, …, is tired” (448d). After a bit of questioning from Chaerephon, Socrates butts in with an observation that Polus is a good speaker but does not answer questions directly (a trend that only further shows its truth the more Polus speaks) and because of this Socrates seeks conversation with Gorgias who he came there to speak with.

The Establishment of Gorgias and Rhetoric

Gorgias purports to be an expert in what he sees as the art of rhetoric and creating rhetoricians. Socrates seeks to ensure that each of them is operating on the same logical grounds in order to uncover some truths, so he asks that Gorgias fully define the art he practices. Socrates even offers a bit of a complement to Gorgias that for a rhetorician he is very capable of giving short and succinct answers to Socrates’s inquiries. This can be seen as to slightly tip Socrates’s hand in his personal view of rhetoric as a disingenuous tool of sophistry, however he attempts to remove himself by allowing Gorgias to agree to the establishing premises of rhetoric.

Gorgias initially attempts to state that rhetoric concerns itself with words of “the greatest, Socrates, and the best of human things” (451f). After Socrates cuts through the ambiguity of Gorgias’s rhetorical arguments, the two men arrive at the conclusion that rhetoric is a manner of discourse that concerns itself with its chief end of persuasion. They then cover that rhetoric is not only the art of persuasion as many arts do this to one extent or another, but rhetoric is one that has their chief concern in persuasion and not directly with truths. This is further shown in Gorgias argument, “If you have the power of uttering this word, you will have the physician as your slave, and the trainer as your slave, and the money-maker of whom you talk will be found to gather treasures, not for himself, but for you” (452e). This essentially states that the rhetorician must be great to possess the power of making free men his slaves. However, this goes against the core of Socrates’s beliefs in that it is always better to suffer injustice than commit it. How could a man make others his slave and be truly happy with himself and believe that he understands how to have a just and good life?

Once this footing of what Gorgias reports to be the art of persuasion is established, Gorgias is sure to lay what he sees as a protection to the arguments that some men do wickedness with the art of rhetoric in saying, “I should rather say that those who make a bad use of the art are to blame” (457a). This then becomes a bit of a focus in Socrates’s line of questioning.

Caption: Gorgias would argue that Johnnie Cochran is at fault for utilizing the best of man’s arts to make his case in court through an incoherent rambling that confuses the jury of the truth but achieve’s Cochran’s desired result.

The Great Flaw of the “Art” of Rhetoric

Socrates then seeks to find what Gorgias would do with a man that does not know just from unjust who is seeking to learn rhetoric from him. Gorgias of course says that he must teach the man this difference and that it is the duty of a good rhetorician to know such facts. As someone who through each of our readings has been consumed for this search for the just and the unjust, Socrates is happy to learn that apparently these rhetoricians know the answer to his pursuits, but he then comments on the fact that Gorgias said that only a man who misuses rhetoric is to blame for wrongdoing and not his teachers, but if his teachers knew just from unjust then there should be no way for the man to not know. This is the basis of the inconsistency present in Gorgias’s argument that rhetoric is the best of arts. Socrates hopes to further explore this before the young Polus seeks to save the sinking ship of Gorgias’s stance as Gorgias seems to be at least momentarily wise to accept the logic behind Socrates’s statements. In Socrates’s view, men who make free men slaves cannot partake in the good life, let alone try to act as the most noble of arts. This directly mirrors the case covered in  Sophist and shows that these rhetoricians are nothing more than sophists in the guise of a noble liar.

Socrates is left disappointed by the failure of Gorgias to be a man who fully knows just from the unjust as his search would finally be over. However, this initial dialogue with Gorgias is just the beginning of Plato’s work as it establishes the premises with rhetoric which Socrates takes issue. Rhetoric is therefore looking like a field that may seem to have the just and unjust worked out, but may in fact be as farcical and admonishable from that endeavor that a field can get. The further exploration and frankly tearing apart of the notions of Polus lead to further insight.

In the above clip, the entire scenario should shed some light onto the more complete outlook that Socrates has on rhetoric. Mr. Lawyerstein in particular is a rhetorician in bad faith just like Gorgias warned could exist. However, the prosecutor and judge both partake in rhetorical arguments that bring the focus of the jury away from the truth and everyone is worse off for it as Mr. Lawyerstein gloats over beating the truth.

Socrates And Polus: The True Form Of Rhetoric

Moving on to the discussion between Polus and Socrates on the matter of rhetoric, it is seen that Polus is of the notion that rhetoric is an art and that Socrates should have to answer the question that he pushes on to Gorgias. This question has to do with whether rhetoricians are teaching the difference between just and unjust as stated prior, but Socrates takes issue with the idea that rhetoric is an art at all. In fact he thinks that it is just an experience, or a flattery, that deceives people into thinking they are achieving something higher than they are actually getting. Socrates’ analogy for this includes a comparison between cookery and medicine as cookery pretends to give a higher good to the body while medicine actually knows what is best for the body. In the same manner, rhetoric is disguised and trying to play itself off as justice.

Socrates then talks about the role that the body and the soul play in making decisions, and how if the body were solely in charge of making decisions then it would be the flattery goods like cookery and astiring described earlier would be the goods that most people choose over true goods. The reason that people would choose these is because much like sophistry they are deceptive in their appeal, they may seem just as good if not better than true goods like medicine or gymnastics, but in reality they are not as good when considering the needs of both the body and the soul.  

This discussion draws out what seems like one of the main goals of this text, which is to say that it is better to suffer injustice than to be the one enacting injustice. This is where the two switch from discussing the idea of whether or not that rhetoricians have a great power to what Socrates believes is the greatest evil, injustice, and how this compares to suffering injustice.

It is clear this notion frustrates Polus as he then moves on to what seem like personal opinions having to do with the standing of rhetoricians in other states, and whether or not they have great power. Polus believes that this power is derived from the fact that they can do whatever they will and they act as tyrants do, killing and despoiling whoever they want. Socrates disagrees with the idea that they have power at all, and suggests that tyrants as well as rhetoricians do not have great power because, as Polus puts it, power is a great good. 

To explain his point, Socrates goes through whether or not people can do the things they will, or if it is for the sake of which they willed to do it. After agreeing that things are done for the sake of what they willed to do and allotting indifferent actions for the sake of good, they discuss that if people do things that they think will benefit them, but doesn’t actually, then it would result in them not doing what is good according to Polus. If we only will the things that are good, then by Polus’s own logic killing or taking from someone because you think it is in your best interest and it not actually being good for you would mean that you did not will it as we can only will things that are good. In addition, great power, which has already been established to be good cannot be obtained if the things we do are in fact not good. This proves what Socrates was alluding to, which is that rhetoricians as well as tyrants do not have any power because they do only what they think will be good for them but in actuality is not. 

Once Socrates is done disproving the idea that rhetoricians have power in states Polus continues to push the idea that they do and even makes the claim that Socrates would be jealous of said tyrants for being able to kill whoever they pleased as long as it seemed good in a state. Socrates is unhappy with Polus for thinking someone who unjustly kills deserves to be envied. This feeling makes sense as it once again contradicts the stance both Gorgias and Polus take in that rhetoricians understand the difference between just and unjust.

If this stance is to be taken into account in regard to what Polus has just said then there is no way  that a rhetorician would ever be capable of killing unjustly because they know that it is unjust. In addition to this they would never be able to will themselves to do it as it was previously established that things done for the sake of evil cannot be willed.  

Injustice and the Soul

In the following parts of the dialogue, Socrates enters into a debate with Polus on where the two stand in regard to divisions in the things we take part in. Acts as mundane as going for a walk or something extraordinary as murder are all defined by the purpose behind them. Some acts are done in the nature of the good, some in the nature of evil, and others which fall in the neutral. The justification behind these arguments is important as it becomes the framework for the ideas surrounding injustice and one’s soul. 

Socrates begins the discussion of injustice with Polus by asking whether he believes a man who is unjust and doing injustice to be capable of happiness. Polus maintains that the man who is unjust can be happy, even if he does not meet retribution or punishment. Socrates differs in that idea and puts forth the main point of his discussion with Polus, that doing an injustice and being unjust is the worst possible evil when one is not disciplined. 

This discussion between Polus and Socrates begins earlier in the dialogue as the two argue over the notion of rhetoric as an art or an experience. Socrates believes rhetoric to be a sort of  experience in producing delight and gratification. Within this discussion he explains the body and the soul being separate,  where politics attends to the soul and art attends to the body. In creating the two divisions he includes the idea of rhetoric as a flattery because it cannot attend to the soul and only to the appearance of the body or soul. In Socrates’ statement that he considers doing an injustice to be worse than suffering an injustice he also proposes that this requires treatment and not the flattery of rhetoric as it affects the soul(469a-479e). This brings back the previous discussion between Polus and Socrates of the retribution or punishment of an unjust person. While Polus thought the unjust person would remain happy without punishment, Socrates found it to be necessary for a person to be penalized. Following the idea that behaving unjustly is the worst evil, then a person who receives punishment for their action will be better off. This punishment is given through the actions of the state which helps the unjust in realizing their greater purpose. Those whose actions are not disciplined by the state are tyrants which are ruled by their own desires. Tyrants work outside the boundaries of justice to achieve their objectives by manipulating others. 

A good life vs a pleasant life

Socrates and Callicles discuss life and what it means to live a good life. Socrates and Callicles begin their discussion of good as the two argue over what makes people happy in life. Socrates believes that a man needs to seek knowledge. Callicles discusses that a servant can never be happy because they never truly put their wants first. Callicles argues that happiness is obtained through achieving their desires. Socrates then questions this thought, “Then those who want nothing are not truly said to be happy?”(492d). Callicles disagrees with Socrates statement and Socrates further argues that good is not the same as pleasant. Therefore Socrates believes that a good life is different from a pleasant life. Socrates starts the dialogue by asking if a man can have good and evil fortune at the same time. Callicles agrees with this statement that a man can not have good fortune and evil at the same time. Socrates further states that there is pleasure in drinking but pain while thirsty. Socrates found that drinking while thirsty is pleasant and that pain might occur during pleasure. Socrates states that, “Then pleasure is not the same as good fortune, or pain the same as evil fortune, and therefore the good is not the same as the pleasant” (497a). Socrates continues that a foolish man is evil while a brave man is good. Both men obtain pleasure throughout their life. This brings back Socrates’ argument that good and pleasure exist differently, because both men feel pleasure. This comes back to their original discussion on what a good life is. Socrates believes that to live a good life is “to practise justice and every virtue in life and death (527c).