The Discourses Books 3 & 4

The Discourses are a collection of lessons and teachings recorded throughout the lifetime of the philosopher Epictetus (to learn how to pronounce the name, watch this video . Epictetus was born a slave, and his experiences and hard upbringing had profound impacts on his teachings. Through The Discourses, Epictetus teaches his philosophy in a practical sense, explaining how it should be used in day-to-day life instead of just imagining hypotheticals. Most of the teachings in The Discourses center around how the most important things for us to focus on in life are the things that we can control, and that we are wasting our time and energy when we allow ourselves to be bothered by things that we can not control. In other words, we should not allow the things that we cannot control to cause us additional stress or hinder us from further progress. In this way, Epictetus taught methods of self-discipline partnered with ways to accept and live alongside external forces that we can not impact.

            Book III of The Discourses opens with a discussion on what makes up the possessions of excellence of a man. Epictetus sees a man that he is familiar with dressed in a much more ornate fashion than usual and challenges him on his appearance. He asks the man what he finds beauty in, for appearance does nothing to change one’s beauty, despite changing their outward appearance. Epictetus states that the beautiful are just, temperate, and moderate, and he tells the man that “so long as you neglect these things, you must be ugly, even though you contrive all you can to appear beautiful.” He then goes on to say that in order to be a wise and good man, one should practice active decision making and avoid being reactionary and careless. Doing this helps to work towards one’s desires deliberately and purposefully.

            Epictetus then delves into what it means to be good and the importance it has in relationships. He states that the soul inherently welcomes good and rejects evil, so once a person starts trying to do good things, they usually invite more good into their being. In a similar way, good things and evil things are both drawn to things similar to themselves, so people who try to do good should try to surround themselves with others who do the same. For this reason, Epictetus argues that if your own family does not do things to make you or themselves better people, you should not hesitate to cut them out. “There is no intimate relationship between me and my father, but there is between me and the good,” he states. According to his argument, you cannot control the family you are born into, but you have a say in the people that you surround yourself with, so it is better to be surrounded by good people than it is to choose to be around your family if they do not choose to be good. This shows the extremity to which Epictetus practices what he teaches about the importance of what we can control versus that which is out of our hands.

            On behaving in public, Epictetus once again presented a series of proverbs that explained how our choices impact our lives above all else. In his first example, he stated that one may behave and celebrate as they please in their own home, but if they choose to act extraneously in public, they must be willing to accept the ridicule of other people. In his own words, “Celebrate as many games as you choose in your own house… But in public do not claim more than your due, nor attempt to appropriate to yourself what belongs to all. If you do not consent to this, bear being abused.” Epictetus then provided another example, on the subject of leaving a public setting, such as work, due to an illness. He acknowledges that contracting an illness is not the fault of the ill person, but he questions why, if they knew that they were sick, they would bother coming in the first place. Epictetus argues that by coming to work sick just to leave early, energy is wasted all around; if one does not have the energy to leave bed, then they should not do so in the first place, but they should do all that they are capable of in whatever state they are in. By making the decision to use energy to leave home, only to have to then return from work early, a person wastes their day through their own choices, which they then try to blame on something out of their control. Both of these examples show Epictetus acknowledging that some factors are out of our control, but it is those choices within our control that define our quality.

            During one of his lessons, Epictetus was asked why it was that if they were living in a time of such advanced reason, they were not seeing the same advancements and progress that was seen in the past. He responded by arguing that, as a matter of fact, great progress was being made, just in different fields. The civilizations of the past had to concentrate their efforts on survival alongside nature, and so they cultivated their minds and experiences towards these fields. The men of Epictetus’ time did not have these same issues to worry about, and instead cultivated their minds towards progress in governance and quality of life. At different stages throughout history, humanity has had to choose which fields needed the most concentration, and then collectively cultivate and advance that field.

            The latter half of Book 3 of Epictetus’s Discourses includes some highly specific proverbs on how to act in certain situations, to include dealing with sickness, exercise, and multiple short chapters he titles “certain miscellaneous matters.” All of these writings take a physical example, such as illness, and then tie them into the wider theme of Epictetus’s writing, the idea that one should only worry about the things they have direct control over. Chapter 8 sees Epictetus describing the difference between what is good and what is evil. Most notably, he says that “things beyond the power of the will” can be neither good nor evil, they simply are. He gives more examples, including a ship being lost at sea or the death of a loved one.  In chapter 10, Epictetus notes that “It is not the business of a philosopher to look after these externals, neither his wine nor his oil nor his poor body, but his own ruling power.” This is as explicit as this text gets, clearly stating that one should not worry about the externals, or things out of one’s control.

Chapter 12 is about weighing desire for pleasure against stoicism and self-control. Epictetus makes the point that while it may be difficult to resist the urge to pursue pleasure that is dependent on things out of one’s control, the discipline you will gain is well worth it. This concept is what he refers to as exercise, and it is a key tenet of the message of stoicism. To understand and believe these concepts is one thing, but the most important part of the belief is that one lives it out through their actions. This is also the reason some of the chapters of The Discourses are so highly specific: Epictetus wants the reader to have an understanding of how to put these practices into action in any situation they encounter. His life story, being born into slavery before being granted his freedom and living as a philosopher, makes it understandable why a person would strive so valiantly to keep their focus on the things they have command over and why they would draw their happiness from that. A life filled with strife and grief would be infinitely more manageable if viewed through the lens of stoicism.

The Discourses of Epictetus outline how to live life happily, focusing primarily on how to align fate with desire. Chapter IV continues to present principles that Epictetus believes will lead a man (or woman) to a meaningful life where you are content and desire what fate, or God, presents you. He highlights that desire, pity, and anger can lead to our self destruction, going as far to say that we control how we let external, and internal, views and opinions affect us and that if we do let it impact us, we give those opinions, those outsiders, power over us. Ultimately, Epictetus acknowledges that we are granted freedom from God and are therefore under the contract of God; we should thus follow that path that fits us, claim what is ours, and live the comfortable life by doing things that make us happy and not letting others worry us. The Discourses provides us a guideline that attempts to ensure we understand how to live happily and contently, without corrupting our character.

Epictetus has a hard start to his life. With the way he explained his principles, the central idea is that we must not be terribly troubled by the events in our life because most of the time, they are well out of our control. In chapter one of book four, we learn that Epictetus believes in aligning our own happiness with what life has to offer. Since most things are out of our control, we have to endure the things we experience and learn to appreciate such things that aren’t always according to plan. This could be the will of fate and/or the gods. Additionally, we can see how Epictetus applies this concept to his life, as he stated, “I have placed my movements toward action in obedience to God. Is it His will that I shall have fever? It is my will also. Is it His will that I should move toward anything? It is my will also. Is it His will that I should obtain anything? It is my wish also. Does He not will? I do not wish. Is it His will that I be put to the rack? It is my will then to die; it is my will then to be put to the rack,” (Epictetus, Book 4). There are many things in life that occur which potentially are not in our favor, but what he is emphasizing is that we must search for the good in things that may be perceived as bad. This way, we can learn to be patient with an unexpected event and then proceed to create our own righteous moment.  Epictetus abides by the will of God, or life, but he also aligns his will with importance to the higher powers.

In chapter two of book 4, Epictetus shifts his focus to the other aspect of this idea: being your own person. In relation to making peace with things that are and are not in our control, we must learn who we are and accept it. We can’t follow the ways of our friends or intimates, as Epictetus believes not following this rule will ruin a person. He explains how we must try to be the best, not just a “jolly fellow,” (Epictetus, Book 4). We have to reach a point where people place obedience in us and we place obedience in them. Learning who we are and accepting our fate is what will enrich our lives. 

Chapter 3 of Book IV, outlines the concept of claiming what is our and what we should and should not exchange for things. Epictetus focuses through his chapters on a somewhat isolationist perspective, in which we should claim, control, and maintain what is ours, protect it and respect it.  Claiming what is not ours is not our God given right, and that we should not allow ourselves to feel a feeling of loss, especially when we get more then we gave, or succumb to being ungrateful as both of these feelings will do more harm than good long term, to include compromising our good nature and character.

            Chapter 4 of Book IV builds upon issues that can corrupt our character and how to avoid them. Epictetus acknowledges that we should desire a life that is peaceful and allows us contentment, but warns we must be cognizant of the fact 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.” (Epictetus, Book IV) We place a value on objects or external entities that inherently give those things power over us as we desire them. His example is reading; reading can make you happy, but if it does not, then why subject yourself to it [sic]? We should not waste time figuring out Shakespeare famous “to be or not to be” so long as we are happy with the choice or fate we are assigned. We should not go through life searching for tranquility, as this life only leaves us constantly searching for what we may never achieve.

This hunt for internal peace is reminiscent of the Anakin Skywalker, who was on a constant search for a peaceful life and a way to protect his wife and future children, but is compromised and finds evil in the wake of his search, causing him to lose everything that he was so desperate to protect. Anakin’s failure to understand he could not control things outside his power, like foreseeing the death of his wife or the death of his enslaved mother, is something Epictetus says makes us slaves to society; trying to control everything in order to ensure our peace will drive us to insanity. We should be happy with the path provided to us, and make the best of the situation, instead of focusing on material possessions and doing everything in our power to change fate only to be consumed by our ambition.

Rise and Fall of Anakin

Chapter 5 builds off this concept that we should control what is in our control; we should not attempt to control others and therefore should not waste time fighting with others. We must speak calmly and listen, but not subject ourselves to engaging in pointless arguments. Society calls on us to hold higher standards; the golden rule of treating others how you wish to be treated is the essence of what Epictetus is getting at in this chapter. There is a bright side to every situation; if someone attacks you, do not retaliate as this corrupts your character and makes you worse then the attacker, instead be grateful you are not dead. Controlling our actions and reactions are imperative, and our society must demand this. Going back to Anakin Skywalker, mourning his mother, while understandable, leads him to massacre her killers in retaliation. Epictetus  says this is very dangerous; Anakin had no control over the killers, and therefore morning and retailing only corrupted Anakin and made him subject to dangerous thoughts and actions.

We also should be cognizant of how we let others’ opinions affect us. We should not play into others’ foolishness. No one can tell you who you are or what you are as only you control this, therefore do not be afraid of others or their opinions, they can not harm you unless you let them. Our opinion is what makes us indestructible or breaks us, and only we can decide which one it is. People can become enemies simply over differing opinions when in reality it should not matter if you and your friend have varying opinions so long as you do not let it affect you. Football fans can wage war  over an opposing fan’s comment or victory; Philly is the prime example of an entire city’s morale and environment being controlled by the Eagles game.

Losing to the Cowboys may start a riot, when in reality the outcome of the game has nothing to do with the city or the individual fan; only the team has control of that fate. Fans should have fun, but not compromise themselves over something so outside their control.

Epictetus goes as far as to say God provides us the ability to not care and be free from “check,” but that it is up to us to maintain control of our ability to not care about opinions. Epictetus ends Book IV with a few sentences concerning pity, and ties his thoughts together by stating it is up to us if we allow ourselves to pity ourselves, that being concerned over others pitying us is not our job.

Ultimately, the Discourses of Epictetus outlines how we can live our life constantly, while answering questions about everyday life that could compromise our happiness. Caring about what we control is really all we can do as an individual in a large society.

Author’s Note

Evan Sparks is a senior at Virginia Tech double majoring in History and Political Science. He hopes to get a master’s degree in education and work as an educator in the future.

Jillian Skahill is a senior at Virginia Tech majoring in Political Science. She is planning on commissioning into the US Army as a Military Police Officer, and wants to one day work for the DEA.

Graham Warren is a junior at Virginia Tech majoring in Political Science. He plans on commissioning into the United States Marine Corps and becoming a fighter pilot.

Afshan Shabbir is a senior at Virginia Tech majoring in Political Science. She plans on working as a political analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency in the near future.

The Discourses Books 1 & 2

Discourses: Book I, Part I: Rainey Blankenship 

‘Of the things which are in our Power and not in our Power’

Epictetus begins his Discourses with a discussion of ‘Power;’ specifically, whom or what faculty possesses the capabilities of judgement. He asserts that grammatical art, music, and all other faculties are incapable of contemplating power. It is only rational faculty that is capable of examining itself, other faculties, and their power; ultimately being capable of all judgement. He then refers to our creators, the same creators who were unable to free our body’s from hindrance, but they were able to provide a small portion of power to us. This being the power of rational choice, the faculty of approving or disapproving, or the power of pursuing something or avoidance. It is this power, when used properly, that helps us to avoid hindrance. 

When things begin to drag us down that are not in our nature to control, Epictetus states that we must make the best use of the things that are in our power to control, for we are not the managers of the winds. If man must die, must be bound to chains, must be beheaded, all of which are outside of his nature of control, must he do all while lamenting? No. This is because no man, not even Zeus, can overpower or hinder man’s power of choice. 

‘How a Man on every occasion can maintain his Proper Character’

Rational faculty is tolerable, which is why man is attracted to it; irrational faculty is intolerable, causing man to be pained by it. Man has different estimates of what is appropriate to each individual person as a result, different people see rational and irrational from different perspectives. This is where discipline comes into play. Man determines what is suitable to his character by discipline. Each individual must consider what is worthy to them and what is not when making a decision, and must not act upon things that do not concern them.

Epictetus is pretty much telling people to stay in their lane. 

‘How a man should proceed from the principle of God being the father of all men to the rest’

Epictetus asserts that man should believe he is the son of God and that God is the god of all gods. He leads with an example of man discovering that Zeus is his father, that he would be so elated to uncover such truths. Why does man not feel this way about God? Is it because we neglect intelligence because the mortal man is so attached to appearances related to the flesh? Epictetus believes so, and forewarns that man must take care that they do not become engulfed in appearances.

‘Of progress or improvement’

Tranquility, happiness, the ‘good life’ is the end result of man’s progress, but what must we progress towards? Virtue. Knowledge that desiring is the wanting of good things and aversion means to sway from bad things. Improvement comes when man withdrawals from the externals and exercises these labours. Man must rise each day, train in these rules, make progress, and thank God for this progress; for it is he who gave us the mind to bear the fruits of our labours. In chapter 5, ‘Against the academics,’ Epictetus asserts that man cares more about embarrassment of the body than embarrassment of the soul.

‘Of providence’

Epictetus finds it easy for man to praise providence if they possess the faculty of seeing and a grateful disposition. Animals were not given a rational understanding of things; therefore, God only created them to be of usage. Man, on the other hand, was given the ability to see and understand appearances; therefore, man is a spectator and interpreter of God himself. Man must follow the works of God to perceive his true self and life’s purpose (to obtain the good life), and for man to act as irrational animals do is shameful.

‘Of the use of sophistical arguments, and hypothetical, and the like’

When making decisions regarding our particular life’s path, we derive our conclusions from questioning, just as sophistical and hypothetical arguments are handled. Man must learn the consequences of many things through skillful reasoning, demonstration, understanding, and avoidance of deceit. Epictetus in chapter 8, ‘That the faculties are not safe to the uninstructed,’ asserts that the faculty to develop additional skills brings about greatness. It is he who is uninstructed in the power of arguing and the faculty of persuasion that brings danger.

Discourses Book I, Part II: Jasmine Castillo-Alvarado

‘How from the Fact that we are akin to God a man may proceed to the consequences’ 

We, as individuals, are a part of a society that identifies ourselves with this larger whole. With this identification comes the process of allegiance and the creation of state leaders and structure which begin to dictate how “our intelligence is administered to the world,” (Discourses Book I). This, Epictetus argues, leads to sorrow and fear. Now, instead, one must rely on God as the “maker and father and guardian” (Discourses Book I) to rid the feeling of sorrow and fear for as kingsmen of God, one has all the purpose, truth, and self-recognizing force that should drive him to peace. 

‘Against those who eagerly seek preferment at Rome’

Epictetus recalls on a memory of a man who, when exiled declared he never wanted to work again, and instead wished to have a future of quiet and tranquility. However, as he returned to Rome the man quickly assumed the position of superintendent of corn at the request from the palace. Epictetus uses this story to argue that working physically (being active) or not physically (sleeping) does not matter, if we are asking the questions that help us think critically, we shall achieve all we need. What you do matters only if you use whatever it is you do to ask and seek higher knowledge. 

‘Of natural affection’

In chapter 11, Epictetus argues with a father who abandoned his sick daughter because he could not take the pain of seeing her unwell. The father defends his behavior by arguing that his runaway response was “natural” due to the circumstances and his affection towards his daughter. Epictetus disagrees. Affection towards family is argued to be natural and good; good is consistent with reason. To further his point, Epictetus asks the father if he would have liked to have been abandoned at a time of desperate need? No, of course not. Hence, the actions are not indeed natural or rational, but instead are motivated by individual choices. Rationality and choice are dependent on the agent’s capability to correctly examine oneself. There is great harm in not knowing the criterion that distinguishes good and bad, therefore, one must be cognizant of our opinions and thoughts in order to act according to the rational (Discourses Book I). Nothing can make us not do or do anything. Our actions are dependent upon our own opinions and our will. 

‘Of Contentment’ 

Bobby McFerrin and Epictetus would get along just fine.

Epictetus in chapter twelve states that although “we do not have [the power to change the constitution of things], we ought to accept and remember that things around us are what they are and by nature exist,” (Discourses Book I). Once we accept this reality we may “maintain our minds in harmony,” (Discourses Book I). Man must constantly remind himself that he is content with the freedom he now possesses through an acceptance of his mindfulness. If one chooses not to accept, his punishment is his existence as a prison within his own state, body, and mind. Epictetus adds that the Gods have blessed man with the ability to think. It is from this intelligence that in which you perceive your reality. He, Epictetus (and me) wish your reality to be worry-free and happy :). In Chapter thirteen, Epictetus furthers this argument by declaring contentment as a standard for living a life acceptable to the Gods. This acceptable life is lived with “equanimity,” is “temperately and orderly,” and just (Discourses Book I). 

‘That the deity oversees all things.’ 

God is a pretty powerful entity, Epictetus argues. God created the sun afterall, so he’s been on a power-high for a while. God is able to perceive our every move, the depths of our souls, and the make up of our mind. This is because God is within each of us and so are our individual demons, And to this inner-God, Epictetus argues, we must swear an oath just as the soldiers did to Caesar: to “never be disobedient, never to find fault with anything that he has given, and never unwillingly to do or to suffer anything, that is necessary,” (Discourses Book I). By swearing this oath of allegiance, men swear to honour themselves before all (Discourses Book I). Men place themselves as content beings that trust the process in which soul and mind is part a greater whole. 

‘What Philosophy Promises.’

Philosophy, as an art, does not propose to secure for a man any external things (Discourses Book I). It is not a form of thinking or being that can be capitalized. Instead, philosophy is a process, for nothing great is ever produced suddenly, nor are questions ever answered so simply. To conclude Book I, Epictetus asks us to be grateful to the wonders of the way in which the world is set up. To appreciate animals’ self-sufficiency and to acknowledge the workings of God. Don’t hate, appreciate. 

Discourses Book II Part I -Michael Byers

Book 2 of Epictetus’s Discourses follow a similar trajectory of the first, as he continues examining the concepts of choice, judgement, and indifference, and man’s persistent struggle to grasp these virtues. Epictetus builds off Book 1 in his explanations of the “internals” and the “externals”, and how man should approach these different challenges.

         Epictetus first addresses the dichotomy of confidence and caution, stating that it is possible to have both characteristics, and by being cautious we can achieve true confidence (Discourses Book 2). Epictetus once again emphasizes the ultimate power of the will, stating that if bad things occur from bad exercise of the will, we must employ caution; however, in things independent of the will, we should exercise confidence, since we have no power over them except in regard to our response (Discourses Book 2). By being cautious with that which is truly dangerous or bad, we are all the more equipped to exercise confidence in what is good (Discourses Book 2). Epictetus compares man to deer that fall into the trap of the huntsman, since man chooses to be fearful of that which is independent of his will and out of his control (Discourses Book 2). By recognizing what trials are external, and what is not worth time and energy fearing, we may gain more control over the things that concern our internals, and can better control our internal reaction to external matters (Discourses Book 2).

         Further in Chapter Six, Epictetus expands on the concept of the internals and externals, as he explains the balance between our perceptions of good, evil, and indifference of the two. Epictetus posits that, rather than good and evil being external consequences of things that happen to man, man must internalize good and evil in how he responds to external occurrences (Discourses Book 2). Because everything that is external is out of our control, and independent of our will, we must show indifference to it, and instead focus on our will, the only thing we do have control over. Here he compares mankind to stalks of corn, as our ultimate fate is essentially to decline and die, such as corn eventually ripens and gets picked (Discourses Book 2). However, man spends so much time fearing death that it hinders him from fully living the life that he does have.

         Later in Book 2, Epictetus returns to this concept of showing indifference to external circumstances, particularly with man’s struggles with anxiety (Discourses Book 2). He states that man is fixated on anxieties that are external in nature, such as his upbringing, his body, his duty to Caesar, or other circumstances independent of the will. Epictetus uses the comparison of the weaver and the wool here in Chapter 13, as he states that the weaver may not be given the finest wool, but he does his best with what he is given, since he does not make the wool. In the same way should man make best with what he has, rather than be anxious about that which he cannot change.

         Book 2 of The Discourses provides several fundamental components to Epictetus’s Stoic philosophy. He emphasizes not only how important it is to determine what is external and what is internal in our lives, but also how to respond to that which is dependent or independent of our will. He persistently provides dichotomies that man must balance in order to be satisfied, fulfilled, or ultimately happy. Man must be both cautious and confident in things dependent or independent of the will. Man must also determine what he does not have power over, in order to have ultimate power over his response, his mind, and his emotions as a whole. Mastery of these tenets provided by Epictetus allows man to truly become his own master.

Discourses Book II Part II- Nick Anthony

In Chapter 8 of Book II, Epictetus examines the nature of good, the nature of God, and how one ought to conduct themselves. Epictetus notes that God is beneficial, and so is the nature of good. However, the natures of good and God do not exist in all of God’s creation; plants and irrational animals such as sheep do not possess the nature of good because they were not created by God with the faculties of comprehension and understanding (Discourses, Book II). Conversely, humans can have the nature of God in them because they were created in His image. Epictetus even questions the audience directly: “why then are you ignorant of your own noble descent?” (Discourses, Book II). By examining the internal faculties of oneself, Epictetus encourages the reader to acknowledge God’s presence within their self and act morally.

In the next chapter, however, Epictetus notes how uncommon it is for man to truly act as a “rational and mortal being.” To avoid acting as an irrational animal, he argues that we should avoid acting “gluttonously, lewdly, rashly, filthily, and inconsiderately,” (Discourses, Book II). Instead, Epictetus writes that we should aim to act modestly and with fidelity through study and practice; the latter is especially important for philosophers, he argues, as they must act in accordance with what they practice.

Epictetus uses Chapter 10 to emphasize every person’s inherent divinity. He writes that man is distinguished from other animals, and therefore no one is subservient to anyone; in fact, he writes that every person is “one of the principle parts” of the world (Discourses, Book II). Simultaneously, he encourages the audience to embrace their finite understanding of the world and operate in situations that they can perform best in. In order to fulfill one’s role as a rational being, he notes the importance of acknowledging one’s self as a child or a sibling. Being conscious of one’s talents and appreciating one’s relationships is key to not losing one’s self.

You Is Kind The Help GIF
Epictetus to anyone who would listen, 100 B.C.E.

In Chapter 11 of Book II, Epictetus discusses the inherent weaknesses of man and their relationship to the study of philosophy. Although humans come into the world with innate ideas such as the dichotomies of good and bad and beauty and ugliness, we are not born with knowledge of mathematics and science. Because most of the knowledge needed to have meaningful, educated discourse must be learned, disputes often result in emotional arguments or aporia. This dispute, Epictetus writes, is the axiom of philosophy: he defines it simply as “a perception of the disagreement, an inquiry into the cause of the disagreement,” and a general distrust of what ‘seems’ to be (Discourses, Book II).

Continuing his examination of disputations in Chapter 12, Epictetus notes how despite philosophers having shown how to “apply the art of disputation,” humans often fail to put it into practice (Discourses, Book II). He demonstrates his argument through the example of arguing with an illiterate man. Ridiculing and abusing him does not benefit either party; however, displaying to them the truth is the best way to communicate knowledge. Epictetus then discusses Socrates’ reductio ad absurdum method, which does not pose a specific argument, but rather examines other interpretations and plainly state contradictions within them to display their inaccuracy. Specifically, Epictetus admires Socrates’ ability to remain calm and never become frustrated with other peoples’ arguments.

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Socrates using the reductio ad absurdum argument, 400 B.C..

Epictetus then discusses the cause of anxiety and its obsolescence in one’s pursuit of acting as a rational being in Chapter 13. He mentions how a musician plays fine when they are alone but gets nervous when they are in front of a crowd. The musician is anxious, Epictetus writes, because he is concerned with things outside of his control. Epictetus uses the example of the musician to show how worrying about things one cannot change is pointless.

In Chapter 14, Epictetus responds to a Roman, Naso, and his son about the labors of learning arts. He writes that although acquiring knowledge about any art requires labor, the product that results from that labor shows its “use in the purpose for which it was made,” (Discourses, Book II). He goes on to discuss the work of the philosopher; similar to learning arts, philosophers must labor to understand both natural and acquired relations, familial relations, and the relations of a citizen. When one knows these things, they have the ability to influence the circumstances they find themselves in. To acquire such knowledge, Epictetus emphasizes the importance of learning language in order to communicate with others. Epictetus writes to those who “obstinately persist” in what they believe in Chapter 15 (Discourses, Book II). He argues that in order to confidently believe something, one has to set strong foundations that their beliefs can be based on. He then notes how hard it is to influence a fool’s mindset because their foundations are based on faulty notions about reality that are not accurate. Having definitive and accurate foundations of knowledge contributes to one’s ability to behave as a rational being.

On Sophistical Refutations by Aristotle

Section I – Katie Leeper 

Fallacy is a deceptive, misleading or false argument. Refutation is the act of rejecting a statement or argument by providing a logical counter-argument or proof. Section 1 of Sophistical Refutations by Aristotle is divided into ten parts from part 1 – 10. Each part of section 1 guides the reader to understand sophistical refutations – what appear to be refutations but are really fallacies instead. Aristotle wrote On Sophistical Refutations against the sophists – image-makers in the sense of a false-representer of knowledge. Aristotle highlighted how some people seem to be beautiful and physically fit while others embellish themselves to look as such. Similarly, Aristotle highlighted how some inanimate objects may really be silver and gold while others merely seem to be such. For example, litharge or tin resembles silver and yellow metal looks gold. Aristotle argued that it is the same for reasoning and refutation – some are genuine and apparent while others seem to be but are not real. He highlighted how the sophists believe it is better to seem to be wise than to be wise without seeming to be because the sophist is one who makes money from an apparent but unreal wisdom based in the circulation of image. Aristotle then discussed how many kinds there are of sophistical arguments, how many in number are the elements of which this faculty is composed and how many branches there happen to be of this inquiry. Aristotle highlighted how there are four classes of arguments in dialogue – didactic, dialectical, examination-arguments & contentious arguments. Didactic arguments are those that reason from the principles appropriate to each subject and not from the opinions held by the answerer. 

Dialectical arguments are those that reason from premises generally accepted. Examination-arguments are those that reason from premises which are accepted by the answerer and which any one who pretends to possess knowledge of the subject is bound to know-in what manner. Contentious arguments are those that reason or appear to reason to a conclusion from premises that appear to be generally accepted but are not so. Aristotle proceeded to speak of the arguments used in competitions and contests – number, refutation, fallacy, paradox, solecism & repetition. Aristotle argued that there are two styles of refutation – those that depend on the language used and those that are independent of language. 

Aristotle highlighted the ways of producing the false appearance of an argument which depend on language – ambiguity, amphiboly, combination, division of words, accent & form of expression. Aristotle argued there are three varieties of these ambiguities and amphibolies – when either the expression or the name has strictly more than one meaning, when by custom we use them so & when words that have a simple sense taken alone have more than one meaning in combination. While refutations depend upon language drawn from these common-place rules, fallacies are independent of language. Aristotle highlighted the seven kinds of fallacies – 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 & the making of more than one question into one. Aristotle argued that it is absurd to discuss Refutation without first discussing proof – for a refutation is a proof so that one ought to discuss proof as well before describing false refutation. Aristotle highlighted how false refutation is a merely apparent proof of the contradictory of a thesis and the reason of the falsity will be either in the proof or in the contradiction – sometimes both if the refutation be merely apparent. 

Section 2 – Peytyn Lofland 

Section 2 of Sophistical Refutations by Aristotle is divided into nine parts from part 11 – 20. Each part of section 2 guides the reader to understand the different forms of arguments that can be made, who makes these arguments, the varying factors & characteristics of these arguments, and how one should respond and solve these arguments. 

Key- words and concepts to take from this reading: contentious, dialectical, sophistical, reasoning, examination, amatuer vs. professional, conformity, refutation, paradox, fallacy, questioner vs. answerer, argument, opinion, common-place, term – definition, relativity, double-meaning, solecism, inflection, speed, ambiguity, concealment, amphiboly, connections, distinction, yes/no questions, confutation, use of “granted,” and “it seems,” consequent refutation, division & combination of words, false-meaning, demolishment, and contrary concepts & contradictions.

Yes/No Questions – Examinations: 

Section 2 begins with drawing the distinction between who would be asking a yes/no question. This question would be posed by one who is giving an examination, and this individual is said to be the professional, or well-versed, of this particular subject. It is said that it would be common to assume that the one being given the examination is going to be “ignorant,” or an amatuer, within this distinct field of study. Furthermore, Aristotle states that it is also believed that dialectical reasoning is the only proper form of examination; however, there are misleadings in this assumption. These misleadings refer to the common principles that do not “conform properly,” but instead, generally apply to the topic at hand. 

The Contentious vs. The Sophistical Reasoner: 

He goes on to explain the difference between contentious and sophistical reasoners. Contentious reasoners are explained to be one who will work endlessly for victory; therefore, they will take as many opportunities and advantages they possibly can to further themselves. Sophistical reasoners, on the other hand, use wisdom to make a reputation of themselves while also earning a living. This is explained and supported by the knowledge that the art of sophistry is the use of false images circulated as wisdom to make money. Therefore, these two reasoners argue the same arguments; however, have different motives and modes of application. The example used to explain application & conclusion of arguments made by reasoners is the example of geometry. A contentious reasoner is going to find the solution for a singular and specific subject such as the use of figures specifically for geometric use; whereas, a sophistical reasoner is going to apply his findings and solutions to not only geometry, but to many topics across the board. 

Dialectical Arguments + General vs. Specific Principles: 

A third form of argument is dialectical, this argument is not concerned with any definite being, it does not show anything, and does not fall under the same principles. It is further explained that dialectic forms are also modes of examination because a man may possess an examination; however, he has no knowledge of the subject at hand. An examination can be given on anything & everything and does not belong to a specific grouping; therefore, there is no definite being or subject being represented. Dialectic arguments are utilized by everyone as everyone believes, even if an “ignorant pretender,” that they are educated in a specific topic and with every specific topic comes some form of “trial.” This is important because it shows how each concept has general principles that amateurs and professionals are knowledgeable on, and then there are specific principles that only professionals may understand. These principles create debates or refutations. 

Formulation of Questions: 

Following the first part of Section 2, the proceeding parts explain how questions should be formulated and framed in respect to refutations, fallacies, and paradoxical findings. Aristotle highlights the many ways in which an answerer can unintentionally create a fallacy in his own opinions and beliefs: 

Framing the Question: The first of these routes is how a question is framed by the questioner, if a question is framed broadly, then a fallacy is more likely to occur as most people are more likely to make mistakes in a more general than specific conversation. 

Posing More Than One Question: A second path that can be taken is if the questioner poses more than one question at a time, this leaves the answerer to only answering with his opinion which may lead to a fallacy or paradox as well. 

The Use of Yes/ No Questions: Third, yes/no questions lead answerers off the original subject and question at hand into another subject that the questioner may be able to lead an attack with. Aristotle explains that the third direction in this list is harder in present times because most people may ask how it relates to the subject of their original debate. 

Additional directions are to not pose a controversial question initially and to lead with a process of inquiry and general questions and use of the sophistic rule meaning to draw the answerer into a field of subject matter that they lack the knowledge to make factual and reasonable arguments for. When posing paradoxical statements, you must look at the group of philosophers that they belong to. Then ask if their doctrine is paradoxical to most people and in the solution to the refutation would be to point out that the paradox does not come from the argument itself as this is what the answerer would want. This trickles down to the rule to always argue from what you believe your “opponent’s wishes and professed opinions” may be. However, it is common that people will not say their actual wishes and instead may say what they perceive will look best to the majority of people. Therefore, the opponent must be led into stating his perceived opinions about what people believe and value. This will then lay a paradox on the table as it allows for a contradiction to be made by the other participating party. 

Paradoxical Subjects of Conversation – Nature & Law 

Aristotle states that the subject matter that maintains an open opportunity for paradoxical statements is the subject of the standards of Nature & Law. The belief being that nature and law are opposites and when justice is thrown into the mix, it is positive in the name of law, but negative for nature. This belief is paradoxical in itself and can be fought with alternatives and contrary beliefs by any which way. Additionally, the answer by which people respond to questions may pose controversial issues such as the example of the standard of law being accepted by the majority while the standards of nature & truth are accepted and used by philosophers. 

Common-Place Subject Arguments: 

Aristotle points out that when debating common-place subjects, it can be vital to the solution of the argument to draw out paradoxical opinions from the opposing side. 

Relative Terms – Redundancy: 

Following this, there is an explanation of relative terms and redundancy in arguments that create fallacy, i.e. the use of a double expression where the speaker believes that two words, since they are the “same,” they then mean the “same” thing when in reality they may not. The second being the use of words that create redundancy in their meanings such as “odd” – meaning “‘a number containing a middle’,” and “‘odd number’’” – meaning “‘a number containing a middle number.’” An additional example of this fallacy is “‘shub nose’,” “‘shubness’” meaning – “‘concavity of the nose;’” therefore, “‘shub nose,’” would mean “‘concave-nose-nose.’” Use & Meaning of Words- Creating Fallacy: 

Part 14 extends on how play of words creates fallacy in debates through “solecism,” or a grammatical error in one’s speech or writing. This is supported by masculine vs. feminine vs. neutral words, such as “he” (masculine), “she” (feminine), and “this” (neuter). Solecism depends on the word “this,” as it is also dependent on the inflection of one’s argument and point they are trying to make. Therefore, “this” is commonly used for many forms of inflection as it could signify many “he” or “him,” / “she” or “her,” / “it.” This fallacy helps further explain how the meanings of “is” and “being” are different based on one’s improper or proper use of inflection in their speech. 

Speed & Anger Resources: 

Part 15 touches on two different resources when dealing with refutations. These resources are speed and the elementary rule to produce anger in order to gain the upper hand in contentious arguments. On the subject of speed, Aristotle states “when people are left behind, they look ahead less.” Additionally, in part 16 of the section, it is claimed that speed is enhanced through training and when one does not train, then they will not be versed in the use of speed to make arguments quickly. They will make the connection and understand the point; however, will not be quick enough to apply the understanding to the debate. The second resource of the play on agitation and anger is founded in that “man cannot properly take care of himself” when afflicted with agitation. In order to accomplish this, Aristotle supports foul play and being shameless while doing so because this then makes the opponent guarded and on his toes or agitated for the argument.

Concept of Concealment: 

Additionally, the concept of concealment is encouraged. Concealment is used to deceive which is ideal for contentious arguments taking place. In order to not make an answer of one’s opinions and wishes apparent, one should pose a question negatively and with it’s contrary accompanying it; “when it is obscure what answer one wants, then people are less refractory[, or stubborn].” Additional ways to create fallacies in the opponent’s arguments are to create a strong appearance of final proposition, lay down a paradox to grant a view or not, examine discrepancies of the answerer or who he mimics his beliefs after + break down his argument, and to take positions in an argument that are not clearly stated. 

Addressing Answers, Solutions, What is Required, & Why These Are Useful: The remaining parts of Section 2 cover the address of answers, solutions, what is required of them, and why these forms of arguments are useful. First, the usefulness of these arguments comes from three reasons: overarchingly: in the name of philosophy, and sub-reasonings being: (1) advancing one’s understanding of how a concept or term can be viewed/used in many ways; (2) these arguments are useful for personal research; (3) allowance for furthering one’s reputation in the name of whether they are knowledgeable and educated or not knowledgeable and uneducated. 

Amphiboly & Ambiguity: 

Part 17 explains the concept of amphiboly and ambiguity in terms of fallacy. A general rule of thumb for contentious arguing is to treat the opposing side “as if” they are being refuted, but do not actually refute them. The point behind this rule is to “dispel the appearance of their case,” to which Aristotle warns his reader to not fear being refuted; however, fear the potential of seeming to be refuted. In the case of ambiguity and amphiboly, they can be used to conceal refutation which then makes it hard to distinguish the truth in the debate. The key in terms of ambiguity and amphiboly is to not draw your own distinction in terms of the other side’s use of ambiguous terms and definitions. 

Fallacies of Amphiboly & Ambiguity: 

To draw a distinction of your own and apply it to a conversation of ambiguity will create an uncertain refutation as it may become unclear who is wrong in this case. Instead, the questioner should attempt to distinguish the other’s explanation “adequately” through a yes/no question as “one cannot affirm and deny at once.” However, a word of caution states to not pose this question without making the distinction first. “Granting the question” first allows for a conclusion to be drawn about one’s opinions when that opinion is not actually there, this then allows for paradox. The issue of posing two questions into one creates fallacy too, when a double meaning is present in conversation then the question becomes not one, but two. A simple answer will not be enough in this case as it will be seen as ambiguous and will lead to the “death of the discussion.” Additionally, yes/no answers to double-edged questions is also ambiguous and not an actual answer. Use of the responses “granted,” and “it seems…” in conversation whether it is paradoxical or not is urged in order to avoid seeming to refute or be paradoxical in your own terms. Consequent refutation depends on unclear premises; if a statement is made that “if one is true, then so is the other,” or “if one is true, then the other is false,” and it is asked that one chooses the truthful one, they should choose the smaller of the two because larger premises mean for harder conclusions. Lastly in this part, if one does not admit their view then this is a falsehood based on majority opinion. It becomes unclear, when an opinion is divided into two, where (1) which of the two pieces is meant as the maxim and which is meant as a doctrinal statement, and (2), whenever the opinion is divided, the terminology may be easily altered. This creates an uncertainty in which premise holds truth – it becomes apparent that the opponent is not creating a falsehood due to their own confusion which makes the position “irrefutable.”

Falsehoods, Double Meanings, Demolition v. Distinction, Ambiguity & Amphiboly (cont), & Combinations & Divisions: 

In the concluding parts of this section of Aristotle’s Sophistical Refutations, parts 18-20, Aristotle touches on falsehoods & double meanings, solutions of demolition or distinction, solving ambiguity & amphiboly (continued), and the importance of combinations and divisions of words. 

Solving Falsehoods + False Conclusions – Demolition / 


The statement that false meaning has a double meaning is reliant on either the proof or apparent proof of a false conclusion or the correction of a false conclusion. False conclusions can be solved in two ways: (1) demolition of one of the premises – the conclusion; therefore, is untrue, & (2) demolition of the premise that is untrue because the conclusion is true. Generally, in order to solve an argument, it is necessary to (1) see if the opposite side of the argument is reasonable or unreasonable; (2) is their conclusion true or false?; (3) dependent on if the conclusion is true or false, the solution should be found to be either: demolition or distinction. 

Ambiguity – Double Meaning Fallacy and Solving with Combination / Division of Words: Due to ambiguity, a conclusion may also have a double meaning; therefore, a contradiction must be drawn for refutation. However, do not immediately shoot down a double-edged premise; instead reply with ambiguity. Finally, in part 20, the explanation of combination and division of term’s importance is explained. The repeating of words and meanings in one’s conclusion is a fallacy, as stated before in terms of redundancy. This repetition is then dependent on the process of division and combination; however, an expression that depends on division of terms does not equal ambiguity. In conclusion of this part, not all solutions to the debate depend on the structure and framing of one’s questions being posed as some answers to questions are naturally difficult to draw conclusions from. 

Section 3 – Sam Kemp 

In Section 3, Aristotle addresses the different kinds of fallacies. In Part 21, he addresses the fallacy of accent, where the meaning of a sentence may be changed depending upon the increased accentuation of a word. For instance, in the sentence “I didn’t invite Janice to the house yesterday,” the emphasis on “yesterday” implies that the speaker invited Janice to the house on a different day. The same sentence “I didn’t invite Janice to the house yesterday,” implies that the speaker didn’t invite Janice over, but someone else did. In this case, there can be some ambiguity as to what someone is saying in an argument if emphasis is placed on particular words. 

Aristotle brings up another fallacy in Part 22, the fallacies that “depend on the identical expressions of things that are not identical”. In this case, Aristotle means that when one uses multiple definitions of the same word in order to form an argument. As touched on in Section 2, in these cases, expressions can be ambiguous and arguments can be manipulated to appear deductively valid while they are not sound—To review, an argument is valid when it is structured so that the conclusion must follow necessarily from the premises, while a sound argument is valid and all of its premises are true. 

Aristotle provides the example of defining the word “see” differently in the context of saying “to see” and “to have seen”. Another example of using an identical expression in different ways would be to say: (P1) The flowers are light (in terms of weight) (P2) Light things cannot be dark (in terms of color) (C) Therefore, flowers cannot be light (in terms of color). In this argument, two definitions of the same expression “light” are used. While the argument looks to be valid on the outset, “light” in weight and “light” in color are not the same. 

Further, Aristotle sees that there are fallacies of argument where one may apply what only applies to the part of a thing to the whole. As Aristotle puts it, for instance, if someone has 10 die, and they lose one of them, it would sound misleading to make the argument that the person had “lost 10 die”. While they may no longer have 10 die, they only lost one. An example of this fallacy that might make more sense would be to say, “If Jim stands up at the concert, he can see the stage better. 

Therefore, if everyone in the audience stands up they can all see the stage better.” While the argument applies to the individual (Jim), it does not mean that it is true of the whole (the audience). Conversely, if something is true of the whole, that does not mean that it is true of one of its parts. For instance, simply because a piano can play a variety of notes, one key on the piano cannot play all of those notes. 

In Part 23, Aristotle details how to counter an argument of ambiguity or point out a fallacy. He finds that if the sophist uses an ambiguous term, you can solve it by using the opposite term: “e.g. if you find yourself calling something inanimate, despite your previous denial that it was so, show in what sense it is alive.” Aristotle then transitions in Part 24 to another fallacy, or an argument that “depends on accident”. These arguments may be valid, but they are not sound. In this instance, an exception to the rule may be ignored. An example might be the argument that (P1) Birds can fly (P2) Carl the penguin is a bird (C) Therefore, Carl can fly. While the premise that “birds can fly” is a rule of thumb, there are obvious exceptions to the rule. Penguins cannot fly, so this argument ignores the exception to the rule. Additionally, one cannot use the exception to the rule to argue that it applies to the whole. 

Aristotle continues that while an argument may contain premises that follow logically, sometimes a conclusion may be reached that does not follow from the given premises. In this case, the argument cannot be valid because the conclusion is not relevant to the argument presented in the first place. These arguments fail to address the question being asked. Eg. if someone asks, “Are non-citizens allowed to vote?” The response “Non-citizens should be allowed to vote,” does not answer the question being posed. 

In Part 27, Aristotle discusses the problem of “begging and assuming the original point to be proved” or begging the question. In this instance, the conclusion to an argument is simply assumed to be true, and it is not supported by any independent premises. This error leads to a type of circular reasoning where there is no real support of the conclusion. An example of this

type of argument would be “Smoking a Juul can kill you because Juuls are deadly.” In this instance the conclusion is assumed to be true, and the premise is simply another way of writing the conclusion. Part 28 outlines the argument for affirming a conclusion through the consequent. In this instance, simply because one argument is valid, that does not mean that the converse of that argument is valid. The argument “There was a storm over the baseball field, therefore the game got cancelled,” is deductively sound, but the converse “The game got cancelled, therefore there was a storm,” would not be. After all, the game could have gotten cancelled for reasons other than a storm. In some arguments, the negation of the antecedent and the consequent would not necessarily be sound either: if one were to say “If Jim lives in a dorm, therefore he lives within walking distance to class.” We could not change this to say “If Jim doesn’t live in a dorm, therefore he doesn’t live within walking distance to class.” After all, Jim could still live in an off campus apartment that is within walking distance. 

 Finally, Aristotle points out that while it may not always be illegal in arguments, one way that individuals will often manipulate an argument is through asking several questions at once, or complex questions. One could possibly propose one question that has many presuppositions within it. For example the question: “How many children does bigfoot have?” supposes that bigfoot exists and that he has children. Complex questions can be difficult to argue against, because one may have to pick apart each one of its presuppositions before answering it. 

Aristotle concludes that an understanding of the fallacies that he provides would be useful if your opponent commits one in a debate. The best way to combat these fallacies of logic is to point them out and make your opponent recognize the paradoxes that their argument creates. Aristotle then takes aim at how the art of argument has been taught in the past, and finds that the best way to move forward is through logic. 

Aristotle’s Sophistical Refutations is a work that is essential to grasp in the realm of philosophy. The principles of sound logic can be applied to arguments on almost any subject. This work was pivotal in setting the groundwork for the future study of logic, and many of the fallacies that Aristotle points out are rules of modern propositional logic. In the context of this course, it gives us a better framework for understanding the structure of arguments in the authors that we address and provides a knowledge of how to refute arguments that fall short of logical reasoning. Through recognition of different kinds of arguments, and an understanding of deductive principles outlined by Aristotle, one may see arguments more like a math problem that can be picked apart and refuted based on its illogical structure.

Written by Katie Leeper, Peytyn Lofland & Sam Kemp 

Katie Leeper is a senior at Virginia Tech double majoring in Political Science and Multimedia Journalism. She hopes to work as a political commentator one day. 

Peytyn Lofland is a junior at Virginia Tech majoring in Political Science with a concentration in National Security. She hopes to either work for a federal agency in data analytics or to pursue a degree in law following graduation at Tech. 

Sam Kemp is a Junior at Virginia Tech double majoring in PPE and Political Science. He hopes to live abroad and work as an environmental lawyer in the future.

Aristotle: Revolution and Political Decay

Authors: Emily Rodriguez, Genovi Rattan-Jones, Matt Saville, Morgan Salvato

Book V

Prepare yourself readers, we are going to learn about revolutions and how to prevent them in Book V of Politics by Aristotle.

Aristotle examines the imperfect aspects of government within democracy and oligarchy and discusses their instability. Oligarchs stem from unequal societies who believe that the few are fit to rule over the majority. Democracies stem from believing that everyone is equal. Aristotle believes that oligarchies and democracies are imperfect because both can be corrupted by its leaders. This corruption would then lead to a revolution in order to bring change. The revolution starts “whenever their (parties) share in the government does not accord with their preconceived ideas, stir up revolution”. If there is disagreement within a government, then there will be people who want to change things to suit their own needs. Aristotle states that there are two ways change can happen in a government. One way is changing the constitution (government) into another form, such as democracy to oligarchy. The other way is not affecting the constitution but changing parts of it or the rulers. So, one way is starting from scratch while the other is fixing what is broken with the system. Aristotle believed equality is made up of two parts, numerical and proportional. Numerical equality looks at the equality in number or size whereas, proportional equality is the equality of ratios. Democracy is safer and less prone to revolutions than an oligarchy. Aristotle explains this by saying “A government which is composed of the middle class more nearly approximates to democracy than to oligarchy, and is the safest of the imperfect forms of government”. Aristotle believes a democracy is better than an  

oligarchy. People will not rebel if they feel that they are equal in a society or state. When there is less chance of a revolution occurring, the government system is secured, and the citizens are content with their lives.

People can start revolutions for a multitude of reasons. These include disagreements of profit and honor, insolence, fear, excessive predominance, contempt, or if there is a disproportionate increase in some part of the state. When corrupt and greedy politicians go against the constitution, they do so at the expense of the people. Instead of helping the people, the politicians are only helping themselves. History has shown, time and time again, people react negatively when politicians are only interested in helping themselves. “Revolutions also break out when opposite parties, e.g., the rich and the people, are equally balanced, and there is little or no middle class; for, if either party were manifestly superior, the other would not risk an attack upon them”. This is odd because one would think that if everyone was equal, then there would be no conflict. This is not the case.

Democracies can have revolutions due to incompetent rulers. This would lead to the nobles or the masses to overthrow the leaders. If the leader in a democracy was a general, the government would then turn into a tyrannical government. In oligarchies, revolutions can occur due to oppressing the people or when there is a personal rivalry between the oligarchs. This is expected because even among the rich, the greedy will still try to have the most among each other. Revolutions in aristocracies occur similarly to oligarchies where only a few share in the honors of the state. The majority of people believe that they are as good as their rulers. Deviating from justice also aids in starting a revolution.

Aristotle then explains how to preserve the constitution and stop revolutions, as this will

stop the people from gathering with pitchforks and torches. If we know what causes the revolution, then we know what can stop them. as Aristotle says, “Opposites produce opposites, and destruction is the opposite of preservation”. Instead of being a corrupt leader, be a good leader. Instead of favoring one group, treat every group in the state equally. Obedience to the law is important, especially with the small matters. Take care of the little things, and the big things will take care of themselves. The state should guard against the beginning of change. Another important tool is shortening the terms of offices in order to prevent families from running them and decrease the chance of tyranny. Finally, politicians cannot make money while in office. This is really important. People will be very ticked off if they find out that politicians are stealing public money.

Qualifications to hold office are necessary. These are loyalty to the constitution, greatest administrative capacity, and virtue and kindness appropriate to the kind of government. It is important to teach these qualifications to children, as well as education of the government in general, in order to instill in them the tendency to follow laws and then be less likely to revolt. Aristotle also critiques the extreme form of democracy’s definition of freedom which conflicts with the interests of the state. He states, “men should not think it slavery to live according to the rule of the constitution; for it is their salvation”. True democracy is unjust because what one thinks is good for him may not be good for the state or other citizens. There needs to be structure and compromises in order for a government to last.

In monarchies the royal rule is aristocracy, whereas tyranny is oligarchy and democracy in their most extreme forms. A tyrant seeks out his own pleasures while a king seeks noble goals. Monarchies are usually overthrown by disgraceful behavior, fear, contempt, ambition, and desire for profit. A monarchy could also be destroyed from the outside by a superior regime or from the  

inside when the rulers are in conflict. Kings are appointed from the wealthy class due to their own or their family’s excellence in virtue. A tyrant is elected in order to protect the people from the nobles and prevent the people from being injured. Kings should not say that they are kings for a non-noble reason, such as King Arthur from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In the movie, King Arthur explains that he was chosen to be king of Britain by receiving Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake. This is a comedy movie, but it showcases how incompetent King Arthur is as a monarch. A monarch should be king for being virtuous and upholding the rule of law, not because he was given a magic sword.

A peasant’s response was the reaction any sane person would have.

In order for a monarchy to be preserved, the ruler’s authority needs to be limited. For a tyrannical monarchy; potential rivals must be eliminated. The tyrant should be awed but not feared and must also not sleep with a lot of women or consume too much alcohol. Paying attention to the gods and honoring good citizens are also requirements. In order to prevent a revolution in a monarchy, a king must be respectful and treat his citizens equally.

King Arthur from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is an example of what not to do as a king.

Book VI

In Book VI, Aristotle clearly presents his critique on both democracy and oligarchy. He believes there is a contradiction between true freedom and the freedom represented in democracy. His issue with this is not with the freedom of the individual, but that there are two

translations one could take away from this concept of liberty. If liberty means anyone can do whatever they want to pursue their own happiness, this may interfere with another’s happiness and quality of life by potentially creating hostility and chaos through revolution in the city. Conversely, liberty can mean for all to rule and be ruled. By that standard, this means every individual is equal; something Aristotle was not ashamed to disagree with. The threat of equality in Aristotle’s eyes was that it meant that the poor would be better represented in a democracy than the rich because they are more in number. He did not like the idea that justice was in the hands of the majority over other, more qualified individuals.

Democracy is not completely wrong, it’s just not quite right.

On the other hand, Aristotle did not think the privileged alone should judge, as in an oligarchy, because that too was an injustice for the city. He believed that there needed to be a healthy dose of both democracy and oligarchy. The ideal government resembled a community of pastoral people, with a wealthy ruling class holding political office. The farmers and herdsmen should be able to select their officials and go about their agricultural business peacefully and mostly uninvolved in politics. Looking at a democracy like Athens in his day, Aristotle detested the fact that any shopkeeper or laborer held equal part in justice and eligibility to run for office. The idea of a pastoral community was ideal for him because this meant there would not be a centralized location everyone would gather and participate in politics as there was in a big city-state democracy like Athens. Not everyone was qualified to participate in government.

Aristotle did not think that the wealthy rulers should be inconsiderate with the poor, but rather establish and maintain a relationship of admiration and trust between the two. He

encouraged the wealthy to do charitable acts for the poor to gain admiration. The poor could also hold lower political offices.

Essentially, Aristotle conceived that the wealthy are more capable than the poor to guide a city virtuously into success and happiness. The poor should be generally taken care of and guided by the wealthy to ensure happiness, as it is just for everyone to be able to pursue happiness. He did not like the idea that happiness was determined by anyone who wanted to contribute to politics, but that the state was guided by a wealthy and educated class of individuals to preserve freedom for all; freedom as the right to individual happiness.

Wealthy citizens in Aristotle’s ideal city to the poor (probably).

Book VII

In Book VII of Politics, Aristotle speaks on how to live a virtuous life, how to rule a city, and how to train reason and habit in citizens.

Beginning with Part I, Aristotle dives into the concept of three classes of goods that one needs to live a happy life; external goods, goods of the body, and goods of the soul. He states that external goods do not cause all happiness, and are limited. While these goods are limited, they are still vital for people to be able to live a happy life. Aristotle describes a life of happiness as one of virtue and wisdom, in which the participant is driven by virtuous and wise action, “the best life is that of virtue, when virtue has external goods enough for the performance of good actions” (Book VII).

“Happy” by Pharrell Williams

Part II begins with asking the question, “is the happiness of the individual the same as that of the state?”. Aristotle finds these two concepts to be the same; “For those who hold that the well-being of the individual consists in his wealth, also think that riches make the happiness of the whole state, and those who value most highly the life of a tyrant deem that city the happiest which rules over the greatest number; while they who approve an individual for his virtue say that the more virtuous a city is, the happier it is”. He believes that the government functions at its best when man can act virtuously and happily.

Part III speaks on the specifics of practicing a life of virtue. Aristotle argues that some think that the life of a freeman and a statesman differ, and that the life of a freeman is the ‘best of all’. He also claims that some believe that the life of a statesman is the best, but argues that “the actions of a ruler cannot really be honorable, unless he is as much superior to other men as a husband is to a wife, or a father to his children, or a master to his slave” (Book VII). The life of true virtue is that of the active life, and if “happiness is assumed to be virtuous activity, the active life will be the best, both for every city collectively, and for individuals” (Book VII). This aligns with the concept of utilitarianism, in which actions are deemed right if they benefit the majority; this is taught to Eleanor in The Good Place. Jason, the loveable idiot, was the one that explained it perfectly. Jason talked about how his friend Donkey Doug was going to get married and move away with a woman so Jason and his dance crew framed the woman for theft in order for Donkey Doug to not leave the dance crew. Donkey Doug was their best dancer which meant if he stayed, everyone would be happy.

Here is Chidi teaching Eleanor. Insert picture 6

In Part IV-VI, he begins to delve into his arguments on how to properly run a city, and the conditions of such. Aristotle states that the conditions of a perfect state are having a certain number and character of citizens, that size and character of the country must be decided, and the amount of needs are supplied properly to sustain life. In the military aspect; a state must have military authorities, be difficult for enemies to access but easy for inhabitants to, easily seen in order to be easily protected, situated between the land and sea, and placed upon good soil. He believes that a city and territory should be connected to the sea to properly defend themselves and also trade.

Parts VII, VIII, IX and X speak on the character of the citizens of the city; and that ideally they should have spirit, intelligence, skill and be inventive. There must be; food, arts, and arms in a city, revenue for internal and external needs, care of religion, and power to decide what is in the public interest. Aristotle finds that the citizens must be involved in politics in some shape or form; “in the state which is best governed and possesses men who are just absolutely, and not merely relatively to the principle of the constitution, the citizens must not lead the life of mechanics or tradesmen, for such a life is ignoble, and inimical to virtue. Neither must they be husbandmen, since leisure is necessary both for the development of virtue and the performance of political duties” (Book VII). Citizens will also be divided into warriors and councilors, and these classes are made to be separated.

Part XI-XII speaks on the layout of the city in a physical sense. It will be open to both the land and sea, and to the whole country as far as possible. The city must lie to the east, while also sheltered from the north wind. There must be an abundance of springs and fountains in the city to provide for the citizens. The city is recommended to be laid in squares, in a grid-like layout, with private houses. The walls are to be divided by guardhouses and towers. The young will fight and  

the old shall remain in magistrates.

Parts XIII-XV focus on the manner of the citizens in the city. Aristotle states that, “there are three things which make men good and virtuous; these are nature, habit, rational principle” (Book VII). Qualities of man are altered by habit, and their biological qualities can be turned by habit to be either good or bad. Man only, has a rational principle, and must be taught by both habit and instruction. “The soul of man is divided into two parts, one of which has a rational principle in itself, and the other, not having a rational principle in itself, is able to obey such a principle” (Book VII), and principle is also divided into two. “The whole of life is further divided into two parts, business and leisure, war and peace, and of actions some aim at what is necessary and useful, and some at what is honorable” (Book VII). They must exist in both virtues of leisure, and the end of war. Once the necessities of life are supplied, many may live as such.

Parts XVI-XVII then focus on the rearing of children, beginning with marriage. The ages of the parents must be considered, when the child shall succeed the parents, and how the legislator must mold the frames of the child. Aristotle states that “women should marry when they are about eighteen years of age, and men at seven and thirty [37]” (Book VII), which allows for the child to succeed the father early in life. The child’s constitution should be inured to labor, but not exhausted. Deformed children will not be permitted to live. After being born, children are to be reared in order to expand on their bodily strength. As a baby, they will be treated with care, and once hitting at the age of five, are told stories of heroes. He mentions the idea that “There are two periods of life with reference to which education has to be divided, from seven to the age of puberty, and onwards to the age of one and twenty [21]”. The rearing of a child is key in fostering a life in which they can live virtuously and participate properly in their city.


Book VIII serves to discuss the importance of education in the role of the state and personal well-being. Aristotle believes that one’s character is deeply influenced by the educational system in which they grew up. Aristotle stresses that “the legislator should direct his attention above all to the education of youth” which shows the significant impact education has on the city’s youth. Since an individual should not be concerned with their own distresses but rather the states, they must be educated in a public manner. There exists only a singular end for the city as a whole, which is prosperity, that all citizens must strive for. Aristotle then focuses on the different aspects of knowledge. Youths shall not concern themselves with learning skills meant to serve others. Instead, one should learn enough to satisfy their mind and no more.

Education should be public so that each citizen is receiving the same teachings, which promotes the city as a whole.

Education can be broken down into four key categories. The first being reading and writing which is “useful for the purposes of life in a variety of ways” and allows other sorts of knowledge to be acquired through them. Gymnastics is the second aspect of learning; however, it is the first to be taught. Aristotle emphasizes that “Men ought not to labor at the same time with their minds and with their bodies […] the labor of the body impedes the mind, and the labor of the mind and body.” Thus, learning how to control your body is essential in learning how to control your mind. It is important to note that there is a physical limit to the pursuit of

gymnastics. Gymnastics must not take precedence over other educational subjects for “Parents who devote their children to gymnastics while they neglect their necessary education, in reality, vulgarize them”. However, courage, a valuable emotion, is brought about when educated in gymnastics. The third branch of education is music, which is important in the restful aspects of life. Drawing is the fourth and final branch that provides utility in having the capability to form “a more correct judgment of the works of artists”. Education of useful and necessary aspects of life provides the citizen the ability to manage the household, make money, acquire knowledge, and participate in political life. Whereas reading, writing, and drawing provide clear connections for success, music deals with intellectual enjoyment in leisure.

Music, the third branch of education, is contentious because there is a strict line between educating yourself and pleasing the masses. The main consideration is leisure and Aristotle believes that “we should be able, not only to work well but to use leisure well.” Leisure itself provides pleasure and enjoyment of life which are not experienced by the lower classes but rather by those who have leisure. Music became a part of Aristotle’s ideal educational dimensions not because of its utility or necessity but for “intellectual enjoyment in leisure”. “Innocent pleasures are not only in harmony with the perfect end of life, but they also provide relaxation”. Rhythm and melody have a character of rest, motion, and emotional ties. Understanding harmony in music helps young citizens recognize and strive for harmony in their souls. Music has the power to form character and therefore, children should be taught music but “only until they are able to feel delight in noble melodies and rhythms, and not merely in that common part of music in which every slave or child and even some animals find pleasure.” Aristotle omits instruments that require great skill, like the flute or harp, from education because they are “intended only to give pleasure to the hearer, and require extraordinary skill of hand.”

This distinction ties back to the idea that youths must not concern themselves with skills meant to serve others. Music shall not be pursued as a profession because professional musicians must play a “lower sort of music before an audience of a lower type” because music corresponds with the minds of the audience. Aristotle believes that if one is of a lower class and not a freeman, they will not understand the melodies that the freeman will understand. Since a performer must adapt music to the audience, they are studying a skill only to be used to please others and therefore the performer is unable to be an end in himself. Aristotle believes leisure provides relief and provides a way that a life of good quality can be obtained.

As men begin to grow old, Aristotle believes they should practice the gentler modes and melodies which is “suited to children of tender age, and possesses the elements both of order and of education”. Therefore, Aristotle concludes, “it is clear that education should be based upon three principles- the mean, the possible, and the becoming.” to provide an ideal system of education of the youth. A system that combines teaching what is useful, teaching moral goodness, and teaching pure knowledge for its own sake helps create a well-educated and virtuous citizen. This citizen will also, in turn, contribute to the overall goal of the prosperity of the city as a whole.

The State, Communities, and the Family

Aristotle: The Politics “Books I-IV”

Book I

Aristotle was a philosopher in Ancient Greece that studied under another famous philosopher that you may have heard of, Plato. Aristotle wrote Politics in 350 B.C.E to cover the role that politics plays in society and how the political community can help fulfill the life of a citizen, hoping to steer people away from lives of barbarism and isolation.

Book I begins with Aristotle explaining that every state is a community that has been established in order to achieve what they believe to be good. Within these communities exists those who hold power, such as statesmen, kings, householders, and masters, who each have rule over others. “For example, the ruler over a few is called a master; over more, the manager of a household; over a still larger number, a statesman or king, as if there were no difference between a great household and a small state” (Politics, Book 1). 

Since the family is created by nature to supply for everyday wants, several families who unite together in order to aim at something more than these everyday needs creates the first society, a village. Aristotle then describes the most natural form of a village, a group entirely of family filled with children and grandchildren, which is why some states were successfully ruled by kings who were elders of the family. After several villages are formed and are each self-sufficient and prosperous, a state is formed, helping to continue the creation of the bare necessities and the pursuance of what is good. 

Aristotle uses this logic to say that the state is a creation of nature, making man a political animal. Those without a state are “a bad man or above humanity; he is like the ‘Tribeless, lawless, hearthless one,’ whom Homer denounces- the natural outcast is forthwith a lover of war; he may be compared to an isolated piece at draughts.” Aristotle elaborates on man being naturally political when he states that man is the only being that has been gifted with speech, as he is able to decide what is just and what is unjust, along with being the only one who has a sense of good and evil. 

Above, country music artist Willie Nelson uses his talents and gift of speech to urge other members of the state to engage in political participation.

Aristotle claims that the state is prior to the individual, since “the individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing; and therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole. But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state.” Aristotle seems to appreciate the state for providing a means of preventing barbarism and establishing order amongst individuals. According to him, if you do not align with the state or are somehow self-sufficient, you are either other worldly, or a savage. This shows us some of his personal beliefs as well, as most of this text is reflective of what we now call communitarianism, which highlights the importance of the individual and the importance of families within society. 

TV series Rick and Morty displays how those without a state or state stability are barbaric.

In the next section, Aristotle describes the multiple relationships within the household, including master-slave, husband-wife, and father-child. He then describes the relationship between master and slave to be natural, stating that some are born to rule and others are meant to be ruled. The relationship between a master and a slave is compared to the soul and the body, with the soul/master being the rational and commanding and the body/slave being only capable of unskilled duties. Aristotle views slaves as the way that households and property owners achieve their means of living, but he does not believe that all forms of it are just. Those that are enslaved through war and those who are not not slaves by nature are not meant to be enslaved. This gives us a glimpse of what Aristotle thought about the rights of all people, since he thinks that there are tiers to society and that not everyone is born into the same rights and privileges as others. Some parties feel that the rule of a master over a slave is contrary to nature, since the difference between who is a slave and who is free is determined by law, not by nature. Thus, slavery is unjust because of its interference with nature. 

With the relationship between husband-wife and father-child, the husband rules over both despite the wife and child being naturally free, since the husband is “fitter for command than the female, just as the elder and full-grown is superior to the younger and more immature.” Aristotle then states that the rule that a father has over his children is royal, while the rule over a wife is a constitutional way of rule. 

Lastly, Aristotle discusses a different part of the household, acquiring wealth. Different people have different ways of doing so, including farmers, statesmen, soldiers, etc., but there are different types of wealth acquisition. Natural acquisition is the acquiring of basic needs like food, water, shelter, and other things that are required to live and run a household, while unnatural acquisition would be getting wealth for the sake of being wealthy. Aristotle advises against unnatural acquisition, since some are led to believe that getting wealth is the only objective of managing a household.

But It's Honest Work - Meming Wiki

Book II

The purpose that Book II serves is to consider what form of political community is best. Aristotle provides three alternatives that members of a state must have: all things in common, nothing in common, and some things in common and some not. He notes that for individuals of a state to have absolutely nothing in common is impossible stating, “for the constitution is a community, and must at any rate have a common place- one city will be in one place, and the citizens are those who share in that one city” (Politics, Book II). He basically states that no matter what, people who share a community will have at least something in common, as you cannot live in the same community without an ounce of unity.

Aristotle takes into account the argument of Socrates that states, “that the greater the unity of the state the better” (Politics, Book II) in order to describe the necessity of the state. Aristotle certainly does not agree with the argument Socrates has put forward in regards to unity, but he analyzes it anyways. Aristotle contemplates the idea of a state and its nature of plurality, noting that it is possible that it could be too unified that it is no longer a state, and begins to show the process of unification by presenting the order it follows: from state, to family (which is perceived to be more unified than the state), to individual. He does warn that it is not the goal to attain such unity as the individual though, as it can serve to ruin the state. He backs this up by arguing that a state is not only made up of so many kinds of men, but of unique, far from similar ones. He further explains this argument by comparing a state filled with similar individuals to a military allegiance. For a military organization, similarity is important as all members of such a group are set on a common goal which is that of mutual protection, but a state does not have just one end goal and it relies on different perspectives in order to advance.

High School Music finale song that emphasizes the importance of togetherness. It shows how things can get done effectively if everyone just works together as one unit.

Defined as what is the salvation of states, Aristotle introduces the principle of compensation. He states that regardless of the equal standards that are set for individuals, this principle must be maintained. This principle focuses on ruling as an order of succession that sees an end goal of everyone having the chance to govern. As it is obvious, not everyone can govern at the same time, so changing who’s in charge must operate on some sort of schedule or designated time in order to keep it equal for everyone. An example provided that illustrates this principle is that of shoemakers and carpenters. Under this plan of governance, the same people will not remain shoemakers and carpenters their entire life, but will instead be given an opportunity to govern and contribute to the state in additional ways. To conclude his premise among this principle, it is stated that regardless of position within a society, all individuals should be treated equally. But, as everyone is given the chance to rule there is going to be variety amongst the different rulers. This is good as similarity is not the goal at hand and Aristotle warns that, “the extreme unification of the state is clearly not good..” (Politics, Book II). There is no self-sufficiency among extreme unification as different perspectives will not be accounted for under such circumstances.

Aristotle further examines the argument Socrates provides about unity in order to examine the role of women, children, and property within the state. Socrates provides another sign of perfect unity here that stems from the fact, “of all men saying ‘mine’ and ‘not mine’ at the same instant of time” (Politics, Book II). Aristotle notes that the word ‘all’ is ambiguous due to the fact that if they follow this sort of perfect unity that Socrates provides, man will claim each person as their own wife or son or each other’s property as their own. Aristotle dismisses Socrates once again by stating that if all individuals call the same thing ‘mine’, there is no real unity at play. Focusing on the idea of human nature, this type of unity will not actually work because if everything is everyone’s to have, the selfish nature of man will override the common good. Aristotle also mentions the idea of increased crime and diminishing affection due to such unity as it serves to decrease the importance of familial bonds and if everyone owns each other, the importance of family will not stop people from committing a crime, nor will it help people mingle amongst each other in hope of creating offspring.

No one:


Circling back to the argument that Socrates gives, Aristotle does agree that unity is key, but he also states that, “Property should be in a certain sense common, but, as a general rule, private…” (Politics, Book II). He also pushes the idea that things can and should be common in a state, but where he differs from Socrates is that complete unity is not the way to go. Private property can spawn common use of property through voluntarily sharing. Other philosophers such as Plato and Phaleas also attempted to resolve the issue of property, but Aristotle is firm with the idea that property can be private, but also have a common use.

Lastly, Aristotle dives into different regimes and how they were carried out. He mentions the attempt of the first non-statesman to envision a government, Hippodamus, who believed the citizens should be divided into three parts (the artisans, husbandmen, and armed defenders of the state) while also dividing the land itself into three parts (sacred, public, and private). Hippodamus also talked of a law that honored individuals who discovered anything that would be of benefit to the state. Aristotle’s issue with what Hippodamus proposed is that dividing citizens is not effective at all and that honoring those who discover useful information that benefits the state is something that, “…cannot safely be enacted by law, for it may encourage informers, and perhaps even lead to political commotions” (Politics, Book II). Aristotle then moves on to the Spartan regime that presents women as owning a large amount of land but comes with its problems, the Cretan regime that is similar but also has its problems, and the Carthaginians that have neither had any rebellions or any tyrannical ruler. Aristotle ends Book II speaking of Solon who is said to have, “…put an end to the exclusiveness of the oligarchy, emancipated the people, established the ancient Athenian democracy, and harmonized the different elements of the state” (Politics, Book II). This is important, as Aristotle states, as what Solon contributed turned into the democracy that has flourished over time.

Book III

Book III of Aristotle’s Politics discusses several very important concepts that relate to the city-state and its citizens.  Firstly, Aristotle dives into the true nature of citizenship and how this plays into how citizenship impacts those living in a city.  By Aristotle’s definition of citizenship, a citizen must meet more requirements than simply being a resident of a city.  In addition to this limitation, an individual living under a democracy must also contribute to the serving of justice and hold public office in order to be granted citizenship as Aristotle defines it.  In his words, “the citizen whom we are seeking to define is a citizen in the strictest sense.”  This definition of citizenship is significant as it allows the reader to be exposed to a concept that heavily intertwines with the Platonic concepts of the state and the impacts of the individual on governance of the state.

The other main concept introduced by Aristotle in Book III of Politics is the six varying forms of governance through constitutions.  Amongst these six forms, three are deemed ‘just’ and three that are unjust. The three unjust forms are related to kingship, aristocracy, and constitutional government. With the kingship, kingship that is meant to fulfill the interests and desires of the king is known as tyranny. Next, an aristocracy that is aimed toward suiting the needs of the wealthy is known as an oligarchy. Finally, a constitutional government that is meant to serve the interest of the poor is known as a democracy.

Book IV

Book 4 begins with the discussion of parts to wholes. In order to understand and discern different constitutions one must first be able to understand them as parts. Now in this context Aristotle does not use the term constitution in the manner that we know it today. He is not talking about “We the People,” instead he is discussing the formation of different forms of governments for a given city-state or state as a whole. His justification of political philosophy sheds insight into his inability to decisively name the ‘best regime’. This may also be because he recognizes that the best regime only exists in theory filled with ideal scenarios. 


Aristotle proposes 6 questions to be discussed throughout Book 4: [1]What is the best constitution in an ideal situation without obstacles; [2]Which constitution is most appropriate for which states; [3]Which constitution is best given certain assumptions, furthermore a statesman must consider how a constitution will stand once in place and how it will survive; [4]Which constitution is most appropriate for all city-states and not just best but also possible, practical, and attainable; [5] How many kinds of constitutions are there, just as there is not one form of democracy there is not just one form of constitution; [6]Which laws are best and/or appropriate for each type of constitution  because the laws should be made to fit the constitution not the other way around. 

Thus far, three correct forms of constitution have been previously established: Kingship, Aristocracy, and Polity. These are the ideal forms presented, however they each have deviances. From Kingship come tyranny, from aristocracy comes oligarchy, and from polity comes democracy. Aristotle goes on to attempt to rank these constitutions, although presents several different deviations of thought seeming unable to truly rank in a decisive manner. He stated that tyranny is the most bad, oligarchy is slightly less bad, and democracy is the least bad of the three. This preference for referring to the order in terms of “baddness” instead of “betterness” is done to avoid comparing different forms in an unfair manner. These constitutions tend to be established on the virtue that is furnished with resources.

Yet again, Aristotle sets more discussion points on the topic of constitutions: [1] How many varieties of constitutions are there; which he begins to discuss in that there are many types because each city state is made up of many parts. He goes into these parts further by separating the rich from the poor from the middle class. He also states that there are two main types of regimes: Democracy and Oligarchy (note that he excludes kingship/tyranny here). [2] Which kind is most attainable and which is most choiceworthy; [3] How may one go about establishing a given constitution; and finally [4] The ways in which constitutions are destroyed.

Throughout the entirety of this book, Aristotle continues to define differences between the different types of regimes, which allows the reader to fully understand how the similar regimes are in fact different. The cataloging also allows the reader to connect which types of laws follow given regimes. As stated previously the two main types of regimes to be discussed are Oligarchies and Democracies. Oligarchies are regimes in which the wealthy rule. Democracy in its truest form is a regime ruled by the majority, or freemen. The majority in this context tends to be inherently poor, which separates a democracy from an oligarchy. He rules that the best and most attainable regime is polity, the precursor of democracy. Polity in this sense is a mixed regime in that it combines elements of oligarchic laws and democratic laws to create mixed offices by election to transcend divisions of rich and poor. 

In the last several chapters of Book 4, Aristotle focuses on the importance of the “middling element,” which is equivalent to what we know as the middle class. The middle class or middling element are essential to a stable government because the class does not envy the rich or seek power because they are concretely set right in the middle. They do not seek to oppress the poor because they have nothing to gain, so a large middle class is a stabilizing element for a strong government regime. 


Kristina Zillic

Kristina Zillic is a junior studying Political Science with a focus in National Security and Foreign Affairs and a minor in German. She is passionate about gender issues and reproductive rights. She hopes to move to Germany soon after graduation to continue her studies and possibly work for the State department making use of her language skills. 

Keyonna Washington

Keyonna Washington is a senior studying Political Science, Criminology, Sociology, and a minor in Peace Studies and Violence Prevention. After school, she hopes to continue on to Law School and obtain a job shortly after.

Peyton Wilmer

Peyton Wilmer is a senior studying Political Science with a concentration on National Security and Foreign Affairs and a minor in War & Society. After school, he hopes to work in security in the federal government or in policy around public education and the environment.

Ashton Williams

Ashton Williams is a senior studying Political Science with a concentration in National Security with a minor in Leadership Studies from the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets and Air Force ROTC. After graduation, he hopes to train and become an RPA (remotely-piloted aircraft) pilot in the Air Force.

Happiness Machines and Stimulated Appetites

Tiffany Etesam, Caroline Farrar, Chris Fawthrop, Kiersten Forrest

Book VII

            In Book VII of Plato’s Republic, Socrates presents the allegory of the cave. The story starts with Socrates describing people who have been imprisoned in a cave their entire lives. Their heads are bound and they can only look straight ahead. As a result, they have never witnessed real sunlight. There is a fire behind them and some statues which results in shadows being cast across the walls that the prisoners are facing. There existed a “low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets” (Plato’s Republic). They name the shadows they see and believe that they are the true objects themselves, not merely shadows. To the prisoners, these shadows are the Real.

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Later, one prisoner is freed. The prisoner looks at the fire and back to the statues and feels disoriented. Gradually, the prisoner realizes that the new things seem to be the truest form, not the shadows. Next, the prisoner is taken out of the cave and (s)he sees the real world. The light is so blinding, (s)he can only look directly at shadows before gradually being able to look at the world around. These forms are far more real than even the statues were. When the prisoner looks up to the sun, there is a moment of realization when (s)he realizes that the sunlight is what allows for sight of these forms. Moreover, (s)he realizes that shadows are made by light that is partially covered by real forms.

Eventually, when the prisoner returns to the cave, (s)he has a hard time in the darkness and the shadows after becoming adjusted to the light and the truest forms. The prisoner tries to explain everything to the others, but they find all of the claims ridiculous. The allegory Socrates employs illuminates the importance of philosophy and education. Moreover, Plato employs this metaphor to show the struggle of enlightened philosopher kings who try to educate the rest of society in efforts to diminish their ignorance.

Plato, through Socrates, emphasizes the importance of philosophical understanding to one’s soul. In training philosopher kings, children with the right nature who are interested and work hard must be taught philosophy amongst other “important” subjects, like mathematics. The children who are the best go on to be the philosopher kings and they are tested repeatedly as they metaphorically continue to go to the cave and after attaining understanding and knowledge to share with the rest of society.


In Book VIII, Socrates introduces the reader into a discussion of four types of government: timocracy, democracy, oligarchy, and tyranny. He equates governmental character with human character according to the Myth of Metals (Book III). The Republic discusses the origin of division, equating class to metals of iron, brass, gold and silver. Iron and Brass wished to accumulate more, such as money and land, but Gold and Silver intrinsically held value and wanted virtue and order. The metals (or classes) fought a war between each other and in the end decided to divide everything among individuals. This society is posited as the imagined aristocracy that Socrates believes will dissolve. At this point, the dialogue steers towards the stages of dissolution and the subsequent governments that follow, stating that political change arises from divisiveness in governing power and that a truly united government will not change, however, everything will dissolve in time.

Timocracy is the first form of government Socrates discusses. Believing that timocracy, or rather a government motivated by honor, arises from an aristocracy. This is because in Socrates time, honor was gained through accumulating wealth, (think war). The timocratic rulers will not care for wealth in itself until they get old, because the ruler lacks philosophy and as such will give in to vice.

            Vice is what leads to oligarchy, the next form of government discussed. Oligarchy arises when the children of the timocratic rulers take over, and already having wealth and power from their predecessors have no desire for honor. Instead, they would rather maintain and grow their fortunes. The division of class based on wealth becomes clear with the rich becoming richer and the poor staying or becoming even poorer. This level of disparity leads to the wealthy lending money at high interest to the poor, while this might placate the poor for a while, eventually they rise up in anger to depose the oligarchs, leading to democracy.

            Democracy starts (in Socratic terms) when the poor use violent means to overthrow the oligarchic government and raise themselves to be in charge with the rest of the “impoverished class”. In Socratic democracy, there is no responsibility to other individuals or the state, the concept of honor seen in timocracy missing completely. Politics becomes a popularity contest, as such popular or “mob rule” becomes the way of governance. Socrates believes that the democratic man being void of honor (having no responsibility to the state), and not caring for wealth as their oligarchic forebears will live a chaotic existence. There will still be those that have more wealth than others, and they will be hated for it.

            Tyranny arises when the democratic rulers that have more wealth than their colleagues are accused of being oligarchs, and a violent individual is elected through the popularity contest to a position where they are able to enact violence against the rich who could compete against the Tyrant.  The tyrannical leader becomes paranoid and does everything they can to stay in power, to include acts that would be seen as immoral or criminal.

            Towards the end of Book VIII, Plato (through Socrates) asserts that what causes the changes and divisions between government and individuals is actually excess:

“the truth being that the excessive increase of anything often causes a reaction in the opposite direction; and this is the case not only in the seasons and in vegetable and animal life, but above all in forms of government.” (The Republic, Book VIII)

            Thus, while it might seem strange to the modern reader that Socrates believes democracy to be the worst form of government next to tyranny his reasoning boils down to what is gathered in excess, and here it is the link between individual and government character. In timocracy the ruler(s) covet honor above all else and will pursue policies accordingly that may not be the best for the rest of the population. In oligarchy all policies pursued are to gather more wealth for the wealthy, while democracy is the pushback to this. Democracy values freedom over everything else to the extreme, leading to the rise of a tyrant.

Book IX

The tyrannical man may be easily compelled by his unlawful desires, as those wicked desires often rule the tyrannical man. These vices are repeatedly referred to as ‘appetites’ as a result of the tyrannical man satisfying his appetites. Socrates argues that these unlawful desires, or lawless desires, are not exclusive to morally bad men, but rather can tempt any man. Lawless desires are followed by a lawless life, occurring when a tyrannical man least expects temptation. The tyrannical man is the offspring of the democratic man, however, the democratic man does not live a lawless life, but is still slave to his appetites. Furthermore, the democratic man, or the father, is the offspring of the oligarchic. The father determines that love is the ultimate cure for the tyrannical man in order to escape his lawless life.

            The tyrannical man had found himself insolvent as he indulged himself in love. He plans to extort and violate his parents in order to obtain their property. He became so absorbed with his desire of love that it evolved into his most formidable unlawful fantasy. The tyrannical man is alienated from everyone and everything, including himself.  He is living an embodiment of the tyrannical life. However, Socrates is optimistic that a public tyrant life may be a more troublesome life to live.

            The tyrannical man behaves in a wrongful, or unjust manner, as Book IX explained the feature of the most evil is “the waking reality of what we dreamed.” The tyrannical man and the democratic man are compared to the tyrannical state and democratic state, respectively. The comparison is used to portray happiness and misery between the two, as the tyrant and the tyrannical state are depicted as miserable, and therefore may be considered a slave to themselves or the state.

            In order to determine who classifies as pleasant, Socrates generates three categories of men: “lovers of wisdom, lovers of honor, and lovers of gain.” The lover of wisdom is the most ‘pleasant’ of all the categories, as he has the ability to utilize judgment. True pleasure can only be completely experienced by the enlightened and educated. Socrates produces this argument by metaphorically measuring pleasure and pain, correlating with the temptations of desire. True pleasure is the “pain from pleasure,” while experiencing pleasure does not prevail. That being said, the king represents true pleasure, while the tyrant will live in pain. To fully identify a pure soul, Socrates metaphorically utilizes ancient mythology as an illustration. The multiple headed monster, the lion, and a man merge together as one to form his argument. One who behaves wrongfully must envisage feeding the monster, which will ultimately invigorate the lion and undermine the man. A man does not have authority of the monster within himself, therefore he must praise the monster. The man is a servant to the monster within him, or perhaps the law. Socrates defines the reasoning of law, or divine reason, as the “ally of the whole city.” The ruling of divine reason establishes laws which may maintain those to act in a just manner and evade their wicked desires.

Video: Century of the Self: Part 1: The Happiness Machines

Moreover, the Century of the Self: Part 1: The Happiness Machines, begins by discussing Sigmund Freud’s invention of a new theory about human nature. He stated, “Primitive and sexual and aggressive forces hidden deep inside the minds of all human beings.” He believed that uncontrolled forces lead societies and individuals into disorder and demolition. Certainly, there have been individuals in power who have used Freud’s theories throughout the age of democracy in order to try and control a menacing crowd. In fact, his nephew, Edward Bernays, was the first to use his ideas to “manipulate the masses.” In other words, he encouraged the people to want things that they did not need and taught them how to satisfy their inner desires. Unquestionably, he was displaying how to control the masses by manipulating them.

Undoubtedly, Bernays was showing American corporations how to trigger these desires by connecting mass-produced goods to one’s unconscious desires. Further, Abraham Brill was one of the first psychoanalysts in America. He told Bernays that cigarettes were a symbol of male sexual power and if Bernays could come up with a way to associate cigarettes with challenging the power of males, then women would smoke them. Bernays convinced a group of “rich debutantes” to keep cigarettes hidden under their clothes during the New York Easter Day Parade. The women were then told to hold a protest smoking those cigarettes, lighting “torches of freedom” because he knew this would get the attention of the press; their actions resembled the appearance and meaning of the Statue of Liberty. In addition, this meant that anyone who supported gender equality must support women smoking. After the public viewed the videos of the women smoking and holding up the torches, the sales of cigarettes by women increased significantly. Overall, this was a major success for Bernays. He finally grasped how to use one’s unconscious desires to make them happy and in return, control the masses. Accordingly, Sigmund Freud was the founding father of psychoanalysis and Bernays created the profession of public relations. Conclusively, Freud influenced Bernay to alter how people consume. As an American journalist in 1927 expressed, “A change has come over our democracy, it is called consumptionism. The American citizen’s first importance to his country is now no longer that of citizen, but that of consumer.”

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Tiffany Etesam is an academic senior at Virginia Tech studying Political Science with a legal focus. She has been accepted into law school and plans to attend next fall. She is hoping to pursue health law to ensure equal access to both physical and mental health for all.

Kiersten Forrest is a senior studying Political Science with a concentration in National Security at Virginia Tech. She is also minoring in Sociology and in Peace Studies and Violence Prevention. She plans to work in the national security field after graduation.

Chris Fawthrop is a senior studying National Security and Foreign Affairs at Virginia Tech with minors in History and War & Society. He is concurrently pursuing a Masters in Political Science with a concentration in Security Studies at Virginia Tech which he will continue upon graduation from undergraduate studies.

Caroline Farrar is a senior pursuing a major in Political Science, and a minor in Sociology. She hopes to either work in social justice or with a non-profit organization after graduation. Her studies in political science have fostered a particular interest in global inequality pertaining to the distribution of wealth, women’s rights, and racism in the United States.

The City as the Soul of the Subject

Book III

Book III opens with dialogue between Socrates and Adeimantus. The discussion is still centered around poetry, as it left off in Book II, but now they are discussing the “fear of death.” Socrates is adamant that poetry ought to erase a man’s fear of death rather than encourage it. He argues that certain literature at the time did just that. For example, in Homer’s Odyssey, Achilles and Odysseus meet in the Underworld. Achilles explains to Odysseus that he would rather, “slave on earth for another man–some dirt poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive–than rule down here over all the breathless dead,” (Homer, Book XI: 465-540). Socrates states that this type of attitude is extremely harmful to the youth and any who falls victim to its sort of “soft” logic. This poetry and literature is claimed to be unsuitable. Socrates previously told us the literature for young people theologically teaches false information and ideas about the gods and morally has shown to make people act cowardly. The idea was that the Guardians would need more suitable literature to be rulers. In the same way Socrates thinks poetry, art and music ought to serve the people, he believes medicine ought to as well. He speaks of how doctors shouldn’t treat patients that experience chronic sickness or exhibit laziness in taking care of their body. He argues that these individuals do nothing to better the state and are a drain on society. It is obvious that, in the beginning of Book III, Socrates is trying to establish a way of thought that always benefits the state.

Fear of Death

These teachings lead to Plato’s opinions of love, education in philosophy, and the connection between the two. Obviously, Plato believes that philosophical knowledge is essential for young boys to understand and become educated. In order for a boy to receive the best version of such education, the relationship he has with his teacher must be founded on true, authentic love. We are told that genuine love motivates the young boy to pursue the highest level of education. So what about sexual intercourse as the ultimate symbol of expressing love for another? Plato believes that intercourse should not be permitted in the relationship between the student and his teacher. The student is seeking the truth through philosophical thought, and the pursuit of physical pleasure through sex can only get in the way of obtaining truth. To Plato, intercourse was almost purposeless. Heterosexual intercourse? Necessary for procreation, but should not be engaged in solely for pleasure. Homosexual intercourse cannot produce an offspring, so it only served pleasure. To Plato, the bond between student and teacher ought to be formed of true love for knowledge, the truth, and each other.

At the end of Book III, Plato discusses the Myth of the Metals. It was said that there needed to be a whole new set of rulers and that these new rulers would come from the Guardians discussed in Book II. This new class of people to rule would be drawn from the guardians. Those who love the city and are strongest when it comes to their principles on running the city. Socrates did not want to have a ruler who would be easily strayed. The three new classes are guardians, auxiliaries, and commoners. Socrates says we will tell the citizens about the ideal city. Socrates will tell these citizens that they were all born out of the soil of the city. The idea is that they were all formed underground and then rose up out of the city. The citizens should think of the earth as their mother, to love and protect it, and to think of their neighbors as their brothers and sisters born from the same soil. In this ideal city, Plato establishes a mythological foundation that loyalty to a place is crucial to the identity of each citizen. Thinking of the earth as a mother will lead the citizens to treat it with love and be willing to sacrifice anything for it. In addition to telling citizens they came from the earth, Socrates would tell them that why they were being formed gods mixed one of four metals into their bodies, gold, silver, iron, or bronze. Each metal would correlate with their identities in the city. Having gold meant you were supposed to be a ruler, having silver meant you were a part of the auxiliaries, iron and bronze meant you were supposed to be a craftsman or a farmer. This sets up the idea that each individual is suited to be a member of each class and they have no relation to how you were born and only focused on the individual’s inner nature. Plato essentially established a basis for meritocracy focused on individual talent and inborn orientation. Socrates even explained that two rulers may not birth a ruler but instead an auxiliary or a commoner. This avoided people being born into social classes and giving them a chance to be in the class really meant for them. The metal inside cannot be changed either and according to Socrates, you must above all avoid having a person with a bronze soul become a ruler, as a member of the guardian class. Plato establishes a mythological basis that focuses on a person’s nature and talents rather than an accident at birth.

Book IV

Book IV begins with Socrates continuing his explanation of how the city will run. This conversation is sustained when Adeimantus questions Socrates on how the life of the rulers will be fulfilling since they are unable to attain wealth, have nice possessions, or venture out into the world. Socrates then replies that the main goal of this city is not for the individual happiness of one person or group, instead the city and its rules will allow for everyone to live in a way that gives all the citizens happiness. Even though this sounds in theory like a great place to live, without people worrying about money and possessions and all of the superficial elements of life that divide us, I do see where Adeimantus is coming from. A life like this would be dull, in my opinion, for the citizens because they would only be focused on their trade or role in the city. I myself do enjoy some of the pleasures of life and think we should strive for a place where we can have a happy balance between what Socrates describes and what we have now… (CORRUPTION).

After Socrates explains the reason why exuberant money for the rulers and guardians would make an unequal society and that the focus of the city should revolve around the happiness of all people, he then goes on to give examples of how wealth could harm the city. Socrates speaks on a potter who becomes rich and to this he says, “would [he] any longer be willing to give his mind to his craft.” Instead, “he will become more idle and negligent than he was.” In saying this Socrates shows that when wealth becomes involved at an extent, people begin to care less for the job that they are supposed to be doing. Throughout history we have seen many examples of corrupt rulers who have gained money and power and then ignored their actual job/ constituents, something that Socrates warned us about so long ago. At the end of this section on wealth and poverty Socrates says wealth and poverty will both deteriorate the products of the arts. He continues his conclusion on wealth and poverty by saying “the one is the parent of luxury and indolence, and the other of meanness and viciousness, and both of discontent.” In my mind this meme that is below is how I imagine Socrates also feels about money. A city without wealth can’t lose what they don’t have.

“A Good Reason for Grad School”

Adeimantus questioning Socrates again begins the next section by inquiring how a city without wealth can handle the challenges of war. Socrates answers this question by posing another scenario where the guardians of this city would be better off fighting against not one, but two armies of rich and powerful cities. This, even though seemingly illogical, Socrates explains that because the guardians do not know wealth and are experts at their guardianship, the two rich armies will lose. This is because as he explained in the earlier section wealth leads to the deterioration of one’s trade/ art, so the rich men will not be as expert fighters as the guardians who know nothing of wealth. Closing this section Adeimantus poses another question to Socrates about how big the city should be permitted to grow. Socrates replies that the city does not need a limit on citizens per se but as long as the city is “self-sufficing.” This city that Socrates is laying out for his listeners is something that has undertones of a perfect world. With this perfect world where money isn’t an issue, everyone is happy to an extent, and the city is self-sufficient because it is neither overpopulated nor underpopulated (I can’t help but start to think of authors who have written about perfect societies that have gone badly wrong). Socrates’s point of creating this city is not for pure entertainment like some of the dystopian novels that we have all read, but just as Socrates is showing and from what those books have taught me, I believe it is normal for humans to strive for something that is perfect. However, perfection is a hard thing to attain, and when not attained in scenarios like The Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and so many other dystopian societies the consequences of trying to create a “perfect” city can be disastrous.

In the next section Socrates explains one of the values that will help make the city run. Education, Socrates believes, is a vital part of the city and to the training of the guardians as it will allow them to, “grow into sensible men.” This also trickles down onto the children where Socrates has a long discussion about how children should be raised and educated. He comes to the conclusion after some pondering that children need to be brought up in a “stricter system” to prevent lawlessness and lawless citizens. If Socrates’s perfect city was ever tested and the children were raised in this “stricter system” I am sure that this video can show you how they probably felt.

Socrates begins his topic on the last important matters in this half of Book IV with a conversation with Glaucon. Socrates explains that with all of these things in place the city is perfect because if carried out correctly the city will have the qualities of being “wise and valiant and temperate and just.” Wisdom is the first virtue that Socrates explains. The city will be wise because of the diversity in the skills that are present throughout the city. This will do the city justice because when knowledge in many subjects is present, the city will then be wise. Socrates also explains that the guardians have the most important responsibility for making the city wise. From this explanation of the virtue of wisdom Socrates transitions to the second virtue of courage. Courage also is at the core of the guardians. The guardians, as Socrates says, have been trained in a way that shows them to be wise and educated instead of fearful. This ability of the guardians to sort out the differences between false and real dangers will protect the city even if another person in the city is cowardly. This cowardice in other citizens will not overtake the city with cowardly people. Instead, the guardians will be courageous and therefore, the city will be courageous. These two virtues as Socrates lays out go hand in hand. The education and knowledge that the guardians and the rest of the citizens have (in their own trades) will make the city wise. By being wise the city will be courageous because the guardians will be able to assess fear. This set up of the city that Socrates has laid out is starting to prove itself at this point.

Socrates and his companions then turn to the virtue of moderation, which Socrates begins to define as the virtue most aligned with harmony and one whose chief function is the mastery over certain pleasures and desires. This mastery is further explored through a construction of the soul, which Socrates claims has a smaller “better” principle which contains virtue, and a larger “weaker” principle which contains baser pleasures and desires; mastery is described as the former governing the latter.

This concept of self-mastery can be found in many other philosophical systems, such as Taoism, Buddhism, and Stoicism (pictured Top-Bottom: Laozi, Buddha, and Epictetus).

He then juxtaposes this dual structure of the soul upon the city which he and his colleagues have been determining the nature of. In the city, the “weaker” principle is found within the general populace – children, women, servants, and freemen. The “better” principle, on the other hand, is found within a small number of the best-educated men – those who are involved with affairs dealing with intelligence and reasoning. With this analogy, Socrates argues that moderation in the city, therefore, is where the best-educated class govern over the general populace. Harmony arises through the unanimous agreement with this structure of governance – from this, moderation is not simply localized in one class like the two previous virtues, but can be found through all groups of citizens.

Plato’s conception of the “philosopher-king” is borne out of this belief that the best-educated should rule (pictured: Raphael’s School of Athens; Plato and Socrates both appear in the fresco).

Having now determined how wisdom, courage, and moderation are made manifest in the city, Socrates and his colleagues then turn to what he considers the most complicated virtue to define – justice. Socrates brings attention to the fact that, through discussion of the previous virtues, the definition of justice had been cited multiple times, unknowingly. To clarify, Socrates finally asserts that justice is adherence to a class structure formed from the division of labor – “to do one’s own business” in his words. He then determines that justice is also the most important virtue for the city, proving this through illustrating “injustice” in examples of deviations from the class structure – a shoemaker should not be a carpenter; auxiliaries should not become guardians.

A rat should not be a chef

In a similar fashion to the discussion on moderation, Socrates then endeavors to apply the city’s definition of justice to the individual, stating that a just man would not differ from a just city. He posits that forms similar to the city’s just division of labor and the virtues of wisdom, courage, and moderation are present within the individual. To start, he and his companion affirm the rational and appetitive principles, but then begin to determine a third soul-principle of spirit, aligned with anger and strong feeling. Socrates illustrates the spirit principle through three situations – the story of a Leontius giving in to the intrusive desire to look at corpses, an individual being disturbed at the struggle to suppress an irrational desire, and the anger and determination associated with opposing injustice.

Civil unrest in response to the death of George Floyd in May 2020 illustrates Plato’s concept of the soul’s spirit-principle.

Having determined three soul-principles, Socrates then correlates these with the classes of the city – rationality for the deliberative class, appetite for the money-makers, and spirit for the auxiliary. He subsequently aligns this tripartite soul with the city’s virtues, and finally determines that the soul of a just individual, like the just city, contains three distinct parts which remain solely focused on affairs appropriate to each one.

Book IV of the Republic establishes the foundations for Plato’s Theory of Soul, which appears again through the Chariot Allegory in Phaedrus.

Plato’s line of reasoning throughout Book IV imply a symbiotic relationship between the individual and the city. In both practical concerns (such as material need, the logistics of governance, and methods of educating the youth) as well as through structural allegory (the city’s three-class structure as evidence of the three-part nature of the soul, the city and the individual sharing the same four chief virtues), Plato shows that the city and the individual shape each other through their interactions – the political becomes the personal and vice versa. It is from here in which it is also possible to observe his theory of ethics, as his analysis attempts to distill all of what may be considered good into just four key virtues which serve to construct the nature of the human soul.

A secondary but central assertion in Book IV is Plato’s assertion that adherence to rigid class structure is to be considered virtuous. Earlier in the Republic, he defines the three classes through inborn “natures” which determine an individual’s station in life, and up to this point in the work, he has made multiple references to the paramount importance of “justice” in his pursuit of a clear definition for the concept. The culmination of these two lines of rhetoric in Book IV presents significant implications for Plato’s political thought – a criticism of democracy, a rejection of class mobility, and an endorsement of a rule by an intellectual elite (his concept of the “philosopher-king” echoes this). It is in this book of the Republic that Plato transitions from practical organization and logistics to the nature of class and pronouncements on political structure.

Whitney Darby

Whitney Darby is a senior at Virginia Tech studying Political Science with a minor in Geospatial Information Systems. She is in the National Security Studies concentration and plans to attend law school after graduating.

Olivia Davis

Olivia Davis is a senior at Virginia Tech majoring in Political Science. After graduations she plans on working.

Robert Domingue

Robert Domingue is a senior at Virginia Tech studying Political Science with a concentration in National Security studies. He will commission in the Marine Corps upon graduation.

Marcus Duquiatan

Marcus Duquiatan is a senior at Virginia Tech studying Philosophy with a minor in Political Science. He plans to work for a labor union affiliated with the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C. after graduation.

Plato’s Republic: Books 1 and 2

Plato’s Republic: Books 1 and 2

The Republic, by Plato

Written by:

Brant McKinney, Samantha Moore, Elizabeth Pease, and Lauren Peake

The Republic begins with our main character Socrates being accompanied by Plato’s brother Glaucon to the Athenian Harbor. There they are invited back to what reminds me of a French style salon with Polemarchus, of whose house they are at, Adeimantus, Thrasymachus and Cephalus, Polemarchus’ father.

The story then quickly divulges into a conversation about weather, age and justice, the latter of which most of these two books are about. Cephalus is asked by Socrates how age has affected him and his life, some of the things Socrates asks him have to do with Cephalus’ younger libido and whether his accrual of wealth can be seen as a good or bad thing. Cephalus replies to the comment on his sexual desires by saying, “[W]hen the passions relax their hold, then, as Sophocles says, ‘we are freed from the grasp not of one mad master only, but of many’ (Plato).” Cephalus sees old age not as something that has hindered his life, but that has opened him up to new experiences and ways of looking at the world.

In response to Socrates claiming that Cephalus will do well in old age due to his wealth instead of his lifestyle, Cephalus responds by saying wealth allows a person to live without fear of not being able to sacrifice enough to the Gods or by being in anyone’s debts. Included below as an embedded link to the picture is a video of how comedian John Mulaney gave his university $120,000 which makes me think about debt and how I too would love not to be in debt to anyone.

Cephalus thus concludes that through this, one may achieve the good life and achieve justice. Socrates responds to this by giving an analogy that teaches the lesson, it is ok not to return something you borrowed. Essentially, the analogy says what if a reasonable sound person was to lend you a weapon of some sort and then later in an altered and dangerous state of mind, where to request for it back? One would probably not return the dangerous weapon for fear of their or someone else’s safety and thus it is ok not to repay all debts, though I would argue that this is not necessarily a debt because nothing is said about the person wanting to be given a dangerous weapon by the person who later turned crazy. But Cephalus, running away like a kid at recess, turns to “tend to the sacrifices” when his argument is found flawed. To which Socrates then turns to Cephalus’ son Polemarchus and says,” Tell me then, O thou heir of the argument, (and Cephalus’ riches) what did Simonides say…about justice (Plato)?” I can only imagine how Polemarchus must have felt being roped into his father’s argument, maybe something like the picture below.

Our party participants then divulge into a conversation about what justice is and how it may be defined. Included below is a wonderful crash course video that talks about some of the things I am also about to touch on.

Polemarchus then responds by saying justice is, “[G]iving everyone what is due and proper to him (Plato).” To which Socrates gives the same response to Cephalus’ definition of justice and denounces it. Polemarchus then says justice is given what is appropriate to a person and arguing that a just act would be doing good to one’s friends and harm to their enemies, a definition Socrates again refuses (I’m starting to see a pattern).

Socrates proceeds by arguing through analogies in which different people do “good” or “bad” things but justice in these cases are not apparent. I agree with his next assessment that our friends can do plenty of bad things and be bad people and that our enemies can be the best of men thus saying we can do good to bad men and bad to good men. Socrates concludes this section with saying that doing evil to an already evil person is not justice.

At this point in the conversation, Polemarchus seems to be objecting Socrates’ argument and Thrasymachus joins in on their discussion. He thinks that Socrates’ questions are becoming tedious and if Socrates is a professional teacher of argument then he should provide some sort of answer as opposed to asking questions. Socrates says he doesn’t know what justice is but would like to know what Thrasymachus’ definition of justice is.

Thrasymachus describes justice as whatever is in the interest of the stronger party. Hence, justice is enacted through power by those in power. He further argues that people in power make the laws that the weaker party, in this case subjects, are supposed to obey. Ultimately, for Thrasymachus justiceis the obedience of these laws made by rulers that serve the interests of the ruling class. Socrates interjects and proposes that rulers can pass bad laws in the sense that the laws do not serve the interests of the rulers. However, Thrasymachus responds that rulers can make mistakes, but it is their might that make them correct. Socrates refutes this argument by asserting that a ruler’s chief interests should be the interests of his subjects. He offers the example of a physician, whose primary concern should definitely be the welfare of his patient.

Socrates and Thrasymachus continue to argue about the characteristics of a good ruler. Thrasymachus argues that most people are only good in appearance, for example doing the right thing only when they are ignorant, stupid, or acting out of fear of punishment. On the contrary, strong men have the courage to do wrong, as they can out-think the simple people they preside over. Thrasymachus believes that injustice is the best course of action because an unjust man is able to take advantage of his fellows. He can rob the public, juggle books in a position of trust, and cheat on his taxes. Hmm, does that ring a bell?

Thrasymachus deduces that the good life is the tyrant’s life. He advocates that justice is the advantage of the stronger. Socrates states that Thrasymachus is wrong for three reasons: the unjust man is more knowledgeable than the just one, that injustice is a form of strength, and that injustice brings happiness. Socrates refutes Thrasymachus’ definition of justice, stating that “no knowledge considers or prescribes for the advantage of the stronger, but for that of the weaker, which it rules” (Book 1, pg. 17, line 342d)

First, he uses the analogy of the flute player and the physician. Socrates, states that the ignorant man is the one who always attempts home-remedies and similarly, the man ignorant of music who attempts to outdo the musician. Secondly, Socrates tells Thrasymachus that even thieves have to trust one another, shown by their fair division of their stolen goods. Even thieves practice a sort of justice, without it they would fall into chaos. Socrates shows that unjust men, at whatever level they practice injustice, deteriorate from an assumed strength into weakness. Thirdly, Socrates uses yet another analogy of the pruning hook, the eye, the ear and the soul. All of which possess several essences, which can be called their virtues. For example, the ear hears, the eye sees and the hook cuts. Just as all of these virtues allow a person to live a harmonious life, the soul cannot live without its accompanying virtue of justice. Socrates states that “the unjust man enjoys life better than the just” (Book 2, pg. 35, line 362c)

Socrates adds that those with bad souls will rule poorly, on the contrary those with good souls will rule well. The just man is happy and the unjust unhappy because injustice is always inferior. Thrasymachus leaves the conversation, still insisting his definition of justice is correct, even though Socrates still doesn’t specifically know what justice is.

Classification of goods

 Class IClass IIClass III
Description“Harmless pleasures and enjoyment”Undesirable and to be avoided, but at times necessary and beneficial nonethelessDesirable in an of itself, but also desired for the favorable outcome
Productivity StatusUnyielding, temporaryFavorable in outcome onlyFruitful, “the highest order”
ExamplesJoy, delightCaring for the sick, profit-driven endeavors,Knowledge, sight, health, justice

In Book II, the philosophers engage in a debate as to where justice should be placed. Glaucon maintains that justice belongs in Class II and exists merely as a result of the larger evil that would reign free if justice were not there to create some sort of order. Socrates, on the other hand, argues that justice should be placed in Class III. The disagreement between the two gentlemen is about the inherent value of justice itself. Glaucon then requests that Socrates convince him of the inherent value of justice for justice sake. Glaucon maintains his position that justice only has value because people do not want to be treated unjustly not because justice is a good.

 He maintains his position that justice is only valued because people want to avoid the consequences of injustice by telling the story of the Ring of Gyges. To quickly summarize this story, a farmer comes across a ring making him invisible; he then uses his newfound abilities to seduce the queen of his kingdom, kill the king, and take over his kingdom. This highlights that when placed in a situation where there are no consequences for your actions (i.e.: you have the ring from Lord of the Rings), people will do unjust things to gain power.

Glaucon claims “no one is just of his own will but only from constraint” and that the story of the Ring of Gyges illustrates this fact. It would be far better for the individual to be unjust than just. Glaucon then goes on to argue that the truly better life is one where an individual is purely perceived as being just but is actually unjust. The just individual who is perceived as unjust will have to endure great suffering and cannot possibly be happy. Before Socrates can begin to argue against Glaucon’s claim, Adeimantus interrupts their conversation. He wants Socrates to prove to him that justice by itself can bring happiness to an individual and how injustice by itself harms an individual. To begin to address Adeimantus’s question Socrates discusses the political metaphor of a state.

As the conversation surrounding justice progresses, Socrates creates a depiction of justice on the state level due to the fact that the larger scale will allow for examples of justice to be more easily detected. He first notes that a state is a product of necessity, as no man can single handedly provide for himself. The illustration is of a basic state, where people specialize in tasks such as art, medicine, or farming. Socrates notes that there is a stark division of labor in which citizens must only perform the duty to which he is most inclined. The exchange of the respective products from each profession necessitates justice, so that transactions are fair and right.

Now that the state at the rudimentary level has been examined, Socrates then talks about human desire for opulence and splendor, thereby leading to the luxury state. Bakeries, incense, couches and other luxury items obtained through wealth, in addition to borders and land, necessitate a new role in society: warriors. These guardians are needed to protect wealth as well as the state. So, where does justice come into play? Justice is what keeps man from succumbing to his nature of evil and ensuring the fairness of transactions and interactions amongst citizens.

It is fascinating to see how justice as a contested subject in ancient times and still remains somewhat elusive, despite the fact that it is a so-called pillar of American society today, whose founding was largely influenced by ancient Greek philosophers. It is particularly interesting given the current political climate, given who decides if law and order should trump justice. The concept of citizens getting what they deserve, through sheer merit, the legal system, laws, etc. is tricky, especially when people in charge of doling out justice do not follow the proper procedures or have pure motives. Continuity and change over time are important to understand the past as well as the present.


Brant McKinney

Brant McKinney is a senior at Virginia tech studying political science with a minor in philosophy. He specializes in environmental politics, policy, and philosophy and hopes to go to graduate school for urban planning next fall.

Samantha Moore

Samantha Moore is a junior at Virginia Tech studying political science with a minor in Spanish. She is in the legal studies concentration and plans to work in the defense industry.

Elizabeth Pease

Liz Pease is a senior at Virginia Tech majoring in Political Science. She will be commissioning in the Marine Corps this upcoming spring and hopes to use her degree in the private sector when she retires.

Lauren Peake

Lauren Peake is a senior at Virginia Tech majoring in International Relations and French. She does not know what she will do after graduation but hopes to work for the French Embassy. 

Rhetoric and the Good Life

Gorgias, by Plato.

This post written by:

Grace Cooper, Arrah Cho, Emma Casey, Lucas Costa

Gorgias is a dialogue between Callicles, Socrates, Chaerephon, Gorgias and Polus. This piece takes place when Gorgias, a famous speaker in Greece, finishes speaking. Callicles says that Gorgias will answer any question Socrates poses as that is what his art is based in. Gorgias himself claims that it has been a long time since someone asked him a new question by stating, “… I was saying as much only just now; and I may add, that many years have elapsed since anyone has asked me a new one,” (Gorgias), sounding as though he is happily inviting the questioning by Socrates that soon followed. Gorgias answers Socrates’ questions attempting to elicit a clear definition of rhetoric with short and brief answers; however, within these questions Socrates and Gorgias begin talking about moral lessons. They both agree that rhetoricians, or people who are experts at persuasion, do not convey moral lessons to the people who follow or listen to them. Any teacher just teaches what they are supposed to in the hopes that their students will go out  into the world and do good rather than injustice with their newfound knowledge. “What is that which, as you say, is the greatest good of man, and of which you are the creator,” (Gorgias). Socrates goes on to say that rhetoricians and tyrants are similar in some ways. One being that they both operate in ways that are best for them. They also seek “justice”, and are most content and satisfied when this “justice” is served in the sense of punishment. “I was thinking at the time, when I heard you saying so, that rhetoric, which is always discoursing about justice, could not possibly be an unjust thing,” (Gorgias). Socrates goes on to say how carrying the guilt of harming someone is “soul destroying” and that “ … the unjust or doer of unjust actions is miserable in any case,-more miserable, however, if he be not punished and does not meet with retribution, and less miserable if he be punished and meets with retribution at the hands of gods and men,” (Gorgias), explaining that those who commit injustice and remain unpunished are the most miserable individuals. With these premises, Socrates decides that, logically, rhetoric is useless and Polus is unable to argue. On this topic of justice, Callicles steps in with the harshest critique of Socrates and gives his own views on the concepts of justice, power, and rhetoric. The two debate their views on each of these concepts which eventually leads to Socrates discussing the importance of virtue in life and death and the question of how one should live their life. 

The Nature of Rhetoric

The discourse initially stems from Socrates requesting the eponymous rhetoric Gorgias to define the true nature of rhetoric. In spite of this deceptively simple question leading to ruminations on the broader concepts of power and justice, the conversation regularly circles back to the core question of “what is rhetoric”. As Socrates and his verbal combatants make progress in developing a defined solution from their debates, they further delineate the respective practice of rhetoricians from that of philosophers through their conclusions and methods of argumentation.

As rhetoricians attempt to persuade the beliefs of an ignorant audience through flowery speeches of minimal substance, philosophers engage in thoughtful back-and-forth discourse, or dialectic, to uncover indisputable truths. Socrates highlights this fundamental difference when he critiques Polus’ initial answer as rhetoric, stating that “when Chaerephon asked you what was the art which Gorgias knows, you praised it as if you were answering someone who found fault with it, but you never said what the art was,” (Gorgias). The truths one should be seeking, according to Socrates, exist as ideas that are indefinite, prevailing regardless of any circumstance, while beliefs are ever-changing due to the lack of permanence in the world. Because the chief concern of rhetoric is winning an argument through employing the illusion of knowledge to appease a crowd, it is eventually concluded to be a part of flattery instead of an actual art; its purpose as well as methods are diametrically opposed to the values of Socrates, who considers knowledge as virtue and the means to attaining true happiness. Although Gorgias attempts to claim that rhetoricians bear knowledge of subjects regarding justice and injustice, Socrates finds many contradictions within his argumentation; from the declaration that rhetoricians are incapable of committing injustice in spite of contending earlier that students in the profession had the ability to use it unjustly, Socrates asserts this proclamation to be false.

As Gorgias struggles to argue against this relentless deconstruction of his “art”, his student, Polus, takes his place and questions Socrates to retaliate on behalf of the rhetoricians. Through this line of inquiry, it is further inculcated that rhetoric is not an art, but an experience meant to create a feeling, or pleasure, rather than good in the soul. Socrates’ examination into the arts regarding the body and soul also refutes Gorgias’ former claim that rhetoric is a method of mobilizing the knowledge of justice and injustice to a greater extent by juxtaposing these two as discrete concepts rather than one facilitating the other. Justice is the true form of art attending to the good of the soul while rhetoric exists as the false form of art based on its goals to produce the feeling of good; therefore, Socrates concludes the practice to be an experience rather than an art. Overall, rhetoric is determined to be a false art that projects an image of knowledge to produce belief rather than the discovery of truth, which conflicts with Socrates’ views on how one ought to live.

Power & Happiness

            The art of rhetoric and rhetoricians flows into Socrates’s perspective on power due to the main focal point of rhetoric being to persuade an audience.  Typically power is viewed as one existing in a ruling state over others; however, Socrates disputes this concept with the belief that power and the idea of pleasure go hand in hand because power comes from being able to act on one’s will.  He argues that rhetoricians and tyrants actually have the least power because they have to make decisions based on the best interests of others or the state, which does not always allow them to act upon their own will.  Of course, like most things involving the concept of pleasure, everything is good in moderation.  Socrates gives the example of a leaky jar.  If a jar has a leak in it then it will never become full or satisfied no matter how much water is poured into the jar.  This is a metaphor for power because someone uses their power to act on their own will to benefit themselves may become power hungry.  Instead of acting on their power and being satisfied they will ultimately become powerless to their need for power.  This reminded me of the Fall of Icarus.  When someone has the power to act on their own desires they often become indulgent and greedy and ultimately lose their control to their desires.  This is why Socrates distinguishes the difference between pleasure and good because although something is pleasurable it may not be good or just.

Justice and the Good

In this dialogue, more than I would say in any other of Plato’s dialogues, Socrates takes on a very provocative role in attacking rhetoric and sophistry. He begins his attack by reducing rhetoric to the same level as cookery, by explaining that it is a small part of the more general concept of flattery or imitation. The chief problem Socrates probes is the manner in which a rhetorician claims to be able to teach anyone to speak of anything without actually knowing anything themselves. This is imitation, just as cooking produces the imitation of the good feeling one gets from being in good health.

Socrates’ description of rhetoric as flattery is important because he argues one should always avoid flattery in order to be good and just. The dialogue arrives at a discussion of justice after Polus claims that even if rhetoric is just flattery, those who wield it have great power. Socrates of course disagrees with this as we’ve discussed, and they eventually turn to the question of how the despot may act. Socrates argues that just because he is a despot does nto rescue him from the consequences of acting unjustly even if he goes unpunished. This is the introduction of the first paradox that Polus finds ridiculous – that it is worse for a man to do than to suffer evil. The foundation for this paradox is the concept that there are actions that benefit the soul and these are good and actions that do harm to the soul and these are evil. Justice is the fairest of the actions that benefit the soul. Following from this is the second apparent paradox – that it is better to suffer the consequences of acting unjustly than to suffer no consequences at all. Socrates argues this because he believes the second best thing to being a just man is being an unjust man reformed to be just.

Now rhetoric can be used for good. Socrates gives the example of a criminal who turns himself in and then uses rhetoric to clearly explain his crime and intentions so that he can endure whatever necessary penalty. Callicles argues that this is not the way the world works and is in general very skeptical of Socrates’ conception of the good and justice’s role in it. He firmly believes that might makes right and this circles back to Socrates’ arguments against the gentlemen’s view of power. Ultimately Socrates’ argument is based on the separation of pleasure from true good and that true good can only be achieved through acting justly.


  • Grace Cooper
    • Grace Cooper is a senior undergraduate student at Virginia Tech. She is majoring in political science with a concentration in legal studies. She plans to go to law school.
  • Arrah Cho
    • Arrah Cho is a junior political science major at Virginia Tech. Along with political science, she is interested in legal studies and philosophy. 
  • Emma Casey
    • Emma Casey is a senior undergraduate student at Virginia Tech. She studies political science and is minoring in sociology and business leadership.
  • Lucas Costa
    • Lucas Costa is a senior Finance and Philosophy major at Virginia Tech. He is originally from Brazil and grew up in Oregon and northern Virginia.

The Sophist as Capital

What is a Sophist According to Plato?

I asked you all last week to read Plato’s Sophist, a later dialogue in Plato’s writings concerning the definition of a role in Athenian society – the sophist. I have found a better and easier e-copy than what I provided in the syllabus through the Perseus collection at Tufts University. I will refer to the “section numbers,” I am told that they are called “Stephanus pagination,” as this will help you track the discussion with more ease than me just referring to the dialogue generally. If you click the link above, it’ll take you to Perseus and start you with the first section of this dialogue. Look on the left-hand side and you’ll find the section numbers in a menu. 

Sophist comes as the second in a three-part conversation beginning with the Theaetetus. One could and some do spend their lifetime on Plato and his works, but I won’t trouble you with reading Theaetetus as it is primarily concerned with knowledge though it does lead into discussions of “the good life,” that are continued in Sophist and Statesman (your reading for this week and the third in the series). Sophist, I feel, is a relatively straightforward text once one gets the hang of reading Plato. As a reminder, much of the dialogue is written in a style that includes summaries of the finer points made and rejoinders that should help you track the conversation. As you’ll notice, Socrates does very little talking in both Sophist and Statesman but gets the ball rolling between the primary interlocutors in the dialogue: the Eleatic Stranger (referred to as “the Stranger,” in this post) and Theaetetus, an interlocutor of Socrates’ at the time. Again, it’s difficult to track when this was written and if it really corresponded to the life of Socrates at the time. Plato was Socrates’ student, so it’s kinda odd to think he’d be a fly on the wall for these conversations – dutifully scribbling down the things his master has uttered. 

The Stranger, we gather, is kind of like a visiting scholar, or guest speaker from the town of Elea and is trained in the most current philosophies of his day. He is clearly of the Eleatic School, and is well versed in Parmenides’ method of deduction as well as the Parmenidean arguments concerning the universe, its oneness, its unchanging character and its unity as all things. We see through the dialogue that he employs an argument or two from Parmenides to arrive at a few thoughts concerning the character and role of the sophist in Athens, and much of Parmenides and the paradoxes he introduced recur in Platonic philosophy, and, I believe, the contemporary philosophy of our day through sticky problems in language that don’t take seriously enough process philosophy. I’ll point out a few places of interest before diving into a more sustained analysis of the dialogue but these points shouldn’t be left to the side as they have bearing on much of how ‘we’ interpret and understand ourselves and problems like certainty embedded within political decision-making and discourse. 

Joel and Ethan Cohen aren’t philosophical slouches. Sam Elliot offers some wise words to the Dude (Jeff Bridges) as an unnamed Stranger in The Big Lebowski.

 The Parmenidean argument for a static, unchanging unified field of being that we call the universe is not only logically compelling, but also, and to a degree half-right scientifically. The argument (which you can find above in the links provided) posits the existence of being and the non-existence of non-being through an argument that treats linear, deductive logic as the only path to Truth and eschews perception as only able to generate mere opinion. Parmenides is quite serious about this claim and his philosophical orientation is one of trying to understand the nature of things or Nature itself. In so doing, he rejects inductive reasoning as a method for arriving at truth and this begins a fight between at least three major philosophical schools at the time: the Eleatic School, the followers of Heraclitus – the Heraclitians, and the Atomists – a school of ancient philosophy buried by power (probably Plato’s power) that had already posited the make up of all matter as composed of atoms and their movements. Unfortunately, it seems that Plato (or the Stranger) did not take the Atomists seriously and brushed their natural philosophy aside in favor of engaging the juxtaposition between Parmenides and Heraclitus. Had he taken the Atomists seriously, we may have publicly understood atoms earlier than we did, but I must leave this matter aside.

Louis C.K., possibly a sophist, arrives at the Parmenedian argument for being at the end of this clip. It is often said that children are the best philosophers and I think he demonstrates why.

Heraclitus takes an opposite route to arriving at Truth, and is famously memmed as asking why one can never step in the same river twice. Why can’t one ever step into the same river? Because it’s always moving. This means that the felt or wished permanence of an object is simply an illusion as all reality is flux. In other words, the Truth about the Real is that it is always changing and this is in stark contrast to Parmenides and his followers. Little has been recovered from Heraclitus or Parmenides and we have their students and writing fragments as well as Platonic dialogues to thank for our civilizational memory of these early disagreements. Socrates, we’ll see, tried to reconcile Parmenides and Heraclitus and we’ll judge whether he was successful when we come to The Republic in a week or two. If you notice, we’re still kinda stuck with the paradoxes they introduce as we grapple with larger problems in the expansion and being of the universe, theories of relativity, quantum mechanics, the big bang theory, other questions and issues in particle physics. To say that either Parmenides or Heraclitus, or the Atomists, were ahead of their time is to miss their impact on civilization. In some sense, we might not have “their time,” without them and indeed our notion of “time,” might be different.

Disney Corp.’s Pocahontas distills the disagreement between Parmenides and Heraclitus nicely in song.

I think that the endurance of the problems presented by the disagreements between the three schools above shows the importance of studying and understanding philosophy in the context of politics because it shows politics within the dialogues themselves as well as in inquiry generally. Much of the baulking and squawking concerning the atomists seems to be motivated by the politics of the time as neither naked perception nor logical deduction (the primary philosophical methods at the time) would reveal something like atomism or atomist thinking. The intuitive appeal of Parmenides and Heraclitus, it would seem, is the deciding factor in Plato’s engagement in both Sophist and elsewhere. One of the more interesting things to notice is that the dialogues flip between “God” and “gods” in their discussions. This could be a slip in translation, but it would appear that those taking Eleatic philosophy seriously tend to use “god,” and not “gods.” This could be a form of monotheism based on Parmenides’ arguments for oneness and universality already sweeping over polytheism that might separate the world into different parts ruled by different gods. At any rate, that Eleatic philosophy existed and had been taken seriously by anyone properly educated in the Greek world could give weight to the proliferation of Christianity through Greece and Rome regardless of the official religions at the time because it, following the Abrahamic tradition dating back to the ancient Jews at least, posits a monotheism that recognizes the unity of existence through Yahweh.

It is important to recognize that Parmenides, Heraclitus, and the Atomists were all concerned with Nature, or the field of existence – being – in which humans come to know themselves and others. One can find the discussions of pre-Socratics through the writings of Thales of Miletus, Anaxagoras (very cool and probably needs more study in the light of Biosphere/Noosphere debates), Anaxamander, Pythagoras, Zeno of Elea, and Xenophanes as still having something to say about the nature of reality and this is more acute during Socrates’ time. However, and importantly, the discussions being had were concerned with Nature, and we see that most of our thinkers listed above were trying to come up with ways of understanding and interpreting the universe. In this way, they’re considered “Natural philosophers,” as their primary objects of inquiry regarded the movements of the heavens and of “natural” bodies. Much of pre-Socratic philosophy was about getting the metaphysics right and then handing down ways to live based on those postulates. The Pythagoreans, for example, had an ethos based on his mathematical teachings as well as thoughts about the organization of society and politics. Socrates and Plato, however, flip the problem of inquiry on its head and while much of their writings on ethics and politics are subordinate to their discussions of metaphysics and epistemology, they spend considerable ink on more “practical” concerns such as justice, and goodness, how society ought to be organized and what sort of life is worth living. In other words, their inquiries seem to be conditioned by an omnipresent ought floating in the back of their minds as they try to respond to those who came before them while trying to present philosophical advice and edicts to their successors. 

Sophist and to a lesser extent Theateatus arrive at the crux of the discursive shift taking place during the life of Socrates. It concerns how one ought to live in order to be happy and becomes an ever present thought in the mind of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics and its conduit is through the state itself as state and subject are brought into alignment through the practice of ethics and the formation of the just constitution. I’ll give you a preview in that the state, as we saw in Crito, is to become a sort of tutor or an instrument that cultivates the main question of ethics at the time – how to lead a good life. Again, in our readings from last week, we saw that this concern and commitment is central for Socrates who, in the end, dies by the pain of his own logic through state ordered suicide by hemlock. How to lead a good life is the primary concern for ethics during antiquity and this is to be accomplished through philosophical inquiry – if one is a philosopher. 

Sophist opens with Socrates posing a question to the Stranger. He asks whether the Eleatics make a distinction between three terms: sophist, philosopher, and statesman. This is a good question in the light of the details above not only because the Stranger is simply from another town that may have different customs, but because the Stranger is also a follower of Parmenides. Presumably, oneness and a static, unchanging unity of being might have trouble parsing out the finer details of living, or categorizing people as having or fulfilling different roles. This concern, however, should be left to the side and the Stranger indulges Socrates who then demands he argue with Theateatus. Much of the argument proceeds by the Stranger leading Theateatus through lines of questioning (as if he hadn’t enough from the day before) that help parse out a bit of reality at a time and he makes a few big cuts into the role and function of the Sophist who is their main target of inquiry. 

Apart from the disagreements between philosophical schools at the time, it seems that there are further disagreements between vocations and disciplines in Athens. Principally, we see a disagreement over “the good life,” and how to live it between the philosophers and their rivals (sometimes, kinda, maybe) the Sophists. The Sophists were a kind of intellectual class tasked with producing arguments and instructing wealthy young Greek males in the art of persuasion – rhetoric. We see their influence today in communications studies, English and language arts, law, politics and business, to say the least. Many people still claim this role as a sort of public persuader and present themselves as experts on many subjects including philosophy, gender religion, art, economics and politics. People like Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, Ben Shapiro, Sam Harris, Al Franken, and Bill Mahr fill a role that could be classified as sophistical and concern themselves with public opinion and, most importantly for any sophist, how to make money from the public opinion. In it’s thinnest distillation, one might consider a sophist as a sort of paid teacher who instructs the young. In this case, I might be a sophist, and we see in Apology that one of Socrates’ best defenses against the accusations of the Sophists is that he accepts very little money and mostly food and good company for his teachings. In this case, and based on my tax bracket and pay-stubs, I am probably not a sophist and could be making more money slinging bullshit and creating controversy rather than pursuing science and philosophy. I can only imagine that Ben Shapiro either does very well for himself, having a law degree from Harvard, or is just a shit lawyer and couldn’t make enough in that field; but he is intellectually descended from Sophists so maybe the practice of sophistry was an inevitable conclusion for him. 

 The Stranger makes a few interesting cuts through the process of division in answering Socrates’ question. You can trace this process as he makes some broad statements that seem to fit with both language and practice. For example, he splits “the arts” into two classifications that he defines functionally – that is, what they do and how they do it: that of productive arts and that of acquisitive arts (Sophist, 219a-221d). Productive arts are practices that produce something from the earth or are otherwise related to creative energies that bring something into being. Depending on your lens (especially if you’re Thomas Kuhn or Michel Foucault or Don Ihde) science could be considered a productive art as worlds of atoms and neutrinos come into being through their instruments and frameworks. For the Stranger, he uses agriculture or metallurgy – casting and milling instruments like eating utensils – as his primary examples of productive arts. He does not think that the Sophist belongs to this camp and seeks a negative definition to distance the sophist from the productive artisan.

The other branch of his division of the arts is that of acquisitive art. To this belongs hunting and angling and other arts that are not concerned with the production of things (the angler, presumably, does not create the fish they “hunt,” although I might problematize that with some readings in ecology later). The sophist, the Stranger believes, is engaged in a sort of acquisitive art having failed to land in the camp of the productive arts. How does he arrive at this definition? He simply observes the behavior of those who might call themselves sophists and makes logical cuts into his perceptions through methods of classification reliant on division. The sophist is a sort of artist, so presumably he fits somewhere. We have but two kinds of arts generally: productive and acquisitive arts. He doesn’t fit into the former, so he must fit into the latter, but what does he “hunt” if he does? 

The Stranger answers: 

“[221d] Stranger

Good gracious! Have we failed to notice that the man is akin to the other man?


Who is akin to whom?


The angler to the sophist.


How so?


They both seem clearly to me to be a sort of hunters…

[222a] Stranger

Now up to that point the sophist and the angler proceed together from the starting-point of acquisitive art.


I think they do.


But they separate at the point of animal-hunting, where the one turns to the sea and rivers and lakes to hunt the animals in those.


To be sure.


But the other turns toward the land and to rivers of a different kind—rivers of wealth and youth, bounteous meadows, as it were—and he intends to coerce the creatures in them…”

Notice that the Stranger articulates hunting, or acquisition generally, as based in coercion. Hunting, for the Stranger, is a coercive act and for the Greeks, and to some today, lying, or misrepresentation of one’s knowledge is an attempt at coercion. The philosopher – according to the Stranger – persuades through a special type of coercion that is the force of reason alone. The use of fallacious arguments is out of bounds for the philosopher but tools of the trade for the Sophist. The Sophist, through the use of fallacious arguments (bad ones that contain logical errors but can slip under the radar in persuasive speech), in other words, engages in the mass coercion of people – particularly wealthy and naive people, for money knowing full well that what they say is merely a representation and not necessarily a truthful one (Sophist. 234b-234e).

What would it look like if Justice was only concerned with the image? Mike Judge might have an answer for us in Idiocracy. But can idiots perceive truth, or are they unable to by definition?

We already have a disagreement over the good life in this dialogue: one between a class of people who believe that their job is to persuade regardless of “the Truth,” and another whose quest is “the Truth,” and who see their jobs as those who spread and nurture it (Sophist. 223b-224d, 233c, 235a). Perhaps the philosophers are deluded and maybe “the Truth,” doesn’t exist, but they believe it does, that they can pursue it, and that it is worth pursuing and once presented they believe it persuasive through the force of reason alone (Sophist 230d-230e, 253e). At some point, the conversation becomes confused and there’s a philosophical breakdown and then a rejoinder through Parmenedian metaphysics. I won’t bore you with much of the details, but the Stranger carries a sustained and interesting conversation concerning the ontological status of falsehood and whether the false could exist in the universe of oneness argued for by Parmenides. It’s an interesting question, but the Stranger eventually creates a special class of things through some tricky logic that can be considered false but his definition seems to be reliant on some sort of correspondence between a presented image and what it’s supposed to represent (Sophist. 253c-261b). There are sticky debates as to the nature of Truth, so I want to be careful in pointing out the above to you, but the above seems reliable. 

After a tour of Eleatic philosophy, the reader is treated to a more concrete rejoinder concerning the nature of the Sophist. The Sophist, says the Stranger, is a sort of image maker, someone who presents a self-brand as an expert in something, and may be, but doesn’t care about whether they present a “true” representation (Sophist. 264e-267a). We see that the Sophist does this because he hunts the young, naive and wealthy as his quarry but ensnares his victims through the deployment of false representations and chiefly, a representation of himself as an expert (Sophist. 267a-267c). The content of expertise is left to the side in their conversation and it’s not clear how one “becomes” an expert in the Stranger’s eyes, but it seems, quite conveniently, to pursue inquiry through philosophical reflection and conversation. That is, through an excision of one’s malignant beliefs about something – reality, and all its components – to realize one’s ignorance.

Kill the sophist and the image is what survives.

The Sophist is never ignorant of anything, so says the Stranger. He is constantly staging his knowledge for the capture of money and the imagination. In this way, his art concerns that of the fantastic (fantastic in this sense as producing or emanating from fantasy or a sort of entertainment) (Sophist. 267a-267c). Sophistry imitates knowledge, and is considered a mimetic art by the Stranger and this complicates his definition further because it would appear as if making appearances, or mimetic images is a sort of production. If that’s the case, then how does the Sophist belong to the acquisitive arts and not the productive arts? It is because he makes falsehoods through his images. Nothing of any real meaning stands behind his representations as he feigns knowledge and expertise through his extractive enterprise. In this light, the Sophist is a sort of bewitching parasite – an incubus or succubus (today, at least) of sorts – that latches onto money or power and draws as much as it can from its host (Sophist. 268b-268d). The Stranger says: 


Then shall we call one the simple imitator and the other the dissembling imitator?…



I am considering, and I think I can see two classes. I see one who can dissemble in long speeches in public before a multitude, and the other who does it in private in short speeches and forces the person who converses with him to contradict himself.


You are quite right.


And what name shall we give to him who makes the longer speeches? Statesman or popular orator?


Popular orator.


And what shall we call the other? Philosopher or sophist?


We cannot very well call him philosopher, since by our hypothesis [268c] he is ignorant; but since he is all imitator of the philosopher, he will evidently have a name derived from his, and I think I am sure at last that we must truly call him the absolutely real and actual sophist. [268d] of the image-making art, and is not divine, but human, and has been defined in arguments as the juggling part of productive activity—he who says that the true sophist is of this descent and blood will, in my opinion, speak the exact truth.”

There you have it. The Sophist is a professional bullshit artist and I know you can find many of those today. But what distinguishes the Sophist from the Statesman? And what of the Statesman from the Philosopher? The philosopher is that seeker of truth, a practitioner in the sweet science of self-pugilism and a knower, or discoverer of ignorance. The Sophist, in the word of the Stranger “runs away into the darkness of not-being, feeling his way in it by practice, and is hard to discern on account of the darkness of the place.” (Sophist. 254a)  

We also need a rejoinder at this point in our course. You’ll see above that the Sophist is an image-maker in the sense of a false-representer of knowledge. He does this to draw in capital and both lives on and builds his life in the image of capital. As you may recall from your reading in Marx, capital can go through transmutation and can materialize in different forms. One of those is that of an instrument (Marx, GI, p.3) an impersonal instrument of production. The Stranger makes an interesting remark regarding the production of “fantastic” art [you’ll remember from above that “fantastic” here does not mean good, but more of an untruthful spectacle or entertainment]: 


One kind is that produced by instruments, the other that in which the producer of the appearance offers himself as the instrument.


What do you mean?


When anyone, by employing his own person as his instrument, makes his own figure or voice seem similar to yours, that kind of fantastic art is called mimetic. (Sophist. 267a)
Recall also that Thucydides named the establishment, plunder and frustration of capital as one of the principal reasons for the Peloponnesian War. Further, recall that Marx says the formation of capital is related to and springs forth from settled society (Marx, GI, p.5) and further, that capital can be considered an agent and takes specific (read particular) embodiments (Marx, GI, p.11). Taking together the Stranger, Thucydides and Marx, we may assert that the Sophist is a sort of embodiment of capital that draws in, ensnares, and produces more capital through persuasion and is not at all concerned with “the Truth,” but the production of discourse within society for personal gain (Marx, GI, p.3, 5, 11; Sophist, 245a, 267a, 268b-268d; Thucydides, Chapter 1, Book 1). To that end, those who project and protect a self-brand where they pretend to be experts on anything and everything are instantiations of capital that have been with us since antiquity – the Sophists. The best way to stop them (they’ll kill philosophers when given the chance as they did with Socrates!) might be to tune them out, and to that you’ll see that I’ve not included their videos above.

The song playing is called “Dead Flowers” and is sung by Townes Van Zandt.