Republic: Books VII, VIII, and IX

Kiersten Lamke:

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

Macey Sheppard:

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

John Fratis

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

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

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

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

Education and philosophical inquiry connected to desire and the soul:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Century of the Self Part I: Happiness Machines

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

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

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