Thursday, March 4, 2010

235: Plato's Republic

Today it is March 2, 2010. More than 2300 years ago there was a human being thinking about the basic question of political philosophy: how can one person ever justifiably claim the authority to govern another person.

This leads for us to all kinds of questions. Are the ideas of 2300 years ago relevant for our present situation? If we compare the ideas of 2300 years ago, have we improved on them? Has there been a learning process and do we now hold better ideas in political philosophy?

The thinker of more than 2300 years ago we are talking about, is of course, Plato. He wrote several dialogues concerning political matters.

The Politeia, misleadingly translated as Republic ("political order" would be better), is the most well known, I guess.

However, there are two other dialogues: The Statesman and Laws. All are written from Plato's social perspective: the city state, which of course shows an immense difference with our present complex society.

In the English-speaking world, under the influence of twentieth century analytic philosophy, the main task of political philosophy today is still often seen as conceptual analysis: the clarification of political concepts.

As such it has a long tradition and is first introduced in Platonic dialogues. But for Plato it was not just about the clarification of a concept in its meaning. The analysis was focused too on the evaluation of underlying beliefs.

And one of these beliefs which relates to the best political order, according to Plato, is the existence, the possibility of justice.

Justice, one of the most fundamental ethical and political concepts . It is a complex and ambiguous concept. It may refer to individual virtue, the order of society, as well as individual rights in contrast to the claims of the general social order.

Justice, if rightly understood, Plato argues, is not to the exclusive advantage of any of the city’s factions, but is concerned with the common good of the whole political community, and is to the advantage of everyone.

Justice is not an arithmetical equality: giving equal shares to all alike irrespective of merit, which represents the democratic concept of distributive justice, but it is equity or fairness based on difference: giving shares proportionate to the merit of those who receive them.

For Plato most people, corrupted as they are, are fundamentally irrational, driven by their appetites, egoistic passions, and informed by false beliefs. But at the same time we are social animals, incapable of living alone.

So to achieve justice in a society you need special people to supervise. Impartial people, who only concentrate on the common good.

They must be highly educated to be able to find the limits and proportionality between extremes (e.g. extreme poverty - extreme richness). This should be the task of philosophers in this society.

Thus, the ideal state , which has Plato in mind is based on justice and focused on the common good. To achieve this we need intelligent , rational and well-educated impartial people: the philosophers according to Plato.

Do we think the same? Do we have better ideas? Tel me! ^_^

The Discussion

[13:17] Gemma Cleanslate: I wish
[13:17] ZANICIA Chau: How can you argue that?
[13:17] herman Bergson: So you think, Plato has something to tell Gemma?
[13:17] Gemma Cleanslate: I would think so
[13:18] Gemma Cleanslate: but where re we to find these impartial people
[13:18] Gemma Cleanslate: how do we grow them
[13:18] Abraxas Nagy: it only works if justice is evenly distributed among social classes
[13:18] Repose Lionheart: Departments of Philosophy?
[13:18] ZANICIA Chau: Bravo Gem
[13:18] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:18] Abraxas Nagy: wich its not
[13:19] herman Bergson: Plato was very specific about these philosophers...
[13:19] Gemma Cleanslate: and how is it that all the other people are so bad
[13:19] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:19] Gemma Cleanslate: yes he was
[13:19] Bejiita Imako: :)
[13:19] herman Bergson: they had no right to possesions, no family, marriage, etc
[13:19] Repose Lionheart: oh, i see
[13:19] Gemma Cleanslate: these special people???
[13:19] Gemma Cleanslate: wow
[13:19] Repose Lionheart: priests, i a way
[13:19] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:20] herman Bergson: Yes.. absolutely dedicated too the common good
[13:20] herman Bergson: Kind of priests indeed....
[13:20] Gemma Cleanslate: i say again how do we grow them
[13:20] ZANICIA Chau: hehe
[13:20] herman Bergson: YEs Gemma that is one thing....
[13:20] Gemma Cleanslate: very idealistic
[13:20] herman Bergson: another thing is this concept of Justice... how can we know that?
[13:21] herman Bergson: this is closely related to Plato's epistemology
[13:21] Gemma Cleanslate: well if it were defined by these impartial people ....
[13:21] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:21] ZANICIA Chau: It IS ambiguous
[13:21] Repose Lionheart: you can only "grow" them with what will quickly become a bureaucracy
[13:21] herman Bergson: yes Zanicia, but here Plato comes with his cave metaphor
[13:21] Repose Lionheart: not sure that works for justice
[13:21] Gemma Cleanslate: very
[13:22] herman Bergson: we only see the shadows on the wall....
[13:22] Gemma Cleanslate: i started to read The Republic and gave it up
[13:22] Gemma Cleanslate: went to the summary
[13:22] Qwark Allen: eheh
[13:22] herman Bergson: only by great effort we can climb out of the cave and see the real thing in daylight
[13:22] Gemma Cleanslate: b4 punctuation lol
[13:22] ZANICIA Chau: Not forgetting his admiration of Aristotle----
[13:23] herman Bergson: Well...Aristole will develop this idea of virtue, this ability of finding the mean between extremes further
[13:23] ZANICIA Chau: Great concerns have to be thoroughly worked through by the like minded, dont they professor?
[13:24] herman Bergson: In the eyes of Plato it was a matter of thorgough education and character
[13:24] ZANICIA Chau: ---I meant throughout our history in its entirety
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: well that is certainly agreeable
[13:25] herman Bergson: And about growing them Gemma, Plato had real ideas about eugenetics indeed
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:25] herman Bergson: I think the basic idea of the greek was that we can handle our affairs by by using our rationality.
[13:26] Laila Schuman: i am wondering... often God is turned to for that definition of justice... so would Plato have been separating philosophers from the variety of priests that were defining such concepts... or was that already accomplished
[13:26] Repose Lionheart: think we have less faith in rationality
[13:26] herman Bergson: and that we come to conclusions about what things like justice and goodness are by this rationality
[13:26] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:27] herman Bergson: Plato was not religious like thinking will become with Saint Augustine for instance
[13:28] herman Bergson: It is interesting to see how the Greek shaped our philosophical thinking for ages
[13:28] herman Bergson: Do we have less faith in Rationality Repose?
[13:28] Repose Lionheart: I think so
[13:29] ZANICIA Chau: I believe so
[13:29] herman Bergson: in what do we have more faith?
[13:29] ZANICIA Chau: Tough call---
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: our forms of democracy work by balancing contending forces
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: not by reasonable concourse
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: though reason plays a role
[13:30] herman Bergson: yes...that was already the task of the philosophers in Plato's balance the different interests
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: oh, i see
[13:30] herman Bergson: You may have a point Repose...
[13:31] herman Bergson: BEcause rationality is just a concept...not what andd who we are
[13:31] Bejiita Imako: indeed
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: hmmm...
[13:31] herman Bergson: so the balancing of interests is also based on the use of emotions I would say
[13:32] Repose Lionheart: oh, yes
[13:32] herman Bergson: A so called rational thought has an emotional connotation
[13:32] Bejiita Imako: hmm seems true
[13:32] herman Bergson: When I say I am a democrate, I plead for justice...
[13:32] herman Bergson: then this is not an academic descriptive statement only
[13:32] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:33] herman Bergson: It is also something I stand up for
[13:33] ZANICIA Chau: Bravo
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: did Plato consider the differing needs of people in his notions of justice?
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: nice
[13:34] herman Bergson: Yes...
[13:34] ZANICIA Chau: Of course
[13:34] herman Bergson: as I his opinion justice is not a matter of distribution everything equally
[13:35] herman Bergson: there is a realtion between what you merit and what you contribute to the society
[13:35] Repose Lionheart: no, but desserts is different from a distribution according to need
[13:36] herman Bergson: Main concern of Plato was that everyone could live a pleasant and peacefull life
[13:36] Repose Lionheart: i see
[13:36] Repose Lionheart: so, yes, then...
[13:37] herman Bergson: I think we still want that ^_^
[13:37] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:37] ZANICIA Chau: he could also see thet was Utopia
[13:37] herman Bergson: To conclude...
[13:38] herman Bergson: Plato's idea was that we can reach that society by using our rationality and developing our virues of justice and benevolence, etc.
[13:38] herman Bergson: So contrary to utilitarianists this idea is completely agent-based
[13:39] Repose Lionheart: oh
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: ok
[13:40] herman Bergson: to say it in a simplistic way: if you all are a good person, then our society will be pleasant and peacefull
[13:40] Bejiita Imako: seems completely logical
[13:40] Gemma Cleanslate: great
[13:40] ZANICIA Chau: Back to base- we have to define 'good'/
[13:40] ZANICIA Chau: .
[13:40] Gemma Cleanslate: we can forget the others now
[13:41] herman Bergson: Yes Zanicia
[13:41] Bejiita Imako: good = dont do bad things like hurt others
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: good is virtuous
[13:41] Gemma Cleanslate: what is virtue
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: virtue ethics
[13:41] ZANICIA Chau: close- no cigar
[13:41] Bejiita Imako: like all these wars and shit all over the world now
[13:41] herman Bergson: In the beginning chapters of the Politeia Plato, or actually Socrates starts the analysis of that question
[13:41] Gemma Cleanslate: yes i saw that part
[13:41] herman Bergson: what is good = justice
[13:42] Repose Lionheart: oh
[13:42] herman Bergson: ?
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: aa
[13:42] herman Bergson: Teh discussion is rather elaborate and they try fouer different meanings of just
[13:43] Laila Schuman: i am imagining a tribe that says ... what is good is if my child is safe and we can eat... AT ALL COSTS
[13:43] Bejiita Imako: when everything works at its best and peaceful all over
[13:43] herman Bergson: I dont think the "at all costs" part can hold
[13:43] Laila Schuman: i can imagine it being said
[13:44] herman Bergson: It could for instance imply the death of your tribemembers?
[13:44] Laila Schuman: yes
[13:44] herman Bergson: so here again you nead to find a balance between extremes
[13:44] Laila Schuman: for an animal... that might be "good"... and we are animals
[13:44] herman Bergson: get an agreement with your neighbor for instance...
[13:45] herman Bergson: honest distribution of low food supplies and so on
[13:45] Bejiita Imako: ah yes
[13:45] Bejiita Imako: such things
[13:46] herman Bergson: I think the basic idea of Plato of how to create a state is clear, isnt it
[13:46] Laila Schuman: i look at america... and others... and frankly, that is what i see... the philosophy is only there after this is satisfied
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: justice as a basis
[13:46] herman Bergson: Fast food then philosophy, LAila?
[13:46] Repose Lionheart: hehehe
[13:46] Laila Schuman: lol sort of
[13:47] Justine Rhapsody: sorry need to leave early
[13:47] Laila Schuman: feed me first..then we will talk
[13:47] Laila Schuman: when i was in israel... at a kibbutz for people who survived the warsaw ghetto
[13:47] herman Bergson: We'll keep that in mind for the next time we gather...
[13:47] Laila Schuman: as kind s they were... eatting came first
[13:47] Laila Schuman: even if i was not hungry
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:48] Rodney Handrick: eating is good...very very good
[13:48] Bejiita Imako: :)
[13:48] Bejiita Imako: hehe yes
[13:48] Bejiita Imako: love some tasty stuff now and then
[13:48] Bejiita Imako: woop Gemma crash
[13:48] Abraxas Nagy: o.o
[13:48] Abraxas Nagy: O.o
[13:48] Abraxas Nagy: o.O
[13:48] Abraxas Nagy: poor Gemma
[13:48] herman Bergson: Yes, but first you need education.... learn how to produce your tasty food
[13:49] Abraxas Nagy: true
[13:49] Bejiita Imako: and some good recipes
[13:49] Bejiita Imako: :)
[13:49] herman Bergson: so it is not just food we need to make a society work
[13:49] Laila Schuman: hunter hatherers
[13:49] Abraxas Nagy: ha-bloody-ha
[13:49] Abraxas Nagy: oops
[13:49] ZANICIA Chau: unnecessary
[13:49] Bejiita Imako: wb Gemma
[13:49] Abraxas Nagy: *:::* WELCOME BACK *:::*
[13:49] Abraxas Nagy: Gema
[13:50] Gemma Cleanslate: ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:50] herman Bergson: wb Gemma
[13:50] bergfrau Apfelbaum: wb-) gemma
[13:50] Repose Lionheart: Laila is right, but politics is not just about this...
[13:50] Laila Schuman: i think when push comes to shove ...we become primal... and selfish
[13:50] Repose Lionheart: not always
[13:50] Abraxas Nagy: right
[13:50] ZANICIA Chau: true
[13:50] Abraxas Nagy: when not?
[13:50] Bejiita Imako: can be true sometimes at least
[13:50] Abraxas Nagy: in the movies?
[13:50] herman Bergson: That may seem so Laila, but it wont work
[13:50] Bejiita Imako: pushed really hard we often do
[13:50] Laila Schuman: looting in chile
[13:51] Repose Lionheart: there are always some who can not rise above the primal concerns
[13:51] Repose Lionheart: but sometimes the balance of forces in a society
[13:51] Repose Lionheart: allows for great things
[13:51] Repose Lionheart: rare as this is
[13:51] Repose Lionheart: the US decisively rid itself of slavery
[13:52] Laila Schuman: what i see is a scary precipice... between who we really are... and our ideal
[13:52] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:52] Repose Lionheart: i see it too
[13:52] Laila Schuman: very scary
[13:52] Repose Lionheart: courage
[13:52] Laila Schuman: yes... suddenly those words take on a profundity
[13:52] Laila Schuman: courage
[13:52] Laila Schuman: rational
[13:52] Laila Schuman: compassion
[13:53] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:53] Repose Lionheart: especially the later
[13:53] herman Bergson: Well... then I would like to suggest to have alook at other theories of society and see if we can be a bit possitive in the end about the human being
[13:53] Gemma Cleanslate: HOPE SO
[13:53] Repose Lionheart: yes!
[13:53] ZANICIA Chau: Another tough call -professor!
[13:53] herman Bergson: Ihave good hope Gemma ^_^
[13:54] herman Bergson: May I thank you all for your participation
[13:54] Bejiita Imako: :)
[13:54] Laila Schuman: what is it makes us bridge that gap... from animal to... thinker
[13:54] herman Bergson: And ROdney breaks a record...
[13:54] Bejiita Imako: interesting
[13:54] Repose Lionheart: Thanks, Prof! Another great one
[13:54] Laila Schuman: love or fear???
[13:54] ZANICIA Chau: Thank you professor
[13:54] Repose Lionheart: always love
[13:54] herman Bergson: He is not only late but while being here he even falls asleep!
[13:55] Repose Lionheart: hehe
[13:55] Abraxas Nagy: lol
[13:55] ZANICIA Chau: lol
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: lolololol
[13:55] Abraxas Nagy: RODNEY!!
[13:55] Bejiita Imako: haha
[13:55] herman Bergson: RODNEY!!!
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: oh well
[13:55] herman Bergson: lol
[13:55] Abraxas Nagy: haaaahaaaahaaaahaaaahaaa
[13:55] Laila Schuman: fear can maky you band together... cooperate
[13:55] Abraxas Nagy: :;;:+*'`'*+*'`'*+:;._((( HONK!! ))) _..;:+*'`'*+*'`'*+:;_
[13:55] Laila Schuman: self interest
[13:55] Repose Lionheart: tea-partyers
[13:55] Abraxas Nagy: right
[13:55] herman Bergson: We have a long way to go, Laila ^_^
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: lol see you thursday
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: herman
[13:56] Abraxas Nagy: fear unites
[13:56] Qwark Allen: ˜*•. ˜”*°•.˜”*°• Bye ! •°*”˜.•°*”˜ .•*˜
[13:56] Qwark Allen: see you thursday
[13:56] herman Bergson: Be well everyone
[13:56] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:56] Qwark Allen: ;-)
[13:56] Bejiita Imako: cu
[13:56] Abraxas Nagy: c ya

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