After learning about Socrates and philosophy, Plato, Socrates and other philosophers devoted their life to finding the truth and discovering our world. After reading the Republic, it seems that the ideal city- how it’s supposed to run, how everyone is supposed to stay in their place and how everyone is then good if they will only be their one thing for the rest of their life and how this then creates justice- is the truth that Socrates has found through his study and life as a philosopher. But I think that if you have found the truth, it should be undisputable, it should be a fact of life and become unchallengeable. But Socrates’ “truth” was and still is very arguable and disputable. I don’t think the ideal city is the truth because Aristophanes, among others, was able to write a play criticizing Socrates and Socratic thinking. If his type of thinking can be so criticized and debated, what differentiates philosophy from regular political debate? If the ideal city is not truth because it can be argued against or tweaked, then it is just another idea for governing similar to democracy, socialism, or communism, except Socrates would have much, much more control over his citizens than any of the other political theories and seems to be the most extreme of all of them with the least amount of freedom. If you are able to agree or disagree with the ideal city and the way its run, then you automatically make it just a concept of justice of Socrates, which ultimately just fulfills Thrasymachus’ definition of justice as ‘whatever is in the interest of the larger party’. While I understand Socratic thinking, and I see how the ideal city can create justice, but I don’t think there should be such control over people and do not see that much control as just. If I can come up with this thinking, than the ideal city must not be the truth. A truth, to my perception, is finding that the sun illuminates the earth during the day. No one can adequately disagree with that statement because it is true. There is no other alternative or explanation as to what illuminates the earth during the day. But when it comes to justice and the debate over the definition of justice, everybody’s definition can be debated as the definition, which makes them all untrue. The definition that is closest to truth is Thrasymachus’ definition because it seems to be the least debatable of all of the definitions given. If Socrates never reached his goal of finding the truth or if none of the other philosophers reached their goal as well, and given that there are still flaws in Socratic thinking, what was the point of Socrates dying to uphold his ideas and why do we still study them?
In Book VII of The Republic, Socrates discusses the five regimes: Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny. One leads to the next and eventually shows the breakdown of the ideal city. While discussing this in class, the notion of Timocracy caught my attention. Dictionary.com defines it as “a form of government in which love of honor is the dominant motive of the rulers.” In a Timocratic society, the soul is ruled by the spirit, resulting in a controlled appetite but desire for glory. Being a violinist and participating in several different orchestras, I couldn’t help but notice that the establishment of the orchestra is synonymous with a Timocracy.
Honor and glory are the ruling principles of the modern day symphony orchestra. This is perfectly exemplified by the seating order. Every violinist wants to be concertmaster. Why? It comes with a lot of glory. The concertmaster gets to walk on stage after every other member of the orchestra has taken his/her seat. Upon walking on stage, the audience roars and the concertmaster gets to take a bow in acknowledgment. He/she also gets to play any violin solos written in the music. This unquestionably provides a greater sense of glory.
Each member of the orchestra is fuelled with this desire for honor whether it be violins, cellos, oboes, flutes, french horns etc. Everybody wants that big solo and the honor that comes with it. That being said, the typical orchestra also exemplifies a Timocracy in that it desires to sound better than other orchestras, for that comes with glory. Why do the best symphony orchestras rehearse for several hours each week? Because they desire to sound better than the other orchestras. They want the glory of saying they are the “best in the state” or even “best in the country.”
Unfortunately, as Socrates described how the ideal city would further degenerate from a Timocracy to an Oligarchy, the same can be true for the orchestra. Although it doesn’t happen often, those with money can bribe the people in charge into giving them first chair. The orchestra then goes from an establishment ruled by the spirit to one ruled by the appetite, as it is now governed by the rich. This of course results in an orchestra that doesn’t function as efficiently, for he/she who did the bribing may not be best fit for first chair. In sum, I think Timocracy is an effective regime in the case of the orchestra.
A question stands unanswered among many of us whether fate is real or not. Is it true that everything that we experience is mapped out or is everything just by chance? If it was real, is it possible to change it? These scenarios were sketched out quite humorously in the play, “Oedipus the King.”
It seems that in this play, fate exists, and there are people who have the ability to read it. I found the play to be quite amusing because the main character, Oedipus, had tried to escape his fate, but unknowingly met it. Whether he was fortunate or not, Oedipus had something that we do not have certainty of in the real world, which was basically a reading of his future.
An oracle had told Oedipus that he was to kill his father, and to have sexual intercourse with his own mother! Afraid of committing such actions, he decides to run away from his home. After running away, he goes to kill the king not knowing that he was his real father, and to take over the throne and marry the king’s wife, a.k.a. his real mother.
When I first heard this part of the play, it got me wondering. What if Oedipus had not met the oracle, and had gone living without knowing his fate. Would he have gone to kill his real father and have sex with his real mother? Would his fate have been changed if he hadn’t known about it?
The reason why he had left his foster parents was because the oracle had told him that he was to commit those actions. However if he’d not been told that these things were to happen, he wouldn’t have run away to kill his father. He would have remained in his foster parents household. Therefore, the fate that he had been told would have been false because he wouldn’t have gone near his real parents.
However, is this theory false? If this were to be actually his fate, would he have done these horrid things regardless of whatever? Maybe no matter what he did, nothing could stop him from killing his real father and having sex with his real mother.
This scenario reminds me of a scene from the movie, “Looper.”
SPOIL ALERT! Bruce Willis’ character, the future self of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, comes to the present from the future to shoot and kill a child who in the future would become a dangerous man. The mother of this child comes to protect him by standing right in front of him to block the Bruce Willis from shooting him. Meanwhile, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is standing on the side and has an epiphany. The reason to why the child was to become such a horrid being was because of the fact that if Bruce Willis were to shoot the mother, the child would run away motherless, developing mental problems, and therefore become a psycho. However, Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes a very unexpected route by killing himself, and therefore killing off Bruce Willis as well.
This is obviously a very complicated subject. Maybe the only way to that Oedipus was to alter his fate was to kill himself? Then, he wouldn’t be able to do anything else! 🙂
Hi Sarah! To preface what I am about to say, I must say that I agree with what you have said for the general public. As a larger society and the American stereotype, we seem to have gone straight for consumerism. But the cause (which is not the topic of this response) is that our anscestors have typically wanted more success for their descendents, not by nihilism as some others in the class say. How that is measured has changed over time, but it is typically monetary. And this concept is not new; consider the myth of King Midas, whose obesession with gold led to his own demise. He was a consumer to the point of death.
Now consider something totally different: we can pinpoint pockets of society where they do pursue the “highest good”, something that is good for both its consequences and its own sake. In my opinion, one example is the musical community. We are constantly putting ourselves through physical, mental, and emotional stress for something greater. How do we turn out in the end? We turn out happy. We may see something that can help us to better materially, but it is (hopefully) because we were the ones making music the most passionately and greatly so that we could stand out from everyone else. If we look at a situation of playing with a good orchestra or a bad orchestra and were told to play in one or the other, I imagine that most would choose the good orchestra. It would pay more (consequence), but we would also be able to better enjoy what we do- make music for the sake of making music.
Another thing that I argue is that we are not only going towards consequence-oriented actions, but also doing things because we do them for their own sake. One example could be hiking. Going from personal experience, I went on a backpakcing trip to get experience of doing such a trip, but I would go on a trip to go on the trip. Yes, it would gratify a want to backpack more, but I would not do it for any consequence that could come from it. I would do it for its own sake.
After reading the Republic and learning it in class and then reading the Clouds and its criticism of Socratic thinking, I realized that a lot of his perfect city is, I believe, grossly unrealistic. First, I think that the fundamental idea of the city, that everyone has one given task or role that they do and then contently and happily do only that one role or stay in their place for the rest of their life. I think this ideal is so pointless because it goes against fundamental human nature and evolutionary survival nature. To me, it seems very natural that humans always strive for more and have achieved a consumerist society like we have. Always striving for more, always wanting more is how one survives. A lion cannot be content with just one kill for a few days or else it starves along with its pack, so an innate need and drive for more food. If a lion is more adept and hunting than normal, the lion will keep hunting because of this drive, because of the possibility that there will at some point be a lack of food, thus the lion must stockpile when he can, and being that he is more adept at hunting, he will then deplete his food source, causing the lack of food, which perpetuates his stockpiling behavior. Humans have taken this drive, this behavior and translated it to unnecessary desires as we have deemed those desires necessary to our survival. More money means more food, thus better survival, so we create a drive for money. Technology is supposed to make us more productive in our lives and nice furniture is supposed to make our living spaces more restful, both translating to a higher ability for survival so we then create a need for them and then we buy them to excess. I think this drive that we have within would be a fatal flaw to Socrates’ ideal city, as I don’t think he could be able to get this drive out of us through education. I think this drive would cause people to move between their stations and be discontent with their given station and realize that maybe they would be better off if they were in a different job. The ‘Myth of the Metals’, while maybe keeping them in their place for the time being would not keep a person happy with their allotted place. A person can very well be adept at something but not enjoy it, and if this task that they are good at is chosen as their place, then they will become unhappy, which will translate as a poor state of survival, and try to relieve that discontent in some manner or other that will then create injustice. If a cobbler hates making shoes, he will start to wonder if he would be happier as a tailor. Knowing what you are doing does not make the task any more enjoyable or make the person any happier. Believing he has a soul of bronze does not keep this thought from happening. And if that thought appears the action to appease that though will eventually follow as the drive will somehow manifest itself in the citizens of the city at some point, making this ideal city unsustainable and unrealistic.
After talking about the Allegory Of the Cave, it seems, from my understanding, that Socrates’ opinion of the world around us is that it is all just a concept that we turn it into. A pencil is only a pencil because that’s what we say it is, otherwise it would just be a combination of wood and lead. So far, from my understanding, everything in our world does not actually exist or is just an attempt to create something that cannot exist. This concept and understanding has mad me wonder what the point of learning this and understanding the forms is? For a quick summary of the Allegory of the Cave, a prisoner who sees a shadow of a dog on the cave wall all his life is dragged up the cave to view the fire and the puppet of the dog and then ragged out of the cave to see a real dog and see the sun and then sent back down to rule over the other prisoners. My question is; why does the prisoner need to understand that the shadows aren’t the truth in order to rule the other prisoners? Why does viewing the sun and the fire and the actual dog make him any more qualified to rule then any of the other prisoners? I understand the forms now more than an average person. I know they exist and I know they tell us that everything is merely a concept and everything is just what we make it. Essentially, I am further up the cave than the other prisoners. I know there is a fire and a puppet so to speak. Although I recognize there is much more study to be done and I am not a philosopher, knowing the forms and understanding they exist has changed absolutely nothing about the way I see the world. A chair is still a chair, a chalkboard is still a chalkboard and I feel no more qualified to rule anything than the average person. So if this bit knowledge has changed nothing about me, what is the point of learning? And what is the point of fully learning it? The prisoners seem perfectly content to stare at the shadows without knowing of the sun and the real dog as people seem perfectly content to call a pen a pen instead of realizing it’s just an imitation of their concept of a pen that can’t actually be. Why does fully realizing this concept make a person a more qualified ruler? Even if you fully understood the forms and the form of the good, it does not change anything in the physical space around you. Nothing will actually change. The shadows are still on the wall, the imitation of the pen will still exist in the physical universe and the perfect pen will not and cannot, so what’s the point of being unsatisfied when nothing can be changed? And what does the knowledge of the forms change about the way someone rule that makes them a better leader?
Most people would agree that as capitalism has grown, so has the emphasis on material possessions. More and more technology is spewing out everyday, and people are encouraged to buy the newest smartphone, or the even newer smartwatch. There is so much emphasis on making money to buy these gadgets, that society is slowly eliminating the genuine joys in life. Rather than enjoying something for its consequence and for the sake of doing it, people are increasingly enjoying things only for their consequences, not for the sake of doing it.
Of course, this relates to the “three types of good” mentioned in Book II of Plato’s Republic. While in conversation with Socrates, Glaucon talks of three types of goods:
1. That which we like for its own sake, such as joy
2. That which we like for its own sake and its consequences
3. That which we like for its consequences, but not for its own sake
As aforementioned, I believe that society is losing touch with the second good listed (which Socrates calls the finest good), and is now becoming overwhelmed by the third good listed. Back in Socrates time, it was enjoyable to gain knowledge, as were the consequences of having knowledge. Even today, in less fortunate countries, kids enjoy going to school for the sake of going as well as for its consequences. Nowadays, in our consumerist culture, people see education as a burden, but carry it through in order to land a higher paying job. The higher paying job then leads to the ability to buy more material objects.
I’ve fallen victim to this, for occasionally when I play a gig for money, I see it as more of a burden with payoff and less of a joy with payoff. Because materialism has driven society to crave money, people don’t do tasks for the desire of doing the tasks. They do it for the money. The money then buys items, such as the smartwatch, which are designed to speed up the tasks. Why would one need to speed up a task if the task itself was enjoyable? Certainly, this doesn’t apply to every individual or circumstance, I just find it unfortunate that tasks that were once gratifying for their own sake are becoming burdensome.