Reading Questions on Book V of the Republic

March 30, 2011

(1) Before beginning Book V, I would like you to think about where Socrates is in his argument. His argument is supposed to be a response to Glaucon’s challenge, and Glaucon’s challenge, you’ll recall, was that Socrates needed to show that a just life would be happier than an unjust one, even if the just person suffered greatly (and had a reputation for injustice) and an unjust one was rewarded (and praised for his justice). By the end of Book IV, has Socrates answered Glaucon’s challenge?

(2) What is the relationship between having a just soul and doing just deeds? Does a just man perform actions we conventionally call just?

(3) In Book V, Plato begins his long digression, which will last through Book VII. In this digression, he aims to explore further the organization of the city and how it is possible (his short answer to the latter question: philosophers must rule or rulers must become philosophers). Here, however, let us focus on organizational matters: what is the status of women in Socrates’ city?

(4) What happens to the family in Socrates’ city? What are the possible advantages of Socrates’ proposals?

(5) At the end of Book V, Socrates begins his discussion of the difference between knowledge and opinion, which will turn out to be tremendously important for his later argument about why philosophers should rule. What is the difference between the philosopher, who loves Beauty itself, and others who love beautiful things?

(6) Why can there be no genuine knowledge of particulars?


An interesting video on morality

March 29, 2011

All this talk of morality is getting exciting! Just figured I would share this.

I watched a TED talk recently of Sam Harris making an argument that reminded very much of Plato’s depiction of Socrates in the apology. The basic premise of his argument is that through the fields of science we can find right of wrong answers to moral questions. Granted, Socrates would say we would find these answers through philosophy, their arguments are rather similar. While Socrates says that only through philosophical examination can we find true virtue, and true answers to these moral questions, Sam Harris focuses on the field of studying the brain for human well being. He even uses the same argument that Socrates does. He gives the example of him showing up to a string theory conference and saying, “I don’t really like this. It doesn’t really resonate with me, I just don’t like that outlook on the smaller scale of life.” It would mean absolutely nothing because he is not an expert on string theory. He even refers to himself as “the Ted Bundy of string theory.”

His argument stems from the idea of why we don’t have compassion for rocks or insects, but do for apes. We believe that apes can suffer greater, and are therefore more concerned with their well being. One would try to counter argue by pointing out that moral answers are subjective, and that science can only tell us what things are, not how to ought to be. He makes the strong claim that we can scientifically observe the effects on the brain, and decide what affects the well being positively or negatively. This gives hard, physical evidence for the case that one thing truly affects a being in a more positive way than another. Socrates spends so much time speculating on what is intrinsically right, and while this does not necessarily answer Socrates’ question, it does give us truthful facts to base our moral decisions off of.

He also addresses the possible counter argument asking “what would the right society  be?” He uses the idea of a moral landscape with peaks and valleys, some peaks being higher than others and some valleys lower than others. There are several ways to achieve the well being of other humans without saying a specific example, and it is our job to find the peaks. Just as there are several ways to eat during the day, and no diet is truly the best diet, there is “a clear distinction between food and poison”. I think this is an argument that is extremely practical in comparison to that of Socrates, who is more concerned with finding the perfect diet, even if it means recreating all of food.

In the end, he poses a very convincing argument that science can indeed give us the moral answers that we need. If Sam Harris were to answer the question of what is just, I believe his answer would be in the realm of, that which can be proven to improve human well being. His answer cannot provide truly justice intrinsically, but it can give us a very clear idea of what goes where in the moral realm without the need for religious demagogues that get their answers through some sort of faith related practices. This video is extremely entertaining and definitely worth a watch.

Reading Questions on Plato’s Republic, Book IV

March 28, 2011

Book IV is the last book before the long digression in The Republic. It is also the book where we finally get the definition of justice, which, it turns out, has been right in front of our faces all along….

(1) How does Socrates respond to the objection that his guardians and auxiliaries may not be happy, since they do not possess material luxuries?

(2) What are some of the ways that Socrates proposes to prevent social unrest?

(3) Why does Socrates think it is so important to avoid innovations in music and poetry?

(4) What are some of the things Socrates insists should not be legislated/regulated (cf. 425b)? Why isn’t it necessary or helpful to legislate such matters?

(5) Focus the bulk of your attention on Socrates’ definitions of the virtues (wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice). What are each of these virtues and where are they to be found in the city?

(6) How does Socrates go about proving that there are different parts to the soul? What parts does he identify?

(7) What does justice in the soul look like, according to Socrates?

Challenging Glaucon’s Challenge

March 27, 2011

In Book 2, we discussed Glaucon’s challenge, which boils down to him concluding that people only value justice for it’s consequences. In other words, if we could break the rules and get away with it, we would. In his terms, justice comes from agreements made by people pursuing their own interests, and we welcome it only for it’s benefits. I have to agree that we do what’s right because we will be punished if we do what is wrong. However, Socrates argues that justice comes from the kind of good that we welcome for its own sake and also for it’s consequences. In other words, we do what is right because it is right, and also because we will be punished if we do otherwise.

I came across and article while researching about humans having an innate sense of morality. The author is Harvard psychologist Marc Hauser. Hauser makes the claim that “millions of years of natural selection have molded a universal moral grammar within our brains that enables us to make rapid decisions about ethical dilemmas.” This seems accurate, to me at least. He gives the example of a perfectly healthy man walking into a hospital where several patients need heart transplants. Is it morally acceptable to kill him (without consequence) and harvest his organs to save lives? The answer is most emphatically no. However, how do we reach this conclusion based on Glaucon’s opinion?  According to Glaucon, if there was no consequence, people would do what they want in order to fulfill their own interests.

Hauser also makes the point that “there appears to be some kind of unconscious process driving moral judgments without its being accessible to conscious reflection.” I think that it is safe to say that he is right in saying that making moral judgments is an unconscious process, excluding the mentally ill. If we present a situation like the man walking into the hospital, and tell the people that there will be no consequences, we will still unconsciously decline because of some moral code that is ingrained in our brains. I think that this instant response comes from some innate sense of right and wrong.

Hauser makes one final example of a teacher coming into class saying “If someone is annoying you, punch them in the face!” The students are naturally disturbed and say “You can’t do that.” The teacher says, “It’s okay – that’s what they do in France!” The students reply that the French are weird. I think that this basically shows that, from an early age, we understand a certain fundamental distinction between right and wrong.

In conclusion, I think that what Hauser says about humans having an innate sense of morality is true. I also think that Socrates’ definition of justice ties into this belief that we accept the right thing to do because it is right as well as realizing the consequences of doing the wrong thing to do. I think that, when separated from normal consequences, people will still do the right thing because of an innate moral code in all humans.

This is the article:

Plato’s Musical Symphony in The Republic

March 24, 2011

I was thinking of what I would like to blog about today, when I came across an article about Plato’s The Republic. The article claims that The Republic was written in musical code, and that Plato writes in a new “musical philosophy”. Through Plato’s influences, mostly Pythagoras, the article explains how Dr. Jay Kennedy has discovered a new mystery to be unraveled.

Dr. Jay Kennedy teaches in the Life Sciences department at the University of Manchester. He has been conducting a five year study on The Republic, attempting to unravel what he believes is a musical code or “score” in Plato’s writing. He claims that the books have a secret code and symbols, and that his unraveling of these codes will reveal Plato’s hidden musical philosophy.

Plato’s work was influenced by Pythagoras, another ancient Greek philosopher, who was a mathematician. He believed that the entire universe could be rationalized through numbers. He even believed that the planets and stars danced to “a harmony of the spheres.” Kennedy deduces that since music can be rationalized in numbers as well, Pythagoras also believed that the universe was comparable to a “grand cosmic mathematical symphony.” This is what really stood out to Kennedy as a key factor in his theory of Plato’s musical philosophy.

Kennedy also claims to have discovered that Plato uses large groups of words that relate to music in his writing. These groups of words can be divided into twelve different twelve equal sections. This pattern, he believes to relate to the twelve notes of the Greek musical scale. He even goes as far as to say that when the code is played out like a musical score, the locations of the text that were associated with love or laughter, the code translated into harmonic notes, while sections about war or death were found to have more dissonant screeching sounds. This shows that Plato very well could be speaking in a completely different manner, offering his wisdom both in his language, as well as his harmony. The quality of sounds produced by his hidden code can very well translate to what kinds of feelings certain chord qualities can produce.

I personally am very skeptical of Dr. Kennedy’s study.  I believe that The Republic is full of mysteries, just like other ancient writings, and even paintings. It very well could be true that Plato was implanting musical philosophy into his writing of The Republic, but the concept seems too farfetched to me. Dr. Kennedy’s research could be flawed. He does not state what the code is, or what words belong to which categories, as well as what the twelve categories that makes up the harmonic scale are. Without this critical information, it is hard to prove the legitimacy of his argument. While I don’t believe that his theory is true, I am fascinated by the fact that he has managed to dive so deep into the text and was able to come up with an idea like this.

I will be researching more on this subject in the future. In my next blog post, I plan on addressing the validity of Dr. Kennedy’s thesis on Plato’s symphony of The Republic.

Was Socrates a Prophet? Similarities between Socrates and Jesus Christ.

March 24, 2011

It is common knowledge that Socrates has long been regarded as one of the wisest men that has ever lived. Many have been inspired by his ideas and techniques throughout time trying to depict his beliefs. While listening and participating in class discussions and reading Plato’s “Euthyphro”, “The Apology”, and “Crito,”  I could not help but notice the similarities between Socrates, and Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the founder of Christianity and considered the ultimate prophet: the Son of God. Although bringing religion into the same topic as Socrates can be a little controversial, I believe that if Jesus was considered a prophet, one could make the case that Socrates was a prophet as well.

After researching some of the stories of Jesus, and using the information from class I have found some similarities between Socrates and Jesus. To start off, Both Socrates and Jesus were told they were significant by some sort of divine power. For Socrates, an oracle had told him that he was the wisest of men and he took it upon himself to test this theory. For Jesus it had been prophesied before his time as well as during his life by God. He believed himself to be the Son of God, was visited by the Holy Spirit, Angels, and Satan. These divine forces passed on information to them that required a mission on their part to do what is right and to establish some sort of societal change. Socrates needed to examine life, he had to philosophize. He had to figure out what made life worth living and what aspects of life meant in of itself. Why were they significant? Because through obtaining the knowledge of the examined life everyone would be able to understand what was wrong with the established order and themselves. For this reason Socrates could not stop these teachings. In the story of Jesus, he was sent to earth to save us all from original sin. God sent him to earth so that he could die for us and reconcile our sins. They both were unique and were perceived as a threat to the society that surrounded them.

Another similarity between Jesus and Socrates is that they were both considered to be “Corrupting society”. This was the very reason that Socrates and Jesus were brought to trial. In a democratic society, Socrates tried to make people think about and question what the purpose of society’s set of morals and virtues. Jesus tried to make people question their religious beliefs and introduced concepts of faith, and a different kind of worship for God. For the established order at the time they were causing too much attention. Both Socrates and Jesus either introduced new gods or challenged the gods of the society. Jesus claimed that there was one God, the almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. Jesus spoke with authority and performed miracles for everyone to see and hear. Many people lived in the limited human mindset and tried to determine the word of God, but Jesus claimed to be the word of God, the “King of the Jews” which made him a threat and he was viewed as attempting to overthrow a monarchy. Socrates was charged with some sort of heresy by not believing in the cities’ gods and was accused of being an atheist despite having a clear belief in  divine power. Like Jesus, Socrates is seen as one who has more knowledge than anyone else. Because like Jesus, he was extraordinary with the power of rhetoric and was able to make people question the gods that they believed in.  Socrates claimed that gods such as Zeus were not in control of everything that took place in this world and that there was no “will of the gods.” This was regarded as an attack on the Athenian government, for if you did not believe in the cities’ gods, you were not considered a citizen.

Socrates and Jesus were very humane individuals. They believed in the righteous and tried to do all that was good for the people. They both tried to inspire people to think for themselves and to use their knowledge for the good of others. This trait is what made both Jesus and Socrates wise teachers of their day. Jesus had a group of disciples that believed in him and were willing to sacrifice material possessions to follow his teachings. Socrates also had followers who also were inspired by him and were willing to go into exile and defy the government for him. They used simplistic ideas such as analogies, metaphors and parables to convey their teachings  to their followers and  their logic. An example can be seen in the discussion between Socrates and Euthyphro regarding piety through the story of Zeus and Cronus or comparing the concept of knowledge to tending for horses and cattle. Jesus also did this by using quotes such as “I am the vine, you are the branches”.  He essentially established himself as the root and called his followers “branches” so that they could spread his word and establish Christianity throughout the world.

In addition to both of them having disciples or followers, Socrates and Jesus each had one person who questioned their beliefs and actions and who betrayed them in some way.  Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and all of  his disciples questioned him on the night of the last supper (the night before he died) and were unable to understand why Jesus would not try to run away or escape his eventual execution.  In Plato’s Crito, Crito visits Socrates on what can be considered the night before his death and questions why Socrates is content with remaining in the prison and offers him an escape route which would allow Socrates and his followers to leave the country and live in exile.

Socrates and Jesus Christ were both given a trial. In these trials they were given the chance to speak and to convince the “jury” that their teachings were truths and why they were right and why they couldn’t stop doing what they believed. In Plato’s The Apology, Socrates confronts Meletus (the judge of the established order) and has a debate with him about how he is benefiting society. Socrates proves that Meletus is contradicting himself and that neither one of them truly knows who is corrupting the youth and society, but his fate is determined by the entire council that sentences him to death. Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate along with many of the citizens of Judea. He is also given the opportunity to speak and to defend himself. Like Socrates he tries to convince the established order that he is not corrupting the people, but enlightening them bringing them truth and faith. Although Pontius Pilate sees no reason for him to be executed, Pilate allows the people and the rest of the government to crucify Jesus.  Both Socrates and Jesus were “legally” executed.

The dictionary defines a Prophet as a person who speaks for God or a Deity, or by divine inspiration. I believe that like Jesus, Socrates could be considered a prophet. His self inspired ideas were claimed by a divine force to be the wisest of all. Although Socrates does not show support of any certain religion it is the perseverance and inspiration to enlighten others that makes him a prophet. Socrates and Jesus died for what they believed in because there was no other way for them to spread their knowledge and the established order was threatened by any teachings that varied from the norm of the day.  These men found meaning in their own lives and couldn’t stop philosophizing, or spreading the word of God because it was the deed that they were inspired to accomplish. They died and became martyrs but left followers who continued their legacy through the written and verbal communication of their teachings.  They started a legacy that would be worshiped or talked about for thousands of years to come through texts such as the Bible’s New Testaments, and texts by Plato and other significant followers of Socrates.

Justice: For the Benefits or For Itself?

March 24, 2011

On Tuesday, our class talked about the discussion that Socrates has with Glaucon and  Adeimantus about what justice is and which class of goods it belongs in. Socrates argues that justice comes from the kind of good that we like for its own sake and also for the sakes of what comes from it. This reminds me of a religious folk story that can be related to this idea of justice. The story begins with an older religious man standing outside of his apartment building when it begins to rain. There is talk that the town his lives in is going to suffer from a terrible flood. A policeman drives up to him in a car and offers to drive him to safety before the flood gets out of control. He refuses the help saying that his Lord God with save him. A few hours later the water from the flood is now up to the fourth floor windows of the apartment building and the man is standing on a fifth story balcony. Some rescue workers drive up on a boat and tell that man that they will bring him to safety from the flood. Again, he refuses saying that his Lord God will save him. Finally, a few more hours later, the flood is almost up to the roof of the building where the man is now standing. Some more rescue workers fly up to him on a helicopter and offer to fly him out of town to a safe location. He adamantly states that he has faith in his Lord God to save him. The men leave and within another hour the old man drowns. When he awakes in heaven, the old man confronts God and says to him, “I never stopped believing in you and you still let me drown. Why did you turn your back on me Lord?” God replies to him, ” I never once turned my back on you. I sent you a police car, a rescue boat, and, finally, a helicopter and you turned down all of the offers. It appeared you did not have enough faith to find safety with these aids.” This brings up the question of justice. The old man expected the just way of God to save him would be through some glorious, miraculous event where angels would come down and whisk him away from the area of the flood or something of a similar nature. Clearly, he was only thinking of justice in what comes from it rather than having justice for what it is and be saved. God, as told in many books of the Bible, tends to work in mysterious and simple ways. By his account it was equally just to have a common rescue workers save the old man than it would have been to have the heavens open up and “have a big parade.” The old man’s vision of justice stems from the third category of goods that Glaucon mentions in Book II which is not about justice for it own sake but rather for the sake of the rewards and other thing that come from it. What comes back to the old man is the question of whether he was faithful because he loved his Lord God or he was waiting until an appropriate time, such as this flood, to ask for benefits as a reward for his continued and ever present “faith.” It is something to think about when reflecting upon oneself as Socrates suggests that every mind should do.