Orchestra: The Timocracy We All Know

May 5, 2015

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.

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Disappearance of the Finest Good

May 1, 2015

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.


Divergent as Socrates’ Ideal City

April 26, 2015

In Plato’s Republic, he discusses Socrates’ description of the “ideal city” -a city that is completely rooted in justice. To Socrates, justice means that every person does what he or she is meant to do, whether that is to provide for the city (merchants, musicians, educators, etc.), to guard, or to rule. To facilitate this, each individual is tested to see what he or she is best fit to do. Of course, where justice exists, so does injustice: not doing what you’re meant to do. For example, if someone who is best fit to be a merchant were to rule, s/he would be committing injustice. In this case, that individual would be punished.

While on this topic in class, someone stated that the unjust person was “divergent,” which got me thinking. I realized that Socrates’ ideal city is very similar to the society in the book/movie, Divergent.

I had never seen nor read the book because I’m generally not interested angsty teenage dramas that inevitably end in romance, but I was able to sacrifice some time to watch the film. Divergent takes place in a futuristic Chicago, around the year 2100. A great war has left the city to be quite dystopic, and there are now five different factions that a person can belong to. These are: Amity the peaceful, Candor the honest, Erudite the intelligent, Abnegation the selfless, and Dauntless the brave. At the age of 16, each teenager is put through a series of tests to find out what faction they will join. Then comes along our main character, Tris Prior (played by Shailene Woodley). While she goes through these series of tests, she is found to be “divergent,” not belonging to any specific faction. The “divergents” are endangered, for they pose a threat to this dystopic society. Tris and her divergent teenage romancer then fight the system for the rest of the movie (soon to be two more movies). Sound familiar?

As was aforementioned, Socrates believed there should only be three types of people: the workers, the guardians, and the rulers. In the story’s futuristic Chicago, there are only five types of people (theoretically), Amity, Candor Erudite, Abnegation, and Dauntless. In Socrates’ ideal city, people are tested to see what they are best fit to do. In futuristic Chicago, teenagers are put through a series of tests to see what faction they best fit into. Those who do not perform the function they are best suited are deemed “unjust” by Socrates, and should technically be punished. Tris, who did not adhere to any of the five factions, was deemed “divergent,” and hunted down.

It is safe to say that there are clear parallels drawn between the two societies, though one was considered utopic, while the other was dystopic. Perhaps Socrates would support the latter, for it holds his same ideals. One must do what he or she is meant to do.


Just an individual in a Just society

May 10, 2013

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On several occasions recently I have watched a group of people struggle to grasp the logic behind Socrates’ plan for the ideal city, as stated in Plato’s “The Republic”. I have been thinking about why it is difficult for people, including myself, to understand where Socrates is coming from when he tries to explain his reasoning for the just city. I think that the underlying concept of what success, justice, greatness etc. is and where it truly comes from is different in our minds and the mind of Socrates. Whether the difference lies in the society that Socrates was a part of, or Socrates himself, I don’t know. I do believe that what makes it hard for some people to understand why in the world Socrates would believe the things that he did that would make a better and more just society is the fact that we are focusing on such different things.

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First of all, the society that we live in today places its focus on the individual, not the city, state, or country. We tend to place significance in a person’s achievements and success. The people that I have talked to about things that we feel are greater than the shallow achievements of a person, still usually speak of the potential for an individual. Socrates more often spoke of the potential of a just city, versus the potential for a just individual. I believe that this is the difference that makes it hard to relate to Socrates when he is talking about the ideal society. We are used to the focus being on an individual’s greatness, while Socrates is giving us his plan to form a society that is great.

The concept of “everything in its right place” is one of the most important elements of Socrates’ ideal city, and happens to be one of the ideas that spark the most discomfort among readers of “The Republic”. In this situation, Socrates explains that the ideal city would benefit from every person doing the job that they are most fit to do. This means, for example, that a person with steady hands (among other features) would be a surgeon, because that is what the city needs. Socrates explains that the city will benefit most from every individual doing what their natural skills enable them to do best. Most people find some conflict with this and I think it is because we live in a society where the individual is revered as being able to do whatever they want. “The American Dream”, for example, represents the idea that anybody can become anything that they want in this country, regardless of background, race, gender, sexuality, skills, knowledge, or experience. Obviously skills, knowledge, and experience would need to be acquired before the greatness of the individual could be achieved, but the underlying idea that appeals to people in “The American Dream” is that you are not destined to one career path, status, or lifestyle.

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My experience, and seemingly others experience as well, has been a sort of conflict of interests. I have been more focused on being a just individual, while Socrates looks for justice in a society. He does explain how he believes a person can have a just soul, but this is mainly a factor in his ideal city. He believes that a society consisting of just individuals will be the foundation of the just city. However, part of being a just individual to Socrates means knowing your place in society, and being content with that. I think that most individuals in today’s society, however, are not ready to give up their aspirations and submit themselves to the construction of a just city.