A blupete Essay

Plato, Part 3 to blupete's Essay
"The Siren's Song"

Plato, it may be concluded, was a dualist. In his work, the Republic, the putative wellspring of Western values, Plato sets forth his beliefs, among them being that there was another world beyond this changeable and destructible one in which we live, one consisting of unchanging eternal Forms; he asserted that what we see and touch are only very distantly related to the ultimate realities that exist. In addition, he believed that we are ineradicably social, and that the individual person was not, and could not, be self-sufficient. Plato took a dim view of democracy, thinking it absurd to give every person an equal say, since not everyone is equally knowledgeable about what is best for society.

In Plato's scheme, private property was to be abolished, persons were not to own anything, "so that we can count on their being free from the dissentions that arise among men from the possession of property." (Incidentally, the people of Plato's Republic were to dump their children at central orphanages for the very same reason.)

But there is a dark and dreadful side to Plato: Plato's view of man is the same that one might have of a labouring beast of the field:

"... And even in the smallest manner ... [one] should stand under leadership. For example, he should get up, or move, or wash, or take his meals ... only if he has been told to do so. In a word, he should teach his soul, by long habit, never to dream of acting independently ... There will be no end to the troubles of states, or of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world, or til those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands." (From Plato's Republic.)
There was, in this world, to be no perfect state and no perfect men in it, one can only strive for the ideal. To Plato, there was no natural sense on how men ought to live, education was to be the key to the construction of a better society; from the "educated" would arise the elite to rule society. Plato thought it essential that a strict threefold class division be maintained. In addition to the rulers, the Philosopher-kings, there were to be "Auxiliaries" (soldiers, police and civil servants) and the "Workers" (the rest of us).

Plato's view of society was pinned by the belief that philosophers are capable of knowing the absolute truth about how to rule society, and, thus, are justified in wielding absolute power. Such a view is in striking contrast to that of Plato's principal teacher, Socrates, who was always conscious of how much he did not know, and claimed superiority to unthinking men only in that he was aware of his own ignorance, where they were not.


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Peter Landry

2011 (2019)