Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Socrates and the Just City

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Much of the discussion that Socrates participates in in Plato’s works has to do with a particular issue. Namely, this issue is that of the organized state and the men within it, and, ultimately, in the way that these two things can be considered to be just or good. He claims both the just city and the just man’s soul to be composed of certain elements. This paper will discuss these elements, and the way they act in accordance with one another, and the ultimate definition of justice as Plato’s Socrates deemed it.

Socrates discusses a theoretical city when setting up a framework to hold as example, and we are told to assume that this city is perfectly good. As it is so, a plainly good city, then it should have four particular qualities. Namely, these are that it should be wise, courageous, moderate and just. As these four seem to be assumed to all be a part of this city, since it is assumed to be good itself, then if one should find the first three qualities, it can infer of the inherent possession in the city of having the fourth quality of justice. A city can be wise if it posses a wealth of knowledge, which comes of a city having good counsel. This comes of the combined efforts of all the classes and their virtues, whether they are a tradesman, a warrior or a ruler, and this wise element is found particularly in the smallest group, the guardians, that look to oversee the implementation of such good counsel among the classes. Next comes courage, which is not seen in the exact courage ness of the men themselves, but of an ability of the city to preserve itself in some form. To preserve is to protect the opinion of what is terrible and to avoid it by preserving the opinion upon which this is decided. It is based in the education of the soldiers, this courage to preserve, rather than only the men themselves, for they would have little use in the preservation of courage in the city if they were to be educated only in battle. They must be aware of what they are protecting as well. The next element is moderation, and it is a certain kind of order, says Socrates, and a “mastery of certain kinds of pleasures and desires.” From the phrase “stronger than himself”, one could assume that this is implying that the one stronger than himself is also weaker than himself, seeing as how the “himself” on both sides of the phrase are the same person. Therefore, moderation is present in that the better rules over the worse, but the desires, pleasures and pains from the common many are entwined in the desires of the “more decent few.” Unlike wisdom and courage, moderation is an opinion shared by the rulers and the ruled, and spread among the entire city’s population. It is a kind of harmony, if you will. With wisdom coming from the guardians, and the courage from the soldiers, the moderation is a unifying element reaching to the lower, the middle and the upper class, adding to the good elements of the city.

This leads us to the fourth and final element for which this city they speak of is existing, and we have come to it by having first found the other three, thereby implying that they are now, in this city, definitely in possession of justice. Socrates states justice as being the minding of one’s own business, and that as this element exists in the city, it makes way for the other three to function. The greatest fault against one’s own city would be injustice, naturally, the opposite of justice. With each class- the soldiers, the guardians and the tradesmen- each minding their own business, so to speak, then the city can function as good, and it would be justice and the city would be a just one.

However, one cannot have a just city without a just man to preside over it. Plato states that the individual man is no different than the city that they just described with respect to his various parts and what makes him as a person just. Further still, a city is all its parts because each individual man is all these parts in his soul. As the city is composed of wisdom, courage and moderation, so is the soul of a man composed of three parts leading to the being of justice. He calls these three parts of the soul the calculating, the irrational and desiring, and the spirited. As with the city’s wisdom, the calculating should be the ruler of the man’s body and soul deciding what is best and logical, at a war with the desiring part, the spirited part preserves what is found to be the most important and beneficial thing between the two and implements that this should take precedence. It preserves what has been decided as terrible or not. For this accord between the parts, that the calculating ought to rule essentially, the man can be said to be moderate, and like this, the city he lives in is also moderate. When each of these parts of the man’s soul can function separately, minding their own business if you will, then just as in the city, the man is just, and thus, so is the city he and his fellow men compose.

The issue of what constitutes justice is a debatable one that, if looked at superficially, would probably never have just one true meaning. The concept of what justice is, and how an institution or person can be entailed by it, is different from one individual to the next. However, from the ideas brought forth by Plato previously discussed herein, a unifying concept of the elements that a just state and soul are made of can be reached. Essentially, a city can only be as good or just as the men that it is composed of. Human nature is itself composed of a variety of factors, and though it is impossible to filter out only the qualities we deem good, it is in the balance and conjunction of the separate qualities of the city and soul that make it possible to function as just, and for the good of all those they affect.

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