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Plato Republic: possible or not possible?
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Joseph Milne



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Location: Herne Bay, Kent, UK

PostPosted: Mon Apr 20, 2015 10:04 am    Post subject: Plato Republic: possible or not possible? Reply with quote

Dear Peter,

Quite a while ago we were discussing Plato's Republic here. We ran into a difference of interpretation as to whether the City envisaged there could possibly come into being. If you recall, I was quite convinced it could not, while you maintained it was possible.

I have been so perplexed by this that it keeps coming back to my mind, that in one translation I read many years ago it said it could not come into being. That it was a “pattern in heaven” which philosophers could contemplate even though it could not come into being.

Looking again at this question, I begin to see we were both right in our different ways! Which also means we were both a bit wrong too! This goes with being mere mortals, I suppose.

We can settle the question by looking at a passage in Book V, from 471c, where Claukon raises this question, to 473c where Socrates gives his reply. I am using the Sachs translation, but others should present no real problem with the passage. I attach a PDF file of the section in the Sachs translation. It will be interesting to see how we each interpret it.

With best wishes,
Joseph



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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Wed Apr 22, 2015 3:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Joseph,
I hope you are keeping well. Thanks for including the Joe Sachs’ translation. It makes me think that I ought to get it.

Revisiting this material is quite strange, and I realise my own thoughts have evolved somewhat since we discoursed upon it. The practicability of such a society was not my main concern but supported my main thesis which concerned the training of the soul (and which I must say I didn’t think controversial at the time). However since reading your most welcome post plus attach I feel I need to explore my present thoughts on the subject. Excuse me if my approach is a bit round the houses, but I believe Plato’s thoughts are quite subtle and not at all straight forward on this. I’ll tackle just that area that you highlight regarding the Socratic intention of practicability. I’ll simply present some material which I believe is relevant to the topic.

The whole Sachs passage is of course a teaser, with Socrates being, well, Socrates. On the one hand he is asking Glaucon not to expect word to be matched by deed, that it is merely a pattern, but on the other he is not entirely closing the door on it becoming a reality. For me a crucial point occurs at 373a where the Greek sentence is cast in the ambiguities of both the subjunctive and optative. Sachs translates it as ‘could’, my working translation is Demond Lee’s which has ‘should’;

So Sach’s “but if we turn out to be able to discover that a city could be founded that’s closest to the things described, then [you must] declare that we’ve found out that it’s possible for these things to come about the way you ordered us to.”

Lee translated the same passage with a slightly more affirmative subjunctive:

“but grant that we shall have met your demand that its realisation should be possible if we are able to find the conditions under which a state can most closely approximate to it.”

I glean from this that Plato himself is thinking slightly beyond an unachievable pattern, but thinks it could be achieved “if philosophers shall rule as kings” (473d).

In my estimation we have to move beyond your designated passage to find out more.

First, Plato knows that even the finest lawmaker cannot legislate for a philosopher king to suddenly appear and if, by good fortune, one should come to the seat of power there is no known procedure by which it could be certain that he should be succeeded by another, and another, and so on. This is touched upon by the famous ‘harmonic’ passage known as the ‘marriage allegory’ at Republic 546 where the Muses speak through Socrates mouth:

“For those you have educated for the governing of the state, however wise, or purely rational they are, will be in no better position to comprehend the favourable or sterile generation of your race than the men whose reason is linked to sensation. But the opportunity for generating will be hidden to them and generally they will take pains to beget children when it is not opportune.” Republic 546 (This is from the Ficino translation rendered into English by Michael Allen.)

(Here Socrates is concerned with the loss of a certain kind of knowledge of things that are not even on the radar of The Athenian's more practical type of society.)

So, yes, it would be impossible for ‘action to match word’ completely in this respect. But we should bear in mind that if we fall back to the safety net of “Then don’t require this of me, to be obliged to represent the sorts of things we went through in speech as coming into being in every respect in deed as well,” (introducing the above quote at 473a) a condition is provided that, to me at least, makes a slight difference. After all, isn’t this the case with most models. The aircraft on the blueprint never flew, but its ‘image’ takes to the air, even though every detail may not have been taken into account.

As to the question of whether it could come about even in this slightly amended form the first words of the passage at 546 indicate that Plato did contemplate some kind of practical longevity for his project. Here again in Ficino’s masterful translation:

“It is very difficult for a state thus constituted to be moved by its own motion. But since all that has been generated is subject to corruption, such a constitution will not be able to endure always but will disintegrate.”

I’m trying here to delve into Plato’s thinking. How would it be possible for a polis to endure without ‘divine succession’? I think there is a clue to this in that dialogue where he searches for the ideal statesman. He approaches the problem by a dialectical path that falters and finally falls apart. As is often the case in the Dialogues a myth comes to the rescue, which begins:

“There is an era in which the god himself assists the universe on its way and helps it in its rotation. There is also an era where he releases his control….thereby it begins to revolve in the contrary sense, under its own impulse.” Statesman 269c

Whether a polis is governed by a philosopher king or a non-philosopher it is still a Platonic aristocracy and I take it that unless society falls below that aristocratic level it would still be redeemable by another philosopher coming to the throne. So wouldn’t those periods of non philosophic rule be similar to the cosmic periods where god has taken his hand off the tiller yet still the heavens manage to follow an orderly ‘aristocratic’ path? Admittedly there are seeds of destruction sewn deep even in the Platonic vision of aristocracy which, were a philosopher king not to come to the throne after a certain term, would cause it to decline into timarchy and olligarchy, and there would no longer be a throne for the philosopher to ascend to. But while the aristocracy was present we would have a kind of society similar to that of Ancient Athens of 9,000 years before, as described in Critias (109b-112e). This was a land of good men taught in the art of polity by Athena and her brother Hephaestus. The ‘fighting sort’ had been set apart at the first and dwelt by themselves. None of these had any private possessions and they looked upon all things as the common store of all. This of course was the only race to stand up to and finally defeat Atlantis, and Plato makes it clear that they were the model for his ideal polis.

These are some of the reasons that I believe that Plato had more than a mere blueprint in mind, but it is a society that is not practical in the way that Laws is. I could imagine the protests that Kleinias and Megillus would have put forth if the Athenian Stranger had tried to sell them such a constitution!

With Kind Regards,
Pete
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Joseph Milne



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PostPosted: Thu Apr 23, 2015 6:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Peter,
Thank you for your rich reply.

If we grant all you say, then one wonders what work belongs to us who consider the question with Plato. The likelihood of such a polis arising is so remote that we can but wait upon the gods to bring it about, because the true philosopher, should one emerge, will not offer to rule and the rulers would presumably not have enough understanding to command him to rule. In an odd way the just polis of the Republic recedes from human concern since there appears to be nothing we are called to do with regard to it.

With the rather beautiful exception of Ficino, the Neoplatonists have shown little concern for the just polis. It remains, rather like the Christian expectation of the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Jewish expectation of the Messiah, an inspired myth whose actualisation belongs to a hidden providence.

The only thing we know – outside mythical history – that in any way inclines in the direction of the just polis is the monastic life. It may well be that a form of the monastic life is the perfect life for man.

Yet surely Plato had reason to speak of the just polis. He certainly holds that man will suffer many ills and miseries without living in the just polis, and this we certainly know. But also we know, and I appreciate this is your main concern, that without the education of the soul man must live in misery and conflict. Does Plato invite us to educate ourselves, despite the remote probability of the just polis?

I suspect he does, and that this requires a minimal level of justice and common understanding, a society in embryo so to speak.

I agree that the just polis of the Republic is far from the city of Magnesia proposed in the Laws. But there the question is an entirely different one. It asks which laws should the founders of a new polis draft in order to create a polis that will endure in harmony for a long time. It declares the aim of the laws is to bring about friendship between all citizens, and this is the purpose of the education it lays down. Clearly a polis guided by a set of laws, to be preserved without alteration, is very different from a polis ruled by the philosopher king. Curiously, the Neoplatonists have even less to say about this more feasible polis coming into being than they do about the just polis of the Republic.

But what we can see is that the various arrangements of the just polis of the Republic are ‘modified’ or ‘adapted’, or even ‘compromised’ to enable a polis to come into being under the love of the law rather than the rule of the philosopher king. The arrangement of families is different – they remain together rather than being broken up into a common family. Ownership of land remains, but it cannot be sold. Commerce is discouraged, but a proportion fixed between the wealth of the richest and the poorest, and so on.

While the scholars often suggest that the Laws presents a compromise of the just polis of the Republic, it could be argued that Magnesia prepares the way for the possibility of the just polis – a city in which a people would be educated in a manner that they would welcome the philosopher king, if they could recognise him and persuade him to rule.

To most people in our modern democracies Magnesia would seem a more desirable polis than the just polis of the Republic. This would suggest that most of us are unequal to a judgement of ‘truth’ of the ‘pattern’ of the just city Socrates paints for us.

In a sense, then, my concern as to whether the just polis is regarded by Plato as possible or not is beside the point. The really hard question is how can we come to understand the polis presented in the Republic as truly just – given that there is a correspondence between the ‘city in speech’ and pure justice itself?

With best wishes,
Joseph
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Peter Blumsom



Joined: 09 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2015 4:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Joseph,

I agree with nearly everything what you say here (which must be some kind of advance!). For example, this is a good point:

Quote:
“it could be argued that Magnesia prepares the way for the possibility of the just polis – a city in which a people would be educated in a manner that they would welcome the philosopher king, if they could recognise him and persuade him to rule.”


After all, who are those untrained men who can train the Guardians in justice and virtue who therefore must be there ‘before the beginning’. Suddenly we are told in Book Two of our future Guardians but we are not told how they come about. I think your idea of such a polis growing from the practical state of Magnesia as a kind of offshoot is far more convincing than Plato simply wanting to make a practical version of Republic. That would certainly solve the difficulty I’ve always had regarding how of the ideal polis would begin its existence.

But you know, I really believe we have a genuine difficulty here. Not between you and I, but between the reader, any reader, and Plato. I’ve been pondering it for a few days now in the realisation that more of the same will simply generate more of the same, as they say, and it feels like a change of approach might be beneficial. Trouble is, that what I have to say here is not easy to write or understand; I'm not sure if I fully understand it myself, and its long, because I'm traveling new ground for me..

I have been rereading Jacob Klein’s introduction to his Meno Commentary, because I remember him dealing with this very problem. I believe you may have a copy of this. If you have, the first few pages are worth looking at. I won’t go into more detail than necessary, but first I want to recount a little dream fantasy that creeps into my mind from time to time because for some peculiar reason it seems to clear my thoughts. It goes along the lines that everything is the ‘one’ in disguise; as the ‘one’ needs some kind of ‘protection’ by way of an essence, form, nature, all compounded in an entity. This arrangement successfully deflects any preoccupation we might otherwise have about the majestic presence of the ‘one’ in our midst and at the same time prevents its defamation. And so, because of this, it cannot be part of our lives, for no one ever looked at a ‘one’ and if they ever tried they would see instead those other things I mention, which act as powerful magnets, drawing our attention from what is not supposed to be seen.

Yet these accoutrements do no harm, they simply provide ‘protection’ because of a divine decree which states that the 'one’ should never be seen as it is – otherwise all the worlds would instantly fall apart; and while there is a need for a world they will always be there, as upadhi - modifications - of what cannot be seen without them. That’s my little dream fantasy anyway, and it’s the concept of ‘protection’ that I want to extend somewhat.

The written word also may or may not need such protection, but if it purports to tell the truth, undoubtedly it does. You would not expect the sort of protection that I’m about to describe for, say, a railway timetable, or most other things that are written down. They are as they are, and have no alternative to what they show. But in a Platonic Dialogue, especially if Socrates is present in it, we have a special kind of written word. Here the pupil has written down his master’s words originally given orally, even though the master has clearly stated that written words cannot stand in the place of the spoken word and that it would be better not even to attempt it. This is the ambiguity that is present in every dialogue in that they are telling us what they cannot be telling us, for they present to us a fixed version, an image, of what was clearly a dynamic revelation of a moment of understanding.

The written word, Socrates has told us (through the written word!) cannot defend itself; that it seems to know things but when interrogated gives the same replies every time. And yet here is a dialogue, fixed in writing, and evidence of Plato’s disobedience of his mentor’s stricture.

If we take it that the spoken words of Socrates were spoken from understanding of truth, the listeners who are present at their uttering would be privy to that understanding - even if in their own way. Indeed Socrates confesses to Theatetus (in the dialogue of that name) that he is not giving birth to anything of his own but merely acts as the midwife to something that Theaetetus is going to give birth to. Socrates task is to deliver that ‘child of the mind’ alive and kicking.

Such oral midwifery is the service provided by Socrates revealing to his interlocutors, on the occasion of general darkness, their own inner understanding. I say ‘general darkness’ because the uniqueness of such an occasion has its own ‘protection’ in that, as Socrates admits in Meno, he experiences the same perplexity as the person he is questioning. It seems that the man in the cave is naturally in the dark, whereas the man returning to the cave with eyes full of light is also prevented from seeing in that dark place. This twin fact protects what Socrates speaks against doxa – assumptions. He is temporarily blinded by his own inner light, and must attend to what is before him, something he knows how to do. The words he speaks therefore arise neither from him, nor from the naturally ‘blind’ man before him. They come from somewhere else (he often speaks of his daimon).

This third presence, perhaps we may call it understanding, has no words. It is more like the silence from which the words arise, and is therefore inexhaustible. The words are like leaves falling from a tree, beautiful, perhaps, but outward thrusting, and by themselves, cannot convey the beauty of the tree itself. And this is why even Socrates words, as fixed images, when travelling 'abroad' are shorn from both Socrates and that understanding which was momentarily present in that dark cave. They are in this sense merely effects.

So if the situation of Socrates speaking, in the presence of the understanding of that Wholeness, can be represented by [A], the words, a mere part, and lesser component of that Wholeness would be [a]. [A] is a Unity, but [a] a mere duality, a fragment with the greater part missing, that greater part that completes what the casual reader is not understanding. None of this is applicable to the railway timetable which probably never had an oral beginning, and if it did, would not have been born by philosophical midwifery. But it is fully applicable to the paradoxical foundation of the Platonic Dialogue, and this should concern us deeply.

Plato was no ignoramus. If he felt that there was no point in delivering the ‘lesser part’ of understanding, the [a] rather than [A] to his readers he would not have bothered. But he would have been concerned with this problem of 'protecting' the 'undefended' words of his mentor, once caste into the fixity of their written state - which is the same problem of turning those outward going words so that they return towards understanding. The railway timetable, though also composed of words fixed on a sheet, would not suffer in the same way, because its message needs no protection, and even if it is in error, no man’s soul will be damaged.

And this is the difficult part, and it is relevant to our discussions of Socrates words on the polis. The main problem that Plato had to contend with, I believe, is doxa – assumption. A book is a duality, that is if we consider it a book being read. But if the reader is reading from the level of doxa alone he will simply suck the meaning on the page to fit the shape of his assumptions. So it will become a false unity, with no understanding. The oral teaching has no such problem, for these assumptions will be drawn out and dealt with in the living moment by the skilful ‘midwife’. They will be part of [A], as it were.

So as far as I see it, Plato’s task, to render Socrates words protected, would be to not allow them to be adopted into doxa unquestioned. I give a simple example of what I mean. “The bridge was long” presents no problem to doxa but “the short bridge was long” does; and such a sentence would not be adopted by doxa in an unthinking way, but the words would remain ‘protected’ on the page, either to be dismissed as a joke, or to be puzzled over on another occasion. To a certain degree such a phrase ‘defends’ itself.

I believe that this was Plato’s knowing approach to stop his and Socrates’ teaching being assimilated by mere assumption. That this was an issue for him can be seen by this passage from the Seventh Epistle.

“… whether as hearers of mine or of other teachers, or from their own discoveries; it is impossible, in my judgement at least, that these men should understand anything about this subject. There does not exist, nor will there ever exist, any treatise of mine dealing therewith. For it does not at all admit of verbal expression like other studies, but, as a result of continued application to the subject itself and communion therewith, it is brought to birth in the soul on a sudden, as light that is kindled by a leaping spark, and thereafter it nourishes itself. Notwithstanding, of thus much I am certain, that the best statement of these doctrines in writing or in speech would be my own statement; and further, that if they should be badly stated in writing, it is I who would be the person most deeply pained.” 341c

A couple of things of note here. An interpretation would be, according to our context, that words alone even the oral speech offered by a sage, cannot stand as the truth, because they were the images provided by an occasion in response to hidden understanding. I have to say - ‘an interpretation’ to stay true to this thesis. The truth cannot admit of verbal definition because the latter has no facility for containing ‘understanding’. Even in the best possible case the words still flow outwards, away from understanding, into a realm where they are undefended and subject to countless interpretation - a kind of wasteland, in fact.

Plato shows himself only too aware of this. He says that the best statement of this ‘impossible-to-state truth’ would be his own. Not, I believe, because he thinks he is the best philosopher, but because he fully understands the implications of what his master Socrates has said ‘in the moment’ regarding the defenceless nature of the written word.

And thus it is that Plato writes as he does, in the dramatic form, (the closest image of occasion - the residence of understanding); using impeccable dialectical method, which reveals things, not as the reader would like, but according to the truth (revealing power) of the method; with a liberal lacing of myths, themselves (unlike allegories) to a great extent, unknowable – ‘likely stories’ as he calls them in Timaeus; and most of all, an underlay, sometimes several, of irony, sometimes gentle, sometimes uproarious, whereby the doxa of the readers cannot secure foothold, for they do not entirely know whether he is serious or not. All these, I believe, produce the ‘sting-ray effect’ that Meno complains about, and yet none of them impede something being received, something which somehow escapes all our assumptions.

I think one of the most startling examples of this is Stephanus’ page 546 of Republic where he describes how the perfect number is given for the polis where the divine hand is ‘on the tiller’ and the fatal or human number is explained for those periods where order gradually falls away from the divine. What I am concerned with here is the way this passage is introduced to us:

How, then, Glaucon,” I said, “will disturbance arise in our city, and how will our helpers and rulers fall out and be at odds with one another and themselves? Shall we, like Homer, invoke the Muses to tell “‘how faction first fell upon and say that these goddesses playing with us and teasing us as if we were children address us in lofty, mock-serious tragic style?”

Here is demonstrated more than one level of what can be loosely termed as irony (another word could be ‘bait’). We could take it that the heavens have opened and the Musai sing to us in an archaic language of things that have been, or things that might be, and that Socrates is about to deliver a deeply religious incantation. Or perhaps Socrates is raising a quizzical eyebrow (wink, wink, nudge, nudge sort of thing) and giving us to believe that he, like us, has no belief either in the words or even in the existence of the gods themselves merely placing them before us for our amusement. Or they could be a ‘torpedo’ to sting our minds into aporia - Frances Cornford was so annoyed with this passage that he refused to translate it, claiming it was a joke – and the beauty (or irony) of it is that the way that Plato has set what are purported to be Socrates words makes it impossible for anyone to say for sure whether it is or not. The words, in fact, turn back on themselves, revealing nothing - or everything.

That they have a connected meaning has been borne out because the work of a tradition starting with Ficino, who wrote a whole book on the passage, culminating in James Adam (who also wrote a whole book on it) and Ernest McClain; and it has finally been shown that they present a convincing Pythagorean ‘harmonic’ explanation for us - or do they? This isn’t the place to expound that interpretation, for my point here is general, that throughout the dialogues Plato has woven some kind of spell which defends the words from 'definitive interpretation' and protects their oral beginnings in such a way that understandings (note plural) may arise from merely reading them (carefully). It is noteworthy to remember that this passage is at the key point of the dialogue where Plato is beginning to expound the gradual fall from grace of the ideal polis.

Klein mentions the fact that although far reaching conclusions are reached on certain philosophical principles “never is it done with complete clarity”. It is still up to us to try to clarify those foundations” or reject them. “In other words, to engage in philosophy.”

So I do not see what we are doing is anything less than Plato would want us to do, that is, attempting to find our own understanding and avoiding our own assumptions, by traversing this ‘lack of clarity’ - the deficit between speech and the written word.

There is more I want to say, but my brain is now exhausted and this certainly is more than enough for now. Life calls, supper needs cooking. Just a reminder: I do think you might find it interesting to turn your mind in the direction of Klein’s Meno commentary.

Best regards,
Pete
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PostPosted: Sat May 02, 2015 3:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

“How, then, Glaucon,” I said, “will disturbance arise in our city, and how will our helpers and rulers fall out and be at odds with one another and themselves? Shall we, like Homer, invoke the Muses to tell “‘how faction first fell upon and say that these goddesses playing with us and teasing us as if we were children address us in lofty, mock-serious tragic style?”


‘The really hard question is how can we come to understand the polis presented in the Republic as truly just – given that there is a correspondence between the ‘city in speech’ and pure justice itself?’


“A circle is a thing spoken of, and its name is that very word which we have just uttered. The second thing belonging to it is its definition, made up names and verbal forms. For that which has the name "round," "annular," or, "circle," might be defined as that which has the distance from its circumference to its centre everywhere equal. Third, comes that which is drawn and rubbed out again, or turned on a lathe and broken up-none of which things can happen to the circle itself-to which the other things, mentioned have reference; for it is something of a different order from them. Fourth, comes knowledge, intelligence and right opinion about these things. Under this one head we must group everything which has its existence, not in words nor in bodily shapes, but in souls-from which it is dear that it is something different from the nature of the circle itself and from the three things mentioned before. Of these things intelligence comes closest in kinship and likeness to the fifth, and the others are farther distant.”

Plato is saying that the fifth thing is not like the things that grow, and take part in the circle of life. He is mocking Homer for not seeing that, and assuming that there are cycles, revolutions, which in carousel-like fashion exhaust all the possible governments. Socrates died to preserve that vision because the true life of human beings is therewith, and it is an imperishable fire so long as it is kept burning.

That speech is only one of the existing things means that the spark must be passed on between living people. Heidegger says we can not point in this case, but we must point by speaking.

--

It is dike, justice, that serves the good. The philosopher is the one with knowledge of the good. Justice makes excellent, according to its determination under the thinking of Socrates. What is truly excellent is the good. Yet, the one who makes good is the just and not the philosopher. The reason is that someone who knows how to act, how to follow instructions, is not the same as the one who sees the sense of this.
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Joseph Milne



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PostPosted: Sat May 02, 2015 10:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Peter,

Thank you again for such a rich reply. You have said so much that I can hardly reply to it all, so must confine myself to a small fragment.

On your advice I am reading Jacob Klein's A Commentary on Plato's Symposium and am half way though. I see why you take the Meno as a clear example of how 'thought' needs to pass by stages to true apprehension. The 'drama' of a Platonic dialogue confronts the difficulties of moving from one order of understanding to another, or as in the case of Meno of how one order of knowledge, in this case recollection, impedes moving to another. I think we can agree that Socrates' 'midwifery' is concerned with this process.

The problem in the Meno is in one obvious respect the same as with the Republic: in the Meno it is with regard to the question 'what is excellence?' (aretê), and in the Republic with regard to 'what is Justice?'. In both instances the question asks: what is the 'thing in itself', rather than the various instances or qualities of it.

Staying with the Republic, the question of Justice in itself takes the shape of asking: what is the 'same' in every instance of justice? But Socrates adds to this that only the just person can be happy. From this it seems that only the just city can be happy likwise. We may also take from this that the 'happy life' is the life ultimately proper to man, yet which is not a given of nature. The happy life comes about in the same way as knowledge or wisdom, through understanding and contemplating the true for its own sake.

The journey from what we are by nature, and this possibility, is the concern of philosophy. At the heart of this lies the question of how to see Justice in itself beyond instances and attributes. This 'justice in itself' is what is unknown, or is what lies beyond the threshold of the 'known'. It is not to be known like any object of knowledge, since an object of knowledge is always somehow at second or third remove. It cannot be known as the train timetable may be known, which is speech representing plain objects in a way that requires nothing more.

Your concern is that, whatever Justice in itself is, it cannot be conveyed in speech. Or rather, the kind of speaking that simply names things without the direct participation of a listener in dialogue, cannot convey Justice in itself. The truth of things can only be 'said' in the kind of dialogue in which both participants can transcend ordinary knowledge or opinion. Even a faithful record of such a dialogue will not convey to a non-participant the 'truth' or insight the participants may light upon. This means that even the 'city in speech' built in the Republic is a city in speech only for the participants in the dialogue, but not for us the readers. Yet this 'city in speech' is closer to Justice in itself than all the definitions of justice explored in the dialogue, or any actual city we know. So the question of the relation of the 'city in speech' to the possibility of the actualisation of that city in the temporal world is a relation of the higher to the lower.

Here I wonder if we slightly differ. It seems to me that the engagement in philosophical enquiry into Justice is, for the participants, a higher order speech than our usual idea of speech as conveying information. Speech here is 'dialectical', so that 'through' speech truth is approached – not as representing it, but as moving in its orbit. If we might stretch the allegory of the cave a bit, speech brings the philosophical enquirer into the sunlight where he may 'bathe' in the light. This 'bathing' cannot be brought down into the cave, and so report of what it is like will sound absurd to the cave dwellers. The cave dwellers know only the speech which names particular things. They do not even know that shadows are shadows. To know that shadows are shadows they must come to know the light that cats shadows.

So likewise with Justice. We see only instances of justice but do not see what casts the instances, so to speak.

I am wary of the common idea that 'language is limited'. This idea attributes to language a problem that belongs to the level of understanding. I do not think Plato thinks that for a moment. It is the manner of speaking that counts, not language as such. When we debate with our our friends language becomes a living thing, enfolding the speakers somehow above themselves. But of course a record of any such discussion is a feeble shadow of what actually took place in the enfolding.

In this sense Plato's dialogues are but shadows, not because speech or language is limited, but because a 'copy' is not the living discourse itself.

Nevertheless, as you suggest, Plato (or Socrates) uses strategies in the written dialogues that oblige us who are merely readers at second remove to encounter the difficulties of moving from one mode of understanding to another, and, if it might be possible, of moving into the orbit of the things themselves which the dialogues are concerned with.

Here I suspect we have an advantage we rarely take advantage of. Regardless of our mistakes, opinions and wrong conceptions, we do have an intuition of Truth. Certainly we could not have 'misconceptions' of justice if there was not some faint intuition of Justice in itself. This faint intuition, which seems to lie beyond our power to fully comprehend, must surely be connected with Plato's suggestion that knowledge is memory or recollection. It seems to me that it belongs to the soul to be with truth, and that soul is soul only in that. It also seems to me that 'speech' arises there in the soul abiding in its proper abode. This order of speech is the 'saying' that belongs to man to declare as man, as Heidegger says when he remarks that language is the house of being. Even to stand before truth bereft of speech belongs to language and is a saying.

To recap. I think we are agreeing that Plato's dialogues move in a strategic way towards the truth of things, taking our minds on a journey from one order of knowledge to another. This means that the truth of things is not and cannot be plainly said, because such saying would not bring the reader into the presence of truth. The notion that the 'truth' of things is simply a matter of statements, or of logical consistency, is itself an obstacle to coming to the presence of truth itself. But this is not due to any limit of 'speech' or language, but due rather to a lower order usage of speech or language. At a higher level there is a correspondence between speech and truth as a manner of dwelling with truth, just as there is when lovers speak to one another.

A difficulty we have is in avoiding bringing the dialogues of Plato down to lower order speech and turning them into doctrines. They are, among other things, journeys of skilful enquiry, and this is where Jacob Klein is so helpful in reminding us of the dramatic unfolding of each dialogue.

This must suffice for now. We can return to aspects left out as we proceed.

With best wishes,
Joseph


Last edited by Joseph Milne on Tue May 05, 2015 12:37 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Sun May 03, 2015 7:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Plato is saying that the fifth thing is not like the things that grow, and take part in the circle of life. He is mocking Homer for not seeing that, and assuming that there are cycles, revolutions, which in carousel-like fashion exhaust all the possible governments. Socrates died to preserve that vision because the true life of human beings is therewith, and it is an imperishable fire so long as it is kept burning.

That speech is only one of the existing things means that the spark must be passed on between living people. Heidegger says we can not point in this case, but we must point by speaking.


That is indeed one of the things that can be said by linking to the passage that prefaces Rep 546 to what Plato writes in the Seventh Letter. But we have to take into account what else he says in both of those passages. What you say seems insufficient as a cause of the passage at 546, which goes beyond mere mocking.

There is also substantially more that follows the passage you quote in the letter, say, up to 344b. Have you anything to say on this? I would be interested, as, to me, it isn’t straight forward.

Quote:
It is dike, justice, that serves the good. The philosopher is the one with knowledge of the good. Justice makes excellent, according to its determination under the thinking of Socrates. What is truly excellent is the good. Yet, the one who makes good is the just and not the philosopher. The reason is that someone who knows how to act, how to follow instructions, is not the same as the one who sees the sense of this.

Some queries:
Do you make distinctions between a philosophic man and a just man? Can a just man have no philosophy? Shouldn’t ‘following instructions’ be ‘following wisdom’ and not doing what another has told him to do? This is unclear in what you have written. The latter is merely ‘good opinion’ which according to Socrates, as you probably know, means you travel in the right direction, but blindfolded. A little more from you could clear up these obscurities.
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PostPosted: Thu May 07, 2015 11:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I would say Plato is perhaps mistaken. Since if one begins with the intention to show the contradictions in things, in so far as we build them through thinking over our sense experience and our necessary, commonsensical thoughts about them, if we show the contradictions in all these, it seems we might lead the reader or listener to the fifth as if by force. So long as they have the ability. Of course, this opens the unfortunate door to abuse, in so far as one might say to everyone who doesn't see, you are defective.

However, in practical terms, at least in some cases, we determine that such and such a one who we know is decent and honest, and then we know that if we do not get it, that might be because of flaws that depend on us. There is, thus, a practical possibility of such a teaching, even by commended texts (not only through catechizing discussions).

Does not the text near 344b say that if we don’t have the ‘talent,’ or we might say the aristos (best) nature, to see these things, nothing will help? I mean such a happy nature has to do both with the accidents of our birth and our proper training or education. That has to be there.


Quote:
1.”Do you make distinctions between a philosophic man and a just man?”


Yes, because the philosophic man knows that he is just. And, moreover, he sees it in the light of the good. If justice means to make excellent, someone might have that nature without realizing it.

Quote:
2.”Shouldn’t ‘following instructions’ be ‘following wisdom’ and not doing what another has told him to do?”


Well, the issue I had in mind is what the apprentice would do. Before he became just. We could only speak properly of a ‘following of wisdom,’ if I understand you rightly, with respect to the just man, and not with respect to the apprentice. But, what is more exacting is whether the just man can follow wisdom without properly knowing that he is just. I would say yes, for the reasons given in my first answer.

In a certain sense, he would know justice, for that is his nature. But, in another sense, in so far as he knows his nature naively, and not as those that know the good know it, ie, in the largest and highest context, he does not know. The philosopher is higher than the just man.

Quote:
3.”The latter is merely ‘good opinion’ which according to Socrates, as you probably know, means you travel in the right direction, but blindfolded.”


Only the apprentice would have mere ‘good opinion.’ Once he ‘follows the just’ he has become just. But, the just need not understand his own nature in the highest way, as does the philosopher. See above answer.

---

Of course, to speak of 'mere mocking' would be insufficient to 546. However, nonetheless he is mocking. What is at issue is the most serious thing, but one can mock in such a context, there is nothing strange in that I think.
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PostPosted: Sat May 09, 2015 7:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Joseph,
When you say “Is not given of nature” – I believe this is important. Perhaps it is that man 'naturally' resorts to dianoia – discursive thinking. This type of thinking that Klein goes into at some length in his Greek Mathematical Thought is appropriate to problem-solving, but not necessarily the sort of problems that we are tackling here. Basically Klein makes a distinction between dianoia’s approach, which at its most refined level of operation gives an understanding of ‘one’ through the ‘many’ and noesis - that which can approach the ‘one in itself’. This latter, which can be equated to ‘insight/understanding’, lives in the moment and is so difficult to fix in print.

I agree that careful dialectic, which is a process of collection and division, can surmount these limitations of dianoia, or at least bring it to the precincts of understanding. This process of course works through dianoia, which is necessary to apprehend distinctions. But of course apprehending distinctions in, say, the workings of a combustion engine, which does not involve soul, and justice, implies two different types of perception. The second is dianoia and noesis, and it is this that the oral tradition seems to concern itself with - at least in the cases of Socrates and Homer, where justice itself can be seen at work. (Hesiod, on the other hand, has quite a different view of justice, though that may be a topic in itself.)

Discursive thought seems to form a husk of ‘doxastic limit’, and I believe that this, so prevalent in our normal approach, is what Socrates confronts in his dialogues. (By the way I use ‘Socrates’ as a synecdoche for all Plato’s ‘principle speakers’.)

This doxastic limit – the sum total of all our assumptions – is what Socrates is seen to be confronting in all the dialogues; and my previous formulation of [A] as oral teaching, includes not only spoken words but also the doxa that they contend with, and partially arise from. It is this confrontation that gives rise to understanding which I believe Plato is describing here “as a light that is kindled by a leaping spark” [Seventh Letter – 341c]. The kindling is doxa. Understanding here might be defined as knowledge made particular. To be 'particular' it must be ‘held’, and the particularisation is provided by the ‘tinder’ or kindling, and this is held within the limit of the spoken word. Whether it is possible to be also the written word is something that needs probing. It can, for sure, be partially held in writing, I have no doubt of that, but when Socrates says that it cannot in this form ‘defend itself’ I suspect he means that the speaker of the spoken word can be interrogated, whereas when the words move abroad, out of the speakers range, he is no longer there to defend them. This of course, can never happen in the oral tradition. The speaker is always present. There may be more to it than that, but this is roughly how I see it.

Whether we like it or not all this has implications not so much for the dialogue but for us reading the dialogue. We mustn’t, urges Klein, be content to merely rest in the written word but must also enter the sphere of activity, to not be content with [a] – the written word, but to become part of [A] – that is, to enter the mime itself and partake in both the perplexity and the purification process, though this may take many readings, many reflections.

Perhaps that is what we are striving to do.

I have some more observations on your post but am letting this go 'abroad' in the meantime.

Kind regards,
Pete
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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Tue May 12, 2015 11:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Joseph,

I hope I haven’t misled you here:

Quote:
<<Your concern is that, whatever Justice in itself is, it cannot be conveyed in speech.>>


I don't think I said that justice couldn’t be conveyed in speech. I have no doubt that justice was revealed to those interlocutors in speech at least to the degree that they could understand. My point was that there is a complexity involved in the written word, a complexity that I believe Plato understood entirely. Of course this complexity is also carried over into speech when conversation is dominated by presupposition and assumption.

I hope by the end of this post I will be able to state my position more clearly, but first I’d like to direct your attention to a passage that occurs towards the end of book six of Republic. Adeimantus has just complained that Socrates’ audience will not be convinced by his arguments (about the institution of the ideal polis) and Socrates replies (using the Lee translation)

“But there’s no reason to be surprised if we can’t convince the majority of people, they have never seen our words come true. They are used to carefully matched phrases, not the kind of spontaneous argument we are having here” (498d).

The Greek for ‘spontaneous’ is automatos which doesn’t mean automatic but “acting of one’s own will”. Isn’t Plato here making a statement regarding the oral teaching, as opposed to a discourse limited by doxa’s ‘carefully matched phrases’? In Robin Waterfield’s translation ‘ spontaneous’ becomes “hearing words tumbling out without preparation”. This is strange and a little intriguing in that ‘acting of one’s own will’ to the ancient Greek can equate to ‘without preparation’; but perhaps Plato means ‘without the limiting factor of doxa’; and perhaps also this is an insight into Socratic noesis.

I wonder what he means here exactly? “Carefully matched phrases” seems a reasonable translation. It suggests fixity of ideas. Perhaps this is one definition of doxa. Also suggested is that the spoken word is not always the oral teaching, though sometimes in the hands of the sophist it may ‘glister like gold’. This point made, we may look again at Phaedrus which is the richest and most informative dialogue on the oral teaching:

Socrates
Now tell me; is there not another kind of speech, or word, which shows itself to be the legitimate brother of this bastard one, both in the manner of its begetting and in its better and more powerful nature?


Phaedrus
What is this word and how is it begotten, as you say?


Socrates
The word which is written with intelligence in the mind of the learner, which is able to defend itself and knows to whom it should speak, and before whom to be silent.”

seems to indicate that in certain circumstances the written word ‘may defend itself’, thereby contradicting what he previously had said through the mouth of King Thamos, and that such writing “knows to whom it should speak and before whom it should remain silent”. Then Plato has Phaedrus say:

“You mean the living and breathing word of him who knows, of which the written word may justly be called the image.”

This is helpful because it links to what Plato says in Sophist (approx. 235) about images. He says there are two types, the first that belongs more to deception and trickery which he labels phantasma, and the second he calls eikones, which are a truthful representation if the ‘imaged’. These two types of image also appear in the ‘Divided Line’ of Republic, the precursor to the Cave Allegory.

There is one more type of valid writing that Socrates describes in Phaedrus:

“The gardens of letters he will, it seems, plant for amusement, and will write, when he writes, to treasure up reminders for himself, when he comes to the forgetfulness of old age, and for others who follow the same path, and he will be pleased when he sees them putting forth tender leaves. When others engage in other amusements, refreshing themselves with banquets and kindred entertainments, he will pass the time in such pleasures as I have suggested.” 276d

I suspect that “forgetfulness of old age” is an ironic defense strategy simply meaning that it is quite valid for a philosopher to make notes for the clarification of his own thoughts but not to expect that the mere reading of these to others will be anything other than ‘carefully matched phrases’ rather than “the living and breathing word of he who knows”. This last type is born of occasion and therefore naturally spontaneous, involving a letting go of his former learning so that his words appear to “tumble out without preparation” not from in-articulation but from knowledge itself.

Finally, I’d like to address my initial quote from Republic, in the hope that all this will give us a clearer view of our ideal society. It seems to build on what was presented in the Sachs’ passage, which might well have been a preparation”:

[498e] but only the forced and artificial chiming of word and phrase, not spontaneous and accidental as has happened here. But the figure of a man ‘equilibrated’ and ‘assimilated’ to virtue's self perfectly, so far as may be, in word and deed, and holding rule in a city of like quality, that is a thing they have never seen in one case or in many. Do you think they have?”

“By no means.”

“Neither, my dear fellow, have they ever seriously inclined to hearken to fair and free discussions whose sole endeavor was to search out the truth1 at any cost for knowledge's sake, and which dwell apart and salute from afar all the subtleties and cavils that lead to naught but opinion and strife in court-room and in private talk.”

“They have not,” he said.

“For this cause and foreseeing this, we then despite our fears declared under compulsion of the truth that neither city nor polity nor man either will ever be perfected until some chance compels this uncorrupted remnant of philosophers, who now bear the stigma of uselessness, to take charge of the state whether they wish it or not, and constrains the citizens to obey them, or else until by some divine inspiration a genuine passion for true philosophy takes possession either of the sons of the men now in power and sovereignty or of themselves. To affirm that either or both of these things cannot possibly come to pass is, I say, quite unreasonable. Only in that case could we be justly ridiculed as uttering things as futile as day-dreams are.1 Is not that so?”

“It is.”

“If, then, the best philosophical natures have ever been constrained to take charge of the state in infinite time past, or now are in some barbaric region far beyond our ken, or shall hereafter be, we are prepared to maintain our contention1 that the constitution we have described has been, is, or will be realized when this philosophic Muse has taken control of the state. It is not a thing impossible to happen, nor are we speaking of impossibilities. That it is difficult we too admit.” [trans. Bury]

This does not allow us to come to a conclusion any more than the previous passage, and I doubt whether Plato is looking to crystallize such conclusions. He’d rather leave it dangling like an interrupted cadence in music, indicating that more is needed for resolution. Jacob Klein suggests that only by entering the dialogue ourselves, as ‘living, breathing’ interlocutors, can a solution appropriate for this occasion be found.

Regards Pete
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PostPosted: Tue May 12, 2015 9:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Redundant, (that doesn't sound right, have you a name?)

I think your judgment that a man can be just without knowing it undermines everything we read in Plato's writings. In the normal circumstance we have a rather sentimental view that some people are ‘just good’. It’s the way modern life encourages us to think. Nurses in Africa risking their life fighting the Ebola epidemic etc. Their bravery seems almost superhuman, at least to me. But this is surely not what Plato is talking about. The just man is he or she whose two lower faculties of soul are subservient to its highest faculty of reason. I would say that this is a ‘knowing’ situation, the result of a man who knows himself. Maybe you can find an account in Plato’s writings that contradict this, if so, I would be interested in a reference. I gave you a passage in my last reply to you that shows clearly that a man who obeys good opinion without the presence of knowledge is still blind to philosophy and justice, according the Plato’s teaching, and as such cannot be a just man in the Platonic way of justice. If you move outside Plato then different definitions may be looked at, but the just man is the philosopher in the Dialogues.

On your other point, it’s true that Plato recognizes the various limitations of different types of souls in their different mentations, but he does emphasize that even the evil man can be an excellent judge of goodness, and Socrates doctrine of anamnesis in Phaedrus allows for people to turn to truth when it is the right time for them to do so. No one is lost, so to say that we don’t have the talent for our minds to ‘burst with the light of intelligence’ simply means that this may not be the moment or even the life for it to happen – though the potential is always there awaiting nourishment. I think this is a fundamental thesis of Plato’s notion of catharsis through aporia. I doubt whether Socrates would think it a good thing to perplex the soul of a happily sleeping man, but at the critical moment – kairos – Socrates midwifery becomes crucial for that burgeoning soul. So I do not agree with your statement ‘nothing will help’ if you intend it as an absolute.

I like the way you put your general points but cannot agree with you on these two counts, but you may have something to say about this.

Pete
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PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2015 7:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

But isn't it ironic (in the simple modern sense), to insist on mere names, in such a context? (By the way, I think Plato's main fear, in the section we were looking at, is bad men, as opposed to a concern with the weakness of words. You perhaps show some agreement with this view? It seems so in some of your posts above.)

You speak slyly of ‘general points,’ but if you can not be persuaded, it might be due to your defects, and one cannot put that off wholly on me. But, I give examples here, although it seems to me I had already referred to some. Perhaps you are too worried about the text, and not enough about thinking over the matters, and so seeing what the words point to, which never shine forth in Plato, at least not as appearances...

People who are ‘just good’ don’t have what you name ‘following wisdom.’ They have a nature which follows convention, they are decent people. Indeed. Plato is not talking about them—to be sure! We already covered that in our earlier posts, it is just the same as the business of right opinion.

What you have written in the first paragraph is wasted, I already know that perfectly well, as I said in the last post. The question is about the distinction between the just man and the philosopher, who knows the good itself. If you wish to see what I mean take this for example, that a man sees a tree, but only as that one there. He sees it with nous, with his practical mind, but not with the higher nous. The thing is the same. But, he does not see it philosophically. There is, again, a distinction like this between the just and the philosopher. More subtle. Otherwise why is there both dike (Justice) and excellence, and in addition the good (agathos)? Is there then only a phronimos, and no philosopher? Is the ‘true’ man of practical virtue, the same as the philosopher? You would lead us into ruinous absurdity.

You perhaps don’t see clearly enough that ‘right opinion’ applies also to a mechanic, or to any lowly or high thing. Someone might do a thing rightly, but only because they follow instructions, and not because they themselves have the knowledge. That is the case today with all our public philosophers, the actors that play them in universities. They are like actors, who have not become mechanics, but only imitate them perfectly.

Now, again, consider: a man might know the eidos of true virtue, which is provisionally represented here as making excellent, but not know it as an eidos. It is knowing it as an eidos that makes the philosopher higher.

This is an exacting point.

If we look at your way we see by force that you can’t be correct. As your way leads to the difficulty of collapsing every distinction. It is not so visible because justice is very close to the good, but the good itself has no part in practical matters, whereas making excellent certainly does. The philosopher, as philosopher, is a god. He stays only with knowledge of the ideas.

Parenthetically, The issue here, which I was thinking of, was of the training of the guardians. Now, are the guardians the same as the philosopher king himself, or different?

--

‘Nothing will help,’ one can say, in Socratic fashion, is true when precision is applied. If it turns out the limitations were mere appearances, then of course, something will help.

Even those who have a bad memory, if it really is bad, are ‘lost’ according to what Plato teaches. They will never be philosophers anyway… Yet, human beings are imperishable as the fifth, according to his teaching. That is where their real life is. You misunderstand Plato when you find these people in the passing things and so speak of rebirths, human life is in the fifth. That is the point of Socrates death. That Socrates did not die.
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PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2015 9:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is the interest to me of the stuff you've written.

Quote:
<<You perhaps don’t see clearly enough that ‘right opinion’ applies also to a mechanic, or to any lowly or high thing. Someone might do a thing rightly, but only because they follow instructions, and not because they themselves have the knowledge.>>


I think I see that. In fact, haven’t we established it? Doxa is a thing born of dianoia. Let’s keep talking about whether justice is anything like this - whether the just man is fathomable as someone who may not be a philosopher – or whether a guardian is slightly lower than the philosopher king (in the way you call 'high' or 'low'). If you had followed what I said to Joseph you would know what my own thoughts are - but they can change. Guardians cannot mechanically be trained into philosophers. For that to happen, what you said must occur, that twice described blaze of light of the Seventh Letter. Is this what you are getting at? That a guardian may be a just man but not a philosopher? Is that what we must ask the text, or do you think we can do away with the text entirely and conquer it by thought alone?
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PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2015 10:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Before I read and respond, allow me to add what I have prepared (not expecting such a quick answer):

I see that my first thought was not careful enough. And so in consideration of the avoidance of further difficulty I add: You are right in speaking separately of the man of sound or good instinct in addition to the man with right opinion. These two are often the same, but they can be different.

A man of sound instinct might take up all the right opinions about his action, but in that case we could say that he uses himself as a means to the end of virtue or justice. Whereas, in the case of the just man, he simply follows his nature, which leads him to do the just things as what, inwardly he perceives as best. And thus he makes no calculations, in the manner of the man who is good by instinct, but must follow rules.

Nonetheless, I speak of another issue in my above post. That of the distinction between the just man and the philosopher who knows the good.
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PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2015 11:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“That a guardian may be a just man but not a philosopher?” I am thinking of the theme you raise, but I circumlocute to it.

In a certain sense the lower nous is the same as the higher. Since they both see the same thing. I see a scroll of Plato’s book entitled The Laws (Νόμοι). It is sitting there, just as a stylus or an ink bottle can sit there. But, if I see it only as the Laws, as the book or scroll written by Plato, my opinion about the thing there is not sound. I must understand the 'value' of this scroll. If I am only told it is a great book, by someone who I trust and revere, and so treat it as great all my days, that is not the same as seeing the great book. Today, we who speak of ‘subjectivity’ might say, for me this book is not a book, it is a lyrical object. If "lyrical" describes what is higher than any book. We would say it as if it were only due to our brain that we held it higher than others, due perhaps to some slight abnormality, when the brain was compared to that of other humans, who themselves had merely an high opinion about the book, though one that was correct with concern to facts.

But, now consider the man who finds there Plato’s Laws as the thing of golden value. And not because he is told to do so, but even when no one is looking he still maintains it is so. He sees it so, just as he sees a tree is not a stone, he sees this is not just any scroll. He can not break from this. Except if he lies.

But, then, is such a man, who is a sound and good judge of books (assuming, of course, in all this, it is sound judgment to hold Laws in such esteem), by that virtue a philosopher and a just man as well?

It seems to me, in answer to what you say, that a man might learn to see a scroll rightly through such conversation, or through a text, which makes the fire leap upon him, which makes him take a leap. But, then, why should he learn of the ideas as a whole, simply because he learns about one or other of the ideas? Say, of justice, or simply of the Nomoi of Plato.

There remains also the difficulty that a guardian, as a practical man, can not sit in contemplation of the ideas. But must enter into the affairs of the city. However, the gods who command men do not take up activities in the city. They are like the fifth, they have no part in the decay. But, how can men who make things excellent, educating the young, supervising their teaching with the aim of making them just, be like the philosopher? Does he not more resemble the artisan, who makes something turn on the lathe?

Yes, as you say it, I want to ask: Is there a philosopher, and then also the guardians who themselves act as kings, forgoing the highest good, that of the philosopher’s devotion to wisdom or knowledge, of his staying always with knowledge alone?

Is there not a difficult question in the figure of the philosopher king? It seems a rude jumble of two animals does it not? The one deals with action, and the other stays with the imperishable.

The text can talk to us, and perhaps we to it. I only don't want to give the words primacy over the fifth, as, also, when we write, we point to what we might ‘see’ in a more serious way, just as Plato did.
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